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Book Review: 'Draw the Looney Tunes: The Warner Bros. Character Design Manual'

Alain Bielik enters director Terry Gilliams fairy tale, The Brothers Grimm, to uncover the vfx wizards who brought the world to life.

As Dan Romanelli, president of Warner Bros. Consumer Products division says in his introduction to this book, this is, not the usual art book; this book about character design was created by artists for artists, and speaks to them in their own language. In other words, you have to know at least the basics of drawing before this book will be of help to you. But if you are already an artist, if you know something of anatomy, and if you know what it means to feel a pencil line, this book is a nice addition to your library.

Not exactly the size of a coffee table book, it is in the format that a character design book would be in an animation studio, which makes it almost those dimensions. It is not a step-by-step how to draw Bugs Bunny Foster book kind of thing, although Bugs is almost the only character the book talks about, but it is a textbook.

According to Romanelli, it was created for the artists and freelancers in the Warner Bros. commercial division. These artists are illustrators, as differentiated from animators. They draw one pose at a time for a specific reason; an ad, poster, DVD cover, whatever. And they are highly talented and educated artists, so you beginners dont get discouraged if you dont see the point of some of the exercises. Keep drawing, and you will. As Romanelli says, What youll find in these pages is an open vault of information and inspiration about the process (of character design.)

Cartoons That Werent Drawn for Kids

The book is lavishly illustrated with not only deconstructions of Bugs, but also some wonderful cartoons of the last century when cartoons were political commentary, meant to caricature the pompous leaders of the day. The book starts with several Gustave Dore drawings and goes on to Picasso, Lautrec and Kley. And my personal favorite, James Thurber. It makes the point that some of historys most distinguished artists drew cartoons. In addition to those above, people like Daumier, Goya, Hogarth, Cruikshank, and Blake did cartoons. They were brandishing their work like a whip to cut through and expose the social structure of their time.

The credits list art by San Wei Chan, who has illustrated many books, as well as worked for Warner Bros. Additional art is listed by Mark Christiansen, Jerome Moore and Robert Guthrie. Text is by Frank Espinoza, co-written by Marie Taylor.

At the beginning of each subject are clever headings, as in Knowing When to Stop, or But will you respect me in the morning? and, for the section on cleanup, one of the least favorite steps in art, Are We Having Fun Yet? Along with the illustrations are quotes from famous artists, short pithy comments about art and the artists philosophies. These are set off in pale blue rectangles and are very entertaining. Unfortunately this same pale blue ink is used for a great deal of the type in the book, and at least in my copy, makes it difficult to read for a long period of time. Where it uses black type, it is easier to read.

The Zen of Drawing

Beginning with chapter two you start getting actual advice, but it is more about visualizing the character than put a circle here and a line there. As the book says, this manual is just a launching pad for you. It addresses the fear of drawing, the line of action and what parts of your arm you might be using to draw a part of the character. In chapter three you get words on the Zen of drawing, We have to draw from the inside out. The book says that even when Bugs is standing still, he is moving, doing something with his tail, eyes, nose. He is projecting an attitude.

Draw, Draw, Draw

The book tells you to draw as you read. It likens the sketching exercises it shows as stretching before a race, to loosen up. It advises the artist to draw with the side of a 4B or 6B, a very soft pencil, to start with. You switch to the old familiar #2 for cleanup. Concentrate on the line of action. These exercises are very basic, just sweeps of line. The book asks you to imagine how various things feel, and then draw them. It shows the difference between active and static drawings. Rhythm determines how memorable a drawing will be. A great drawing sings just as a great song creates a picture.

Rhythm also draws the eye around the picture and leads the viewers to what the artist wants them to see first. The book assumes that you are drawing along with the chapters, so that you get what is meant by rhythm and drawing from the inside out. It talks about the process that is going on behind your eyes that enables you to visualize. It says of Bugs, If you think of him as a cartoon character then you will draw Bugs with a cartoon smile and not a real smile. The book talks a great deal more about the philosophy of drawing than about what to do with a pencil.

Tweetys square, Bugs is oval

The book gets a little bit into anatomy, and when it advises you to use photographs, it is as a guide only. Mass is described as geometric forms, and exercises are shown to help you see how weight and volume create a form. Tweetys head is based on a square, did you know that? Bugs, Daffy and Foghorn Leghorn are all ovals, thats easy to remember. These shapes give the figure the repeatability necessary if your drawing is to look like all the other artists drawings of Bugs.

There are exercises in drawing the expression, including one showing how the eyebrows can change the characters whole demeanor. You are given five Warner Bros. characters and asked to change their expressions. Facial expression is one of the most important elements in showing attitude. If the body stance is right but the face doesnt reflect the same idea, your emotion wont come across. This section has a great quote from Chuck Jones (again in that blue box) that is too long to quote here, but it ends with in other words, our characters were actors.

Full Backgrounds Included

The section on staging covers composition (Decide what you want your viewer to look at first.) the placement of mass, tension and focus. Again, you are supposed to be drawing along with reading, although what you are supposed to be doing here isnt clear. Perspective gets only two pages, but is followed with a wonderful section of actual backgrounds. Remember, this book is about illustrating and the placement and design of the area behind the character is very important. These are foldout pans, with some of them marked up for perspective and vanishing points for the reader.

On the cleanup stage of a drawing the book stresses that you are not tracing. It calls tracing the kiss of death to a cartoon. The drawing loses its life if you trace. It advises you to pick out the positive lines and work with them. Here is practical advice on methods of cleanup. Examples show the rough with a tracing velum overlay to show you how it was cleaned up. These are terrific.

Down to Specifics

The section How to Draw Bugs Bunny starts with a quote from Bob Clampett that is supposed to be Bugs describing himself, and two more quotes about Bugs from Friz Freleng and Mel Blanc. They really know who this rabbit is! One of the points the book makes over and over is that you have to get to know the character in order to be able to draw him, and there are certainly enough drawings of Bugs to get his character across. But here we get more specific. There is a ratio chart and drawings showing the geometry of his body. Then you get into the head poses and expressions, and it gets quite specific about those teeth! Arms and hands are explained as well and his feet and that all-important tail.

The book winds up with the admonition to go ahead and caricature Bugs, dont be shy! ---practice a couple of hundred more drawings so that these lessons will really become second nature to you. Remember to have fun! How could you not have fun, drawing Bugs Bunny?

Draw the Looney Tunes: The Warner Bros. Character Design Manual, introduction by Dan Romanelli. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, Oct. 2005. 216 pages. Hardcover. ISBN 0-8118-5016-1 ($40.00).

Libby Reed started out at Walt Disney Studios in the `50s on Sleeping Beauty as a painter. She has worked at numerous commercial studios, spent 16 years as a fashion illustrator and wound up at Film Roman as a Color Designer under Phyllis Craig. Libby has two children, (one is Alex Reed, animation producer at Electronic Arts) and four grandchildren.