Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Design of Rocky and Bullwinkle

John K. has a great post on the limited animation of Rocky and Bullwinkle. He specifically addresses the importance of good design if you're gonna cut corners on the animation. Meaning, the drawings have to be top notch. He has all sorts of fun stills and great examples of character design. Read it here.

One of the things I would really like to shoot for at FableVision is not being completely tied down to a character library. We do limited animation; that's for sure. But there's something about seeing the same set of heads all the way through a short. I know that's part of the whole methodology of the Flash look. But it doesn't have to be. He shows how Bullwinkle looks slightly different in every shot, but he is still recognizable as Bullwinkle because he has strong features and is built on a basic formula of shapes and adjectives:
He is tall and thin
He has a long neck
short skinny legs
knobby knees
A furry peanut shaped torso
His head is made of two shapes, a small rounded cranium and a larger droopy nose and muzzle.
Goofy eyes

The exact dimensions of all these adjectives is not set in stone. A great designer can play with the proportions, angles and specific details and still make the characters recognizable.

There is no tracing of model sheets.

The artist messes around with the specific details to keep everything organic, alive....and artistic.

This is good advice. Just let it sit...think about it.

UPDATE: John K is planning on breaking down the design of Rocky and Bullwinkle. A start---> here

And even MORE ---> HERE! (Great cartoon analysis! A must read)


Peter said...

Great! Love these thoughts. I used to worry about my characters changing from page to page in my books... but then I realized that it was my brain exploring the character... it was in process of evolving into a version which is able to be made as easliy as taking a breath.

Bob Flynn said...

Right---I remember that being one of the things I liked about working on the Sugarloaf pilot with you. No real person ever looks the same or makes the same face---so why should a drawing or a character? As long as the character is still recognizable (and this is key), you should be able to play around with the features for each expression they make.

And I think a lot of this falls back on the character's design. A bland character will look off it you change one little thing too much (or maybe a character that has too many rigid features). This theory of character design is inherently better suited to looser animation (cartoony or whimsical).

I don't know much about the animation industry, but the general complaint (even outside of Flash) is that many studios make animators trace over model sheets. Of course it's an effort to standardize things, but it lessens the role of the animator in defining the look of the show. Which is a shame.

This is the reason why so many cartoons have a rawer feel when they first start out. You can see the artists working out the issues with the characters (and having fun with it!). It's the reason why Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse changed over time--- and changed slightly from cartoon to cartoon. Different artists and directors had their take on them. But the character design is strong enough so that they are still obviously recognizable.

It's one of the main reasons why I like Spongebob and Ren and Stimpy...because the characters have a certainly plasticity about them. They are allowed to change and morph into each expression, without staying stiff to some model sheet.

And this is where it comes back to Flash. A symbol-based character library often means you use the same head shape throughout the entire film. Which is fine as a way to save time. But here's where my personal bias comes in: I would much rather include fun drawings and pull back on the animation as a time-saver (as is demonstrated in Bullwinkle and the Fractured Fairytales).

Good to see your around these parts, Pete!

John L said...

This kind of character bending is not easy though, and is especially hard in a short project with a tight deadline. It works well with a series, when you might need a hundred drawings just to get comfortable with the character.

We rarely devote time in a project to just "warming up" to the characters. We storyboard, we keyframe, we animate. And the client still wants to trim the budget. So our portfolio becomes full of limited, symbolized animation. How does a company break away from that pattern?

Bob Flynn said...

I completely agree with you on a practicality standpoint, John. That the animation we need to do is on even a shorter schedule and budget than the Bullwinkle cartoons, or even Hanna Barabara (which were considered limited animation in their day).

It's also difficult when you work with animators (really in our studio, illustrators) who all have different styles. Sticking to a character library eliminates the need for someone to actually be able to draw the character. I think back to the Sparky films---I never had to draw Sparky even ONCE from scratch. We used the same head and body throughout the entire film.

I'll be the first to say that our production schedule isn't always a friend to character exploration, storyboarding, and pushing creativity to the max. The system we have for cranking things out works for the most part...and our clients leave happy. So I'm not saying we need to change anything. I'm just encouraging people to think about it.

I suppose I would encourage this process more when time is available (and on our own FV films). And I'll use Pete as an example. When we work on Pete-styled films, we don't build a character library. It relies more on Pete to generate all the original artwork (which of course causes it's own problems, because Pete is on a tight schedule of his own)...but the end result is undeniably richer in my opinion. Again, I think I just have a bias. Because I don't like seeing the same set of heads throughout the whole film.

I was able to achieve this method on the Powder films, for what it's worth. On a pretty tight schedule. With myself and one animator.

Here's the difference in the production schedule:

The lead artist on the film works with the storyboard to create each "shot" of the film. Which often means drawing custom character art for each shot. The art gets handed off to the animator, who works on that shot to bring it to life. I personally design characters that I can draw again easily, so it doesn't take me much time to redraw them.

The other approach is to spend a bunch of time up front to develop a full character library with turnarounds...all the mouths drawn. Basically do most of your character art before you start animating the film. So I would question where you want to place your workload.

I think I generally prefer having the freedom to manipulate character expressions and gestures for that particular shot. These are both elements that are key in my illustration and comic work, so I'm trying to figure out how to translate it to animation.

(Sorry for so much writing, I've put a lot of thought into this).

We are a company who works in Flash. And what I'm suggesteing goes against all that Flash is best at doing (making animation easier, and faster). I'm trying to infuse a little of the animation process that existed before Flash into a program that certainly allows you to do it.

Bob Flynn said...

You know, it just dawned on me. Maybe it's a little bit of both. Using character library assets for repetitive shots like talking heads close ups. But changing it up when you need a different expression. Re-using walkcycles, etc. I guess don't be afraid to make a new drawing of a character when you need it. Mixing it up---a hybrid approach---might be a good place to start.

I'll be quiet now :)