Hey, guys! In case you didn’t know, I just started a two year MFA Program in Animation at the Columbus College of Art & Design. I’m really excited about what I’m going to be working on this semester, and as you can see, I’ve already been thoroughly enjoying the studio space provided:
This semester I’m going to be working on a hand-drawn pilot film for an animated series I’m developing called Gumshoe Goose. You’ll be hearing more about that as it develops, but I’ve been drawing up gag ideas and storyboards and hopefully I’ll have a completed animatic by the end of the semester. I met up with my mentor, Tom Richner, and we’ve worked out some ideas about the future.
However, since I also want to get started animating with the incredible Toon Boom Harmony software CCAD provides, I’m developing an animated web series titled Cartoon Remakes, where I’ll take popular movies and turn them into zany animated films. The animation in these shorts will be more simple than in the pilot, but I’ve already boarded out the first one – a parody of The Shawshank Redemption – and I’ve started work on animating it. Keep an eye out for this series.
And if that isn’t enough, I’m working on a submission package for my comic work. I’ve been developing a comic strip about a planet full of morons for a little while, and I’m working on inking them and finishing them up before Cartoon Crossroads this year.
Anyway, that’s all well and good, but the theme of today’s post is artistic inspirations. I have a ton, but I’ll try to get through some of them here:
There are a ton of animation directors that I love, but if I were to pick the one I would consider the greatest of all, it would have to be Chuck Jones. No one could nail an expression like Jones, and the layouts in his films – designed by the great Maurice Noble – are always stunning. He was a genius at character-based comedy, and every character he ever directed had a unique style of movement. Plus, he taught me a lot about getting greater results through artistic limitations (witness the incredible creativity within a restrictive framework present in the Road Runner series). I’ve probably seen Rabbit Seasoning hundreds of times and I never get tired of it.
Another great Warner Bros. director, Clampett demonstrated better than anyone else what you can do in animation that you could never get away with in live-action. The comic distortions in his cartoons are wild and exhilarating, and he got more unique expressions and poses in the acting of his characters in a few seconds than most animated series today have in their whole run (not exaggerating – try freeze-framing a Bob Clampett cartoon. Every individual frame is totally unique and totally hilarious).
This guy wrote the book on cartoon comedy at a time when Disney-flavored cuteness was the expectation in animated films. He was constantly breaking barriers – pushing wild takes farther than anyone had, having characters constantly address their artificiality (postmodernism before it was even a term), and introducing a wiseguy attitude that animation hadn’t seen before. But it was all in the service of laughs. If aliens ever come down and need help understanding the concept of humor, show them Tex Avery.
Even though he didn’t personally direct the animated films he’s best known for, it was Walt Disney’s incredible vision that showed the artistry animated films were capable of. He pushed his animators into giving their characters real inner life, giving birth to character animation as we know it. He was a really inspiring guy.
THE MAX FLEISCHER STUDIO
Not a specific artist, but I had to mention that the Fleischer cartoons are a huge inspiration on my work. I love the crazy imagination in these things – inanimate objects come alive at random, everything is bouncing and dancing and going through bizarre transformations. Artists like Grim Natwick, Roland Crandall, and countless others filled these things up with surrealistic insanity – all before the psychedelic era of the 1960s.
If I have a hero, it might be Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. His loopy sensibilities are so much fun, and he finds such pure joy in nonsense. He worked a lot of satirical themes into his seemingly simple rhymes (racial unrest in The Sneetches, environmentalism in The Lorax, isolationism in Horton Hears a Who), but he never allowed his works to become heavy-handed. I’m still as big of a fan of this guy as I was when I was four.
Herriman’s Krazy Kat – which ran from 1913 to 1944 – is my all-time favorite comic strip. It’s a perfect blend of high art (the artwork has a cubist sensibility and the poetic dialogue is worthy of James Joyce) and lowbrow slapstick comedy (most of the action centers around Ignatz Mouse trying to toss a brick at Krazy Kat’s head, Keystone Kops-style). The way Herriman explored the fairly limited setup is extraordinary. If you haven’t read this thing, do so immediately.
I’ve never tried to draw like anyone else – my “style” is just the way I naturally draw – but I have always envied the wild energy Milt Gross was able to get on the page. The big-nosed, cross-eyed nutcases that populated Gross comic strips like Count Screwloose and Nize Baby are truly amazing, and his wordless book – He Done Her Wrong – is my pick for the Great American Novel (not even kidding at all… it’s great).
Like George Herriman, Walt Kelly combined stunning artwork, incredible dialogue / wordplay, strong characters and slapstick humor in a way that few artists have managed. His character designs and poses are beautiful to look at, and he was a genius at political satire. His digs at Joseph McCarthy – who was at the height of his power when Kelly skewered him – were incredibly brave… and more importantly, hilarious.
Hubley is probably best known for creating Mr. Magoo, but he was a whole lot more than that. He introduced a modern art sensibility into animation, showing a stylized design and movement that was totally unlike anything seen in the Disney or Warner Bros. cartoons. He was a true artist, and whenever I’m running low on inspiration, this guy’s work is always a pick-me-up to get my creativity reeling.
No one could get so much out of so little. Charles Schulz’s drawings look simple, but they are anything but. He only used a few lines, but they are all perfectly placed. Ever try to draw Charlie Brown? I guarantee you it will look wrong if you do. Everything you need to know about Charlie Brown is captured in that little squiggle for a mouth he has. Peanuts is the strip that made me want to be a cartoonist when I was a kid, but I find that I relate to Charlie Brown’s various failures and humiliations more and more every day.
Another artist who got a whole lot out of a few simple lines, this guy’s doodly linework is always fun to study. And it went perfectly with his wonderfully cynical humor writing. Thurber is my favorite New Yorker cartoonist, and his fantasy books like The White Deer and The Wonderful O are must-reads. Also, if you don’t recognize the phrase “ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa”, read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty right away.
One of the greatest artists of all time, not just cartoon artists, Bill Watterson perfectly captured childhood imagination in Calvin and Hobbes. The strong characters and jaw-dropping artwork make this one of the great achievements in cartooning. Getting to see Bill Watterson’s original artwork at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Research Library only increased my Olympian regard for this guy.
I’ve mostly been covering cartoonists from the earlier part of the 20th century here, but I’m a big fan of ’90s cartoons as well. Rocko’s Modern Life, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls… all great shows. But The Ren & Stimpy Show is next-level brilliance of the like we probably won’t ever see again. Psychotic, disturbing and hysterically funny, Ren & Stimpy is everything a cartoon fan could ever want and more.
And that’s not all! I’ve also put together an image gallery of some of my favorite animation artists. Hover over the image to see the name of the artist.
And let’s not forget the print cartoonists. Once again, hover to see the names of the many great cartoonists highlighted here (are you hovering? Why aren’t you hovering? I COMMAND YOU TO HOVER).
And that’s not even mentioning all of the fine artists, live-action filmmakers, writers and musicians who inspire me, but I’ll save that post for when I REALLY want to bore you to death.