Tuesday, January 23, 2007

BGs and Style 7 - Inki and the Minah Bird (1943) - backgrounds

That Chuck Jones sure was an experimental rascal.All through the early to mid forties, Jones tried all kinds of different background styles, from cartoon to cartoon, sometimes radically different.

I find it interesting that his character design style slowly evolved but his BG style changed in creative spurts.
His characters were very stylish and you see a constant progression from cartoon to cartoon with slight variations and experiments, but the style is still firmly based on the pears and spheres-Preston Blair-standard 40s cartoon style.

The one big experiment he did in character styling was The Dover Boys-1942. But I heard Leon Schlesinger hated the cartoon and told him never to do anything like that again. John Hubley at Columbia cartoons saw it and was hugely influenced by it and copied the characters and styling for his own cartoons, Professer Tall and Mr. Small. He later carried the idea of experimental design even further and helped found UPA.

Maybe Chuck's way of staying experimental was by trying different, more graphic BG styles.


He might have thought thatLeon didn't pay attention to the BGs and so wouldn't notice how radical the changes and experiments were. I don't really know, but it is odd to see graphic BGs behind rounded flowing characters.
I was always fascinated by these early Jones cartoons and hugely impressed at how many ideas were created so fast, whereas today it takes a whole decade at least to notice any discernible changes in cartoon styling and it's usually accidental and for the worse.


People ask me about the Ren and Stimpy or the Spumco "style" and I always say there isn't one. Jones and others instilled in me the idea to constantly try new things and experiment and always be restless and never satisfied with anything. I might be the last person on earth who remembers the concept of "progress" as a positive thing, a concept that just a few decades ago was the American philosophy that made the country the greatest, most influential and fastest moving nation in history.

What is known as the "Spumco style" is really the style of my imitators who carry on all the mistakes in my cartoons and turn them into cliches.

The real John K/ Spumco style is the combination of whichever artists worked on which cartoon and what we were thinking about at the time. Almost every Ren and Stimpy is a different style -until Nickelodeon took it over and even then it took awhile to become a formula. The barreling momentum of constant change started on Bakshi's Mighty Mouse and carried on in Ren and Stimpy took awhile to brake.

It finally did and now has gone quite a bit in reverse in the cable cartoon network studios.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

whenever i hear about a reference to the "spumco style" its usually about the insert shot-detail paintings.

was that goin on in other early cartoons a lot, or is that something spumco brought to the table?

JohnK said...

I started it. In the pilot, "Big House Blues".

It combined 2 ideas:

1 close up carefully rendered BGs of characters' heads or thumbs from classic cartoons

2 Basil Wolverton gross detailed faces

PCUnfunny said...

I simply love Chuck Jones' stuff from the 1940's. You should post the bizarre backgrounds in "The Aristo-Cat", especially the scene were the cat keeps on screaming for Meadows the Butler louder and louder,the brilliant use of camera angles makes the BGs look even better.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's usually the superficial things that get labeled as the Spumco style. The detailed Backgrounds and gross closeups, and just generally being retro which seems to be the thing that gets recycled through time.

Ryan G. said...

Who got to paint all those awesome closeups? Bill and Scott? What a great job that must have been..

JohnK said...

>>Who got to paint all those awesome closeups?<<

In the pilot, it was Bob Camp. On the series 1st season, it was mainly Bill.

Scott didn't start till second season. Glen Barr too.

Brett W. Thompson said...

Yay experimentation! :)

Yay for John's posts! :)

Hope Steve is feeling better; any news, John?

Anonymous said...

This reminds me when I was a little kid it took me a while to realize "Charles Jones" and "Chuck Jones" were the same guy.
Hey John, are you ever gonna talk about Tex Avery on your blog?

Anonymous said...

John, any chance we could get some high resolution images of the classic R&S detail paintings?

I would love a detailed rubber nipple'd Mr Horse as my work computer desktop.

PLLLEEEAASSSEE!!!!

Kali Fontecchio said...

You did paintings too, right? Those splatter ones? Didn't that get associated with the "Spumco" style as well, and copied etc....

queefy said...

If a shitty movie like "Happy Feet" can make A Hundred Million dollars in two weeks, every network should be throwing money at you to do a show.

This modern world is truly fucked.

el-ed said...

Hello John, you say:
"The real John K/ Spumco style is the combination of whichever artists worked on which cartoon and what we were thinking about at the time. Almost every Ren and Stimpy is a different style -until Nickelodeon took it over and even then it took awhile to become a formula."

I ask you: we can see the previous pilots of ren&stimpy do before nickelodeon?

el-ed said...

(If you can, take a look to a small work of backgrounds and designs that I did for a small spot in barcelona, following your tips: http://mi-bulin.blogspot.com/ )

:: smo :: said...

i always thought of the spumco style as everyone trying to draw like john for a while. there was a period where cartoon network had this "what a cartoon show," and it seemed like everyone wanted to draw "like spumco," and tried to rip the character design style, but kind of missed the point on construction. it was somewhat obnoxious to see such a lack of original ideas in a forum with such potential. it's one thing to be inspired, it's another to copy. to me the real spumco style is actually animating things and not just popping from one pose to the next, something that i've heard STARTED in jones's dover boys, sort of as a gag and then was picked up as a style by other artists...

and on jones: i always thought this interesting too. it's almost as if he allowed maurice noble and his bg guys free reign but his own designs developed then doubled over on themselves and turned into what we later got in his tom and jerry cartoons and "how the grinch stole christmas." i remember reading somewhere that dr. suess was dissapointed in the character design. i felt like he probably had been thinking of clampett for the project, since clampett had done the original WB horton cartoons and a lot of the snafus.

i had always loved jones' composition and cinematic tricks, but it made me so uncomfortable to watch his cartoons and see the design get so introverted.

EIBass said...

The other day I was watching some cartoons on boomerang with my 5 year old son when the lady who hosts toon heads trivia thingy announces that a Chuck Jones toon is next. my boy jumps up on the couch Tom Cruse style arms in the air and Screams "Chuck Jones, I LOVE CHUCK JONES"

My wife got a big kick out of it.

the first time I saw Wakiki Wabbit it caught my attention. The crazy abstract and bright plads and aloha patterns. It's really the epitome of what your describing.

I don't really care said...

I think in one sense there is definitely a Spumco style. I would call it the confluence of respect for solid cartoon and design principles honed by the best artists over decades, creative conviction and having a real directorial point of view, and being able to spot real talent and get it to work with you, then encouraging that talent to do what it's good at...

Nobody who tries the "Spumco style" comes very close, because they are not going broad or deep enough. they think it's all in exaggerated takes or some other easily or lazily extracted thing.

The "Spumco style" is apparently the result of having goals higher than getting or keeping a job. It's caring about cartoon fans and cartoon product, to the point where you may even piss off the people who unjustly and stupidly control the airwaves.

John and his crew ask the right questions. "How can I make it read well? What's the strongest pose for the action? What is the emotion and how can we MAXIMIZE the VISUAL effect?

John did his homework, and enjoyed doing it. That's why there is a "Spumco style." Do what he did and get one of your own. PLEASE.

If you want to emulate something about Spumco, emulate the goals. Nobody else seems to be doing that.

Ryan G. said...

Hey John. An interesting tidbit.. The Accossiated Press put out the 100 greatest catch phrases of all time. "You Eeeediot" from Ren is on the list.
Other catch phrases that made the list(from cartoons) include:
"Doh" (Homer Simpson)
"Good Grief" (Charlie Brown)
"Heh Heh" (Bevis & Butthead)\
"Oh my god they killed Kenny!" (Kyle and Stan)
"Yabba Dabba Doo!" (Fred Flintstone)

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I think that most people associate the extreme close ups with the Spümcø style, but personally I think that if there is such a thing, it's more of a philosophy of sorts of making cartoons the right way rather than a specific style of drawing or background painting. Oh, by the way John, my George Liqour mousepad came in today and I absolutely love it! I can take some pictures and send them to you if you'd like.

Eric C. said...

John, just of curiousity. I might have as this hundreds of times, but since I'm also a huge fan of Matt Groening, I was just curious of your friendship with him.

I heard in the past, there was judgements on The Simpsons writting staff and satires back at you from them.

Rumors saying that Matt and You worked together on Boo Boo Runs Wild.

And I remember that you said that you were going to Matt Groening so you can fix up The Simpsons so they look better.

Please Respond.

_Eric ;)

Gabriel said...

hey clair, it's your favorite cartoon!

I loved Inki as a kid! Too bad youtube took off these shorts.

cableclair said...

Inki and the Minah Bird!!! My FAVORITE cartoon of all time. It made such an impact on me as a child. I must have watched it a kazillion times. It's my earliest cartoon memory I think. <3! Thanks so much for posting this!

ubergrafik said...

For some reason, when I go to:

http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/

I always get the page from the 22nd november. The only way I can get the latest page is though the archive area. Weird. And annoying. It's like I'm stuck in some kind of crazy vortex.

Is this a unique experience for me, or are others blessed with such fun?

Sad that this is my first comment on this blog...

:B

FLAMINGPINECONE said...

Andre Benjamin's 'Class of 3000' is fairly experimental, they usually have a 'video' segment that employees a seperate animation director/staff but the same characters.

Neat stuff, often the best part of the episode in fact Wikipedia has you listed as one of the directors of those segments, is that true because I haven't recognized one as yours yet.

Still, animation should be experimental. I love seeing my favorite artists drawing a specific character because it's neat seeing characters drawn differently, today in animation you would be hard pressed to point out specific artists.

Shame.

Marc Deckter said...

bruce said...
For some reason, when I go to:

http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/

I always get the page from the 22nd november.


Hi Bruce,

Try refreshing the cache or memory in your browser. In Safari there is a "Reset Safari" and an "Empty Cache..." option under the Safari pulldown menu. There should be equivalents in other browsers.

Does that help?

Marc

stiff said...

Bruce-
I get that all the time, except with different dates. And I have no idea why.

E'r'body else-
It doesn't look like anybody else has mentioned it, so I'll just point out that all of the composition principles John's been talking about are (of course) well demonstrated in these layouts, particularly the use of negative space to frame the characters and action, complementary poses (the lion's mane frames who I presume to be Inki very well), and intersection. There's even a bright spot on the tree trunk to highlight the butterfly. AND the color scheme is very soothing/subtle/natural, despite the fairly graphic designs.

I wish I knew what happened to progress too--it seems today nobody wants to risk failure for a shot at progress. So they keep doing what works currently, and it continues to work because so few have any idea that progress is an option. It's sad.

Rodrigo said...

Amen to progress, John.

I felt I had hit a brick wall with my drawings, until I found your blog and your 100,000 dollar course. I feel alive againg with my cartoons, because I'm progressing.

JohnK said...

>>So they keep doing what works currently, and it continues to work because so few have any idea that progress is an option.<<

Well it doesn't continue to work. TV ratings are lower than they ever were and ad rates go down with them.

Stagnation does not work. Progress is the best formula for success.

stiff said...

Touché. I really had no idea ratings were down, but I guess that doesn't surprise me, cuz I sure as hell don't watch. I definitely agree that progress is best, I think it's just hard to convince uncreative idiots to try something new.

Anonymous said...

I love the backgrounds in this cartoon. There not as distracting or
stage-like as say "Wackiki Wabbit". Wasn't the layout done by Art
Heinemann on this one? He went to experiment even further with Culhane
at Lantz studios. Culhane did some fine animation on this cartoon along
with Bobo Cannon. This is my favorite period of Chuck Jones' career.

Where did you get this copy of it? All I can find are terrible public domain copies.

Anonymous said...

and on jones: i always thought this interesting too. it's almost as if he allowed maurice noble and his bg guys free reign but his own designs developed then doubled over on themselves and turned into what we later got in his tom and jerry cartoons and "how the grinch stole christmas." i remember reading somewhere that dr. suess was dissapointed in the character design. i felt like he probably had been thinking of clampett for the project, since clampett had done the original WB horton cartoons and a lot of the snafus.

I personally like what Chuck Jones did with How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In fact, I'm just finishing up a tribute of sorts for the comic book I'm involved with right now. I'll put information up on my blog once the book is ready for purchase.

About Inki and the Mynah Bird, I enoy this short as well for many of the same reasons John already stated. However, I also enjoy it for one of the reasons John hates it, that being the lion that Shamus Culhane animated. I love how fluid and bouncy that lion is, you can't take your eyes off of him. It's one of the highlights of this cartoon for me.

(Incidently, this was the only WB toon Shamus ever worked on to my knowledge. Either during or after his working on it he told Leon Sleischinger to f*** himself for some reason).

ubergrafik said...

Thanks everyone from saving me from myself. It was the cache.

JohnK said...

I was wondering when someone would mention Shamus' animation.

It really stands out in Jones' cartoon because it's so damn messy and sloppy. He can't control Chuck's complex lion design and the lines and forms crawl and boil all over the place. He even fills out his ex sheets wrong. You can see parts of the lion pop off in some frames. Like his eyes and the separation line on his muzzle.

The animation timing of the lion is completely mushy with no controlled punctuation, so the important expressions and poses just drift by without being accentuated.

The sloppy lion animation really contrasts against the fluid Bob Cannon animation.

Anonymous said...

I actually think Shamus' animation on the lion is really well-done, and the eye mistake is more likely a shooting error and really trivial to pick on.

You could pick on the errors that go on in a Clampett cartoon to detract from the director and animators, like the scarf pop in Buckaroo Bugs, something I don't want to do because it's not really important.

Jones highly praised Shamus' animation in this cartoon. He did a few shots in Tashlin's Puss N' Booty that are really good too.

Kevin, the newer public domain DVDs with this cartoon are more likely to use the Turner transfer. I think they're in Wal-Mart.

THAD

Anonymous said...

(Incidently, this was the only WB toon Shamus ever worked on to my knowledge. Either during or after his working on it he told Leon Sleischinger to f*** himself for some reason).

He told Leon to F*** himself because he was originally brought on to direct some cartoons for the Navy but Leon thought he was too valuable as an animator. In a way it was a good thing because he was hired by Walter Lantz two hours later and really brought some life to their cartoons. He was very impressed with Chuck Jones though and especially Bobo for that matter.

Ted said...

"I started it. In the pilot, "Big House Blues""
But there were insert shot paintings in Mighty Mouse...
http://www.geocities.com/bakshimightymouse/closeup.jpg

Davy J said...

I agree with you, I always enjoyed the way the early episodes of Ren and Stimpy were completely different from each other. The ever changing style was a refreshing change from the cut and paste animation that dominates television today. Thanks John!

Anonymous said...

Did Shamus tick off Jones alot? Since he did a bad job on his work. It would have cost money to redo everything, right? Time away from production schedule.

JohnK said...

>>I actually think Shamus' animation on the lion is really well-done, <<

How would you know?

Anonymous said...

Did Shamus tick off Jones alot? Since he did a bad job on his work. It would have cost money to redo everything, right? Time away from production schedule.

Jones praised Shamus' work. In fact he felt he was the only one who drew the lion's legs properly (in Jones' view). Jones never said he did a bad job, John did.

Back to the topic, Art Heinemann deserves a lot of credit for laying this one out. He wasn't afraid to experiment, he even the used colored paper to construct backgrounds.

JohnK said...

Jones said a lot of things that his contemporaries said he didn't believe. Friz is one of them.

Culhane is sloppy and can't draw. It's a fact.

Look at the drawings in his book if you can't see it at 24 frames a second.

I'll put up some frame grabs and slow motion so anyone can see it. It's pretty blatant.

Anonymous said...

Really? The only drawings that stood out to me as being particularly bad were the "William Tell" Popeye drawings. The Ajax elves are just lame. What do you think of his work as a director?

T' said...

For what it's worth; I have been reading your blog for a little while now. Though I am not an animator, I do a weekly web comic. I've wanted a sense of animation about the thing, a feeling that there's movement, something going on other than words. While I haven't been 100% behind you, I have listened, looked, learned and experimented. It makes a difference. I tend more towards the UPA style (for backgrounds anyway) than WB, but that room for experimentation over the life of the strip has been really important to me. I cannot express how important it is for us amateurs to read what working artists have to say. This is what the strip looks like now. Go back to the beginning if you want to and see the effect that is partially due to you and this blog. Thanks.

http://www.webcomicsnation.com/mike_luce/fite/series.php

Anonymous said...

The animation is well-done as usual in Jones cartoons and it doesn't look out of the ordinary. Not like when Jack Bradbury shows up in Clampett's shorts, as he couldn't get his animation out of the Freleng style. (Though Bradbury was an absolutely terrific comic book artist.)

Can you point out what Shamus did in Puss n' Booty? If you can point out his sloppy work there then I'll believe you on your claims of Shamus.