What’s That Crazy Drawing, or How I Came To Know and Love Animation Smears

I didn’t really know about animation smears until college. It was a time when my passion for animation had just kicked into high gear, and once I learned how to convert my DVDs into Quicktime files, the flood gates opened. I was like a kid in a candy store, scouring through hours of animation every day. As I looked through the cartoons, I began to discover some odd things occurring. A character would look perfectly fine in one frame, but for a few frames it would turn into an absolutely insane-looking mutant, before suddenly reverting back to normal form. Without any understanding of what these were, I had discovered smears.

Around the same time, my second year animation teacher at the School of Visual Arts, Celia Bullwinkel, gave an in-class lecture about smears. She explained to us what they were, and what purpose they served. She screened a few smear-heavy Chuck Jones cartoons like The Dover Boys, showed some still-frame examples, and gave us an assignment to animate one ourselves. Of course, every budding animator thinks the same thing when they discover smears: “I CAN USE THESE FOR EVERYTHING!” But soon one learn that smears are best used judiciously; otherwise everything you animate looks like it’s made of Jell-O. 

After some time passed, I began to appreciate smears outside of the context of animation, simply as still pieces of art. Somebody had to draw every one of these. It’s a truly creative and subliminal way of expressing artistic abilities, while at the same time serving the practical purpose of recreating an effect that happens naturally in live-action film.

Eventually, my friends said I should go ahead and make a blog about them, probably so that I would stop pointing them out while we were watching animated films together. So two years ago, I launched Smears, Multiples and Other Animation Gimmicks, never imagining that it would become as popular as it did.

Almost immediately after setting up my first post, followers started pouring in. I opened up submissions so that followers could submit their own images, and people began submitting smears from anime, foreign animated films, television shows, commercials, video games, Newgrounds Flash films, and even smears they had animated themselves. 

As of this writing, the Smears Tumblr has over 110,000 followers. I’m sure many followers simply find the images hilarious, but I believe there are plenty of us out there who think they are much more than just funny images. Either way, I’m glad people get as much of a kick out of these as I do. Perhaps a few young animation fans have been inadvertently enlightened on how much art, creativity and hard work goes into creating animation. That’s a good thing, I think.


  • mick

    I always loved that ren animation. I studied it a great deal which is probably why I ended up over analysing it to the point where I cannot enjoy it any more without thinking the foot isn’t fast enough… shouldn’t it go – PANG rattle rattle rattle rattle rattle …whereas here it seems to go – Per— wang rattle rattle rattle rattle rattle…
    I think it is the unfortunate side effect of an animation mind to over think this stuff. If you ever went shopping and tried to work out less and more striking key poses for bagging up your groceries then you share the affliction… if not, be thankful

    • the Gee

      tried to work out less and more striking key poses for bagging up your groceries

      That sounds entertaining.

      I can’t be the only one who’s done this but I have struck the wildest poses physically possible just to get a laugh. And, I’ve done double-takes complete with sound effects for the eyepops.

      As for smears and approximating the fast action of blurs, I do wonder if this use of 48 FPS filming and projection will change things in even small ways in what the audience expects or accepts.

      Anyway, smears are great to see and they are interesting to figure out, too. It is a great cheat that can be used for comedic effect. (and yeah, it can probably be used too often)

  • Mike

    Great article. My discovery of smears came when I started pausing old Sonic the Hedgehog VHS tapes on our recorder (I was and still am something of a Sonic fan). It probably wasn’t so great for the player nor the tape, but I’d inch through the frames and see Sonic’s face get reaaally distorted. Was like ‘Heyyy, this is cray-cray’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JoeyCorrao Joe Corrao

    great stuff, been using them for years

  • atc483

    College is when I first learned about them too, same animation screened as an example: Dover Boys.

  • TStevens

    It’s fun to put really big crazy smears in to a scene to get the timing snappy. However, sometimes it is the only way that you get the timing correct. Spacing of the drawings is critical so smears can help you maintain that relationship from drawing to drawing. I find myself using them a lot on arms and hands to get the character limbs in to the right place. If you pay real close attention you start seeing where a lot of the really great animators use smears in very subtle ways to keep the timing sharp (Eric Goldberg, Dan Haskett, Ward Kimball).

    Cool Stuff!

  • http://twitter.com/stevenmatarazzo Steven Matarazzo

    I absolutely love this smears blog, I’ve been following it for quite some time. It’s educational and entertaining!!

  • schwarzgrau

    more of this please!