Monday, December 20, 2010

The proof of the pudding

It is the time of the year to take stock, and it is not just the time of the year, but also the time of my animation program to evaluate my progress. Believe it or not, but last term was the last full study term: what remains is tying up loose ends, building a portfolio and a demo reel, and doing a final film. However, the nagging feeling that bothered me last year, grew stronger and stronger over last term, and finally made me conclude I am not ready yet for the real world.

I generally feel that my drawing skills are good, but not at a professional level. This holds for life drawing in general, but for anything cartoony in particular. I feel I am missing a native ability to freely draw, for instance, Looney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, but I acknowledge this ability is essential to succeed in animation. This feeling is reflected by comments of some of my teachers, who expressed their opinion that I am not strong enough to be competitive yet. Although I do not agree with all of the details, I have to agree with the gist of these: I am not ready yet.

Also, I feel that the overloaded program does not leave a lot of space for students to develop themselves, and to try what works for them, and what not. For instance, I feel I am a strong background painter, but I still have not found time to complete some pieces of my own hand, which is essential for a strong portfolio. In particular, the range of animation exercises completed so far may look impressive, but the majority of these are really too basic to fit a professional reel.

As a result, I will not graduate next Spring, but take one more year to develop as an artist. Next term, I will stick to basic courses, like Life Drawing, and Drawing Heads and Features, and continue to work on animations that eventually may go in a demo reel. Over the next summer, apart from strengthening my skills, I will see if I can do some freelance illustration projects, to test my skills and, most important, to make some money. I have always kept in mind that I may need an extra year, but I do not think it is wise to totally exhaust my resources. For me, the motto for the year 2011 will be "The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating"

Saturday, October 23, 2010


The Animal Drawing course has entailed the drawing of, mainly, animal skeletons, so far. That is, we have to draw a dog skeleton from three angles, a dog skull from three angles, and one of these has to be worked out as a tonal study. A horse will receive a similar treatment. On two occasions, a live dog will come to pose, and a visit to a horse stable is on the agenda, and we do some miscellaneous exercises with dogs and horses in various forms. I am happy with the tonal study of a dog skeleton, but I am not very thrilled by the idea of having to do the same with a horse. We will see...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Great Four

This week, Piet Wijn passed away. I read somewhere that Hans G. Kresse, Pieter Kuhn, Marten Toonder and Piet Wijn are considered The Great Four Dutch comic creators, and although I have not found any proof of this claim, it feels true enough to mention it here.

Hans G Kresse (1921-1992) is best remembered as the creator of 'Eric de Noorman' (Eric the Viking). His oeuvre spans a wealth of other comic series, like Vidocq and a series about native North-Americans, and illustrations in books and magazines.

Pieter Kuhn (1910-1966) created 'Kapitein Rob' (Captain Rob), who had a long series of adventures with his dog Skip on his ship 'De Vrijheid' (Freedom), more than once trying to counter the evil genius of Prof. Lupardi.

Marten Toonder (1912-2005) is considered the founding father of Dutch animation and mentor of a whole generation of illustrators and animators. His 'Ollie B. Bommel' and 'Tom Poes' (Mr. Bumble and Tom Puss) were born as main characters in a comic series for children, but ultimately grew up as mature characters, attracting a large audience of adult fans. Marten Toonder enriched the Dutch language with various words and expressions like 'minkukel', 'denkraam' and 'wees een heer in het verkeer'.

Piet Wijn(1910-2010) worked on a variety of comic series, but his most renowned creation is Douwe Dabbert, a happy old character, wandering through a fairy tale universe. He is sometimes referred to as the Mage of Dutch Comics, because of his great liking for magical fairy tale creatures.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Digital Backgrounds

Last week I completed the Digital Background Painting course. To be honest, I had not expected to learn a lot, as I know about digital, about background and about painting, but I was happy to learn how to use Photoshop in a way that does not distract so much from foreground matter.

The first three backgrounds are based on layouts and colour keys provided by my teacher Vladan Ignatovic. The last two are originals.

Update (December 30th): today I learnt I passed this course with honors.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The final countdown

This is my 'piece de resistance' from last year's Background Painting course. For this assignment, both the layout and the colour key were given, so it is really nothing more than an extremely neat copy. Well, it is good to know that, should I fail as an artist, I can still start a career as a fraudster or a xerox machine.

Halfway this summer I finally got my grading chart. I passed Life Drawing, Cartooning and Storyboarding, high passed Animation Basics, but was really surprised to learn that I high passed Layout and passed with honours for Storytelling. To sum it up, I passed my Second Year in Animation.

Next Monday I hope to start my Third Year, with an intensive two week course in Digital Background Painting. The other courses for this term are Life Drawing, Animal Drawing, Character Design, Animation Basics, Drawing Hands and Feet, and Drawing for Animation. Let's see what happens.

Looking back on Noda

It felt like a place of magic, and I was not really surprised that it was hard to shoot pictures there, as it was dimly lit and I could not stand where I had wanted to stand, to get the composition right. Years after, I decided to turn this Atago shrine from Noda, Japan, into an animation background, and I was quite happy with the result. Here you can see the original picture, the rough and clean layout and, finally, the gouache.

Friday, July 9, 2010

He, buddy, can you soak my head?

I was cleaning the school's entrance with a garden hose, in an oppressive heat that felt like 40° C, and the man took of his hat and bent his head, red-burnt and bald. I hesitated for a moment, wondering whether I would really do him a favour by aiming the powerful jet from my hose on his scalp, and right when I thought I would ask him to close his ears, I noticed. He had asked me to soak his hat, and he had not been bending his head in anticipation: he was looking down into his hat, waiting for me to wet it. So, I aimed my jet at his hat, he thanked me and walked on.

I still wonder what would have happened if I had missed that momentarily clear mind...

Monday, July 5, 2010


A bad memory has its advantages. It helps to forget bad things, to forgive bad people and sometimes it surprises me with good things I had forgotten about. The following sketch falls in the latter category, I did it during my first Christmas break here in Toronto. I called it 'Candle Magic' and still like it. Help me remember I paint this one day.

Quickies with Hawthorne

It is already more than one year ago that I did a series of quick studies in Hawthorne's style. Charles Hawthorne (1873-1930) taught painting as the 'mechanics of putting one spot of colour next to another', an approach which is brilliant in its simplicity. The school's introduction to painting builds upon exactly this foundation, and students spend most of their time scanning and comparing colours. I believe that Hawthorne played it a little rougher than our teacher, and he encouraged his students to do quick studies with the painting knife. I decided to follow his suggestion with one change: I painted digitally in Photoshop.

It is extremely good practice, and I hope to do a few more this summer. And yet, from an applied art perspective there is so much more to learn about painter, and it is itching more and more that I currently do not have a chance to develop more as a painting. I would love to play with brushwork, to study specific oil techniques, like glazing, and to study the old masters. I am afraid one life is too short to do what I want to do.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

11 Seconds

Last month I finally found time to join the '11 Second Club' , a monthly animation contest where competitors create an animation which fits a given sound fragment. My education focusses on animation exercises, and the Club gave me an opportunity to do a short movie from start to finish. Although the final score for my entry 'Office Hours', 45th out of 127 entries, was a little disappointing, it was really rewarding to see how the various parts of my education, i.e. storytelling, storyboarding, layout, animation, cleanup and inbetweening and background painting, fit together. I hope to give it another try in July.

This effort was even more rewarding because I used my own software, dubbed 'Sweatbox', to assemble the various parts of my movie. I was never really happy with the available products for line testing, like Flipbook, Toonboom Pencil Test and Monkey Jam, so I decided to write my own. Now, Sweatbox needs a lot more polishing before I even consider publishing it, but being able to combine old and new expertise gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Kettle of the Family

Sometimes I am starting to believe it has always been there, standing on a small table in a corner of our living room, but I know my father had found it on a dunghill, where it had been used to transport the excrements of the cows. The owner had told my father he could keep it, my father brought it home, my mother almost got a seizure, but days of cleaning and polishing finally revealed a beautiful copper kettle. After more than 40 years, my mother still keeps it in her home. It feels like an icon.

I finally got a chance to portray it. Last year I had hoped to do it during my holidays, but I found there was no place in the big city of Emmeloord that carries oil paint. This year I returned, bringing my own oils, and spent a few days to do the job. I do not say this easily, but I like this portrait.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Some more anatomy

I stumbled across some of my anatomy work: enjoy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Warning: contains nudity

Now that school is over I have finally time to return to my beloved Dr. Sketchy's and The Keyhole Sessions. Yesterday, Dr. Sketchy's featured Lena Love in absolutely extravagant outfits, which reminded me of things I thought I had already forgotten. Enjoy. You have been warned.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Two years

The second year is over: it was a year of struggling. While I felt I learnt an awful lot in my First Year, I have this nagging feeling that this Second Year did not bring me where I had hoped to be.

A number of courses just did not work for me. I had really been looking forward to 'Storytelling and story development', but where I feel that storytelling is a skill that needs to be practiced, the course mainly consisted of theory on characters and story structure, watching a lot of cartoons to illustrate the theory, and three ultra-short story assignments, each aiming at 30-60 seconds of screen time. I had always wanted to do a course on storytelling; it is still on my list.

Anatomy was not really bad, but the 7 hours per week spent with it made me expect to learn a lot more. In those hours, consisting of a class, a lab and a video lecture, we got a rough overview of the skeleton and the main muscle groups, everything restricted to the torso, upper arms and upper legs, we spent a lot of time drawing the various bones, and plaster models with muscles, and drawing live models with attention to the various anatomical 'landmarks', where the emphasis seemed to be more on producing nice drawings, than on gathering accurate anatomical knowledge. I studied anatomy before, but I am still puzzled by how muscles interact and change in action, so I will continue to study this on my own.

Cartooning was the biggest disappointment for me, mainly because I firmly believe in how it should be based upon life drawing skills, while the teaching in no way connected to these underpinnings. A good deal of time was spent on material that is really worth studying, like trees, clothing and shoes and furniture, but for me it makes no sense to study it in a cartooning context. The school defends 'From the general to the specific' as a guiding principle, which to me really means to first study the real thing, and only then to move to its abstraction. Next year we will learn about heads and features, hands and feet, and the clothed model, and a good deal of Cartooning should build upon that. I still have not passed this course, will spend some more time on it during the summer, but it is in the same category as Storytelling and Anatomy, in that it did not really work for me.

The main struggle was Life Drawing, my favourite course in every respect, and also the course I spend most of my time with. I had expected that the variety of exercises I have went through in the past two years would have resulted in a useful skill set, but for now I am a little disappointed to see how gestures, contours and box forms have remained just gestures, contours and box forms. On the other hand, life drawing is complex matter, maybe I am just expecting too much.

I came to the conclusion I am more of a painter than a draftsman, seeing the world as in colours, light and dark, and not so much in lines. My linework, consequently, seems to be a little underdeveloped, so this is definitely an area to work on. For an animator, lines are fundamental!

It also was a year of technicalities, with a sea of time spent on those parts of the process of creating a movie that do not necessarily deliver 'nice' output. I learned a lot in Layout, Storyboarding, Cleanup and Inbetweening, but really nothing worth showing here.

Of course, there was Animation Basics, which step by step teaches the fundamentals of animation, like squash and stretch, anticipation and overlapping action, through a series of exercises, like the Bouncing Ball, the Rollercoaster, the Profile Walk, the Splash, the Cannon Blast and the 3/4 Walk. I showcase these on youtube. And, finally, there was Background Painting, one of my favourites, which I mentioned earlier in this blog.

I will conclude with two 'reductive drawings', which were started with an eraser on paper that has been chalked grey. These are part of a series of four, with model clothed and nude, in lines and grey. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Two years (almost)

It is almost two years ago that I came here at Max the Mutt. That is, two years of study and practice. Exercises. And more exercises. Gestures. Blind contours. Modelling. Quick contours. Silhouettes. Extended gestures. Reductive drawings. If I may compare learning to draw with learning to sing, we spent two years on breathing exercises and scales. And never do we sing a song.

At the end of Year 1, with two years to go, the notion that we were just doing exercises, helped me relax. However, now, at the end of Year 2, it makes me slightly nervous. Am I on the right track? Will I ever be the skilled draftsman I want to be?

My teacher took some time to explain the rest of the curriculum to me. Where we are now and where we will be next year. He told me that we are actually doing in 3 years what is normally done in 4 years. It takes 10 years to polish these skills. I still need to talk to next year's teacher, to get a little more insight in what is expected.

For now, I can only find comfort in my sketchbook, which every now and then shows me drawings that I really like. And these drawings do not show up there automagically. They are mine.

Today it happened again. At Starbucks. The little girl next to me had quite a temper, and not too long after I had finished my sketch did she start to scream. She made my week.

Monday, March 8, 2010

More background information

This week's assignment for Layout was a tonal background, in graphite on paper. I found it hard to control the values of the pencil on animation paper, but this comes as close to background painting as I can get.

The funny shape of the background is because the camera moves across this background in a curve, following a monkey running across the trunk in the foreground...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wisdom for Dummies

It must be the age, or maybe just Spring, but I more and more value the words of wisdom typically found in booklets with mushy titles like "Wells of Eastern Wisdom", the billboard of the Church around the corner, and the Bible. Don't worry, I still think that lots of it is cheap gibberish, but every once in a while I find something I carry with me in, usually, my heart. And yes, it is safe there, but not readily accessible for the people around me. So, I'll try to share a bit more of these.

A quote that echoes throughout the Bujinkan, a school where I used to train, is Robert L. Humphrey's Warrior Creed:

Wherever I go, everyone is a little bit safer because I am there.
Wherever I am, anyone in need has a friend.
Whenever I return home, everyone is happy I am there

I love its simplicity, just three lines, simple words, and it does not even rhyme! And yet, I must admit I recognize myself only in the first line. It's a start, but there is a lot more work to do for me...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Daniel 1

This week, I was reminded of the biblical Daniel, who had refused Nebuchadnezzar's royal food and wine and asked "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see."

The Max the Mutt weblog apologizes "I hadn’t realized that soda pop had snuck into our vending machine! I’ve asked that it be replaced with water and juice".

We are so lucky to have this school which really cares about our health, and you know what, I'm not the only one, the convenience store around the corner is happy too!