Udderly Silly 'Barnyard' Boy Cows
Paramount's latest movie has anatomically incorrect stars. Was it for kicks or was it just...easier? An animation character designer explains.
By Deborah Netburn, Times Staff Writer
August 5, 2006
Our film critic Carina Chocano was no fan of "The Barnyard: The Original Party Animals." Actually, she hated it. In her review of the film she writes that what offended her sensibilities most was not "the sad vulgarity of [the film's] characters and stories," but that "in writer-director Steve Oedekerk's bizarre computer-animated universe, 'female cows' are required to wear hair accessories in order to differentiate themselves from 'male cows,' with whom they unaccountably share secondary sex characteristics."
Kate Wolff is an animation character designer who specializes in animal anatomy. We spoke with her to see why the boy cows were so much more offensive to Chocano than a four-fingered talking mouse that walks on his hind legs.
Latimes.com: Are there any general rules to animating animals?
Kate Wolff: There really aren't. The only rules are what the art directors decide. But calling a bull a cow and putting an udder on a male is pretty out there. It reminds me of 'A Bug's Life' when all the ants and most of the other bugs only had four legs. That drove me insane because they obviously have six legs or they wouldn't be an insect. But that decision was probably made because it saves time on the rendering and a lot of time on the animation.
Latimes.com: Do most animators study anatomy?
KW: The good ones do. You can't distort animal anatomy unless you know what the real thing look s like. Anatomy is the fundamental foundation of things you need to learn. And not just for animation, but for painting and sculpture, any kind of art.
Latimes.com: So there's no way the animators could have been confused about boy cows being an oxymoron?
KW: They probably thought it was hilarious. They would have to do it because it is a writing device or because some art director says it looks good.
Latimes.com: Why do you think our critic was so outraged about the boy cows with udders, when Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse don't look anything like a rabbit or a rodent?
KW: It's all about story. You have to have a great story. You can have a brilliant design and a mediocre story and it won't work, and you can have a great story and decent design and that will work. Ideally you will have a phenomenal design and a phenomenal story. A lot of it is also style.
Latimes.com: By the way, why do so few animated characters have the right number of fingers?
KW: It's for easy animating. We do that with most animations because it is faster and simpler to draw one less finger. Except when a cartoon is exported to Japan — they have to go in and reanimate, adding the extra finger because of the Yakuza [the Japanese mafia, which has been rumored to cut off its members' pinkies].