Research Paper

          Question: Can digital medium like Adobe Flash help effectively reproduce Cartoon Modern aesthetics? If so, up to what extent?

In this research paper I would like to explore Cartoon Modern aesthetics which was a widely used style by many studios, mainly in-between 1940 to 1960; and recreate it using one of the commonly used and well known digital medium for 2D animation – Adobe Flash. The main aim of this research is to study and practically recreate the aesthetic sense which defined new standards and opened new possibilities that were tied down earlier due to aesthetic standards set by major studios like Disney. This unique approach that Cartoon Modern portrays was very enticing which made me consider this topic for research.

By looking at films like ‘Gerald Mc Boing Boing’, ‘Rooty Toot Toot’, ‘The Brotherhood of Man’ etc., we can understand that these films were not at all bound by the usual standards set by Disney with their realistic and rotoscoped characters but they had replaced everything with quirky colours, bold lines, simplified overall design, limited animation and graphically strong visuals.

In this paper I would like to break down these aesthetic factors in Cartoon Modern style into various sections like character design, backgrounds, textures, techniques used, camera movement etc. and compare it with my practical research output. Furthermore I would also be analysing Cartoon Modern films and discussing one of its unique aesthetic which will be reproduced using Adobe Flash in my final film. I would then like to discuss the digital medium in use and conclude by discussing my research.

Breaking down the aesthetic factors in consideration:

  • Cartoon Modern aesthetic factors:
    • Character Design
    • Backgrounds
    • Textures
    • Techniques
    • Camera movement

Character design: A stylised yet simple character design was one of the main factors that helped Cartoon Modern spread its influence throughout in the 1950’s. The graphically artistic and less realistic look gave the characters freedom for movement. Which reminds me of what Robert “Bobe” Cannon had stated about his films that he was unafraid to acknowledge the fact that the characters on screen were drawings made on flat surface and that they could behave with designed mannerisms that would be impossible to replicate in real life.( Amidi, Cartoon Modern, p130.)

Evolution of character design:

Character Design: 1

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Character Design: 2

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Character Design: 3

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Character Design: 4

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All of the above characters have the Cartoon Modern aesthetic but the degree to which the design gets influenced by it varies. The first character design was inspired from a film illustration during the opening credits of the film called Padosan (1968). Based on the abstract artistic style of this character I found it more relating to Cartoon Modern style and heavily influenced design. So I decided to take it a step further and when making the second character I chose simple shapes to define the body. This simplified character still carries all the qualities and does not, in any way look incomplete. Because of expressing artistically and having this clean and well defined look I understood why this style was widely used. The third character design was inspired from Hanna-Barbera’s show The Jetsons (1962). The use of limited animation to cut costs was evident in the show and the character design was recycled more often to meet the deadlines. I was interested in creating a character based on the lead George J. Jetson’s son Elroy Jetson. The above rendition was how he would look in his twenties. The character though was more detailed and would be problematic for lengthy animation, which is why I decided to create a simplified character that would be good for limited animation; Character design 4. It had less movable parts but still had a refined and polished look, which would be ideal for animated shorts on an episodic basis.

Background design: In most of the films that followed Cartoon Modern style had backgrounds which were sometimes quite toned down or which only had the bare basics to define its standing. When talking about shorts by UPA based on Mr. Magoo, the cartoons represent the embrace of re-physicalizing and re-materialising the world, redesigning experience in a wholly different spirit to the hyper-realist contexts so determined by Disney. (Wells, Animation and America, p66.) Based on the aesthetic design I decided to reconstruct and create some backgrounds in Adobe Flash.

Background design: 1

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Background design: 2

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Background design: 3

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Background design: 4

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Similar to the simplified character designs when it comes to backgrounds, ‘UPA style’ never ceases to amaze. Based on Illustration during the opening credits of the film called Padosan (1968), the first background was done. It is a simple, less detailed and contrasting coloured background. It also has no horizon line. It is just a simple flat background, but the depiction of scene never goes wrong even when these important elements are missing and the objects are left hanging in the void. It is similarly seen in the second background as well, where the details are again limited but even though there is no drawn horizon line the presence of tiled pattern gives out a sense of false perception. We feel that there is a wall and the objects are placed accordingly. Arranging the objects like the chair and varying their heights also adds to this phenomenon.  In background design 4 the arrangement and use of textures makes it easy to interpret and even though the details are limited the unique approach of using textures gives it a pleasing look. In the last design though I decided to take it a step further and decided to experiment by adding shadows to create a false sense of depth. This produced a pleasing effect where the whole image looks as if it was shot by placing it on top of glass and layering it to get the final result. This reminded me of Disney’s Multiplane camera which was used to create false sense of depth in 2D movies by layering and adjusting or moving the camera to create and manipulate; perspective. The designs were kept simple and lines were not used often and objects were just depicted using block of colours.

Texture: The exciting feature which I decided to include in the final film was the use of texture instead of colour. Textures give a different abstract look to the entire scene, when included the overall look becomes more artistic rather than plain. It stands out more and gives more appeal and adds individuality.

Texture usage: Plaid

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Texture usage: Plaid  and Denim.

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In the above backgrounds for the buildings I used fabric textures. The ‘plaid’ fabric texture which was used in a similar way in the  Carl Urbano’s film, Rhapsody of Steel (1959) inspired me. For the second background I used dark ‘plaid’ texture for the floor and for the armchair, used ‘Denim’ texture.

Techniques: I studied various limited animation techniques which are still in use in various ways throughout the animation industry and also used by individual animators, which is possible only because of the easy availability of digital mediums like Adobe Flash.

Limited animation: The term limited does not mean that the animation is limited. There is no such thing as limited animation, only limited talented. (Furniss, Animation – Art and Industry, p.154.)    The movements and action done by the character were repeated when possible, to cut expenses. Body parts or backgrounds that were static in a particular scene was not animated but kept still. This helped to reduce the time consumed for each individual projects. For my research Adobe Flash helped me to do the same. When movement and walk cycles were taken into consideration processes like tweening and repeating the walk cycles helped to save time and helped me work on more projects while at the same time not compromising too much on the quality of the overall animation.

Camera Movement: A digital medium like Flash gives us the user, the option to manipulate and replicate pseudo camera movements and use it effectively for our films. The method I used to generate movement for my final film was using ActionScript 2.0 (AS2)1 and V-cam. With this it was as if I had the camera in hand and I could do a range of movements which I find suitable according to the scene or action.

Panning: For the starting scene in my final film I used panning techinique which is simply moving the camera from point A to B and then applying classic tween. Now instead of moving the objects, which is the common meathod used when creating camera movement, I was moving the camera. This gave me more freedom to arrange and stage my shots.

  1. Actionscript 2 : Flash V-Cam

Tutorial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHGdRarnLzk

Zoom in: For the second scene in the final film, I used the same camera but again instead of moving I simply varied the sizes and used classic tween from point A to B. While doing so I kept the starting

point and the ending point of the camera in a diagonal position and this made the movement better than the plain zoom in

Unique Film Aesthetics inspirations: Overall the following films have inspired me and I have taken references from some of these films for my final research film.

Employee Relations (1950’s) – John Sutherland Productions.

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Patterned fabrics were used for the floor and the armchair, which made it stand out and capture attention of the viewer.

Flat Hatting (1946) – John Hubley – UPA

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Here patterned designs were used for the characters clothes, which is also an effective way for showing fabric instead of block colours.

Christopher Crumpet (1953) – Bobe Cannon

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The newspaper pattern from an actual paper is used to symbolise paper.

Paul Bunyan (1958) – Les Clark

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The usage of lines and shapes which defines the character are quite different, which increases the overall aesthetic appeal.

The Digital medium: Adobe Flash

Throughout the research, for my understanding and for testing the output, Flash played a significant role. The means of production has changed and instead of using cameras and other equipment, Flash has given even the amateur animator a chance at animation. If the cost of overall production in the 50’s is considered, more money and time was involved. But paying for the software and releasing it using a free medium like YouTube has reduced the burden on the person involved. It is commonly used nowadays and many animators are churning out shorts on an episodic basis onto the internet, which was made possible only because of Digital mediums like Flash.

Conclusion: The final output based on the Cartoon Modern aesthetics gave me plenty of chances to improve. One of the main things that always bothered me – Character design, was broken down to the basics and handed to me showing that style stemmed from the subject matter. (Amidi, Cartoon Modern, p112) Similarly for the background design as well, even though it was less detailed but more stylized, the output will be unique in its own way. New and innovative ways of using texture helped me to reconsider layouts and background designs. Clever use of limited animation helped me by skipping unnecessary animation and saving time in the process but I also learned that it should be used only when needed. Also techniques like using virtual camera in Flash gave me more freedom to experiment.

When I look into all the practical and theoretical findings I can say that: Cartoon Modern and its aesthetics can not only be effectively reproduced but also because of the many options available; it gives the animator plenty of space for creativity. Based on the resources and tools available now I can decide by his myself what should I aim for and work towards that. If I were to continue I would like to research more about camera movements and how it can be effectively used with conjunction to limited animation.

Thank you.

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