Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Acting tool 4) Body Language: Foghorn Leghorn - Bob McKimson Director - Henery's dad poses

Walky Talky Hawky, 1946

Here is a great "pose to pose" scene from a Bob McKimson cartoon.
You can tell these are drawn by Mckimson himself. They are really solid.

Each pose contrasts from the previous pose and the next one.

This is really good cartoon acting. The poses are over the top, and totally readable. You know exactly what the character is feeling and portraying.

The character himself is acting. He isn't sincere. He is pretending, which adds a level to the cartoon acting. Very funny!

Someone commented that he thought I was suggesting pose to pose being better than straight ahead animation. Not at all. They are just different approaches that you can use and even combine for different purposes.

Pose to pose eventually became limited animation. But in most limited animation, the poses are not really poses. They are just characters standing straight up and down, and there is no excuse for that. Poses should be "posed". It doesn't cost more money to draw a pose, than to draw a non-pose.

Classic cartoon acting tends to put more emphasis on the body than the face.

Drawing specific expressions is hard. It depends on tiny subtle details that all have to be depicted in line, and then turned in volumetric perspective as the character moves his head around. That's why to this day, most cartoon expressions are not even expressions, they are just animation cliches.

Because real expressions are so hard to draw, animators evolved a style that is more stagy than live action, where you can read the characters' emotions through their body language. Their poses.

This applies to all the classic studios: Warner's, Disney, MGM, Fleischer and the rest. Sometimes in closeups, the odd animator would experiment with more subtle, detailed and specific expressions-Rod Scribner, Willard Bowsky, Grim Natwick to name a few.


By the way, McKimson is one of my favorite cartoon directors and one that is extremely important to cartoon history. After Clampett left Warner's in 1946, McKimson's cartoon unit became the backbone of the Warner Bros. team of units.

Jones was the arsty experimenter who would sometimes deliver pure cartoon humor (esp. in 1948). Freleng basically just followed what everyone else was doing-whatever the current trend was, he would conservatively mimic it.

McKimson wasn't as artsy as Jones or as well-rounded and inspired as Clampett, but he knew his audience maybe better than anybody. He aimed at regular folks and you can tell he felt it was his duty as a cartoonist to entertain the masses-especially the masses of Dads.

His cartoons are hilarious and brilliantly timed and animated. He carried on Warner's tradition of full animation longer than any of the other directors. By 1950 Jones and even Freleng were animating more stylized, more limited and less cartoony stuff. Against the pressures of tightening budgets and UPA's influence, McKimson kept making lively fully animated characters for a few more years.

Without McKimson's cartoons, Jones' tendency to make "art" and sweetness might have run wild and the WB studio might not have kept up the reputation that Avery and Clampett bought it. Looney Tunes are remembered today and still beloved for being mass appeal, honest-entertainment cartoons, the antidote to Disney.

I love Jones and am glad he was so arsty and experimental, but the audience needs a balance of down to earth human entertainment and that's what McKimson delivered. Vincent Waller was my McKimson. His down to earth funny world view balanced all my weird ideas.

McKimson cartoons appeal to the same base entertainment needs that The 3 Stooges provide.

I have lots more observations about McKimson. He had a really funny world view, especially how he perceived the behavior of men. His characters behave as though they have a set of Commandments that guides them to be the best assholes they can be.

I'll tell you the commandments in another post.


BTW, these drawings are really well constructed so if you are trying to improve your own construction, copy these.