Sunday, January 27, 2008

Manx and Itchy Are Eighteen and Loving It!

So, now that you've been introduced to the characters of A Little Fairy Tail, make way for a little history lesson. All of the characters are brand new, created solely for this cartoon. That is, all except two: The Brothers Mice.

When I was eight, I felt that I wasn't ever going to be a good enough animator to make it on my own ( a feeling which lasted until about nine months ago ), and since the only way of getting an audience at that time ( making movies for my critical classmates ) was unsatisfactory, the only thing I knew I had left was the newspaper comic.

I had a couple of different influences then, and Charles Schulz's 'Peanuts' and Bill Watterson's 'Calvin and Hobbes' were among the top. I had all of their books, and could somewhat approximate both of their art styles.

It was with this idea in mind that I took all of my cartoons that I had been doing about my cat Tootsie ( the strip was named after her; it seems in retrospect that my compatriots and I share a fondness for our cats ) and I made a portfolio. I called the local paper and asked to speak to the editor. Eight years old, asking to speak to the editor. What chrome-plated balls on that kid.

I made a date with the editor to show her my 'Tootsie' cartoons on the basis that they would publish it weekly in their 'Letters To The Editor' section.

I didn't stay with the strip for much longer than a summer. But I did start creating new strips and characters, and by 1990 had decided that the only characters I had in my 'stable' were these two mice who I later decided where brothers. At first they were just bachelor mice sharing a hole in the wall of some unseen suburban family.

Since that was the only one that wasn't derivative as hell ( 'Tootsie' had become a yucky mix of Bill Melendez's animated version of the 'Peanuts' characters, and another strip, name lost to memory, was about a blonde white boy named Al who looked a lot like Calvin and lived with a fox named Krentz who stood upright, had puffy cheeks, and often beat up poor Al )...

....I named the mice comic 'View From The Mousehole' and never looked back.

I seemed to be interested in mice then, particularly because there was this amazing cartoon I used to watch that they had cancelled, 'Mighty Mouse (The New Adventures)' that I started watching on Saturday mornings to my dad's confusion.

I taped as many episodes as I could and watched them well into the 90's. This time around, Mighty was a very cool, modern looking version of a classic cartoon character, and I kept watching to see if I could approximate this exciting and fun art style.

The other influence came from that of Walt. I had somehow gotten my hands on a videotape that had Walt Disney sketching different versions of Mickey, and I noticed that he didn't follow logic regarding the placement of Mickey's ears. He just put them where he felt they looked best.

That was an early "rule" that I established for these guys: the ears go where they look best. They're not any real shape. At some point in '92, I decided I liked a left angle triangle for Manx's ears, and that I liked it best on a drawing of him in side-profile.

I hope I haven't offended any of you.

There's a great many things that I drew with these guys that looked relatively good, and I noticed about five years ago that every time I worked on a piece in an effort to spend time getting better at cartoon drawing, I usually drew the brothers, or more usually, Manx. And he became a star of many doodles at many boring jobs. There's cartoons in CVS's and whatnot, that show TBM* quitting their jobs and killing everyone on staff.

And now that I've finally found not only the confidence but also the right combination of people to help with finally doing a cartoon, I'm very proud that my boys get to star, front and center.

They may be bright, new and shiny to you, dear reader, but they're very old ( eighteen as of summer ) and indeed very special to me. Be nice to them.

Or I'll draw them raping your daughter and de-balling your cat with a kitchen knife.

- Trevor Thompson.

*The Brothers Mice

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Developmental Death

Development. Let's talk about it. For some, it's that uncomfortable time in one's life when there are changes physically. Your voice drops down low, you develop breasts, etc. Well, I feel confident that I can talk about this, because my voice dropped down low right around the time I developed breasts, so development is my thing.

And it's the same for cartoons in the television world.

When you get an idea, the best thing to do is to let it grow organically. This is where Clampett's 'no-no' session ( later to be re-dubbed by Chuck Jones as a 'yes' session ) came from. The idea is simple. If you say 'yes' to an idea in it's infancy, it can and will grow if you guide it. But if you say 'no' to an idea without allowing it to bear fruit, you're cutting yourself off from a garden of possibilities.

A Concrete No can kill a Light Stringy Yes instantly.

Now, modern animation is sometimes criticized for being bland. This is particularly true of television animation, which is under constant scrutiny by a brave band of Yes Men who spend all day saying No. For any number of bland-looking cartoons out there ( we won't talk about the story or joke subject matter; another post, perhaps ), at least a third of them took a journey where several animators and designers made fun sketches that were slapped with the 'too stylish' edict and ended up having all the fun and originality snipped off them like a pair of nuts from a pup.

No doubt, this is a lofty and critical opinion, but I wish to present it as fact. Case studies: CLERKS THE CARTOON and AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE.

Before we get into the dissection of these shows visually, in an effort to curtail the comments a little bit, I should say that I am a fan of both shows, solely as 'funny shows'. In fact, I think written as they are, they'd be funnier if they were live action. To see these guys playing hockey on the roof every week? Golly. And I'd love to see a costumed Master Shake. But I digress...

Both of these shows look pretty bland and inconsistent in the case of AQUA TEEN, although I like the color scheme on CLERKS. But if you look at the development sketches for both of these shows, you feel cheated. Honest, you would. I did. Look, I'll show you.


First, let's meet the cast. We'll avoid the additional characters created just for the show and focus solely on the main four from the movie: Dante, Randal, Jay and Silent Bob.

Well, the first thing to remember, I guess, is that this was a movie that was successful to a unique audience, and the only people who would watch it deliberately would be said audience ( an audience to which I am an unabashed member.... I mean, fuck, Kevin Smith's on my Myspace friends page for chrissakes ). Bearing that fact in mind plays a heavy role in the amount of fun you can have with the cartoon.

But because it's a movie, there's a frame of reference that the core audience is loyal to; namely, the actors who portray the main characters...

Brian O'Halloran as Dante.

Jeff Anderson as Randal.

Jason Mewes as Jay.

Kevin Smith as Silent Bob ( who actually had some dialogue, true to form and despite the name ).

But as we're all aware, that's no excuse for making bland-looking characters. If you want interesting looking characters based on real people, one need look no further than...

For the look of the production, Kevin and his producers hired Chris Bailey who submitted, along with a slew of other animators and designers, a series of sketches suggesting looks for the characters. These went from looking sweet to the final bland.

We're going to examine the characters one at a time, and I'll start by showing you the finished look of the character first. First up, Dante.

So his head's basically a rectangle and his body is fundamentally a monolith. But below are some great attempts to make him look cartoony and fun. They weren't picked because Bailey said he needed it to be easy to draw... whatever that's about.

Before we move on to the rest of the characters, let's talk about simplicity of design. Simple has never meant easy, and a simple design, some think, should be easy to approximate on paper. Now, I guess in today's 'everybody with a PC can be an artist' mentality, ( not demeaning the idea; Matthew's an amazing artist who works on a crappy PC.... the only difference, he'd still be able to wow you without it ) having the design be something that a skater can draw on the back of his notebook has something to do with the selling of the idea to executives.

But when you're talking about REAL cartoons and cartoony principles, you take that approach and it's considered severely lowering the grade curve.... some would say.

In fact, when an animator designs something an exec could draw, the animator becomes the exec. Don't believe me? Two words: Seth McFarlane.

Anyway, back to the character development of CLERKS. Here's some great sketches by artists being artists before the execs start making notes to suggest a different direction ( Matthew accurately calls this 'playing guessing games' and it's one of his biggest pet peeves..... I know, because he yelled at me about it once ).

Alright, next up: Randal.

You'll notice on some of these drawings ( AQUA TEEN too ) there will be notes that say things like "you're on the right track" or "this is the right idea" and they're attached to drawings that look NOTHING like the final product. Executives aren't creative, remember, they just work in a creative industry.

The executive notes ( which included notes from my boys Kevin and Mos ) for Randal are similar, but one thing they hit on that was a good character trait was the posture of a slacker, yet one with a high upper chest which somehow evokes confidence..... even if it's stupid confidence.

But all these pictures are great, and you can see the individual artists' style coming through. It's basically the same with Jay and Bob, as it was with Dante, there's a lot of good ideas not being explored and said 'no' to here.

Every one of the following sketches is different than the one before it, except that it is either of Jay and Bob, or Dante and Randal. Oh, that and they're all imaginative and evidence of lost talent.

Now, the thing I don't understand about the next example, AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE, is that it is and always was going to be an [adult swim] production, produced in a few of the spare offices ( Williams Street ) at Turner Broadcasting's Cartoon Network wing.

No one ever thought for a second there'd be a budget for the show worthy of real animation.... so why all this innovation in the sketches?


This is what Frylock looks like now, but it wasn't always so. Consider:


Once the creativity is sucked out in consideration of the miniscule budget, this is the Shake we are left with. Look where he came from:


Here's a character that you would think would be an animator's dream, in that he can morph into any shape and be anything. Well, the animators saw that and drew these drawings which were, for the most part, ignored.

Wild Hare Animation Studios ( named, presumably, after Tex Avery's definitive hunter and rabbit picture ) are the guys that drew all of these.

Clay Martin Croker ( does the voice of Zorak in the new Space Ghost shows ) designed the most playful, free and fun designs. He signs the drawings CMC, and I enjoy his drawings the best.

But again, what I don't understand is, since everyone involved, Clay included, knew the cartoon wasn't going to have the budget to support those designs, why submit them in the first place ( besides the fact that drawing those was probably a lot of fun )?

Any of you animators out there have an idea as to why?

- Trevor Thompson.