Putting Sass in Pitchers

If you’ve watched our collection Beastly Bards, you know that we describe Hector’s animation has having a “Mid-century Modern” aesthetic. But what does mid-century modern mean, and why reference it aesthetically?

I’m no art or design history expert, but it seems Mid-century Modern can be considered subset of Modernism – a design style that spanned graphic design, typography, art, and architecture from the ‘30s to the ‘60s. Modernism was a reaction to the industrial revolution and mass production. Artists and designers felt that they had to lead the way in this new manufacturing landscape by creating new visual languages that looked toward the future. Stylistically speaking, Modernist art and design broke with the ornate and symmetrical traditions that preceded them, favouring sans-serif fonts over serif, assymetrical layouts, and simpler, more dynamic use of colour and images.

Consider Norman Rockwell (traditional, realistic illustration) vs Alvin Lustig (modern design):

Or consider a traditional representation of lemonade in a 1920s Sunkist ad versus a modernist depiction of lemonade in a 1950s Beckman ad.

Notice the simplification of the headlining text too? Instead of the descriptive “delicious and efficient”, you get the rhyming and  intriguing “sass in a glass”.

Mid-century modern as it refers to graphic design and illustration is a similarly reductive language. Compare Disney’s films (pre-Sleeping Beauty) with UPA’s short films and commercial work of the same era. Where Disney deliberately adhered to realistic, “believable” characters and rich backgrounds, UPA artists and animators were freer to play with lines and shapes, using abstracted backgrounds and non-realistic colour palettes.

Notice the haze, light and clouds in the Bambi background versus the simplified and abstracted clouds and rain in the Fudget’s Budgets background?

Hector’s preference for Mid-Century Modern design stems from this simplification of forms and the potential for abstraction.

“You start getting shapes and lines to represent more complex elements. It seems to be distilled, and heavily influenced by cubism. If you look at Picasso’s bull sketches…you’re able to communicate a lot of things with a few design elements. A building can be represented by rows of rectangles as the windows.”

(Picasso’s bull sketches found here via here.)

However, it’s not just the simplicity of form that Hector likes about MCM, it’s also the emotional quality – especially in animation. He likes that it has roots in fine art and design disciplines (Cubism, Bauhaus, New Typography) but doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. “There’s a certain innocence in it that’s really sweet. There’s a utopian aspect to it: happy families, happy lives, great technology.”

It is also the innocence that fits so well with our silly rhymes.

For more on Mid-Century Modern animation, the book to read is Amid Amidi’s Cartoon Modern.

Comments are closed.