Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Comic Stips from young artists

Teaching young minds to draw like they've never lifted a pencil before can be difficult.  Teaching them to draw lightly and loosely is especially difficult when they bear down on that pencil with all of their might.  You almost need to take on a Yoda approach and get them to "Unlearn what (they've) Learn". 

But, this class is a fun, after school art class.  My objective was to get them to step outside of the box, come up with fun characters and a fun storyline or joke to make a comic strip out of.  These kids really came up with some special pieces. 

I've been a little backed up with life.  And who hasn't, am I right?  So, to those who are looking for your work to be posted, it's coming.  Still cleaning and composing your work, so keep an eye on this blog.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Few Hints On Character Design

You can’t have a comic without characters, right?  Having well-designed characters that can express elements of their personality or temperament is quite helpful to the reader, but there are some tips that can really take your characters to another level. There are so many characters from comics, cartoons, TV shows, movies, and other media that have achieved iconic status. Think of the minions from Despicable Me– so simplistic, yet so recognizable… and so unique. Like many things, coming up with something 100% new is almost impossible… the key is using inspiration and combining qualities you like from other designs to create your own personalized character design that will be easily recognizable and memorable.

If you ever have trouble coming up with an idea for a character, just look in the mirror.  When I created my character of myself, leaning on the pencil, I was 13 years old, a little overweight, my skin had started to break out, and I was uncomfortable in my own skin.  I designed a cartoon version of myself.  He was thinner, good skin, good hair, and he had the kind of confidence I wanted to have in myself.  Over the years, I would fine tune his design elements.  I changed his hair, clothes and as my style of drawing evolved, so did his overall look.

In the case of designing Iago for “Aladdin”, animator Will Finn had the exciting opportunity to animate a character that was wild and zaney.  He was a complete departure from Cogsworth, who he had just animated on “Beauty and the Beast”.  He convinced the directors that comedian Gilbert Gottfried would be the perfect casting choice for the loud mouthed, sarcastic parrot.  Gilbert’s way of speaking is very loud and squints his eyes tightly when he gets excited or angry, and they used those qualites to his limits.

In this situation, designers emphasized the actor’s eye brows, squinted Iago’s eyes and a very large set of teeth. (probably the only time you will see teeth in a bird, right?)

Just like writing an essay in school, a good place to start is by brainstorming and an outline.  We call this “blue sky” in the artistic world. You probably have some ideas of personality, possibly some visuals, of your main characters bouncing about your head? Put those on paper! Here’s a good exercise to get to know your characters better without the overwhelming task of just DRAWING them head-to-toe. Take a piece of paper and divide it into 3 columns. Title the first column “Adjectives”, the second “Features”, and the third “Doodles”. Make one sheet per character that you want to “outline”… but first start with your main characters.
1.Descreptive Column - Write down any and all adjectives and descriptive words about your character. Don’t think too hard, just jot them down.
2.Features Column -
Try to think up clothing, body shapes, accessories, hairstyles, or any other visual features that a character with that aspect of their personality, would have. For instance, if you listed “athletic”, that character would probably wear sneakers a lot. If your character is someone who jokes around a lot, maybe they wear a joy buzzer or a squirting flower.
3.Sketch Column
- Time to loosely sketch out some ideas! Nothing too detailed, not yet.  Just doodle some of the features you jotted down. A hat, a style of shoe, type of jewelry, logo on a T-shirt… you’re putting together the pieces of the puzzle!


Have fun with this.  This is your character, so have fun with it.  You aren’t going to have the perfect design right away.  You have to play with it a little before it will be something you like.

If you are stumped and need inspiration, hey, it happens to the best of us.  Try looking at pictures.  Like Iago in Aladdin, animators looked to the voice actors for inspiration in their character designs.

When animating  the Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland”, animator Ward Kimball watched Ed Wynn while he recorded his voice for the film.  His nose was bulbous and perfect for caricature.  His cheeks were high and his jaw line hung low, so his face was stretched out below the eyes. 

Cool bit of Trivia: For the role of King Candy in “Wreck it Ralph”, Alan Tudyk imitated Ed Wynn’s voice.  The character designers took his performance and decided King Candy should resemble Ed Wynn to match the voice recordings.  Do you see a resemblance in the picture below?
Look at how design inspiration came from Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket.  His nose and mouth were lifted right from the actor and simplified for cartooning.  Jiminy was the very first Disney character to be designed to look like the actor.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Drawing Loosely

Hello there, sorry that it's been a while.  I haven't grown disinterested in the blog.  I've been so wrapped up in commissions, side projects and my cartooning lessons that I teach, not to mention life...  I allowed myself to become over consumed.

And speaking of my cartooning class, as you may know, I teach cartooning classes to elementary school students.  They seem to be as thrilled to learn from a professional cartoonist as the cartoonist is to teach basics to those who really want to learn.  It's a great symbiotic relationship.  Anyway, the same questions pop up, week after week, which brings forth the thought that I should write about it here.  Drawing lightly and loosely.

It is very important for a good cartoonist, or a good artist, for that matter, to draw loosely.  Famed Disney animator, Ruben Aquino starts off his day at his animation desk drawing lots of circles to loosen his hand, wrist and shoulder.  He fills very large pieces of paper with lots and lots of circles.  I shake my drawing hand for a minute to get all my fingers and my wrist good and loose before I begin drawing. 
Glen Keane, the animator of the Beast and Aladdin draws very loosely.  You’ll see in his drawing to the left that every line is loose.  He lets the pencil find the form of the character.  It isn’t until the clean-up process, (when we begin inking) when the stray lines are erased, and the final line is permanently drawn. 

Without loosening up in your drawings, another thing will occur.  Your drawings will become stiff and flat.  This is why every character begins with construction lines.

Happy Drawing, Guys!


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Lion Guard

I had a whole other post planned, but It'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Here is a clip released at 2015's D23 Expo this past weekend.  A new animated series that premieres this fall on Disney Channel called "The Lion Guard".  I understand this might very well be a series on Disney Junior, which impresses me even more, considering the attention to detail it's being given.

I know, I know.  But this isn't some campy looking series like that "Gravity Falls" that plays into this crappy trendy animated style that is so popular right now.  No.  This has a feature animation aesthetic.  There is some gorgeous animation and feature quality effects work in play.

We all remember the train wreck that was the direct to video movie about Simba's daughter, Kiara.  Well this isn't that.  The series follows Simba's second born, his first son, Kion.  Don't judge this based on his name.  The cast list includes Sarah Hyland (Modern Family), Rob Lowe as Simba, and returning as Pumbaa and Timon, Ernie Sabella and Kevin Schon respectively.

This is beautifully animated.  The backgrounds and effects work match the feature quality.  The hyenas were redesigned for animation technical reasons, but they look beautiful despite.  I can't judge the story quality yet, and I refuse to critique that aspect based on a 3:45 clip.  It is eye candy for now.

Watch this clip to see what I'm talking about.

Andreas Deja, Disney Legend

The 2015 D23 Convention, Disney's fan convention, was held in Anaheim this past weekend.  Some big plans were revealed over the weekend.  Some of the bigger announcements were some great film plans and huge Star Wars lands coming to Disney Parks.  One of my favorite events at these conventions, however, is the Disney Legend induction ceremonies.  This year, some big names in entertainment were inducted into Disney Legend status including Johnny Depp, George Lucas and one of my heroes in Animation, Andreas Deja.

Andreas was born in Poland and raised in Germany.  His passion for animation was born at the age of eleven while watching his first Disney animated feature, "The Jungle Book".  He was especially mesmerized by the villain of the film, the tiger Shere Kahn.  He was awestruck by the way the character moved, and how it breathed life into the scenes it was in.  An animation enthusiast was born.  In time, he would learn it was Milt Kahl who animated the character and Milt became a hero to emulate after.  Andreas had written to the Disney studios in hopes to learn what it would take to be a Disney artist.  The advice given would guide him to take lots of drawing courses including life drawing and sketching animals at the zoo.

He sent off a stunning portfolio that got him hired at Disney Feature Animation right away.  His first picture was "The Black Cauldron", where Andreas did a lot of the character design work.  Later, Andreas proved the masterful animator and rose to the ranks of Supervising Animator on King Triton in "The Little Mermaid", Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast", Jafar in "Aladdin" and my favorite, Scar of "The Lion King" to name a few.

His Animation is known for broad gestures as well as reserved,  verbose as well as subtle, and  well drafted as well as fun and rubbery.  As I had mentioned before, he is a master at animating Mickey Mouse.  He was Mickey's Supervising Animator for "Mickey's Prince and the Pauper" and "Runaway Brain".  His most recent Mickey animation was briefly seen in "Fantasia 2000".  In my opinion, Andreas's animation of Mickey brought life to him not seen since Freddy Moore in the 40's.  Not comfortable with the conversion to computer animation, Mr Deja retired from the Disney studios after he completed his work on Tigger in the 2011 feature "Winnie the Pooh".

His induction as a Disney Legend is an honor well deserved.  I congratulate him on the honor and look forward to visiting his handprints in the Legends Court in Burbank soon.

As a side note: Andreas has a remarkable blog that every animation enthusiast should read.  You can check out his personal reflections at  http://andreasdeja.blogspot.com

Monday, August 10, 2015

Runaway Brain

"Runaway Brain" was released 20 years ago today.  This short subject was released in conjunction with the film, "A Kid in King Arthur's Court", and was Mickey's first theatrical release since "Mickey's Prince and the Pauper".  

The short stars Mickey & Minnie Mouse.  The premise revolves around Mickey forgetting his and Minnie's anniversary and while trying to overcompensate, he inadvertently promises a Hawaiian vacation.  To earn the money needed, he answers a want ad that leads him to volunteer to act as a test subject, switching brains with a giant monster, played by Pegleg Pete.

Animation history enthusiasts will enjoy jokes that will go over others' heads, including the name of the mad scientist, Dr. Frankenollie.  The name is a play on the names of two of Disney's greatest animators and of the Nine Old Men fame, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.  The doctor was voiced by Kelsey Grammer to perfection.

Directed by Chris Bailey, "Runaway Brain" was almost entirely animated in Disney's then new Animation studio in Paris, France.  The animation is as inventive and creative as the storyline, and the humor will keep the adults as entertained as the children.

Mickey Mouse's supervising animator is one of my contemporary animators heroes, Andreas Deja.  Andreas, in my opinion, is the best animator to bring life to Mickey since Fred Moore.  Mr. Deja is being honored later this month, at the D23 Expo, as a Disney Legend for all of his beautiful work as a supervising animator.  Watch for blog posts honoring him in the near future.

You can find "Runaway Brain" in the Walt Disney Treasures Collection DVD, "Mickey Mouse: in living color, vol.II

 (Animation drawings courtesy of Andreas Deja)

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Bambi premiered in London on this day in 1942.  It would be released in the US five days later.

Walt Disney's 5th animated feature film had a major set back in the aftermath of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.  Walt reported to work one morning to find that the government had commandeered the studio to use it as a new base.  Walt, ever the patriot, decided to work with them and allowed his studio to be used for whatever the country deemed fit.  The animators were well under way on their follow up to Dumbo.  Bambi was close on the heels of it's deadline, so Walt had made arrangements with the powers that be.  He agreed to create all of the training films and propaganda pieces that the military requested, so long as his animators were also free to finish their next film and any other shorts the studio needed to create to stay afloat.  It was the begining of a partnership, for better or worse that would span for much of the rest of the 40's.

It was a trick to keep his top animators on track in finishing up Bambi, as the generals on site only cared about the training films his other animators were creating.  Walt would give everyone projects for the military, and have them finish up Walt's animation on the down low.

The art direction on Bambi was to match the feeling of the novel the film was based on: "Bambi, A Life in the Woods" by Felix Salten.  The drawing styles used for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs felt much too cartoony for the subject matter.  Walt brought in instructors from Chouinard Art Institute, and regularly brought live animals for the animators to use as reference.

Background paintings were created under the art direction of Cantonese painter Tyrus Wong.  His beautifully delicate oil paintings gave the film the quasi realism it needed.

Bambi lost money during it's initial release.  It grossed just under the expense budget for the film.  With the limited European release due to the war, there just wasn't enough support by movie goers.  Fortunately, rereleases would assist the studio in regaining it's losses in subsequent years.

In 2008, the American Film Institute ranked Bambi 3rd place in the top 10 classically animated features.