Cartoons are a visual medium. So much of today’s cartoons rely on witty dialogue to provide the humor. This was not so at Warner Bros Cartoons in the ’40’s and ’50’s. Warner Bros. directors and animators asked the question, “How can I make the audience laugh with a facial expression? Can I make them laugh at how the character walks or stands?”
In Chuck Amuck, Chuck Jones said, and I paraphrase, they would always run the animation with the sound off because they knew that if the story could be told visually and it was funny without music, sound effects or dialogue, it would be even that much better when those elements were added.
This is truly a lost art. I watched Igor this past week. The movie was pretty good compared to today’s standards for what passes for great animation. I put on my “visual comedy glasses” when going in since this topic was hot on my mind. For me, there were only two shots in the entire film that made me laugh. The rest of my laughs were from witty dialogue. Much different from this Warners short, Rabbit Seasoning.
I think 3D is a great medium for animation and even when the novelty is completely worn off, it will still have a big place in features and TV. However, one disadvantage of CG is that it is near impossible to create characters that are truly appealing when compared to hand drawn animation. The large studios are as close as I think they’ll get and the work they produce is great. However, every time I get a glimpse of the hand drawn model sheets compared to screen grabs from the finished film, I can’t help but feel like the film is just missing that intangible “it” quality that truly makes it magical.
The newest case in point is the Indie animated feature Igor. I hear it’s great. I plan to see it myself. And I applaud this film for the very fact that a small independent studio made it. Below is a model sheet I grabbed from the October 2008 copy of Animation Magazine. Below that, I screen grabbed a variety of shots from the Igor trailer. I’ll let you decide what you like better, but when I compare them I can’t help but notice the inability of cg to really “push” the expression. This is because cg is more like digital puppetry and is limited in it’s ability to squash and stretch the character. Take a look at the profile sketch of Igor on the model sheet. Re-creating that expression in cg is impossible. Even the head below the profile sketch is a good example. The cg model cannot open it’s mouth to make that mouth shape.
Anyhoo, character appeal is something I’m learning. I can spot it, but drawing characters with appeal is a different story. I’m working on developing characters with appeal in my animation.
I recently purchased a copy of Bambi on Ebay. I grew up watching Bambi, but I was not prepared to be blown away from the elegance and beauty of the animation in this film.
The masters truly understood how to make their characters think. As you watch thumper in the clip below, you can actually see the wheels spinning in his little head. You forget that you’re watching a series of pencil drawings. Thumper is a real, living breathing rabbit. More on the animation of Bambi will follow.