New Year's Resolutions

I drew this comic at the dawn of 2010. Here's how the somewhat autobiographical resolutions in the first panel turned out: I've failed miserably at getting organized. I still floss every night, as any non-hypocritical dental student should. I've written poetry, but it's been mostly goofy light verse. I've enjoyed ethnic food, smiled, practiced yoga, worked out, and volunteered, but only sporadically. I've enjoyed literary fiction (as pretentious as that sounds), especially the novels of Haruki Murakami. I can't bike to work - I'm not employed. And finally, I never actually quote bad movies - I only quote great movies that other people think are bad. My resolution for 2011: to keep going back and coloring old comics so I can repost them on my blog and make them available as posters.

Four-Legged Animal Anatomy (part one)

I've never really talked much about animals so maybe I ought to start.

The first thing to think about when drawing animals is to think about why they're built the way they're built. This informs everything about how to draw them. It influences how they're put together and how much flexibility they have, all of which affects the drawing of them very much.

Animators at Disney frequently talk about the lectures of Dr. Stuart Sumida, who is an expert on animal anatomy. Unfortunately I've never heard Dr. Sumida speak, for the simple reason that story people are never invited to these type of lectures! Only animators (and riggers, who build the characters) seem to be invited to them.

But that's okay, there are a number of tremendous books about animal anatomy that contain the same type of information*.

Anyway, the reason we ended up riding around on horses for transportation is because of how they evolved. They are plant eaters and eating plants requires a lot of intestines to digest. Eating meat takes a lot less in the way of intestines so that's why cows and horses have those big giant bellies and cats and dogs don't. Horses and cows have to carry around all those guts. So in order to carry around all that weight, horses and cows have thick solid spines. That's why we can sit on their backs without snapping their spines!

Also, it's easier on us to ride them because of this reason. Those big heavy thick spines that horses (and similar animals) have don't have a lot of flexibility. When you look at a horse running, the spines stays relatively level and straight. That makes for a much smoother and comfier ride for the passenger.

Whereas animals like cats and dogs don't need to carry around those big piles of guts because it's a lot more efficient to digest meat. Also they have to hunt prey in order to eat. So they developed springier, lighter spines that help them crouch and pounce (in cats) and run fast to take down their prey (both cats and dogs).

If you compare the two running sequences you'll see how much up-and-down movement there is in the cat spine as opposed to the horse spine. Also the cat spine changes shape a lot more dramatically than the horse spine. Cats and dogs have spines that curl and uncurl (or squash and stretch if you prefer) as they run.

So whenever I see a fantasy painting or something like that were someone's riding a jaguar or a lion or something I wonder what that must be must be a bumpy ride!

If you don't have a collection of Muybridge's photos of animal locomotion (both series above are from his work) you ought to get one. Much of what there is to know about animals can be gleaned from looking at how animals move and asking yourself why they move the way they do. This is far more valuable than any book about drawing animals can ever be. That's pretty much how I learned all that I know about animals and I'd say it's served me okay. Looking at an animal and figuring out why they evolved the way they did based on their behavior is a great exercise and there are very few books that bother to do this (if you know of one, let me know).

* Speaking of which, some of my favorite animal books are:

"Animal Anatomy for Artists" by Eliot Goldfinger

"The Artist's Guide to Animal Anatomy" by Gottfried Bammes

"Draw Horses with Sam Savitt" by Sam Savitt

two comic pages

Scenes from the Dinner Table

The Rest of Flynn and Rapunzel Meet, About the Development of Rapunzel's Character and Why We Needed Pascal

Some more selected bits from the scene where Rapunzel and Flynn meet.

I'm not above squishing the character's face on the floor if it works. In this case I squashed Flynn's face so he could talk in the "pinched nose" voice. It's obvious, I know, but it got a laugh in this it stayed.

These drawings are on tiny 3x5 inch story pads and I did them a long, long time ago - somehow they survived the entire run of the making of the film. Part of why I put Flynn flat on the floor and put Rapunzel up high on the fireplace mantle was because I was trying to make her seem as powerful as possible and make Flynn seem as weak and powerless as possible as she forces him to make a deal with her. Putting her in this powerful position, placing the camera low to look up at her as well as making the camera look down on Flynn and making him look as small as possible and drawing her in such strong poses all made her seem powerful and strong and made him seem weaker and no match for her.

This may seem unnecessary - after all, he's tied to a chair and can't really put up a fight - but those of us on the story team spent many, many, many hours debating how strong and determined to make Rapunzel, and whenever we would screen the film to the studio we would get a lot of notes about that topic. We talked about whether a girl trapped in a tower and isolated from the world her whole life would ever be strong, confident or capable enough to handle (and get the better of) a worldly, experienced guy like Flynn. We wanted the audience to really believe that Rapunzel had spent her whole life locked away without much experience with other people but also that she was a strong, forceful person with a strong will. It was a constant topic for the story team and we talked a lot about Rapunzel and how she would have grown up and developed and how that would have affected her character, as well as how much her personality had come from her real parents (who she'd never met).

We knew we had to strike a delicate balance with Rapunzel because she spends the first eighteen years of her life as a prisoner, locked away in a tower. That could easily have been a grim situation. There were always people who would say that they felt Rapunzel should feel more like her spirit has been broken by her years of imprisonment - that they didn't believe she would still have her strong spirit intact. But we were always conscious that we were making a comedy and we didn't want a grim opening that would make it hard to laugh at the lighter parts to come later in the film. And we didn't want her to feel like a victim. She's already been a prisoner for eighteen years....if she seemed sad or depressed about her predicament you might feel pity for her, and that's not what we wanted. We wanted the audience to like her and root for her, which you don't really feel for people you pity. But at the same time we wanted to be true to the fact that she's a prisoner and that she's trapped in a serious and potentially very dangerous situation, and that if she doesn't take action she will be trapped in a tower forever. So we worked hard and talked things over and over to make sure we were finding the right balance with her.

Which is where Pascal (her chameleon) came into play.

It makes me smile when I see criticisms of "Tangled" that the film has sidekicks thrown in because all Disney movies have them, because our original intention was to not give her a "sidekick" at all. We boarded the film for quite a while without any sidekick for her at all and back then we hoped we would never have to give her one.

On "Tangled" we never did things just because they had been done in Disney films before. We only did things if they were the right things for our movie. And so we didn't want to give her a sidekick just to arbitrarily repeat what had been done before.

Also we wanted her to feel as isolated and alone in the tower as possible. And we wondered whether giving her a sidekick could undercut that feeling and hurt the feeling of empty loneliness we wanted at the beginning.

But in the end we decided we needed him for two reasons:

Number one, because Rapunzel was totally alone in the tower, she had nobody that she could talk to about her feelings, which meant that it would be hard for the audience to know exactly what she was thinking and feeling. That would make it hard for us to get the audience to know her personality and feel for her and root for her. So in the end we realized she needed someone to talk to so we knew what was going on in her head.

There were earlier versions of the film where we considered having her paint faces on all the objects in the tower and talking to those "friends", but it seemed to us that that makes her feel crazy and like she's lost touch with reality. We felt that you would think she's damaged emotionally and that goes to a darker place that makes the film feel less fun.

And number two, Pascal was a big help because, as I mentioned, we didn't want her to feel too strong and capable. We felt that, since she's never been out of her tower or had dealings with people before, she shouldn't always be confident. We wanted her to have occasional moments where she lost her confidence and questioned her capabilities, because her Mother has been filling her head with doubts and undermining her confidence for eighteen years. So we wanted her to have flashes of doubt once in a while to be true to her history, and that's where Pascal came in handy: when her doubts creep in, Pascal is helpful for bucking her confidence back up. After all, nobody else in the film is on her side and nobody else would do it: both Flynn and Mother Gothel want her to lose confidence and return to her imprisonment in the tower.

Anyway, when people ask me why it takes so long for us to get it "right" in story, and why story takes so long when our drawings don't look like we spend much time on them, it's because we spend a lot of our time debating these types of things, arguing with each other and working out the best way to tell the story and the best way to develop the characters. And when we do draw, it's to try out these things and see how they work, and experiment and find the right way to tell the story and how to create the types of characters that people will fall in love with, root for and remember long after they've left the theater.