Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Specific Acting in Looney Tunes-Duck Twacy
While we're on the subject of specific acting you might wonder where I got the idea to do it in cartoons.
Specific acting is something we all take for granted in live action because each real actor is a live person who brings his or her own personality and observations of other humans to the screen or stage.
This is something all humans have naturally. Everyone you know has specific faces he makes and gestures she does etc...so we expect to see this kind of acting in our favorite TV shows and movies.
Most of us don't expect to see it in cartoons. Why? Because hardly anyone does it. Why? Because not very many artists ever thought of it and because it is hard to draw.
I accepted generic acting in cartoons when I was a kid, because I was so mesmerized by the sheer magic of drawings that were moving at all.
I started to become a bit more discerning when I was a teenager and I realized how much more sophisticated the Warner Bros. cartoons were than the other classics-particularly in how much more believable the characters were.
I found myself particularly attracted to Chuck Jones' cartoons and I noticed not only his slick drawing style, but also the unique expressions he drew.
I especially liked when he would invent an abstract expression that no human could actually do-like the famous "D-uh" take he draws where the two whites of the eyes are joined and one is bigger than the other. Thanks to Pat Lewis for finding me this frame below!
I used to copy all the funny expressions Jones did and talk to my friends about it. They thought I was a real weirdo let me tell you! Anyway, Jones' cartoons tend to be pose to pose, so whenever he invented some funny pose or expression, he would hold it long enough for you to notice it. That's cool!
When I was 20 I discovered Bob Clampett's cartoons and was instantly blown away by how much richer and more inventive they were than even my favorite cartoons of my childhood.
As a contrast to Jones' work, Clampett's cartoons are not pose to pose, they tend to be moving constantly. The amazing thing is that so much information is happening and yet it all reads - even without holding every idea!
He would have characters act and in a single sentence there would be a bunch of custom tailor made new and specific expressions to describe each inflection of the dialogue!
When I began freeze framing his cartoons a whole new world opened up to me. I realized why his cartoons were so exciting-something was happening on every frame! Not just bookended in the held poses. Clampett and his animators could control all this information and make you absorb it and understand it all. This is fantastic control-I can tell you from experience, it's really hard to do and back then no one else was doing it.
My pal Andrea, (Duck Dodgers) has done a great service to cartoon fans by posting still frames of classic cartoons all over his site.
Below are just a few frames from one scene of Bob Clampett's The Great Piggy Bank Robbery.
Note that the first frame is pretty normal looking.
This is animated by the great Rod Scribner. He uses every part of the drawing to get across subtle distinctions in the characters' mood at each instant of his acting.
He even changes the shape of the pupils during the animation to add color to the emotion.
This scene was one of the great revelations of my life!
Many of these expressions can't be described in words. I know what Daffy is feeling on the frame below but can't tell it to you. The picture speaks better than any words can.
Sometimes a duck has teeth, other times he doesn't. I remember an executive telling me to change a storyboard panel once because "ducks don't have teeth." It was a talking duck, by the way.
Look at the picture below sideways but don't let your Mom catch you.
That goes double for the one below! (I've seen this in real life many a time!)
Seeing Jones' cartoons and Clampett's cartoons gave me the idea to look not only at cartoons for acting ideas, but to look at real life, study actors and on top of all that even invent physically impossible expressions that can only be drawn.
I'm hooked on specific acting and can never go back.
Click the link below to see more of this scene, and if you scroll down the page fast it will animate! If you are a young cartoonist and want to learn fast, I suggest you copy these drawings and then go freeze frame more old cartoons from the 1940s and copy them over and over until you start to absorb all the great principles of the best cartoons ever made.
Hey Andrea, isn't there another close up scene of Daffy near this one that's even crazier?
"Hey, what's the matter with me? I'm Duck Twacy!"