Tuesday, May 29, 2007

UPA VS Wally 5 UPA bred worse imitations, amateurism and killed actual animation


I don't blame classic animators for wanting to try to animate different styles. It would get boring to do the same drawing style all the time. But I think it's odd that when they did get the chance to animate something new, they didn't actually animate it. They just inbetweened the stiff key poses. There is no more timing either. Everything just floats at the same rate. No contrasts. The cartoons move in a machine-like automaton sort of way.




This led to the 60s,

when new animators got into the business that weren't classically trained and they animated simplistic designs with no timing or animation. The Cheerios kid had at least a happy though clunky design appeal and some of the commercials had good animation, but many had stiff, evenly inbetweened movements. Ironically, they still had more life in them than UPA cartoons. The characters at least seemed alive.

As the 60s dragged on, the cartoons drifted further and further away from both good design and good animation-in other words against both UPA and Disney.

It just got worse and worse after that.

It got to the point in the 1970s, that if you knew anything at all about animating (or design appeal!) you would get yelled at by your bosses. I remember working at Duck Soup animating on commercials, and if I even used squash and stretch or called for uneven inbetweens they told me to stop doing that " Tex Avery stuff." General classic animation principles were considered radical by the 1980s. 50s Friz cartoons would have been extreme exaggeration.

Here's one of my favorite UPA cartoons by Bobe Cannon. At least I remember it standing out when I first saw a string of UPA cartoons. This seemed less amateurish than many of them to me. I think maybe because it has some simple design balance, whereas there are so many UPA cartoons that have no balance at all. However...and here was the big danger of UPA. Look at the drawings. To the average person, these drawings look like stick figures. They look like anyone could do them. Could an executive tell the difference between this drawing style and your Dad's?

It's drawn by Tee Hee - purposely in a childlike primitive style, to look as if a professional artist didn't do it. Bobe Cannon directed, but I can't figure out what that means. He was a great animator, but there is no animation in it. How could this have been fun for him? This kind of cartoon is anti-animation. All the skills the classic animators developed and polished from 1930 to 1950 have been totally abandoned. Animated cartoons had taken cartoon skills to a new level. Now that UPA subtracted animation principles, it brought animation back down near the level of comic strips and lost the advantages animated cartoons had over still cartoons.


I have to wonder, did Cannon and his cohorts sabotage their own usefulness? Here is a cartoon by Cannon that anyone in the world could have done.

The revolution these great animators started opened the door to non-skilled amateur artists to compete with them and doomed quality animation.

Animation was replaced by stiff cardboard poses, and "trace-backs" …Which are inbetweens that are just tracings of the keys gradually floating into the position of the next key.

No overlapping action,
no squash and stretch,
no line of action,
no contrasts in timing,
no construction,
no nothing.

Just ugliness.

I don't even know what this thing is below, but you can thank the wave of non-animated, merely inbetweened UPA cartoons for it. It's someone obviously trying to bring back general animation principles, but either doesn't fully know what they are, or is not being allowed to use them. I think the animator probably likes old cartoons though. It seems to be a superficial attempt to mimic them. But in the 80s, it really was like trying to revive Greek knowledge in the dark ages from scraps of surviving manuscripts. There was no one to teach the lost techniques to the young animators. And no studio to learn it on the job.

The first time I saw squash and stretch and overlap again (besides some highly degraded nasty looking Disney movies) in the 1980s was in Brad Bird's "Family Dog". It seemed amazing at the time, because no one had seen or done it since classic cartoons. It was a lost art. It had some timing too, but constructed, appealing and fun drawings took longer to make a reappearance in animation - and they didn't stay around long.


Mr. Semaj said...


That sounds a lot like what would become Flash when applied to a computer. Most of the Flash animation I've seen just shows the movements SLIDE from one pose or expreession to another.

PowerRangerYELLOW said...

mr semaj, the poorly made flash animations that just tween around exist because of lazy talentless hacks using the software.

Flash is just a tool and sometimes there is that rare gem on the internet.

a flash that is not lazily animated but no matter what it all comes down to entertainment.

The stuff like acting, pathos,drawing, emotions and sound are all things that add to the overall entertainment vaule.

That last clip from the 70's was just pure shit.


Adam said...

So it seems that the UPA style that was originally meant to open animation to a broader range of style only led to cheap imitations and "limited animation." This cheap way of creating animation, which I'm sure the execs loved, paved the way for cartoons to be made directly for television with even more limited animation.

Was this transition to cheaply made television cartoons the final nail in the coffin for theatrical cartoons then? Also, what do you think would have happened to animation had the UPA movement never got underway?

Gabriel said...

i kinda like the mad scientist design on that underdog cartoon. Don't beat me.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this great information, John.

Kris said...

That cartoon with the lady mouse singing is from "The Devil and Daniel Mouse," a TV special done by Nelvana sometime in the 1970s. It's the cartoon that got them the chance to do "Rock and Rule," a (rather bad) high-budget feature film that nearly bankrupted the studio and is probably the reason why Nelvana was never allowed to do anything even remotely risky ever again.

ncross said...

"...and if I even used squash and stretch or called for uneven inbetweens they told me to stop doing that " Tex Avery stuff.

Now they say "stop doing that John K stuff"

Things haven't gotten any better.

Tibby said...

Heh heh - they didn't know it at the time. But as people have said - the UPA gave birth to Flash animation before Flash was ever written. Most of those look exactly like most of the Flash toons we see today.

Lack of animators, lack of interest, lack of training, lack of funds, and everyone's jobs went over to the Koreans or China in the late 70's to present day. That is why the animation industry is so dead.

Heh heh, I made a "typical" Flash animation of my own. Something I did on a spur of the moment. Everything that bugs me about Flash and the industry in 1 little tiny short. It's for you to snark at Mr. K - hope you hate it ... or like it ... don't worry - it's ment to be hated ... sort of.
Short About Flash

Chip Butty said...

Hahaha, The Devil and Daniel Mouse

"Rock" and "Rule" indeed, Canada

Chip Butty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
murrayb said...

that last clip is from the devil and daniel mouse,a nelvana special from the early 80s.
animated by
charlie bonifacio, greg duffell, larry jacobs, bob fortier...

goldenrusset said...

i really hope we can change things around. FIGHT FOR FUNNY DRAWINGS!! it's up to the creators and animators to just do it! don't settle for the executives opinion.. which is all that it is. (easier said than done i know... but this blog is a start) i think there is merit to "UPA"... but it shouldn't be all there is.

Anonymous said...

I like all the commercials except that shitty Navy one. Melty garbage.

I couldn't even finish the top short because it was so boring, but I like the second short.

That last clip sucked, and since Greg Duffel knows more about cartoons than anyone, he must've been suppressed by the bosses.

JohnH said...

Ah! And at long last, a missing piece of a childhood memory slots into place! I saw The Devil and Daniel Mouse on TV with my parents way back when I was around six or seven I suppose, and always wondered what the heck it was.

CartoonSteve said...

Anyone else here using Firefox with (or without) the following problem: The two Captain Crunch videos show up at the top right and everything else is all out of whack as you scroll down (type stretches to the width of the browser). Older posts I click on display ok (as did yesterday's - and even this one in iesplorer). No other blogs seem to have this problem.

I'm running XP with Firefox

Roberto González said...

I actually tried to watch the first UPA cartoon the other day, searching in youtube when you made your first post about UPA, and like jorge, I couldn't end watching cause it was so boring.

Yeah, I hadn't watched too many UPA cartoons, but it seems they were pretty boring overall. They seem more dated than anything done in the 30s.

peldma3 said...

So,... What do you thinks going on with the japanese stuff ?... I know alot of the faces and things are flat and stock emotions, but ,.. not all of it. Hell we send all our stuff over there!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

I'm in heaven! It's about time someone talked about the shocking decline of animation beginning in the 1950s. John actually gets mad about it which is exactly the right thing to do!

smackmonkey said...

"Faster-Cheaper! Faster-Cheaper!" It's been the battle cry of the talentless exec since the beginning.

John - Great job bringing everyone (including me) up to snuff on the long slow decline of this great art form. I think everyone's starting to get the picture.

Anonymous said...

ncross said:

Now they say "stop doing that John K stuff"

This would be hilarious if it wasn't so true!

stephen rogers said...


Would you say this is an example of 40s 'design' animation that still uses classic principles?


Also, I think that the 'Famous Artists' Course' material that VIP did compares interestingly with the later, post-UPA cartoons. Obviously VIP influenced their style, but as you can see looking at his sketches he brought a knowledge of principles to his construction and composition.


PowerRangerYELLOW said...

Anyone else here using Firefox with (or without) the following problem: The two Captain Crunch videos show up at the top right and everything else is all out of whack as you scroll down (type stretches to the width of the browser).

Yeah, I got that same problem too.

Heh heh, I made a "typical" Flash animation of my own. Something I did on a spur of the moment. Everything that bugs me about Flash and the industry in 1 little tiny short. It's for you to snark at Mr. K - hope you hate it ... or like it ... don't worry - it's ment to be hated ... sort of.
Short About Flash

thats dead on and i left a review.


:: smo :: said...

the clip at the bottom with the mouse is from a movie called "The Devil and Daniel Mouse," by Nelvana. There's another clip from that movie on youtube with the devil, and it has some really great contorted straight ahead stuff on his face when he gets angry. It seems to me Bakshi sparked a fire in people and they tried to animate things they wanted to, but they all came out watered down. Like the Nelvana movie "Rock and Rule," which also has some really great bits but as a whole it's almost hard to watch. Although...I watch it anyway.

But I'd imagine that's what happens when you're trying to strive for "art" but still make a marketable product [especially when you aren't totally following principles]...watering down.

ZSL said...

Oh bah. I was hoping to be the first to point out that the last clip was from The Devil and Daniel Mouse.
But I've been beaten to the punch.

I enjoyed Rock and Rule. At least the original, slightly destroyed staticy cut. Never seen the edited version. Don't really want to.

The movie reminded me of Peter Chung's animation style (though long before Chung came to be).

Lindsey said...

upa cartoons gave me nightmares when i was a kid.

Heather said...

blog tags being what they are, I wonder if you'd be able to lable the YouTube clips a little more clearly for those of us who want to learn more. I agree with you (and am a huge fan of Tex Avery etc) and worked (as a paeon) for awhile in an Animation House That Will Remain Nameless (b/c I'm scared) but I'd love to see more detail on the examples you pulled.

Thanks for the hard work it took to put this together.


Kip W said...

"Duton Lang" stole the gimmick of their story from H.G. Wells's "The Truth About Pyecraft."

DON LIN said...


thanks for an amazing post .

Greg Duffell said...

That animation of Jan Mouse is indeed from Devil and Daniel Mouse (1977-78). Had I not left the studio in February 1978, I would have ended up animating the scene that you found on YouTube. Instead, the chores went to Bob Fortier who replaced me doing the animation of Jan Mouse. It is my opinion that Bob was probably more interested in experimenting with design (as he did later on running Nelvana's commercial division) than being an animator, which falls into the general discussion of design vs. animation that you explore in your posts.
Vivian Ludlow, who was my assistant, (now an instructor at Sheridan College) also picked up some scenes of this particular character and did them very nicely as I recall. She was given very little encouragement by the studio for her fine efforts.

Raff said...

Ha! I was going to bring up Brad Bird's Family Dog episode of Amazing Stories and lo and behold John's seen it! It's got wicked exaggerated perspective. Brad Bird, Tim Burton plus soundtrack by Danny Elfman = Family Dog. Never before, never again.

And Greg "Rock N Rule" Duffell in the house! Double treat!

Jim Rockford said...

Amateurism is right,once the standard of quality got lowered,it just kept declining until talent and creativity didnt matter anymore and unskilled people wound up running the show.
nobody seemed to care.they realized that they could make crap and get away with it.most people are indiscriminate.(thats why we have 3 Shrek movies)
Its the same mentality the makes it possible for slick bussinessmen whose only concern is the bottom line to sell people crap made in china.
Apathy ruins everything,when people dont care about qaulity or talent anymore,the standard gets lowered and accepted,and continues to spiral downward until it reaches the point where we have poorly drawn shows like Family Guy becoming well recieved hits,and shows like Ren & Stimpy being relegated to "cult" status by the media.
Hell,show me anything today for the most part that is well made!,we have synthetic bland music,lowbrow reality shows,and a public that encourages this crap by buying the product.
R.Crumb is right,people are like chlidren,they just accept things blindly,they dont discriminate!

perspex said...

unfortunately most of your example videos were taken off by YouTube.

Pokey said...

UNDERDOG crappy (the cheerios ad from the 1960s)?

Posted on July 12,2015.