Friday, June 29, 2012


Last week I wrote that animated films are  corporate artwork, polished and refined by so many committees that it is often difficult to find the fingerprints of any individual artist in the end product.

But sometimes an individual artist's voice is so powerful that it survives the corporate de-flavorizing machine.  We can still see the impact of Eyvind Earle's contribution to the film Sleeping Beauty or Mary Blair's contribution to films such as Make Mine Music and Alice in Wonderland-- films that ended up far better off because of distinctive individual voices.

One of the very few artists working in the field today with that kind of visual strength is the brilliant Carter Goodrich.

When I began clipping his work from magazines, I didn't know his name but his distinctive style was easy to recognize.  

A common scene presented in an innovative way 

This marvelous bear foretells characters in the film, Brave

I later learned Goodrich's name from his New Yorker covers which strike me as smart, beautiful and true:

His children's books are also beautifully illustrated:

The scary bed: spend some time with this wonderful image.

 Goodrich has worked on a number of important animated films such as Finding Nemo, Despicable Me, and Ratatouille.  Most recently, he did character design on  Brave from Pixar.

Dozens of talented artists made important contributions to Brave, and I don't mean to underestimate the value of their work.  But for me the flavor of Goodrich's talent is unmistakeable, and the film is better off for it

New digital media delivered through corporate distribution chains have homogenized and sanitized many of the traditional roles of the individual artist.

However, even in corporate art some elements of personal taste remain indigestible and undilutable.  Those elements often account for the very best of the art form.


Sav said...

I'm so unimpressed with your commentary on animated films. That you would place all blame on 'corporate committees' for a lack of 'individual voice' in, of all things, a movie is strikingly absurd. In case no one ever told you, a movie is a huge collaborative project. Don't denounce them just because a single artist didn't write, design, and direct every single aspect. Yes, the resources are costly, and so corporate desires must be weighed against, but Pixar's track record shows that the end result doesn't have to be totally crippled for it and I expected you to appreciate the beauty of a creation of not one mind, but many.

MORAN said...

I recognize this work but never knew anything about the artist. You're right, Goodrich is "brilliant." Thanks for writing this.

peacay said...

I wouldn't say I dislike this guy's work and yes, there's an unmistakable signature tone running through all of these images, but I'm not exactly 'attracted' to them.

I find them all to be, even those inclined - on face - towards the opposite projection, somewhat gloomy and scary and foreboding. I feel like all the characters were drawn and dude's got a magic desktop button that lowers a heavy fat bag of mercury onto their brows.

But yes, of course, arresting impact can be a measurement stick too, so I'll award him the points. I just don't think I'd want anything by him on my or my child's wall. Personal taste o' course. Thanks maestro.

Anonymous said...

Goodrich is my favorite New Yorker artist. No one else even comes close. I didn't know he does movies too. Cool.

JSL said...

His draftsmanship is wonderful. I can't wait to see Brave.

David Apatoff said...

Sav-- Perhaps I wasn't clear the first time, but from my perspective the issue with animated films is a little different from what you suggest.

I am a huge fan of Pixar (and Disney and Blue Sky) and I think many of their accomplishments are truly miraculous. I applaud "the beauty of a creation of not one mind, but many" and have written enthusiastically about animated films and other group art forms before.

But having said that, I think there are major structural and qualitative differences between corporate (meaning "collective" or "combined") art and the art of an individual. One is not necessarily better than the other-- each has its advantages and disadvantages-- but at least when it comes to animated feature films, it seems to me that the differences are huge and undeniable.

Animation art is heavily dependent on the computer scientists and electrical engineers and mathematicians who try to develop the software and hardware necessary to achieve the results the artists want. The compromises and trade offs necessitated by the technical committees seem modest compared to the compromises necessitated by the financial committees: to purchase that hardware and software, along with the other necessary infrastructure, animation art is heavily dependent on capital from the public markets (institutional investors and pension funds). In order to attract that capital, animation must provide a particular return on investment over the long term, which means catering to particular audiences and markets, satisfying the (often arbitrary) standards of MPAA, and entering into licensing deals with Burger King. Recently, a creator for Disney sputtered, "I've had it, I absolutely refuse to put one more cute sidekick in this movie" until Disney's toy division explained to him the economics of cross-marketing, and made it clear that if he wanted all that expensive hardware and software necessary to achieve his result, he would damn well put a cute sidekick in the movie. These committees and reviews are all part of the trade off required by animated feature films. In the case of Pixar, not even a sugar daddy like George Lucas (or later Steve Jobs) could save creators from such compromises overthe long term. And all of this is before we even get to the creative development committees who tell you that you have designed the nose too long on that character. (I suspect the creative teams are probably pretty benign by comparison).

Contrast these constraints with an artist who works solo with a pencil. He or she does not have the same epic scope or audience as an animated film but their work is independent and uncensored. Their eccentricities have free reign, uncompromised by the toy marketing division, or by that talentless supervisor who got his job through nepotism, or by a downturn in the stock market. The quality of their pictures is limited only by their personal taste and talent. There is something to be said for art that is not dependent on an electrical current.

Many artists find they don't need that level of freedom and wouldn't miss it if it was gone. But for other artists (such as R. Crumb or John Cuneo) it seems to be at the heart of their best work.

Which brings me back to poor Carter Goodrich, who did not ask for any of this. My (attempted) point with this post is that some of the best moments of animated feature film occur when the individual taste of a particularly strong artist surfaces despite all of the overlays and competing considerations and agendas of the various committees who must come together to make such films work.

Do you disagree?

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- agreed, Goodrich is something special.

peacay-- Perhaps I have selected a more "gloomy and scary" sample of Goodrich's work than I should have, but chalk that up to my personal taste. Most of these illustrations are for adults, but his children's books are quite sweet and I would recommend them.

Besides, children may be ready for more than you think. Maurice Sendak's work had a scary undertone but children loved it.

Anonymous-- I think that the overall quality of some of the art in the NYer has lagged in recent years (I miss Steinberg, Steig, Thurber and many others) but it is periodically redeemed by artists such as Goodrich, Peter de Seve and Cuneo.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know he worked on Brave. I was looking forward to this one after seeing still images of the incredibly great caricatured characters. Saw the movie with my daughter and loved it...the attention to detail was amazing, down to her bouncy head of hair. Goodrich's stuff has always been good...and maybe a little too close to DeSeve now and then (or vice versa).

Ken Meyer Jr.

AJA said...

His color work reminds me of

MORAN said...

I like the way he staged that little boy on the roof. He is really good with theatrical presentation.

David Apatoff said...

JSL and Ken Meyer Jr-- I agree that Goodrich is a draftsman in the good old fashioned sense-- which is something rare today, in my opinion. (For example, most of the current artists for the NYer have chosen a different path.) For me, it is good to see how such talents make a valuable contribution to state of the art animation. As for Peter de Seve, I think he and Goodrich (and perhaps Bill Joyce) sometimes get lumped together because old fashioned draftsmanship is so anomalous these days. But 100 years ago, when every illustrator had to be a draftsman just to compete, the differences in style and tone between these artists would be better appreciated.

AJA-- I was not previously familiar with Mattoti's work, thanks. I understand what you mean about the hue of some of his shading.

Jesse Hamm said...

A handsome list of movie credits. His style is also quite visible on Prince of Egypt.

Goodrich is among my favorite living illustrators, and another great candidate for a big fat "Art Of..." book. Maybe someone will do one in 50 years, right after the first Bernie Fuchs book...

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- agreed

Jesse Hamm-- Don't be so pessimistic with your time estimates. I am currently assembling the images and writing the text for that big fat book on the art and life of Bernie Fuchs. I have reached an agreement with an excellent publisher and will be posting updates on my blog in the near future. Measured by your standard, the world should be ready for a book of Carter Goodrich's work sometime next year. I agree it would be a great thing.

Matthew Adams said...

I prefer studio Ghibli to any other animation studio. Their character design isn't as exciting, but as a whole package their movies tend to be better.

Penelope Nilda Santacruz Cierra said...

hi, i like theese illustration, are the best.. good work

Jesse Hamm said...

David, you're doing a Fuchs book?! Awesome! An item to check off my wish-somebody'd-do list.

David Apatoff said...

Matthew Adams-- I think one of the special challenges of group art is that one weak link can drag down the cumulative effect. Sure, character design or backgrounds can be a little better or worse than the plot or the animation, but they all have to be within the same general range of competence or it pokes a hole in the bottom of the boat.

I have never been a big fan of anime, although I know many people love it. I do like some of its individual ingredients but I would be interested in why you feel the "whole package" from studio Ghibli is better.

Penelope Nilda Santacruz Cierra-- Thanks for sharing your reaction.

Jesse Hamm--Thanks! I have great ambitions for this book.

MORAN said...

I don't get the cult following for Ghibli Studios. Miyazaki is good but IMO Goodrich is a much better artist. I think the Miyazaki thing is because of sentiment, like Carl Barks.

Matthew Adams said...

I find the story telling in most studio ghibli movies much more compelling, and they provide a better sense of movement than the American companies. The American companies have been working with 3d computer generated animation and only now really seem to be getting the hang of it. I enjoyed Up when it came out and a few of the others, but none seem to stick in my memory, or have the impact that most of studio ghibli films do. Saying that, studio ghibli made a few flops also, generally when Miyazaki didn't direct them.

But of course, none of this impacts on the art of Goodrich, which is brilliant.

Matthew Adams said...

Also, I wouldn't call studio ghibli films anime. Anime tends to refer to the generally badly made television cartoons, with lots of cheap shortcuts (scenes where the only movement is a few lines while the rest of the drawings are static). It can refer to animated movies, but it shouldn't be used to refer to all Japanese animation.

I would recommend 'My neighbor Totoro', 'Kiki's delivery service', and 'Ponyo' as great films. They are unashamedly aimed at children, with none of the feeble attempts to appeal to parents the American films sometimes labor under.

Jesse Hamm said...

"It's not a 'cookie,' Mother; it's a FIG NYEWTON!"

अर्जुन said...

It's Ghibli for me (subbed not dubbed) ~ Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service.

I also think Brad Bird's directed/scripted films are fantastic: The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. But then, you've seen them?

Matthew Adams said...

Yep, love all of them.

Sorry to have taken the focus of Goodrich's wonderful art. Let's shine the light back that way.

David Apatoff said...

Matthew Adams-- Thanks for the correction on the use of the word anime; I really don't know as much as I should about anime or manga, given their following. Is there another term you would suggest that is more appropriate?

I have not seen 'Kiki's delivery service'or 'Ponyo' and it has been forever since I've seen Totoro. Maybe it's time for another look.

One of the most interesting things for me about the impact of computers on animation is that they can do away with what you call "cheap shortcuts (scenes where the only movement is a few lines while the rest of the drawings are static)." Cheap or not, in the old days even Disney used very elaborately painted backgrounds against moving figures that were drawn in a completely different style-- line drawings with flat colors-- because it was physically impossible to paint the moving figures in the same style as those detailed backgrounds. I tend to think of Miyazaki as an extreme example of this same schism.

Computer animation seems to have narrowed this gap between the treatment of figure and background, so today we can see every hair on the pelt of that moving animal. However, if I were going to narrow that gap (which I think is good) I don't think I would end up on the current insanely detailed side of the spectrum. In many cases I think it would be better if the whole image was a slightly lower resolution.

अर्जुन-- I went to an advance screening of the Incredibles and didn't realize I was sitting next to Brad Bird until he was called up to the front afterward for the Q&A. I had laughed out loud a few times during the film (typically at mature moments such as when somebody gets hit on the head with a rock) and I noticed that Bird laughed right along with me. At that point I think he was just happy that the audience was laughing. Very nice guy.

Matthew Adams said...

Animation would be more appropriate, I believe.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy! I only now noticed the Fuchs book reference...finally!

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Unknown said...

I'm also very fond of his work - and yes, he certainly has a distinct style. I happened to stumble on his drawing in the various "Art of --" books ("-- to Train a Dragon, -- Ratatouille, - Hotel Transylvania), which I can highly recommend for people interested in the way the various animated movies are made. Carter is a great character design, and a wonderful cartoonist, to boot, as his 'New Yorker' covers prove.

Clark Tate said...

One of the greats!.... and too shy to previously bring himself into the public eye. Carter Goodrich has long been a favorite of mine since seeing his work long ago on New Yorker covers. He was one of the early few illustrators that the amazing Peter DeSeve recognized as one of his peers and whom he also admired. Glad to see this article and more of his work!!