Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bob Clampett and One Throwaway Genius Scene


Think about what this scene would read like in a script, or even an outline:

Sylvester runs out the door and leaves it open.

The retarded lumpy cat follows.
He's too stupid to know the order of opening and closing a door, so he closes it first then runs into the wall instead.

The wall envelops him in rude rubbery wall skin.

Sylvester, from outside, opens the door again and motions to the other pussycats" C'mon fellas, hurry up!"
When he opens the door it slams over the retarded cat who is stuck in the wall.

The door is rubber too and forms around the lumpy dumb cat and leaves his tail balled up in a nasty place.

Sylvester slams the door open.

The other side of the door now has the dumb cat stuck to it.
The door flesh spits the retard out and he bounces onto the floor.

A small Sylvester cat runs into the scene over the retard and jumps off his butt and through the keyhole.

The hole quivers invitingly and attracts the notice of the 'tard.

The retard decides he will try jumping through the hole.
He anticipates.

Out of nowhere, a baby cat runs into the scene grabs the keyhole and stretches it down to his level.
he jumps through the quivering hole.

The 'tard cat dives towards where the hole used to be and hits the door hard and falls down.

The end.

Does that sound like anything that would pass executive (or cartoon critic) scrutiny?

Is the scene necessary to the plot or character development of the cartoon? Does it further the arcs? Does it sound funny in words?

Why is it so great then? Let's look closely at the bits that make it up.

Design: This is a great looking shot. The perspective is exagerrated to give a sense of weirdness to the scene before anything even happens. It's not "wonky". It's planned to compose well with the characters.

Great Animation Exaggeration: The drawings in the animation are super exaggerated when you still frame them, but move smooth as silk when you watch it in real time.Accents: Clampett's accents are stronger than anyone else's in history. Accents are punctuation. They draw attention to what you want the audience to notice.

Clampett's accents are not merely functional. They are also part of the entertainment. Watch this stuff in real time and see just how much fun the movements are.

In a Freleng cartoon, the accents are just barely readable. Accents are like the rhythms in music. The punctuation in music is what gives it its excitement.

Some folks got rhythm. Others don't. Clampett gots rhythm.

This is the keyframe that "reads". The ones before and after give it the powerful accent.

"Design" in almost every frame. While there are whole articles and books about the "design elements" in the odd scene in the odd UPA cartoon and everyone gets all excited about them (including me), I'm sitting watching Clampett cartoons and finding great shapes and forms and compositions on every frame.
This wide door is a functional inbetween that just happens to also look really cool. It looks cool still and in motion. That's ultra design.

This antic pose is a beautiful design. Everything flows along the line of action and the pose composes well with the background shapes.


Weirdness is one of the most important elements of a cartoon and Clampett gives you more than anybody.

How gorgeously rude is the drawing of the cat stuck in the wall membrane?


You'd think the cat stuck in the wall skin was the end of the gag, but nope, Clampett thinks up a topper.

Now the pussy is vacuu-formed by the door and on top of that, the tail is...you know.
The animators love those muzzle-bulbs as Chloe calls them.

Ye Gods, is that a great drawing of weirdness!

This cell setup should be hanging in The Louvre. On the ceiling.

Muzzlebulbs to the extreme.

Quivering Animated Orifices:
I can't believe the love the animator put into the drawings of the quivering hole! Look how great that shape is!

Pure cartoon-design genius.

Run the clip again and watch how the hole moves. You can really feel that sucker.

Ouch. Where else would a Clampett cat step first?

Clarity/Directing Each Story Point:

Every important part of the continuity is punctuated with animation tools and accents.

When a cartoon is moving this fast and so many things are happening, clarity and punctuation is super important.

Clampett can cram more ideas and action into a few seconds than anyone. Being able to coordinate and control them so that you don't miss them takes immense skill and control.
Clampett is the ultra director. He uses his tools more than anyone, and has a larger toolbox to boot.

Part 2 tomorrow...


Steve said...

Who did the voice of the stupid cat in this?

And as you said, the camera angle/perspective on this shot is so nice, even with a feline embedded in the wall.

Gavin Freitas said...

Beautiful!! This cartoon is one of Bobs best. Cartoons need to look like this again. Exaggerationa are missing from cartoons today. John, even if you posted this same blog blog everyday I would still read it. Over and over again. Another great shot from this cartoon is when the cats say "Look man, keep those bottles quite!" and slam the door. The line of action from the cats is great. I LOVE these post John, please keep these coming...

pappy d said...

I love the way WB didn't waste time in getting a character from A to B. Clampett crammed a lot of gags into a strict 6-minute format. If it were Disney, you'd ask the director for an extra 12 frames so you could move the cat's foot from the path of the doorway, switch hands from the inside doorknob to the outside doorknob, etc., etc.

It's like telling a joke:

A guy lifts one foot & moves it over the threshold of a drinking establishment. His other foot follows...

instead of:

'Guy walks into a bar...

I always wondered if it all started out as an animator's act of malicious obedience. "The dope sheet says I got 3 frames to get this cat all the way from one side of the screen to the other. OK, asshole, you asked for it."

Paul B said...

I don't know what to say....

thanks john.

stiff said...

Unfortunately, it's rare that I laugh so much at a cartoon as I did at this. I love the rapid-fire pace. Plus, who else would give me the opportunity to say this:

That's quite a wrinkly retarded pussy....

Adele K Thomas said...

I really like that you wrote "Weirdness is one of the most important elements of a cartoon", often people are too nervous to go a little kooky.

Adam H said...

This is easily my favorite scene of Kitty Kornered, and I still laugh out loud every time I watch it, yet seeing it like this really is amazing. You -have- to slow it down to the speed of frame grabbing to catch everything that flies by in real-time.

More Clampett analysis, John!

Tibby said...

Nice. Very nice! And super informitive.

PCUnfunny said...

The thing Clampett realized is that it's much funnier for a character to bring an inanimate ojbect to life rather then it jsut coing to life by it self.

Max Ward said...

Good lord! In a throwaway scene nonetheless! Shows how much Clampett wanted to be the most entertaining. I can't believe a throwaway scene that probably reads as "cats exit out of door" in a script is this crammed pack full of entertainment!

Will Finn said...

Such a great scene. And the music score is a perfect sound cartoon to compliment it. great post!

Kali Fontecchio said...

These drawings are for pure eye enjoyment. Clampett's cats are in a different category than typical cartoon kitties. Everything in his world is made of rubber just like the oldies!

Aside from his genius, your descrition is disgusting, furthermore, revolting. I can't forgive myself for helping you and taking part in your quivering hole appreciation. God is so angry at me right now!



Mr. Semaj said...

It's ironic that you say Freleng used barely-visible accents in his cartoons, as Freleng is often praised for his animation timing.

Nico said...

I am just looking at these screencaps you've posted... plus going frame-by-frame in the Quicktime clip... And I'm just thinking to myself "Ye GODS man."

It's like super humans made this cartoon.

Thanks, as always, for the brilliant posts John!

(Hope to see you, Marlo, Katie and the others at Comic-Con this year??)

Chloe Cumming said...

You used my word! What an honour.

The weirdness is like the aspect of it that's startling or something. It's the delight of looking at something that's alien and completely novel and yet it fits perfectly with the integrity of the rest. It's like a window on another self-contained dimension with its own physics. Maybe that's a key sign that actual creativity has taken place, the fact that a point of pure and unique weirdness has naturally evolved in the midst of the action.

Lots wrinkles and lobes, I love it.

There are more things in heaven and earth, executive muzzlebulb, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Andy J. Latham said...

John, I often find you very difficult to like...

...so it's a good thing that you post some great stuff like this!
Visit Andy's Animation!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

I'm in awe! A wonderful post!

It must have been a pain to write out a description of the scene in words but it was well worth it! It really makes the point that a lot of what we should be doing in animation just can't be adequately described in words.

Gabriel said...

you know what i think is really interesting, and for some reason you didn't point out? It's how he changed the camera angle (i think you call it setup) exactly when the retarded cat dives against the door. It makes the impact a lot stronger!

JohnK said...

That's coming in the next post. this is only part 1...

Pedro Vargas said...

Great post! I love how Clampett emphasizes those actions within these cats. I love the unique movements of the 'tard cat when he anticipates to jump to the hole and does the weird movement with his floppy feet. I love that you pay attention to this stuff!

fabiopower said...


"AVC: So when you were little, where did you learn to draw those sexy Flintstones?

JK: I used to copy Betty And Veronica comics, only I would draw them in totally skimpy bikinis with nipples peaking through and stuff. [Laughs.] I had to hide the drawings because I thought my dad would kill me if he caught me. He'd think I was a dirty little pervert.

AVC: Are you?

JK: Well, I'm a dirty big pervert now."