Monday, February 18, 2008

Design 2- Style - Chuck Jones' Scaredy Cat

Chuck Jones is one of my favorite cartoonists and a huge influence on me.
I sometimes think of him as two people:
1) The entertainer that made really funny regular folk type cartoons from roughly 1945-1950
2) The stylist/designer who made beautiful soft cartoons from 1938-1945, and then again from 1950 to the rest of his life.

As an artist, I like his experimental and artsy cartoons.
As a regular type guy with normal man needs, I like the 1945-1950 period when he made hilarious cartoons like Pest In The House, Long Haired-Hare, Rabbit Punch, My Bunny Lies Over The Sea and one of my all time favorite cartoons, Scaredy Cat.

Jones is in his finest form in this cartoon. You can tell he really thought about it and worked hard. The drawings and poses are all really strong and solid, the acting is great and he uses a lot of imagination in one particular area of the cartoon-Sylvester's takes.

Jones did his best cartoons-at least in my opinion- when he had a good structure figured out and he could spend his time concentrating on one main creative aspect of the cartoon.

Mike Maltese wrote Scaredy Cat. It's a very funny idea and a funny story, so that part is well taken care of. Now Jones can concentrate on what I believe he thought was the most important part of the cartoon-Sylvester's reactions-his "takes".

Here's a take (above) that's only on screen for a very few frames. Jones' direction in this cartoon is so masterful and confident that he can draw and time his takes with such clarity and power that he barely leaves them onscreen for you to register them - but you do and it's perfect! Some of the takes-like the one above are arrows that lead your eye to the following scene of the mice doing some ghostly gag. He uses the device throughout the cartoon. Very clever indeed.

Jones was a master at drawing poses that really tell you how the character is feeling, in ways that are hard to describe in words. Look at the funny attitude Sylvester has above and below. These poses aren't arbitrary, they tell you more than one thing at once.

If you remember from my post "Design 1" I said Jones was mainly a stylist but sometimes used his design ability. (Design and Style are 2 different things)

He didn't often use it to create new types of characters (he did sometimes and I'll post about that later) but he would use it for funny reactions. For most of this cartoon, Porky and Sylvester are pretty much "on-model". Jones always felt he needed a strong reason or excuse to break from model-or create something new.

Sylvester's extreme fear is a really good reason to create some funny new faces. These use Chuck's design ability.

Go see all the great poses from Scaredy Cat that Duck Dodgers made for us at:

Chuck had an odd habit. Whenever he made an outstanding and original cartoon, he would make it again. Sometimes a million times, like The Road Runner Series. Usually the other versions of the same story don't turn out as good as the breakthroughs. I'm not sure why. Maybe, once he made something that really worked, he figured he could turn it into a "stock" idea and every time he made it again, it would be easier and faster and cheaper.

That way he could spend more time on his next firsts. I have no way of knowing, but his firsts tend to have more life and more elaborate animation and lots more custom poses drawn by Chuck himself.

Here are some frames from Claws For Alarm-a remake of Scaredy Cat. Note how the characters are drawn by comparison with Scaredy Cat. It seems like the main creative part of the cartoon is now in the backgrounds instead of the characters. It is still well drawn and funny, but Chuck (rightly) doesn't seem as inspired to make a cartoon that he's already done.

Incidentally, have you ever noticed that every other director's Sylvester is generally funnier and drawn better than Friz'? That's very odd, considering that Sylvester is associated mostly with Freleng.


Clampett- This is the first Sylvester model drawn by Tom McKimson for Bob Clampett. Below is my favorite Sylvester cartoon ever: Kitty Kornered

Robert Mckimson.