The timeless lessons of Disney legends

It’s a great pleasure for me to go through the blog of Andreas Deja. It’s like digging into a virtual museum of Disney classics and great artists. Andreas Deja himself is an animation master. During his 30 years woking at Disney, Andreas was responsible for prominent characters like Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast”, Jafar in “Aladdin”, Scar in “The Lion King”, and Lilo in “Lilo and Stitch”.

Besides, to be able to hang out and learn from six of the “Nine Old Men” of Disney is a privilege not many can have. Andreas is obviously the lucky one. So it’s even more amazing to see him sharing these delightful and valuable experience on his personal blog. Here are some of the advice and tips that I find magically equivalent to the pixie dust spreading over the castle in Disney’s intro.

Just to get started, here is a photo from 1980, when I got accepted into Eric Larson‘s Disney Animation Training Program. Eric was the most patient teacher. Some of his words of wisdom didn’t sink in until much later. Observation was one of his favorites. “Look around you and observe things, you will need it!”

Eric Larson’s animation training program, which started in the mid 1970s, was groundbreaking and very important. I was so lucky to have benefited from Eric’s one on one mentoring. He was the most patient teacher I have ever known. Even when you knew that what you were showing to Eric was REALLY bad stuff, he always saw something positive in your work that encouraged you to keep going. He would often flip a trainee’s scene, and most likely he pointed out that there was too much going on in the animation, too many ideas. What is your statement here, what are you trying to communicate? After a brief discussion Eric would pull out drawings that weren’t necessary, and he simplified and clarified your whole scene. It was magical to see him do this. Eric also drew over poses and strengthened them, so by the time you were done with your session you left Eric’s office with something that WORKED.

Many of today’s influential animation artists went through Eric’s training program, including Tim Burton, Brad Bird, Ron and John, Mark Henn, Andy Gaskill and Glen Keane, just to name a few.

I love many characters Eric animated over the years. But I think that Eric did some of his best work for Lady & the Tramp. He animated the first half of the sequence with the beaver at the zoo. Milt Kahl did the second half. Eric’s shining moment in the film is his animation of Peg. I swear, Milt Kahl told me that he believes it’s the best stuff in the picture.

I started to ask him (Milt Kahl) about the balance of straight versus curved lines in his drawings, I swear, he didn’t know what I was talking about. “You need to draw well”, that’s it. But he did talk about how much he enjoyed developing characters, “Song of the South”, Merlin and Mim, Shere Khan and Madame Medusa being some of his favorites. I have a couple of his pencil tests for you, the famous Pinocchio skip, and then the Sheriff of Nottingham walking toward camera with a lot of weight.

Ollie Johnston‘s statement to students: “Your drawings can be rough, but they need to be clear!” As you can see in the drawings below, Ollie put a lot of love into his animation. “When I was doing Pinocchio” he told me once “I thought of the character being real, a living person, not a drawing.” I know that’s how he felt about all of his characters.

As an art student Marc (Marc Davis) would visit the local zoos early in the morning before opening time. He had made a deal with zoo management, in return for this special treatment Marc would leave an occasional sketch for the animal keepers. He told some of us much later: “It is during the early morning hours when the animals are most active. They are being fed and move around, and this makes for interesting study of motion and behavior.” In the afternoons Marc went to libraries and studied animal anatomy from books.

When I saw these animal sketchbooks for the first time, I was struck not only by the beauty but also by the cohesiveness of the drawings. What I mean by that is, because of Marc’s strong observation and thorough knowledge of the inner structure of the animal, these sketches look like they are ready to be animated. Just like in good model sheets, everything is worked out. You can see clearly how the bodies are functioning mechanically, and of course there is also a feeling for the essence of the animal.

Frank (Frank Thomas) was very critical about the way other animators used live action. To him the acting ideas were all you needed, but you still had to pass judgement on the footage and interpret what the actor gave you. His animation never has that roto, floaty feel to it. For one thing Frank was way too talented and smart to let that happen. This is the intro of Captain Hook. The pencil test is the tied down version. It’s……incredible!

The best of Disney’s animators knew how to stage their characters in a way that made them easy to read on the screen. That way their personality statements were uncluttered and to the point. Every line put on paper supports a main thought, and the rhythm of the drawing leads your eyes toward the area you are supposed to look at. This is not an easy thing to achieve. An animator needs to boil things down to a clear essence, because the audience only has a split second to see and understand what’s going on.

I traced these classic Disney moments off from xeroxes of the originals. In most cases the characters were animated on different levels, I combined them here for the final composition. This stuff leaves me in awe. I know that some animators like Frank Thomas and Eric Larson worked hard to achieve this simplicity, while others like Milt Kahl and Marc Davis did it intuitively. Each drawing is accompanied by an overlay that shows the flow toward the focused area.

The first example from “Pinocchio” even had two animators who worked out the staging issues. Stromboli was animated by Tytla, Pinoke by Frank Thomas. Combined they form a powerful composition, the main focus is Stromboli’s right hand grabbing Pinocchio. The characters connect very strongly. That firm grip shows Stromboli’s physical strength, and Pinocchio’s vulnerability.

Milt Kahl did all three characters in this scene from “Song of the South”. They relate sooo simply, clear personality and attitude in each of them. Your eyes end up at the rabbit.

Frank Thomas animated Merlin and Mim. Props like Merlin’s hat and his magic wand help point to his nose being grabbed by Mim. That’s the business of the scene and all lines support the idea. Here again opposing attitudes make up for an entertaining statement.

Robin and Maid Marian were done by Milt, their hands/paws connect in such a simple and elegant way. Even the feather on Robin’s hat is curved and points toward Maid Marian. This looks so simple, but it really is quite sophisticated.

Milt again, drawing Penny and Medusa. It is absolutely clear who is the forthcoming character, and who is reacting. Medusa is as usual overpowering, and here even her lips help the visual connection with Penny.

Head over to Andreas Deja’s blog for more insights into the Disney legends, as well as updates on his latest project. We’ll talk about it very soon!

This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.

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The timeless lessons of Disney legends

Discover the alluring GIFs by Nancy Liang

There is a warm, cozy, and magical feeling sweeping through me whenever I see the GIFs made by Nancy Liang. Some have an incredible amount of realistic quality, although they’re realised by mostly coarse pencil lines. Some have an amazing element of surprise in the animation. Who would think of snow flying upward, an inn floating in the air, fish flying in the sky, stars flowing out of chimneys, dots of light emerging from the ground? What’s even better, every little detail is executed beautifully.

Most of the GIFs’ colour schemes is monochrome, which helps enhance the visual communication a great deal. As there are many subtle movements in the compositions, an overly colourful palette is likely to overwhelm and distract the eyes. But this doesn’t mean these GIFs’ colours are boring. Nancy has done a fantastic job varying the colours and shades by using pencils and kraft paper. The resulted special texture is simple yet tangible – a fulfilling quality of hand-crafts to the artwork. And that’s the thing sweeping me off my feet.

Below is Nancy sharing the making of one of her GIFs, then there is a selection of our favourites!

For me every­thing must be sep­a­rate. That way I can move or redraw sin­gle ele­ments frame by frame rather than cre­ate hun­dreds of fin­ished col­lages frame by frame. I draw, I cut, I paste and shift things around. It is a reit­er­a­tive process.

Here’s how the image is bro­ken down. Layer 1:

Layer 2:

Layer 3:

Finish:

This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.

Discover the alluring GIFs by Nancy Liang

“One Bright Dot” – A majestic animated short by Clément Morin

What grabbed my attention is the magnificent execution of the animation. And I’m not the only one, after the first week being uploaded to Vimeo, this short has got more than 5,500 likes.

The narrative is straightforward: a journey of a light particle from a single reflection in the water to power life and civilization. Motion designer Clément Morin used mainly two modules in Cinema 4D: Sketch & Toon, and X-Particles, to create such sublimed effects of multiple light particles.

As the title suggests, the dot of light is the main character throughout this one-and-a-half-minute short. I just love how versatile this little hero is illustrated. In the first stage in the water, the light has a quasi-liquid look. After transforming under refraction, the light dot acquires a plasma form. The visual is realistic yet poetic, grandeur yet organic, stable yet dynamic.

It’s hard to take my eyes off the screen throughout the whole journey. There is just so much to see. All the motion flows so smoothly and seamlessly one after another. The colour scheme of dark purples for shadow and a warm blend of yellow, orange, red for light works out beautifully. The cinematography is expressive with diverse camera angles that have both depth and altitude. Pairing up with the incredible animation is a splendid score by Etienne Forget and Hugo Thouin. Well, that’s more than enough to make this short a perfect piece in every aspect.

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This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.

“One Bright Dot” – A majestic animated short by Clément Morin

Zen Pencils: The ultimate source of inspirational comics

I still remember the first time I saw a comic by Zen Pencils on the net. It was hilarious, yet touching and profound in a special way. I was glad that there was somebody out there turning inspirational quotes into an even more inspirational tool of communication. Comic strips usually build up a narrative arc and deliver the punch line at the end. But Zen Pencils comics go straight to the punch line and build up a narrative preceding or succeeding it. The story world from a few lines of quotes suddenly grows vast and deep. And the best Zen Pencils comics are interesting to the point of being irresistible. They don’t merely illustrate what is being told from the quotes. The visual tell its own story that complements the text greatly. And that’s what made Zen Pencils comics so good and contagious.

The story of Zen Pencils’ author, Gavin Aung Than, is itself an inspiration. Gavin worked in the corporate graphic design industry for 8 years before quitting his unfulfilling job at the end of 2011 to focus on his true passion, drawing cartoons. Gavin launched Zen Pencils at the start of 2012, a cartoon blog which adapts inspirational quotes into comic stories, and hasn’t looked back since. Zen Pencils has been featured by The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Slate, Mashable, Upworthy, Buzzfeed, Gawker, The A.V. Club, and Brain Pickings. It was named one of the best 100 websites of 2013 by PCMag. This sounds deceptively easy, but there is a great deal of hard work to get Gavin to where he is now with Zen Pencils. Listen to his story below.

Here is the process of Gaving making “Phenomenal Woman” comic and 9 other comics of our favourites!

1. WORD ASSOCIATION: I printed out the poem on regular copy paper and started scribbling, separating lines into panels and just doodling whatever came to mind. I already knew the basic plot of the adaptation (which by the way, can sometimes take weeks to figure out): Maya as a girl, Maya as a dancer, Maya meets famous men, Maya’s poem recital at Bill Clinton’s inauguration and finally, praising ALL woman. And I knew that one of the biggest panels would be of Maya dancing. So here you can see the first thumbnail tiny sketch of the panel.

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2. FIRST ROUGH: Once the plot is figured out, I print out the poem separated into their panels and very roughly draw in the figures. As you can see here, my first attempt is terrible. I can barely dance myself, let alone draw a graceful woman calypso dancing!

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3. REFERENCE: I get reference of Maya Angelou’s calypso dancing period to help, because I’m gonna need all the help I can get!

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4. SECOND ROUGH: I found another reference pic of a girl dancing and did a couple of more sketches. The scribble on the top right is about the best I can do and captures the movement I’m looking for.

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5. ENLARGED ROUGH: I scanned that scribble into Photoshop and exaggerated the figures legs and hips. I was pushing the cartooniness factor and didn’t necessarily want the characters to be proportional. Next, I turned the sketch into light blue, enlarged the drawing to A3 and printed it out, just on cheap copy paper. I turn the line blue because I’m going to pencil over it again. I could have just left it black and printed it at a low opacity, but I was simulating the blue pencil line most comic artists use when they sketch. I guess it makes me feel more like a ‘real comic book artist’.

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6. TIGHTER PENCILS: Ok, now we’re getting somewhere! I penciled over the blue sketch a lot more carefully and drew in the crowd of drooling men. I find it so much easier to draw once I have that rough blue framework of a figure underneath. I scanned this image into Photoshop again and you can see I duplicated some of the men’s heads, mainly because I know I’m going to be turning this drawing blue again and inking over it and can just change the faces when I’m inking. So I turn it blue and print it a very low opacity on nicer, thicker paper that I ink on. The blue serves a purpose at this stage because later, when I scan the inks as black and white lineart, the blue won’t appear in the scan.

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7. INKS: One conscious decision I made when inking this comic, was that I was not going to use any line variation, so the whole thing was inked with a 0.3 Pigma Micron pen. Normally I use a variety of pen thickness along with a brush pen. I was going for a very loose look. I like to change things up from comic to comic. Variety is the spice of life right?

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8. POLISHED INKS: Once the inks are scanned I clean up and dirt and mistakes in Photoshop and fill in any black areas.

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9. COLOURS: Here’s the finished panel with colour and text added. I was using a limited colour palette for each ‘scene’ of the comic. I think the limited colours look good, but honestly, sometimes I do it to help me save time, especially when colouring a super-long comic like this one.

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Well, there it is. Now multiply this by all the panels in the comic, and you’ll have some idea of the work that goes into each adaptation. For all you aspiring cartoonists out there, I hope this shows you that I’m not blessed with any magical drawing ability. I mean check out number 2 again – look how utterly terrible that sketch is. You could draw that couldn’t you? It’s only after extensive revision, drawing and re-drawing does an illustration come together. There’s no secret!

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This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.

Zen Pencils: The ultimate source of inspirational comics

Best animated loops (GIFs) of the month

Illustrated GIFs always attract me in an unexplainable way. Maybe it’s the pure awe of seeing gorgeous artwork coming to life. The movements may be small and they repeat nonstop, but the resulted gestalt is wonderful. Especially these!

Rafael Varona has created some of the most subtle and charming GIFs I’ve ever seen. His current project “Impossible Bottles” works out the little details so well, almost to the point that I’d get lost in the bottles myself.

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Oamul always amazes me with his lively and lavish art. When he turns it into GIFs, there is a whole new depth to the work. It’s a pure delight. The actual motion is small, but it opens up an impressive narrative for the artwork.

I came to know Eran Hilleli when writing the post about the “Boys Latin” music video. There is a surreal quality in Eran’s work that I’m strangely drawn to. His characters and shapes are often simple, sometimes borderline low-poly. Yet their compositions and interactions with each other are so dynamic and full of rhythms.

Speaking of GIFs, I should, have to, and must mention Robin Davey. The man has been on a roll cranking out genius artwork in motion. No matter how long I look at his work, I see something new. Every little detail plays up each other greatly. You cannot mistake this dynamism of Robin Davey.

*Robin also has awesome artwork for licensing on Kuvva. Come take a look here!

This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.

Best animated loops (GIFs) of the month