Remember growing up in the early 1990s and watching cartoons on Sunday mornings? We watched “Looney Tunes” and “Animaniacs” like mindless drones for hours on end until our mothers kicked us off the couch. But did you ever wonder, years later, how these animations were put together? We all knew a bunch of guys sitting around an office kept popping these suckers out week after week, but did we know what was really going on or how this process worked?
Lucky for us, the Laguna College of Art and Design is providing an exclusive look into the professional animation artist’s world. The Laguna College exhibition “Moving Violations: Subversive Animation Art” features gag drawings by animation artist Shawn Keller, who worked for Disney for 25 years.
“Gag drawing” is a term used to define animation artwork that was never meant for public viewing. Some specific types of this art include caricature drawings, fake model sheets and short animated sequences.
Usually, the artists hang the amusing drawings they’ve done in their free time in the hallways of their animation studios as a reminder of the humorous times at work, rather than the stress and strict deadlines they constantly face on the job.
Although the artwork displayed in this exhibition is mainly fake (only in the sense that it was never made for a public audience), it still shows the serious side to the animation business. The same steps toward producing these pieces would have also been taken for the drawings, digital posters, short clips and storyboards of a full-length cartoon or movie.
You can still see the eraser marks under the ink lines of the sketched characters, revealing the indecisiveness of the artist. In addition, you can see the numerous sketches of characters drawn at different angles and in a variety of costumes while they complete an assortment of activities.
Keller, the artist who created all of the animated drawings in the exhibition, had a very specific talent for creating unusual, crazy and quirky characters in films and shows. He created Quasimodo for the Disney movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” as well as the frail old chef Cookie from “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” As a supervisor and animator, Keller also worked on “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” “Treasure Planet” and collaborated on numerous other movies.
Keller definitely had one great sense of humor. Think back to the time you watched “The Lion King.” Now imagine a poster of Scar with his hyena accomplices dressed up in drag à la “Rocky Horror Picture Show” with makeup, jewelry and everything else you could imagine. Once you see that, all sorts of weird things will cross your mind the next time you watch “The Lion King.”
Another one that might be harder, but equally amusing, to imagine is a storyboard panel for the Dreamworks film “The White Seal.” The film, which was never produced, is apparently about an elephant seal who is attacked in “Dragon Ball Z” style by a random group of animals for terrorizing a small arctic seal. Seeing a penguin and an otter fly across the panels in a yellow flash to seek revenge upon the horrible elephant seal is so goofy, it’s funny. It also provides a great opportunity to see how the animation studios set up each scene and how much work goes into storyboarding and illustration.
Another interesting combination of drawings is made for a paper test. A paper test requires an artist to create a series of drawings for a short film or video to be shot in order to test out a scene in real time before coloring and finishing it. The drawings in the exhibit that show this are for a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Ariel was supposed to appear out of an oyster shell and be surrounded by other female mermaids. However, to entertain themselves, the artists replaced Ariel with Roger Rabbit.
Placing random characters in cartoon drawings that aren’t their typical animated homes is a popular gag for animation artists. On one side of the exhibition room, a drawing of Pepe Le Pew and Mufasa kissing and a sketch of Quasimodo, Babs and Wakko hanging out together can be seen.
Rough sketches, digital images and much more can be seen at the Laguna College of Art and Design’s Ettinger Gallery. “Moving Violations: Subversive Animation Art” runs until Oct. 28.