2 D Animation Focusing On 50 S Animation
Animation is a form of art that is mostly used for entertainment purposes as well as having a place in learning and educational films and advertising; it’s used all around us everyday in different forms.
Since the beginning of time you can see how humans have tried to capture a sense of motion in art. For example this Egyptian wall decoration from around 2000bc shows two people fighting in different positions set out in a kind of comic book form. Also when you look at work such as Leonardo Di Vinci in his most famous illustrations he shows human limbs in different positions giving a sense of motion. Another example would be in the work of futurists for instance in Balla’s work. He was interested in pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed as was outlined by the futurist’s objective to depict movement. His paintings captured figures and objects in motion. He attempted to realize movement by showing them in repeated sequences. “The Dog on a Leash” recreates speed and flight by superimposing images.
As animation is essentially an optical illusion an understanding of the human eye is needed to achieve it. The first demonstration of this was the thaumatrope which was an optical toy that uses what has been called the persistence of vision. This was invented by Paul Roget, one side of the disc shows a bird and the other a cage. When the eye see’s an object it holds onto a picture of that for a fraction of a second while it talks to the brain so while you spin it you can see each picture long enough for the images merge into one. The next invention that furthered animation was the phenakistoscope invented by Joseph Plateau in 1826. It was a circular card with slits around the edge, the viewer would hold this up to a mirror and look through the slits as the card whirled, this then creates the illusion of motion. An invention that then followed this was the zoetrope which worked to the same principle. This was discovered by Paul Devignes, a strip of paper was inserted containing drawings on the inside of the cylinder which twirled on a spindle then the viewer could watch the looping motion through the slits of the drum.
The next major development was the motion picture camera and projector which created the first real practical means of making animation. The first way used with this equipment was the stop motion effect. A good example of this was a short film by Stuart Blackton “Humorous phases of funny faces” made in 1906. He drew comical faces on a blackboard, photographed them and then erased it to draw another expression. This technique was first discovered by George Melies, while filming the camera jammed then when it was processed and screened he noticed that a bus turned into a hearse and people in the street seemed to appear and disappear. He used this technique a lot in his films; due to this and his imaginative films he was known as cinemas first fantasist. His interest in stop motion and fantasy could stem from the fact that before he got into film he had worked as a conjurer and illusionist and stop motion was a form of illusion.
By the early 1920’s the popularity of animation had gone down. Audiences had started to tire of the old formula of a series of gags strung together, it wasn’t evident yet what animation could really accomplish. Some work though such as Felix the Cat and Winsor Mccays “Gertie the Dinosaur” showed the development of a character, watching a character come to life on screen at the time was revolutionary. Although at this time Felix developed the strongest on screen personality it again relied on visual tricks and gags rather than developing it further. At this time animator Earl Hurd (who has worked on films such as Disney’s Snow White and Fantasia) had invented the use of cell animation. A technique where figures are painted on to individual sheets on celluloid carefully laid over a background painting and photographed. This revolutionized the cartoon industry, saving costs and time it took to paint a new background for each frame. He devised this technique whilst working with another key figure in animation john R. Bray.
I am now going to concentrate on 2D animation, in particular drawn animation. Traditionally 2D animation has dominated commercial animation over the last century. To see how it has developed I have been looking at some earlier drawn cartoons in particular 50’s animation. This was an important time for animation as it bridged the gap between 1940’s theatrical animation and the pop cartoons of the 60’s. It draws upon modern design and the contempory styles of the time using a more stylized and sophisticated visual language transforming the traditional cartoon forms. To understand 1950’s animation design you need to look at the decades leading up to it. The main animation studio during the 30’s and 40’s was Walt Disney and the Disney style was mimicked a lot by most other animation studios. The Disney style had realistically rendered backgrounds and the approach to character design was based around circular, rounded forms. If you look at creations of other studios around this time such as Tom and Jerry at MGM or Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny at Warner Brothers for example you can see they are based on the same circular format. At this same time in other countries where Disney hadn’t taken hold there was a very different style of animation. For example the work of Russian Artists Ivan Ivanov-Vano and Leonid Amalrik “Black and White” was very different to the kind of styles we were seeing commercially. Although Disney films were focused on making relatable characters, these kinds of shorts were focused on projecting messages and Ideas. Animations such as Black and White feature strong caricatures drawn in a fine art way and slightly abstract; this was alien to American animation at the time. But then in the 50’s animators realized that they didn’t need to rely on circle and oval formulas and started to create characters in different ways. They tended to be unconventional showing harder slightly cubist style lines and it became more stylized and abstract with distorted characters.
The first animation team I’m looking at is Hanna-Barbera, formed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. Due to the limited budget of early TV animation, producers had to engage the audience through colourful, distinctively designed characters. They were one of the first animation studios to successfully produce cartoons primarily for TV. They had done Tom and Jerry shorts for MGM before entering the world of TV in the 50’s with “The Ruff and Ready Show” followed by “The Huckleberry Hound Show”, “Quick Draw McGraw” and “The Flinstones”. They were consistently successful despite the limited clumsy animation. They engaged the audience with the quirky graphic appeal and strong personalities of the characters. The artist Ed Benedict was a significant element in the characters. Most were designed by him; the designs are simple yet containing a quality that gives the design charm and personality. You can tell from the design what the personality of the character will be. For example when you look at Yogi Bear you can see in the simple design that he’s confident but probably a bit of a clumsy oaf but a loveable one. His work is an example of what clever design can do for a cartoon even when the animation quality isn’t great. The vocal characterizations and theme songs added to its appeal but are hard to see how it would have worked so well without Benedict’s character design talent.
Advertising was a big part of 50’s animation and one of the busiest commercial animation studios at this time was Ray Patin Productions. He was a former animator at studios including Disney and Charles Mintz. But in the 40’s opened his own studio, being a business man he had accepted the reality that he had to conform to create successful commercial adverts rather than sticking to his own preferences. This was mirrored in his work, his drawing style was heavily influenced by classical cartooning and show little comparison to contempary graphics and is more traditional. Model sheet drawings 1-3, stills from various commercials 4-7 and a commercial designed by Naom Gottfredson showing background made with wrapping paper. There is a variety of styles used in his commercials as he has had a who’s who of animators work for him including John Hubley, Tom Oreb and Ed Levitt.
John Hubley was an important name in 50’s animation, here is some various stills from commercials he has designed with Storyboard. Though Hubley was not an animator himself he was very interested in the movement of characters, he wanted his characters to move as distinctively as his designs. This is a still from a short film Hubley made called Rooty Toot Toot for United Productions America in 1951. It tells the story of Frankie and Johnny, Frankie walks into a bar where she catches her boyfriend Johnny with someone else and kills him in a fit of jealously. The story is all told in song using a jazz score and using its limited animation to great effect and is a stylized take on the story. He followed up the success of this by producing the opening titles of seven animated inserts for live action feature “The Four Poster”. These segments were integrated parts of the story being shown in-between the live segments. The animation was produced in black and white and shows an effective use of design and texture and used a stylized type of animation similar to his earlier work. A lot of the distinctive design however came from the etchy line driven concept drawings (hubley3) of Lew Keller.
Another United productions of America project Hubley was a part of was Mr Magoo. The character designs were largely created by him. The interesting thing about Mr Magoo at the time was that they were using human characters which weren’t necessarily a new thing but it was dealt with in a realistic manner. For example characters like Popeye were human but were dealt with in a slapstick manner and could be squashed or broken into pieces where as Mr Magoo was moving into satire rather than slapstick. The later Magoo shorts broke away from this concept a bit but the earlier films were made with the intention that his actions should be as believable as a real human being. Hubley had said “I prefer subjects that involve human relations and problems, even at the expense of action” One of the things I really like about this is the background designs by Jules Engel which show space in a more literal detailed way but still showed an exploration for design.
I’ve also looked at a couple of Disney productions directed by Ward Kimball. He was one of Walts most liked and trusted artists. Although he had worked at Disney for his whole career he wanted to escape the restraints of being a Disney animator. He was assigned to work on the films “Adventures in music: Melody” and “Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom”. They both feature a professor owl who teaches musical concepts to a classroom of birds. He pushed the films into a style Disney had never done before. Apparently Kimball decided to modernize the look of the film while Walt Disney was visiting Europe so he wouldn’t have to explain it to him. For the first film he designed the whole thing himself but for the second Toot Whistle…he made sure everyone working for him understood his new modernist approach.
The design movement I have talked about that happened through 50’s animation I think is still an inspiration for today’s animation although technology has moved on so much there is not much room left for drawn animation. Over the last 30 years or so more of a diversity of style has emerged appealing to a wider audience rather than just for the children’s entertainment industry. There is a bigger demand for animation in different forms now such as video games, special effects, the internet and on mobile phones. Also animation festivals have become a great way of featuring short films showing new ideas and approaches to the art. This offers more imaginative scope for personal artistic expression.