Random semiconscious musings

Friday, June 16, 2006

More About 'Signatures'

In my previous posts, I elaborated on how each individual artist, whether they're conscious of it or not, has an inherent 'signature'. It loosely defines as a personal 'fingerprint' that says to all viewers, "_________ did this particular piece of art."

On this entry, I thought I might use some of my own artwork to point out more info about these 'signatures'.

A brief background on the sequence coming up: Sometime in the mid-80s I was working on a short film for entry into a Canadian Independent Film Festival (kind of like the 'Tournees' we're all aware of... the film never got finished by the way, but that's another story). Anyway, one scene had a very simple walk cycle of the character I designed. I said, very simple. As part of a mentoring program held at the College where I studied animation, first-year students were assigned to teams to assist with the production of these independent films. Now I'll admit, I've come a long way since then, and my artwork is ten times better than what you're about to see.

Two students were brought over to my 'unit', they were considered able to handle this section of work. I already knew I have a distinctive art style, especially in animation, and wanted the finished artwork to exhibit this 'look'. Suddenly I knew what Bill Tytla must have felt like, overseeing the work experience of these students and secretly wanting to redo all the work myself because I felt as if it just wasn't adhering up to my standards (I'm not considering myself near as talented as Mr. Tytla, but I wanted to use the example in my illustration above).

I needed roughly 8 drawings done for this one particular scene... just 8. I had 4 keys, each requiring 2 in-betweens to smooth out the action. The action was even-paced; no 'slow-outs' nor 'slow-ins'. Not complicated at all, I thought- all that was required was to imitate my penmanship closely enough. This is exactly the same mentality as many studios implement to maintain consistency (think MGM studios and Disney)- when this has been accomplished, we can move up to more detailed and tougher scenes.

Anyway, I went over things to think about when drawing this character. I presented them with ROUGH model sheets, a couple of which I have included below (Note: These images are watermarked, so don't even think about it... just in case you were thinking about it).

(Hey, I said I'd come a long way since then, didn't I?)

Anyway, this is the character I was working with. I presented them with the four keys, as shown below:

The character was being followed, so it was a brisk stride. You can see my timing charts in the top corner, inbetweens on /3's (clicking on these images will make them larger).

Now, here's where the 'signature' training I emphasized in the past two posts comes into play. I'm going to re-post my initial walk cycle key, and the next drawing in sequence, as rendered by one of the students. Compare them closely, what do you notice about the two drawings?

Aside from the blue pencil construction, study these two images. First off, can you tell they were done by two different people? What verifies that? Check out the line quality... one artist seems to work the line more to attain a smoother form on the character, the other seems to have traced the lines- they look like simple outlines. Notice how details are handled- the fabric fold on the character's back on the right-hand side has been omitted. The hand on the left-side drawing is beginning to pass over the butt- so it's as if the animator thought that since you can't see it, why think about what it might look like behind the hand? (Think Cal Dalton). As a result, the glutes have been drawn too flatly because focus was put on the hand in front. Actually, there's less attention to angles in the right-hand side overall.

Now, here's images comparing the work of the other assistant. I'll select a different key to keep you working with the comparisons.

This second artist is a bit better at working the line. Attention has been given to angles and rounded forms, which is good. However, there's a problem with proportioning: I already was aware of the odd, but intentional proportioning of the character in my design on the left. But it seems on the right that the guy has suddenly gained twenty pounds, or his limbs were shortened and got thicker. As soon as these images would have been coloured in, if I were to have used them in the final sequence the differences would have been made plain as day.

I want to point out that this is not a matter of calling one artist bad or good- each assistant handled certain aspects of the animation in a talented manner- except none could capture that 'signature' I have in my art style.

Obvious examples of this kind of thing are seen every day, especially in newspaper comic strips- you see aspects of an original artist's style, say Jim Davis or Bill Watterson, ripped off constantly and applied to other people's strips. John Kricfalusi and Stan Lee are particularly plagarized these days because of the popularity of their unique designs... flattering at best. But what happens is that someone takes notice of the artwork in question and says, "Hey, that looks like ______'s work"... but even though many of the techniques of the plagarized artist are depicted nicely, there's always some "Achille's heel" that becomes evident which announces that the work is not of the real McCoy.

However, in animation it's important to adhere to strict design guidelines. Warner Brothers was much more lax on this aspect- which makes their cartoons so fun to study. It's not necessarily a bad thing- it makes the final product more interesting. :) But that's how we recognize that animation 'signature'.


  • Do you think entire countries can have their own animation signatures?

    For instance, the UK-produced cartoons I've seen seem to have lots and lots of in-betweens, but very weak poses and acting.

    Asian-produced anime has (have?) codified certain stylistic practices, as well.

    And, I don't mean it as a "dig," but the animation drawings you posted somehow seemed to say "Canadian Content" to me in ways I can't quite articulate.

    Of course, these ignorant statements are naught but sweeping generalities, but still..?

    By Blogger Craig D, at 8:16 AM  

  • Hmm Craig, that's an interesting point. The way I'm using the word 'signature' is in a more individual sense than for a whole country of animators- but I do know that there are sort of 'typical' styles of teaching and learning used in certain areas of the world.

    Japanimation has its own extremely unique and identifiable character design and animation; I agree with your statement about European animation as well- it's usually more visual and fluid, almost like paintings come to life.

    I'd be interested in knowing what my artwork says about "Canadian Content" too :)

    By Blogger Larry T, at 4:19 PM  

  • I'll give it some thought and see if can can come up with a description of what a "Canadian Animation Signature" might be. I doubt I'll be able to do it without sounding like a total horse's a**!

    One quick example... When I saw "Beauty & The Beast" way back when, something about the Lumiere candlestick character made me think "I wonder if this animator is Canadian?" Sure enough, some time later I found out that Nik Raneri (I always mangle his name, sorry!) was "cast" to animate this character. Now, why I would get a sub-concious "Canadian ping" when watching his scenes?

    Something about the eyes and teeth? The way the wrists move? Is it vestigal traces of Sherdian College?

    (Of course, Paul Soles as the voice artist is always a dead give-away!)

    By Blogger Craig D, at 5:35 PM  

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