Petri Wine - Drinking on the job.

This full-page ad features a pretty nice illustration by Nick Carter. His signature is in the lower left. I'd never heard of him, but that doesn't mean he's not famous. All I could find were more ads for Petri wine, all of which seemed to be pretty similar to this one, with some kind of highly rendered cartoon character.
 It's really nicely painted. Maybe it's because of the era (1949), but as soon as I saw it, I looked for the signature, because I assumed it was some kind of Disney thing and I was half expecting to see a familiar name on it. Nope. I don't know this "Carter" guy. As I looked at the illustration a little longer, it seemed that Carter was making some mistakes that no Disney artist would have made. Beautiful rendering over a slightly wonky drawing.

Petri wine was a sponsor of the Sherlock Holmes radio program, which ran from 1939 to 1947. This as is from the post-Holmes days, but it looks like Petri were still doing well, because full color full page ads in Life magazine couldn't have been cheap. The curious can download free MP3s of the show (and loads of others) from Archive.org.

 Rendering cartoon characters realistically brings up some weird problems. Most obviously, when you render up a cartoon character as if it were a real-life thing, it can look creepy. The giant, staring eyes and generally bulbous proportions of most cartoon characters would be downright unsettling if you encountered them walking down the street. You know... like the freaky Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, Garfield, or Scooby-Doo movies? Those things make my skin crawl like it's trying to get off. I've run into this problem a bunch of times when I've been asked to render up a line drawing of a character as if it were a real thing. Once you start shading, airbrushing or lighting a cartoon, you are eyeballs-deep in the uncanny valley. Make a cartoon real, and you've got a crime against nature whose every breath must be a hellish torment of broken anatomy. "kiiillll meeeeee" they seem to groan.

This beaver's pretty nice, though. Carter's done some great work rendering the fur.Fur is as pain to paint. You don't want to just paint every hair individually, but you can't just spray it with a huge airbrush or it'll look like it's molded plastic. You pretty much need to make it blotchy but soft, like you see here. Lots of  variations of your base fur color blending into each other.

I don't think Carter had any formal cartoon training (Yes, there is such a thing.), though. There are some mistakes in the structure of the beaver that none of my cartoon buddies would have left alone.
The beaver's right hand, holding his head... the fingers have that "fan of fingers" look that we see a lot in portfolio submissions. Each finger is drawn as one unjointed sausage, and they have a slight negative bend. You can do this with your own hand, but it really hurts. Why is his hand cupped so severely? Shouldln't it just follow the curvature of his head?

For hands, you can usually get a really good start just by drawing a mitten and then adding some finger divisions. From there, you can refine it, depending on the needs of the illustration, but for cartoon characters you can almost always leave it there. It may take a few attempts to get it right, but this wil generally be better than the inexplicable "finger fan" that so many people seem to like drawing.

Second, I would have brought the lip line up into the cheek, instead of leaving the strange no-man's land between the two. Cartoon characters look happier this way. I think Carter was using his own human (probably) face as reference, and that's not always best for cute cartoon characters.

If I had to guess, I'd say that Carter probably started with a photograph of a person in the beaver's pose, and sketched over it. This leaves the cartoon character looking like a person in a costume, and limits the character to the constraints of existing human proportion. This is a standard operating assumption for illustrators. However, cartoon characters are often big squishy bag shapes, with stumpy legs.

I think this beaver could benefit from shorter legs, which are of little use in this picture. His belly could be bigger too, to make him look more jolly.

I still like it, though.


Craig F. said...

Several observations:

1. The only "Petri" I know is the dish in which they grow bacterias and fungii for intense study.

Also, I know that was Rob's last name in the Dick Van Dyke show.

2. They had to kiss the ass of "Gump's of San Francisco" for the use of the silver tray under the cheap wine?

"Special thanks to the Salvation Army Store for the glasses, and Home Depot for the paint on the wall in the background. Thanks to the Sheetrock Corporation of America for the wall."

Dave Pryor said...

The body of this naked beaver is like a chubby guy that just removed his wife-beater and pants to relax commando-style in the sun. It promotes a certain care-free confidence that you can only attain by being plastered.

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