Composition

I’ve returned to John Kricfalusi’s blog recently for tips on composition. It’s a really interesting site with a wealth of information and opinions, and more real instruction about animation than you’d find in ten degree courses (actually I wrote that for effect – I didn’t do an animation degree, so I wouldn’t know. But I’m sticking my neck out.)

He has a phenomenal output though – there are tons of scans of vintage cartoon backgrounds, character sheets and layouts which, moreover, he discusses in depth, using them as examples of solid construction, good composition and just plain fun. I could (and do) browse for hours through his exercises, taking in all his guidance. And then I try to put it into practice and come up with something that looks awkward, mannered and stiff. If there’s one thing he stresses above all else, it’s practice. That and learning from the masters.

John himself comes off as grouchy sometimes, especially when he’s talking about cartoon writers, production executives and CGI. But he’s really passionate and enthusiastic about cartoons and animation, and has a very infectious love for the animation of the 30s and 40s.

Here’s an excerpt from his blog post about using cartoons in advertising. He’s going off on a slight tangent from the post’s main theme, but it always gets me fired up to hear his voice of righteousness:

I had a meeting at a major studio a couple weeks ago with a very nice and polite executive who asked me to go lecture at their animation studio about how to create enduring iconic characters. “We’ve had some successful movies, but our characters don’t seem to outlive their movie appearances. We want to know the secret to creating characters like Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbera.”

I take that as a good sign. An executive actually recognized the difference between a character who is instantly recognizable as a charismatic star and a modern shapeless blob of pores and hairs with a bland voice who just fulfills his role in a stock cartoon plot and then dies after the movie does its obscenely marketed blockbuster first weekend. But then you never see anyone with a t-shirt of the characters, it’s impossible to write new stories for the characters.

I have a feeling that John would be less than enthusiastic about my own stuff, unfortunately. But I’ll keep ploughing through the exercises on his site – if only to satisfy my own perfectionism.

God damn it, I can’t get that blockquote thing right at all! Ah, the hell with it.

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