Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bill and Buster's 12 Days of Christmas

With everyone talking about Christmas and their favorite Christmas specials, I decided to dig up a holiday-themed relic of my own. As most people know, my hobby is cartooning, and back in middle school I came up with a duo of characters that have been my signature ever since. Though I've never made a dime from them, writing comic strips and stories with them help me deal with life, and sort of channel my sarcastic side in a positive way. I currently do new "Bill and Buster" strips as an occasional feature on, usually poking fun at issues pertaining to my current home of Austin, Texas.

Anyhoo, Several years ago, back when Myspace was big, I decided to post my backlog of comic strips (with new ones too) as a daily feature for my friends. One year I did a little story arc with Buster getting fed up with Christmas decorations appearing in early November, and sets out to stop it with an army of Thanksgiving turkeys. Looking back on it, I wish I'd fleshed it out more, because it was one of the funniest things I've ever written. Anyway, a year or two later (I believe 2007)I decided to do 12 new strips and post them through the 12 days leading up to Christmas day, and make it a takeoff on the song "the Twelve Days of Christmas". I've gotten SO much better at both my drawing skills and digital coloring since then, and looking back on these, I think they look like shit. But I still like them, and they're funny. The gags are both my own and a couple of suggestions by my friend Jon Cooke, though I've forgotten who came up with what. Anyway, enjoy MY Christmas special, "Bill and Buster's 12 Days of Christmas."

As a bonus, here's the initial "Early Christmas" bit that I mentioned, (I loosely title it "A Bill and Buster Thanksgiving")as well as a few other holiday-themed entries from the Myspace days circa 2006.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Rant About CGI Cartoon Eyes

I know it's been nearly a year since I updated this blog. But tonight I had an interesting conversation on Facebook, and one of the participants suggested I turn it into a blog post. Now, I don't want to sound like a curmudgeon. I won't do a gazillion posts insulting the current state of American cartoons like John Kricfalusi does on his blog. But I WILL do this one.

I was watching "a Charlie Brown Christmas" on TV tonight. Despite the fact that ABC edited out some bits of it to fit in more commercials, I enjoyed it as usual. My eyes were then assaulted by a Disney CGI special called "Prep and Landing". Actually, a sequel to that, but I digress. I should rephrase "eyes were assaulted" was more like "the eyes assaulted ME." There have been a TON of computer-animated movies and TV shows in recent years, and a good majority of them have a design flaw that bothers me. The characters' eyes are not expressive. They look like giant ping-pong balls popping out of the characters' skulls, and they rarely, if ever, change shape or size.

I mentioned this on Facebook, and one astute friend of mine from high school pointed out the Japanese anime influence. We agreed that there is some of that...Osamu Tezuka designed the first true anime character, Astro Boy, with the style of Disney artist Carl Barks in mind.

But Barks' eyes were quite expressive, and Tezuka and his successors were, too. Anime style does indeed have wide, sometimes pie-cut eyes, but they change shape and size for expression.

Compare the above to stuff like this:

Notice the round, staring, ping-pong ball eyes. They never change shape, leaving the eyelids and eyebrows to do all the work. To me, that looks strange. Compare it, if you will, to the hand-drawn masters Chuck Jones and Tex Avery:

Now see some examples in motion. Check out these two clips from Chuck Jones' "Rabbit Fire" and "Rabbit Seasoning". Eyes used to be KEY in American cartoons. Chuck Jones and Tex Avery were the masters of eye expression. A character like Bugs Bunny could say a thousand words without making a sound, just by moving his eyes.

Watch this bit. We've all seen it...but focus on the characters' eyes. They change shape constantly. Watch Elmer Fudd. He doesn't say a word in this scene, but he registers confusion, then frustration, and determination with his eyes alone.

"Rabbit Fire"

It goes to even funnier extremes in this one:

"Rabbit Seasoning"

Now, compare the above Bugs Bunny clips to this:

Notice again the wide, bulging, dead eyes. Even something like "Heavy Metal" did better than THAT. Each character had unique, expressive eyes.

My friend Rachel uses expressive eyes in her comic strips. Though they're simple shapes, the size of the pupils and shape of the eyes change, thus making her characters expressive.

I do it. My characters change eye shape all the time.

So why, with all the awesome stuff that computers can do with cartoons, do we keep seeing this?

It "boggles" the mind.