Friday, February 22, 2008

Animal Characters, 3: Near Relations

We feel a deep affinity for animals. This cartoon by the Australian artist Norman Lindsay, called "Near Relations," shows people who look like chickens—or are those chickens who look like people?

Yesterday we explored a few of the problems we run into with when we try to design animals so that they express human emotions and perform human actions. We’ve seen the challenges presented by birds, cows, donkeys, and even rodents with their beady eyes.

Here’s an experiment from my sketchbook. I did this drawing while listening to my son and his friends play traditional music. While the kids played fiddle, accordion, and tambourine, some dogs and cats circulated around the room.

Instead of drawing the musicians as they appeared, I tried to imagine the dogs and cats (and a squirrel I saw outside) as if they were scaled up and holding the instruments.

As you can see, I drew the dog’s feet “digitigrade” rather than “plantigrade,” meaning I lifted the heels off the ground. But I forgot to redesign the slippers. The hands are just paws. They’re OK for the sketch, but they wouldn’t work if you had to animate the characters. And I was a bit ambivalent about the costumes. I put the dog in socks and a T-shirt, but left the costumes off the rest.

In the last installment tomorrow, I’ll share some examples of an alternative to anthropomorphism, which you might call “animal-morphism.” (Above, Rien Poortvliet)


OYO! said...
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Adam Paquette said...

I have been spending a bit of time recently visiting his old home and studios in the blue mountains, and doing some of my own painting there.

I was fortunate enough to be there recently and completely by chance, one of his original models Pearl was visiting the studios. Now 90+ years old, she presented a fantastic vision of what it must have been like to be around that house in the glory days. The more I get to know his work the more I like it, and I find his combination of cartoon style with classical virtues quite refreshing.

Adam Paquette said...

er, norman lindsay that is..

Unknown said...

Wow! You do silly fantasy really well! I'm so impressed, it's such a fun drawing. Who is Rien Poortvliet, I've never heard of him. By the way, I was at the kid's section of the library ad The World Beneath was featured prominantly in a display. I wanted to grab some parents and say "Get this, it's amazing!"

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Eric, you're so nice. Rien Poortvliet was the Dutch illustrator/writer who created the "Gnomes" book, but much more:"In My Grandfather's House," "Dutch Treat," and lots of other long-form picture books that were a key inspiration for the graphic approach of Dinotopia. He had a lot of animals on his farm, and was unsurpassed as an animal artist.

Adam, yes, I'm a big fan of Norman Lindsay, and I made the pilgrimage to his studio in the Blue Mountains. How cool that you met one of his models! It must have been wild in the heyday.

Unknown said...

I love the Gnomes book!

Michael Damboldt said...
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Michael Damboldt said...
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Kevin Hedgpeth said...

Interesting post!

Poortvliet did a great book on horses and the stellar "Journey to the Ice Age".

If you like Poortvliet, I'd also recommend illustrator Victor Ambrus.

Heinrich Kley did some unique illustrations with human/animal interaction, too.