The Online Animation Conversation

Drawing by Harald Siepermann

In early-2005, I declared that 2004 had been the year of the animation blog. It was a good year no doubt, but the same could likely be said for every year since then. In fact, the animation blogging community has evolved in leaps and bounds since its nascent rise in ’04. Today, the conversation on animation blogs is as vibrant and exciting as ever. What makes the community so dynamic is that it’s not just artists and critics posting random opinions, but actively engaging in back-and-forth conversations with one another.

To offer just one example, when Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi recently posted about his distaste for the stock designs of Disney villains, character designer Harald Siepermann responded with a lengthy post on his own blog that discussed his process for designing the villain Clayton in Tarzan. I can’t imagine a conversation between two such disparate artistic personalities happening prior to blogs but these types of spirited dialogues take place on an increasingly frequent basis nowadays.

Granted, it can be difficult to keep track of all these conversations or even know where to look to find such discourse. But there is no denying that it’s happening, and students and professionals alike now have a tool unlike any other to help develop and inspire their craft. How are we each taking advantage of the possibilities and what can we do to improve the animation blogging community?


  • Benjamin De Schrijver

    Absolutely right. As a (at times pretty opinioned) student, I’ve actively engaged in many discussions on John’s blog and others, and I have learned a ton from it. Not just about the craft of animation, but also more about what I personally want to do. Finding a personal voice if you will. Before, like many students, I was very much aiming for Pixar and the like, but now I have a much broader idea of what’s possible, both in animation and my own personal professional future. So many talented folks with so many different opinions and points of view giving away so much information works incredibly enriching. For example, blogs like John’s and Mark Kennedy’s have talked about drawing so much and so well, that my drawing skills stand much further today than they would’ve without.

  • Zach

    When I found out a bunch of my animation heroes were arguing on the internet, I wasn’t sure what to think.

    But that e-mail argument between John K and Michael Barrier from way back was fascinating… and hilarious!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWKVmCX6SKY Hasdrubal

    It’s surprising there has been no comparative discussion of Arab character designs from Bob Clampett’s “Ali Baba Bound” starring Porky Pig. Clampett’s Arabs were fun because they had different individual personalities. They weren’t just stock generic figures. I love the suicide bomber with the artillery shell strapped to his head.

    Clampett’s Arabs are also more manly than most Disney characters, but Yosemite Sam in “Sahara Hare” might be the best cartoon villain ever. All others pale before his subborn ruthlessness. The cool thing about Sam is that he can portray a subborn ignorant boor of any ethnicity.

  • Chuck R.

    Yes, these head-to-heads are interesting, but I’m seeing a pattern already: Bitter one-hit wonder needs some website traffic, so he takes silly pot-shot at animation’s big players. Counterstrike by talented artist who probably shouldn’t even honor the attack with a response. Then follows, a flurry of comments (like this one) that don’t educate any more than a single picture would. Bitter one-hit wonder gets credit for starting “discourse”.

    Barrier’s smackdown was entertaining and Siepermann’s art is always great to look at, but I give John K. as much credit for inspiring discussion about animation as I give Larry Flynt for inspiring discussion about first amendment rights. There has to be a better way.

  • Zep

    There’s often a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.

    Don’t know what exactly that means(well, alright, I do), but anyway–you really must go over to Harald’s blog and check out his drawings and interesting thoughts about his process. And the comment John posted there–what he thinks of Harald’s work, really(hint: it’s great).

  • http://tangoland.com Cynthia

    John K. may think that Disney villians are either gay or Arab (or a combination of both) but according to *his* cartoon world, every female on the planet appears to be a brainless bimbo. And you want to talk gay…what’s happened to Ren and Stimpy’s relationship with one another? It’s morphed into nothing but a huge homo-fest with nonstop gay jokes so John….take a second to look in the mirror.

  • Joe

    @Cynthia:

    i disagree with your comments. you say about John K: “his cartoon world.” not, “his many cartoon worlds.” I see John K’s cartoons as taking place in the same world, like a comic book universe if you will. Taken as an oeuvre, all his characters could meet on a street corner and not be out of place. When you can say that about a bunch of disparate worlds such as those of Tarzan, Peter Pan, Aladdin, etc, it means they could probably do with some more uniqueness. Or at least that’s what I got out of his comments.

  • http://www.animationarchive.org Stephen Worth

    I think that the internet is the most important thing to happen to discourse on the art of animation since the beginning of the medium over 100 years ago. Artists are talking “artist to artist” on very specific subjects without having to dumb things down to the same old tired stories about cave paintings in France and statistics on how many drawings it takes to make an animated feature. However, I find that the comments rarely live up the same level of discourse. Most great posts are followed up by strings of pointless axe grinding, ad hominem attacks and professional jealousy spouted anonymously. They should teach logic and debate in the schools. There seems to be a lot of ignorance in that area.

  • Chuck R.

    Joe: So what you’re saying is: All of Spumco’s characters are homogeneous enough to occupy the same “world”, and that’s the mark of a genius mind. But any similar homogeneity in the Disney canon is a sign of laziness and unoriginality?

    I don’t know what kind of spell John K. casts over his discples, but I wish I had the same power over my clients.

    I’m with Cynthia. Aside from two characters ripped off from the 3 Stooges, and a right-wing rageaholic, John K. doesn’t have much of a legacy to teach from.

  • http://www.animationarchive.org Stephen Worth

    Hi Chuck R – How bout posting a link to your blog. I’d like to see your work.

  • http://www.chuckrekow.com Chuck R.

    Stephen: Click above. (If it’s okay with Amid.)

  • http://playlist.citr.ca/podcasting/xml/laughtracks.xml Kliph

    “aside from two characters ripped off from the 3 Stooges, and a right-wing rageaholic …” says Chuck R.

    I get you’re referring to Stimpy as Larry Fine but who is the right wing rageaholic you feel he ripped off?

  • red pill junkie

    “I get you’re referring to Stimpy as Larry Fine but who is the right wing rageaholic you feel he ripped off?”

    I guess wer’e talking about George Liquor here, who is obviously a slight parody of George C. Scott. I don’t think Chuck R. meant that particular character was a ripoff, but the other 2, something I don’t personally agree with… I like John K’s characters although I don’t agree with many of his comments. If he thinks Disney is always falling in the stereotipe of the gay slender villain, maybe he should investigate when did popular culture begin to portray the biggest of villains (Satan himself) as a slim fellow with big nose, trimmed mustache and a goatee. In an animated movie the role of the characters must be assimilated quickly by the audience (unless it may serve in the plot that one character thought to be on the “good side” is in reality a villain), and I guess that’s the reason universal stereotipes of “evil” are often used: something everybody can relate too.

    Of course portrayals of evil vary from country to country and from culture to culture, like an article I once read in Discover magazine, that statistically most american juries would find a murder suspect guilty depending on how many african facial features he or she had: the more “blackness” in the suspect facial features, the more probable the jury would find him/her guilty…

    Maybe animators and character designers should do their research of villains not by looking at other animated cartoons, but by emulating Siepermann, but instead of seeing old live action films they should look at newspapers and history books, and use the faces of murderers and terrorists. The problem here is that often in the real world the facial features don’t convey the true spirit of the person; just look at Adolf Hitler: if you knew nothing of WWII and the holocaust you would think the guy was a buffoon, something Chaplin recognized and prooved with his movie “The great Dictator”. Osama Bin Laden also looks like a dimwit with his fleshi mouth an his bland slly smile, it is unly after the trauma of 9/11 that the world (and americans especially) see him as the incarnation of evil.

  • Chuck Rekow

    This thread isn’t getting a lot of action anyway, so if it’s okay, I’m going to be a bit indulgent:

    On Blogging:
    Stephen, you bring up some good points, but… the bloggers have absolute editorial power over all comments posted on their forums. If the tone isn’t to your liking, the responsibility lies with them.
    Without a doubt, the rhetoric of the bloggers will greatly affect the style of comments. Gay-baiting, race-baiting and describing the work of Frank Thomas as a “turd sniffer” isn’t what you do when you want civil discourse about animation. Perhaps my comments about John K. were a bit harsh for Cartoon Brew (although far from the worst), but they’re very tame by John’s standards. (I’m actually an admirer of his.) John’s a smart guy. I think he knows that when he spreads gasoline and gives kids matches, there’ll be fire.

    With this new “conversational” style of blogging, if a blogger wants to be treated respectfully, his best bet is to rein in his own remarks.

    On anonymity:
    I don’t think anyone should have to prove their worth as an artist in order to make a valid point here. Let’s all see Jerry’s art or Michael Barrier’s, or John Canema…..wait, he really can draw.

    On right-wing rageaholics:
    Yes, he’s George Liquor, and yes I think he’s original. A type-a Republican —who woulda thunk it?

    On Disney Villains:
    Red Pill, thanks for getting us on topic, and yes, I’m glad studios aren’t modelling their characters after Hitler. I don’t see evidence that Disney loves to make villains out of Arabs. Jafar is one and I think we can excuse it, since the story comes from 1,001 Arabian Nights. Hello!
    There are no gay Disney villains insofar as Disney characters don’t have sex lives, but there are many, as Harald Siepermann points out, that are effete or foppish. This isn’t because Americans hate those types, it’s just the opposite. It allows the story artists to get us through most of the film with a less-threatening heavy —someone who’s malicious, but afraid to get his hands dirty. A guy with more entertainment possibilities. Then in the final act, the fop turns into a really bad beastie so there’s a bit of contrast and a gratifying climax. Disney did it with Shere Khan, Ratigan, Gaston, Jafar, and to a lesser extent, Cruella and Scar. So you can safely excuse Disney of re-using their tricks, but anti-gay is a real stretch.

    But of course who can resist “the Gay Arabic Villain” I certainly can’t.