Wednesday, May 16, 2007

WALLY VS UPA PART 2 - Skilled Cartoonists Take Their Skills For Granted

OK, here are my theories as to why UPA happened, and why animators abandoned what they were good at. They might not be right, but at least it's a stab at an explanation for something so crazy to have happened. Maybe you have some theories too.


By 1948 there were many many brilliant animators who could do totally sophisticated rich cartoon movement. Their animation and drawings had level upon level of intelligent artistic principles, ideas and planning in every scene. To the audience it would be magic. Maybe by the 40s this brilliant stuff was so easy for them that they started to take it all for granted. It was second nature to them, so they were no longer impressed by their own sophistication.

I know that in the 80s, I brought some tapes of Clampett cartoons to Bill Melendez to show him.

He had previously told me how proud he was of his UPA work and how revolutionary it was. I seem to remember that when he saw the Clampett stuff, he had forgotten how amazing and sophisticated the animation was. In 1985 (as now), any animation from the 40s would look like superhumans from space did it, because everything had become so primitive by then.

We told Melendez how much we loved the 40s stuff and he then agreed that it was the best animation ever done. The UPA stuff was more about the design and just doing something different and he was still very proud of that. He said it cost as much to do a limited animation UPA cartoon as it did to do a fully animated funny cartoon. I still can't figure that out, but of course I believe him.

Maybe some of the animators who could do such amazing feats of cartoon magic just got bored with their own skills and wanted to do something different.


Real cartoon animation-the full stuff of the 30s and 40s is very sophisticated, but only animators would know that. The audience and the critics just thought of it as cheap throwaway entertainment, and as history teaches over and over again, entertainment and fun doesn't get serious critical attention no matter how obviously skilled it is. It sure doesn't win awards.

Some animators and directors needed to know they were doing something that was above cheap mass entertainment, something that had a higher meaning. Something that could get respect. Some cartoonists wanted to be "artists", not realizing that they had previously invented a whole new artform that could do what no other was capable of.

Pleasing hundreds of millions of people around the world with obvious astounding skill and talent is not good enough to get you respect.



Kali Fontecchio said...

I bet they didn't know what was going to happen- that the world was not going to get more cartoony afterwards! That it would all be lost in the future! Oh, the pith they had! The exactitude! The progress! Now all we have is a rat gesticulating. Goodbye cruel world!!!

On top of everything....I caught my mom watching Idol again, and there was a commercial for the 400th episode this Sunday of The Simpsons.


I bet they carefully preserve the masters unlike the wonderful Soupy. THE PAIN. THE SUFFEREING. THE DEFEAT.

Curmudgeon apprentice signing out.

Jim Rockford said...

I think you are right,the whole UPA thing was about style,
the cartoons fit into the 50's jet age modern abstract styling asthetic that was then very much in vogue.
I had read somewhere the opposite of Mr Melendezs claim.(I will try to find the source) I I read the UPA cartoons cost less to make than the old full animation style,but they were getting the same budget for them as the old fully animated ones.
I think I read it on Gene Deitchs website,but I will have to look into it.
You bring up an interesting point to in your theory that ego might have played a part too.the animators wanted recognition and proof that their work had artisitic validity,and so once the UPA stuff became lauded as artsy and won awards everyone wanted to be a part of that scene.
the thing is creativity stops when everyone is doing the same thing

willrmass24 said...

I hardly hold any of UPA's work in contempt and I don't completely agree with them but your theories (in their own way) provide some food for thought that is actually reasonable.

I'm not really sure if the animators craved respect from critics, I think they just wanted to do something different. However, it is totally possible that some of the folks who worked on them probably wanted to have animation regarded with more respect.

From books that I've read, UPA's stuff was well recieved by audiences at the time of their release. Admittedly the animation is very conservative and is nowhere near as lush and vivid as pre UPA shorts. The two things they wanted to do differently were design and content, which I think they did very well.

On another note, I was surprised at the level of skill that Bill Melendez shown during his work under Mckimson. Totally different from his later UPA stuff (which i still like, just VERY different).

I.D.R.C. said...

...and as history teaches over and over again, entertainment and fun doesn't get serious critical attention no matter how obviously skilled it is. It sure doesn't win awards.

In 1929, the first Academy Awards, there were 2 Best director awards --one for drama, and one for comedy. Somebody put the kibosh on that right quick.

Wanting to be taken "seriously" I can kinda see for some guys, but I wish I found the rest of your theory more satisfactory. "They were so skilled that they were bored by it" does not resonate with me too well. I would be much happier with some idiot executives going, "Hey, did you see that Mc boing boing crap? Make me some of those!"

That's at least something like how it is now.

Brian B said...

Yeah, your right about the respect issue. I mean to say, not in the way they craved it though they probably did, but in the way it was handed out. Animation as a craft when truly mastered is joyous, pleasing.. and in cartoons it's brilliant, fast, funny, and seemingly effortlessly so. Something that looks that effortless from the character's perspective just won't gain the kind of attention it deserves. It has to slow down and ponder and sulk. Allow time to verbalize it's brilliance as it's happening.

It's really not right when you consider the craft takes the same kind of skill to be great either way. And one purely by it's aesthetic isn't going to be praised for what it does.

It really sucks when you consider the contruction, design, and principles put into some of these and how effortlessly it incorporates that kind of quality throughout - even during irreverant gags and entertainment. The ones they crave respect from meanwhile can't even contemplate that the whole process begins with nothing. A blank page. That they take the quality as a given. Like money buys it or it's born in anyone meant to do animation. Nothing special..

I do see a lot of talent in the industry who take time out to admire their work though. I don't see why we have to look for respect from other brands of entertainment. From people without a foot placed in or a care given to the craft. Only giving credit to another medium that tries its best to be accepted as live action, instead of reveling in it's own medium.

Though I love all kinds of animation and respect those trying to be an original work onto itself - not owned by film or cartoon wholy - I can see how wrong it is to not have a ground to appreciate and stem the growth of something like cartoony cartoons. And that without that appreciation, competitiveness, and respect pushing the medium - we're left with a dead, abandoned concept. The funny thing is that it may have died becauise they got too good too quick. At least we're lucky enough to to have that much material to enjoy so many years later, but I would liked to see something created to award the attempt and success of something similar to what they did.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Excellent post! I've wondered about this question myself. The old animators were so good; why did they collaborate so readily with the guys who were undermining traditional animation?

Your answer might be right. I heard someone else say it was because the limited, design-intensive TV product paid well and required a lot less effort. Someone else said a lot of the old animators were politically left and regarded it as their duty to undermine the old studio system which they were opposed to.

Probably all of the above explain it well enough but I'll offer a wild guess just for the heck of it.

Maybe we need geniuses in every generation to translate the old skills into a new and exciting format. Maybe what the 50s and 60s lacked was young genius animation enterpreneurs. Maybe genius isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. Maybe everything folds if new genius isn't found. If people aren't constantly challenged and excited by a medium it whithers.

If there's any truth in this then you certainly deserve a lot of credit for injecting new excitement into the industry.

Peter F. Bernard, Jr. said...

Yes. Cartoonists want respect. They want to be taken seriously, like circus clowns and professional wrestlers.

cartoonretro said...

I'm glad you are trying to find ways to explain these concepts- I know how hard to find words to explain something you feel in your gut.
When I see pure cartoon images or movement, like the recent Lantz, and especially the Coal Black, I feel my heart beat faster- like a little jolt of adrenalin. I guess it's kind of like seeing a beautiful girl.
In contrast, when I see modern cartoons I get either very agitated or very tired.
I wouldn't even begin to know how to explain that to someone who didn't have that gut-level reaction.

ataricat said...

I had heard that the main reason the UPA cartoons cost so much was due to poor management, not unlike the reason the last few Disney features ended up costing $100 million.

The fact that artists wanted to try something different probably had a huge hand in things. Unfortunately when artists try to break new ground they often just out-and-out reject everything that came before, whether it's a good idea or not. And once the praise (and respect) came from the art critics, there was no turning back.

WIL said...

Maybe the whole post-World War II, atomic age, paranoid red scare mentality at the time just had everybody too freaked out to think straight.

Or not, just a guess...

Tibby said...

I think some of it has to do with our own lazyness, and cheapness. Most of the animaton workforce was sacrificed in favor of cheaper, overseas animation production - and it still is. More than 1/3 of the workforce of potential artists found themselves like me - jobless, no hope of a career or purpose, and continuously angery and depressed.

With Flash it is easy to tween and produce limited animation. The CGI stuff is motion captured - not animated by hand. Some actor moving around in a funny black spandex suit, with little ping-pong balls stuck all over his body.

Limited animation is easier and more tempting because it is less time consuming and requires less inborn talent than full on traditional animation requires.

We really have no one to blame for the downfall except ourselves. Sad really. But that is how it is and the ugly truth. If we can rise above this plague then we can bring fun back to cartoons again. For kids and adults alike.

I like the big scary thug rat glaring down at Daffy. That kicks ass! I wish cartoons could be like that again.

Fco. de Borja said...

I don’t think is so difficult to understand that some of the animators wanted to experiment and try to do something completely different after reach a high skill level. It had happen through the art history over and over again.

Jim Rockford said...

Maybe it all started out as a new style of modern animation,but its clear to see that once the cartoons became critically acclaimed it went to their heads and they started patting each other on the back
its obvious that the UPA style was easier to draw and took less time and talent to execute and they probably got lazy and realized they make a lot of money with a lot less work as well as hide behind the format under the guise of art.
But as time progressed they effort kept diminishing to the point where we wound up preffering to watch the test pattern instead of the cartoons on Tv

Craig D said...

Those are two very probable scenarios.

It's kind of like trying to figure out what happened to pop music in the sixties wherein appealing 2:25 singles mutated into forty-five minute "jam-tastic" dirges. Well, actually this one is easy: drugs, "spiritual enlightenment" and pretension. (This is how "The Beatles ruined it" right?)

peldma3 said...

I think it was a combination of things. Well, maybe one factor is the depression, and the guys who wanted to be on top had to really be good. That motivating factor was gone in later years.
I also think there was a time when the studios said, forget the cartoons before the movies... and there is also the beginning of tv animation.

And once everybody knew who picasso was it was easier to create the abstracted stuff and have it accepted.

Hell, most art out there is still standing in the shadow of picasso.

It's hard to break out of his influence.

I think also that they just wanted to try something new.

That in combination with tv animation,and the influence on upcoming generation that saw the UPA stuff.

The really great guys got older and maybe what they had to offer just didn't get past on .

Also, animation history is sort of,.. well incomplete and a mystery to most, unless it's disney stuff.

I feel like there are few more factors , but somebody else will probably point them out here anyway.

Jim Rockford said...

The big problem with UPA or any new style or trend is that once it sweeps the industy and is considered revolutionary it becomes the new standard and everyone quickly rushes to distance themselves from what came before for fear of being look upon as irrelevant and backward.
We seem to be a society that regards the past traditions and styles as disposable,to be forgotten and replaced by whatever is new and trendy.
I think part of it is stems from arrogance,each new generation wants to think they've made some valid contribution to society,so they blindly embrace whatever is the new style,whether its an innovation or not.
Its gotten to the point where as you joked,pretty soon we'll have some sort of computer program that will run the whole show,just push some buttons and you'll have an instant plot,characters,etc.
human involvement and creativity seems to becoming an unimportant.

bc3 said...

"He said it cost as much to do a limited animation UPA cartoon as it did to do a fully animated funny cartoon."

It probably cost the same because they never increased the overall budget of production with the change in times. Had they done the Clampett stuff in the 60's it would have cost double, or at least it should have cost double. The style was a sign of the times but overall animation has been looked down upon as a quality art form as time marchs on... so sad!

Preschool animation NYC 5yrs ago an 11min board would get $4,500 for 3weeks of work. Now 2007, thanks to Flash-boards and quicker faster production a SB artist does a 22min board in 3wks for $4,500 (sometimes less)! "It's faster so it shouldn't cost as much!" I believe is the overall feeling. Why should you be paid for your skill?

I would be curious, John, to your thoughts on the whole cheaper faster aspect (transcends most industries). I've worked on shows with some very talented artist who's hard work gets lost in translation, literally and figuratively. Once it's sent overseas it becomes so flat it makes you cry. Keeping it home doesn't always help but trying to cut corners kills the quality for sure.

...And then the first "Shrek" grossed nearly $268 million in 2001 and screwed everyones judgement up. I think we need to start again! I really hope we are on the verge of an Animation Renaissance.

Anonymous said...

"Curmudgeon apprentice signing out"

Kali Fontecchio: The world's second youngest curmudgeon!

Yeah, I moved Thad to the third place spot.

Peter F. Bernard, Jr. said...

Craig d-- the "jam-tastic" came from Syd Barrett mixing those pop songs you liked with jazz. The "dirge" part came later (70's mostly) from the less interesting fellows that kicked Syd out and took over Pink Floyd. They weren't the Beatles, but they did record in the same building.

However, if you were saying that "drugs, 'spiritual enlightenment' and pretension" caused UPA, well in that case I might possibly agree.

PCUnfunny said...

Jorge: I think I desvere that third place spot. I've been called an old man all my life.

Seriously, the main reason is cartoonist thought there was no where to go but down. Seriously, after the forties, where the hell can you go ? Possibly another reason is cartoonists burned themselves out, thats' what happened to Tex Avery.

lastangelman said...

You use the best graphic examples to illustrate your ideas. The clip from Book Revue is terrific example and the file format is perfect. It allows one to watch one frame at a time if one chooses, and see all the all the fantastic drawings it took to animate that sequence.
A Tale of Two Kitties is a great example of an extraordinary funny cartoon with a lot of contemporary (1940's/WWII) adult humor but you gotta give up using YouTube because eventually some lawyers will force the admins to remove the clip, whether or not it is in the public domain.

Thomas said...

UPA's creative heads disdained the 'hurt gags' in Warners and MGM pictures, a 'tude which provided one impetus for their comedy-free approach. UPA didn't count on Bosustow selling out to Saperstein a few years down the road and coasting on their once-stellar rep to grind out years of absolute screaming shit. The latter day UPA provided a template for the likes of Gamma Productions in Mexico.

Liimlsan said...

If you've ever tried making a limited animation cartoon, one thing you notice is that you have to THINK about each frame so much harder. If you have full animation, it's easy to see where these three breakdowns would go; but if you have one drawing to put in for five frames, it has to be perfect for the action.
Life drawing and realistic movement will provide the handiest reference for making it look better, but limited animation needs more experimentation beforehand...and it takes so much more thought.

The reason UPA liked limited (besides the expense of celluloid) was that it shifted the center of power in the studio. They were all communists (most of them at least) who disliked the dehumanizing masses of inbetweeners at other studios. With limited animation, the designer, the genius, the thinker, the whiz kid, the pretentious asshole have so much more power than 'the people who put the damn thing on the screen.'
All of it takes place in the brain, and a lot less takes place in the hand.

So it takes just as long, but people think it took less time because there's so few drawings.

Without the thought, limited just looks like shit (id est, the Larriva Road Runners, which I wouldn't wish on prisoners of war.)