Have you ever heard the term “cartoony”? It could mean funny, or fake, or just plain silly or even downright bad. It usually doesn’t mean “cool”.
Back when Mickey Mouse turned 60 (almost 30 years ago – wow, that guy is getting old), he started showing up on posters and magazine covers looking all “cool”. He was dressed in “current” styles, sporting that “I don’t care” look of cool people everywhere. I don’t think Mickey is supposed to be cool. Seriously, take a look at the original Mickey designs from 1928: short, puffy pants with two giant suspender buttons on the front and the back – no suspenders, though. And no shirt, either. Plus these gigantically weird clod-hopper boots. The original design didn’t have those goofy gloves, but hey, nothing says cool like a pair of oversized white gloves, right? That was all good, though, because he actually looked funny. I like the recent Mickey Mouse cartoons that have been released – Mickey is actually funny again, and THAT is cool.
So, there are aspects of cartoons that ARE inherently “cartoony”. But, please remember, animation is a form of visual narrative, and many tested film techniques exist that make for good visual narrative, whether you are creating a cartoon or a live-action extravaganza.
Here is my cartoon tip for the day, and it’s on camera use in animation: Don’t move the camera simply because you CAN move it.
Learn how the masters of visual narrative have used the camera. Study shot composition, and shot movement. Things like the Rule of Thirds for shot composition. Or, looking at camera movement very specifically: tilts, pans, zooms, crane, tracking, track-in, and how these movements can impact the story you are telling.
I have an entire section on Composing Cinematic Shots in my course Animation in Twelve BLANK Lessons. You can find out more about the course by clicking here.
In the meantime, check out this great tidbit on composing shots. It’s “Wally Wood’s 22 Panels that Always Work!!”. This is all about composing interesting shots. It was created by a master comic book artist, so it is not about camera movement, but it is about composing the shot. Notice how each panel is dynamic even though perfectly still.
Wallace Wood kept these panels by his desk while he worked. He also had another note by his desk, it read, “Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up.” Not only was this guy good at interesting composition, he was all about efficiency. I think that’s cool.
*The fine print – just so you know: Wood’s “Panels That Always Work” is copyright Wallace Wood Properties, LLC as listed by the United States Copyright Office which assigned the work Registration Number VA0001814764. (Wood didn’t create the page that I linked to, but he created all the panels on that page. An assistant pasted the panels onto the big page and titled it. Wood preferred the name Wallace rather than Wally, and he originally had 24 panels, but you get the point.)