Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kitty Kornered 2, Clampett's Magic

In this seemingly simple throwaway scene a huge quantity of skills, disciplines and planning are working together to make these crazy jokes clear and funny.

These are highly sophisticated thinkers and artists who made this stuff fly so brilliantly.

It's the kind of humor that couldn't be written and couldn't even be drawn by people who didn't already have a ton of knowledge and experience. And talent.
Design and Function:
The background is tilted, but not "wonky"

Everything is tilted in the same direction. It's done partly to look good, but the tilt is also designed to help the action.
Great Cutting:
This cut is really abrupt. It's a different angle of the door, more severe in its perspective than the last.

The extreme angle and scale makes the urgency of the little cat's need to escape even more dramatic.

All these creative decisions are not arbitrary. Yeah they look good as individual images, but they are also designed to make the sequence more dramatic and important.
Scale: The huge door and the immense space between the kitten and the doorknob help make the kitten look even smaller and cuter.

All that space also gives the cat more room to stretch his arm up and yank down the keyhole.

If it was less space, yet the same amount of frames for the action, the animation would appear slower and less urgent.
Cutness and Appeal: This cat is a caricature of cuteness. Girls, do you like him? Do you want to play with him and squeeze him?
The kitten anticipates the action by moving away from it. That creates even more space for his reach.

Anticipation to yank hole:
The kitten's body slides up a bit on his rubber arm as if the tension in the stretch is pulling him up.

This creates more tension for him to yank the hole down.
and what a yank! So slippery
The drawings "slow out" creating a feeling of resistance by the hole at first, and then it lets go and slides down to accept the kitty willingly.

Beauty in every frame:

Half the decisions in every frame are functional: to tell the story, make the actions read, separate one action from the next, set up an action or a joke, etc.

The other half of the decisions are to make each of those functional drawings look great and fun and cartoony.

This is the greatest kind of design for me. Design that is functional and beautiful at the same time.

On top of those 2 elements of design, add cartooniness and wackiness and you get perfect cartoon animation.
Motion Design:
Run back the animation and watch how slippery that hole animation is as he yanks it down. It looks great in its motion, as well as in individual drawings.

This is a concept that UPA eliminated from cartoons. Motion design. The animation in UPA cartoons is mostly perfunctory and they are even proud of it.

Look how beautiful and rude that drawing is!


Original animation ideas:
Look at the funny way this cat flaps his feet-another great throwaway gag that adds color and personality to the sequence.

All the Classic Animation Principles:

Clampett uses all the strong principles of animation - as did most animators in the 1940s.
Many other cartoons of the time were content to just have smooth motion, squash and stretch, construction and the rest and they used these tools to basically get the characters from here to there without jerky motions and to tell the story or put over the gags. That was enough.

Animation Principles Are Your Creative Tools

Clampett used the principles as not only tools, but as brush tips to paint art with. His antics are funny, his inbetweens are funny, his lines of action are designs themselves.

Every tool was a potential artistic element.

Clear Gag Setup Using Timing and Staging:

The cat pauses right in front of the keyhole for just a few frames-just long enough to make you think he's gonna jump right through it, but not long enough for you to figure out that there's another joke coming.

Great Cut and Accent:

right in the middle of the action Clampett changes the background to the more extreme angle of the door.

This gives the crash way more impact than if he had done the logical thing and used the same background.

Wrinkles and Lumps: Clampett knows the vocabulary of cartooning: teeth, tongues, veins, wrinkles and lumps.

All this thought, planning, skill and work just for a throwaway gag

Clampett is a man who loves ideas and originality and excitement. He stuffs his cartoons with as many ideas and great drawings, jokes, acting and anything he can, all with the strict purpose of wowing us.

Some people think we need a "higher purpose" than making people feel good:

"Emotional value". For who, robots? Not in a million years did I ever expect someone to describe UPA cartoons as "emotional".

Unlike some entertainers, Clampett doesn't need an excuse or justification to entertain. He is a natural born ham. A highly gifted ham. A ham of the most original, unique quality and most extravagant proportions.

When this rare type of person is put on our earth for too few decades, we should be truly thankful and supportive of his ability to show off his genius and make us laugh and excite us.

The last thing we should do is to write rules for him and restrict his natural gifts, even after the fact. We should not hold him to the arbitrary limiting standards and restrictions of less adventurous folk. Yet so many do. This is the world's greatest mystery to me.

Nothing in Clampett cartoons is just a plot device to get you from this idea to the next. He doesn't hold a clever expression forever to make sure you notice how clever he is. He doesn't leave a striking design on the screen forever with nothing happening in the frame. Every frame of film is potential entertainment and a canvas to slap entertainment on.

He's there to impress and wow the audience. He is totally confident in his charisma as an entertainer and doesn't need to hold your hand and make you stare at each individual idea to cherish it.

I've met a few cartoon critics and historians who admit under their breaths to me that they like Clampett's cartoons more than any of the other great directors but aren't sure why and even feel guilty about it! Maybe it's because they don't have a vocabulary to describe truly creative ideas. Artistic instances cannot easily be described in words. Describe a color on a Frazetta painting. You can't. You can only look and say "Wow!"

Since most people who write about classic cartoons aren't animators, cartoonists or even artists, they try to write about them in terms that relate to other, more familiar mediums-like live action, plot, acting, etc. These are all terms that people are familiar with even though they don't have clear and distinct meanings.

I've even seen some cartoonists paraphrase limiting cartoon philosophies and legends spread by non-cartoonists who write about cartoons. That's quite extraordinary too. If it's in a book, it must be true! Never mind watching the films to see for yourself!

Terms like "plot structure" "depth of character" denote something serious, something important and something you can respectfully write about, even if you yourself are not an actor or director or anyone who can physically do anything obviously amazing or recognize it when it actually happens.

They like to write about mundane things like the message of the cartoon, or the plot structure. Here look:

"In contrast to the work of his contemporary, colleague, and sometimes “adversary”, Chuck Jones, Clampett was often less successful in integrating the “classical” requirements of narrative and style into his work."

What the heck are "the classical requirements of narrative style"? He doesn't bother to define it. Just take his word for it that Clampett somehow is missing something important. The Jones cartoons that people usually use to qualify his whole style when they tout him as refined and superior really are only about 5 or 6 cartoons out of hundreds. Does the Roadrunner or Pepe Le Pew have these classical requirements?

I know tons of novels and short stories that don't that are none the less considered "classics". Jones is great, but for artistic reasons, not reasons of plot structure or "narrative".

That mystifying statement came from someone who actually likes Clampett's work but can't bring himself to just come out and say it. He has to qualify it by comparing it to some mundane vague concepts that have nothing to do with superhuman entertainment skill and ability.

Some abilities and talents are just plain amazing and entertaining in of themselves. Everything in life does not have to have a mathematical plot structure and be judged by it.

When my friends and I go to lunch and we start sketching on napkins, everyone comes running over to see the drawings and to ask us for them-without even knowing who we are. A professional cartoon drawing is an obviously amazing thing and not very many people on the planet can do them. And normal people are suitably impressed. Just as they would be by somebody who can sing on key.

I've never yet seen people in public run up to a cartoon writer and ask them to write something funny for them. "Excuse me sir, could you write a funny description of my kids?"

So it's always been strange to me, that so few cartoon historians-folks who obviously love old cartoons, can't just come out and write about the obvious joys of the cartoons-the entertaining parts. Entertainment and phenomenal performance ability is too low brow to write about I guess.

Many animation critics need to find some kind of justification for cartoon entertainment before they can write something positive about a cartoon.

Just being awe-inspiring isn't enough.

Having made many cartoons, I know all the elements that go into them and am even more impressed by how many ways there are to entertain. I have an actual experience of what makes something work and sometimes what doesn't. I've tried things and then witnessed the result with audiences. Things I thought were rotten sometimes became very popular and the other way around.

That's why I like so many different styles and why I can find useful things in all kinds of art, entertainment and cartoons that may go unnoticed by folks who usually write about cartoons.

I find many useful and fun things in Terrytoons, Van Beuren and even in UPA or Disney once in a while... If I hunt hard enough.

Obviously Tex Avery and Chuck Jones have much more consistently successful cartoons than some others so you don't have to hunt very far to find great stuff in their films.

In Clampett's cartoons I don't have to hunt at all. They are packed solid with great drawings, animation, music, ideas, stories and more. I can watch the same cartoon fifty times and still find stuff I missed before.

This one scene that took me two posts to show you is packed with skill and craft and entertainment. It doesn't further the plot any more than just having them run out the door would have. Should Clampett have thrown out the scene?

Clampett is not a stingy entertainer. Ideas that might seem big for other cartoons or studios are thrown away all the time in Clampett's cartoons.

What a powerful personality he must have had to resist the Disney wave of influence that swept over the whole cartoon business in the 1930s. Everyone else was suppressing their natural tendencies to draw cartoon magic in favor of cutesy pie, sentimental Republican blandness - just because that was Walt's taste. Clampett stuck to his instincts and carried on the imaginative ways of the early cartoons but he took advantage of the great skills that were being developed in the 30s and then added his own great sense of personality, character and weirdness.

The development of cartoons.

1) There are comic strips and still cartoons. That was a great invention.

2) Animated cartoons added to that invention by making cartoon drawings move. That process opened up whole new ways to draw and tell stories that could not have been done in still cartoons. 2 dimensions became 3 dimensions.

Just one example-it forced animators to draw mouths in the shapes that mouths make in order to speak. Still cartoons hardly ever even open their mouths to speak, let alone form specific vowel shapes.

3) Then there is the Clampett cartoon. This caricature of cartoons did to animated cartoons what animation did to still cartoons. Clampett's vision and unafraid personality brought cartoons into another dimension of ultra reality. The 4th dimension.

Why we have abandoned all these limitless opportunities for invention that Clampett opened the door to?

We don't have to imitate his style to be inspired to be creative and fun all the time.

Appendix: from Amid's swell book, Cartoon ModernCartoon Modern is a great book that I highly recommend, and I wish someone would make a similar book praising the values of cartoony cartoons some day.

By the way, that hop cycle they are talking about was done in an early Clampett cartoon. A bunch of baby ducks are following their mother to water and they have fully animated double bounce walk cycles but every 4th step, one of them hops in the air.

The difference between this animation 10 years earlier and the Gerald McBoingBoing animation is that in the Clampett cartoon, it's funny. But that's low brow so not worthy of serious discussion!


Kali Fontecchio said...

Great Clampett theories! You've done a pretty good job of explaining his work- which apparently not many can do!

"Entertainment and phenomenal performance ability is too low brow to write about I guess."


"That's why I like so many different styles and why I can find useful things in all kinds of art, entertainment and cartoons that may go unnoticed by folks who usually write about cartoons."

It shows in your work! Critics seem to hate everything that makes a cartoon worth being a cartoon and not film! Bizarro world!!!

"When my friends and I go to lunch and we start sketching on napkins, everyone comes running over to see the drawings and to ask us for them-without even knowing who we are."

The girls claw over Mike, as he is the perfect cartoon suitor! And they lust after Eddie's teeth!

By the way- those are some nicely drawn wrinkles, that takes a lot of imagination and well, reference.

William said...

Utterly illuminating discourse on perspective and composition. Thank you.

Jesse Oliver said...

Clampett should have made more cartoons with that retarded cat! He's a great character and a very cartoony design!

jeaux janovsky said...

that slippery keyhole is so... so..
sexual. should i feel awkward if i want to touch and hug that little cute kitty?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

One of your very best posts! I've been waiting years to see thoughts like this get into print!

It's so true that the best scenes in a comedy are often the ones that don't advance the plot much. Somebody should tell this to TV executives who routinely drop funny sequences in favor of lame ones that "advance the story."

Somebody should tell them that the story exists to serve the comedy, not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

in that cartoon what color are the walls meant to be? Ive got a tape of Kitty Kornered where the walls are green but on the Warners dvd the walls are bright yellow.

Mad Max Winston said...

Really good post John. This is very educational, without being hateful, ha... Seriously though, inspirational stuff man.

Max Ward said...

I wish I could articulate things like you, John. You're the only guy that can describe Clampett's cartoons.

Also, the layouts and BGs aren't something you associate Clampett's cartoons with, but they are better than most cartoon BGs. Do you think because the BGs compliment the action so well they become less apparent?

JohnK said...

>>in that cartoon what color are the walls meant to be? Ive got a tape of Kitty Kornered where the walls are green but on the Warners dvd the walls are bright yellow.<<

Yeah the colors have been completely changed. The lines have been ridiculously thinned too.

Keep your tapes!

Franky said...

All I know about cartoons is what I like. I never made the director associations until I got older and it never really clicked until I started reading John's blog here. Now I know that my three fave cartoons are Bob Clampett. But it was because they always stood out to me as being crazy, ridiculous and over-the-top! Highbrow? What the heck?! I want to be entertained.

Give me The Great Piggybank Robbery, Falling Hare, or Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid any day.

Looney Moon Cartoons said...

People never take comedy seriously no matter how good it is. It seems like it can never be 'art' in the classical sense. Thats why crappy "powerful" and "emotional" films like 'Crash' always win oscars and great films like 'dumb and dumber' don't even get nominated.

It reminds me of the time I was selling cartoons in front of an art gallery and I got kicked out by this avante gaurde photographer who was selling her work in the gallery. People were casually looking at her photos, maybe noticing their fancy design elements. I was attracting a crowd and making people laugh, but since I was selling cartoons on the street, I am somehow less of an artist and have no right to be in front of her gallery. many art critics and artists take themselves entirely too seriously.

Clinton said...

Please post more Clampett theories, John :D The kitten's pose where he is on his tippy toes reaching for the keyhole was my favorite. I say, I say, another great lecture!

peldma3 said...

Good,... I have been thinking of comedy lately, and there are some similaties between comedy and what has happened in animation... I am always looking to laugh,.. and I find my self time and again looking back to the past to find stuff that is really funny, maybe it's a well crafted type of humor that I look for , that seems harder to come by theses days... today it seems words come cheap and easy,... and it's not as funny....something John wrote in a post really comes to mind... we don't have many inovators,.. what we have today are the imitators... guys standing on the shoulders of what has come before and not even vothering to develop their own voice.too much of what I see today is sort of like connect the dots comedy... How funny is something if you can see every joke coming, as well as what the outcome will be? Not very funny really,

rex said...

Wow John, what a sensational post!
I don't think anyone else could explain Clampett's cartoons as good as you can.

Thanks for making it easier for myself and others to try and learn these classic principals.

stiff said...

Thanks for doing all this work for us, John. About a year ago, or however long it was, when you started harping on principles, it was kind of difficult to understand what the big deal was, but posts like this really bring it all together and put things in perspective. Very inspiring.

smackmonkey said...

"Everyone else was suppressing their natural tendencies to draw cartoon magic in favor of cutesy pie, sentimental Republican blandness..."

Damn right! Conservatism just ain't funny. Seriously though, a conservative attitude toward entertainment, like that exhibited by most animation studios/networks, results in cartoons that are at cross purposes with themselves.

"...I wish someone would make a similar book praising the values of cartoony cartoons some day."

Uh, John...aren't you doing that already?

"The difference between this animation 10 years earlier and the Gerald McBoingBoing animation is that in the Clampett cartoon, it's funny."

Too true! In an ideal world all animation would not only be funny but a springboard for other styles and approaches as well. Grrrrrreat post!

Nico said...

GREAT part II post to this scene!

I second whoever mentioned this in one of the comments above... John, you're the only guy who can describe a Clampett cartoon, and through your excitement and sheer fandom for it, it's the next best thing to actually watching it.

Maybe all the other critics have trouble expressing their love for Clampett because, his work is so much fun, that they're afraid of sounding too much like fanboys? But you don't care; you embrace being one! As we all should. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ, John, that was epic. I can't add anything that hasn't already been said, except that was the best description of the best director ever and the best scene ever, I've ever heard.

Gabriel said...

this post is great not only because of the continuation of of the scene analysis, but also because of the surprise rant at the end. You're so right it makes me sad. The last time you bashed UPA, Michael Sporn (whose blog I like a lot) asked "isn’t it time to have to stop defending Picasso as an artist?". I don't agree with him, i'd say it's always time to question accepted knowledge. But your fight is clearly more about doing justice to stuff nobody pays the proper attention to. It's about pointing the lowbrow geniuses of the past, and consequently showing that lowbrow doesn't exclude skill and heavy artistry. Of course in the way you must shoot some sacred cows to make your point, but you do it with sincerity and that's usually a healthy behavior, i guess.

julian said...

that wall was yellow??? what's the point to change it to green?! i don't understand, besides it should be ilegal was it so necesary to change that color?
i wish i have those tapes but i only have the new dvd copies. i want my cartoons virgen of all corporative evil decitions!!

Anonymous said...

shit. i have SO MUCH to learn. thank you for breaking down genius so us mere mortals can understand it, John. you're the best!

Trevour said...

I love it! This TOTALLY made my day. Not only was I laughing so hard through the whole post, I learned a lot of useful information. Thanks John!

Jim Rockford said...

I like how the background is raked in the opposite direction of the doorway,it really adds to the sense of motion when the characters run for the door.
the background is tilted,but the lines are not arbitrary like in the 'Wonky" style so popular now.
Its incredible to see the amount of thought that went into adding such subtle but important accents to these cartoons.
By breaking them down frame by frame you are really showing us all the little nuances that usually go by unnoticed.
I am really in awe of the amount of talent these guys had!

P.S John,maybe YOU should write that book on cartoony cartoons,you sure have the knowledge and the passion!

Rafi animates said...

OUTSTANDING post John. great observation and commentry with theories backed up with spot-on analysis.

"Cartoon Modern is a great book that I highly recommend, and I wish someone would make a similar book praising the values of cartoony cartoons some day."
- there appears to be no one more qualified than you for this - SO GET ON IT! :)

Chloe Cumming said...

I finally got that Looney Tunes vol. 2 set for my birthday. So I just watched these again, having seen some as a child and bits on cartoon blogs.

I don't know if I can add very much to your exhaustive description of Clampett's superiority... Just that with an adult's artist head on, the cartoons seem just...awe inspiring and profoundly radical, like one of those things the world still hasn't caught up with.

He really did so much with that seven minute format. Like a maximal amount with it. Maybe that's part of why modern squares can't get a handle on him or find it hard to find the words... it's like 'what the hell was that?' There's no time to settle into smug 'I recognise this' thinking. And it's a foreign phenomenon to our culture now to have so many brilliant ideas visible for a short time they don't register to the naked eye. Now there's a lot of art that makes no ideas or one shite idea, not to mention no skills, spin out forever.

I liked your commentary better than Mr. Barrier's. You were actually involved in the scenes even as you spoke, he was more preoccupied with the preset ideas about what Clampett's role is historically. I spose that is his job, and it's a subtle distinction rather than me having a bitch at the chap... but still.

Chloe Cumming said...

It scares me how once you post a comment here it gets swallowed up for later approval, I can't see it now! It's probably horrid and riddled with heinous errors! Egads!

fabiopower said...

I think that this post is one of your very best posts!
I have that episode in DVD also!
But, how is possible the changes in the new versions on DVD?
I thought that the thin lines and the different colors were the original ones! ( It already seemed to me very strange...)It's not that what we are buying? …
And the book of Amidi is very very very good! I have it because before ASIFA recommended it

pinkboi said...

I think you bag on intellectual weasels too much. Clampett took Dali's surrealism, something that is appreciated more at an intellectual than entertainment level, and turned it into wacky cartooniness! It's an intellectual pipsqueak-egomaniac entertainer collaboration.

I strongly believe that more could have been done with UPA's ideas - even more than Tex Avery did later. Just because UPS's implementation of their own ideas wasn't good doesn't the ideas are actually bad - it was a first try.

warren said...

Popping that BG in the middle of the arc?! Who does that?! WoWEEE!

Did anyone interview Clampett on his stuff? Anyone bother to write down what he was thinking, in his own words, while he was still around? If someone did, I'd love to read it!

Mad Taylor said...

It's true what you say about the critics. I always found it very unfortunate that they seem to ignore why the cartoon is entertaning and cartoony. I always imagined they fail to talk about that because it's too obvious or something. They have to dig into the cartoon and pull out it's gall bladder and sound smart.

If some poor animator listens to critics and all this analysis stuff it can be very easy to lose sight of what really makes a cartoon enjoyable.

:: smo :: said...

whoa it's been a while.

these posts may as well be titled "why smo wanted to be an animator since he was six." i even used to say "hello butterball," because of this very cartoon.

it's tricky, because i, and i know many others, want to learn to animate more like scribner, but the only way we can is by getting up early and making our own project.

i never got into animation to make money. i get mad when people talk about that. there's no money here. i got into it to make "art." and to me art is not something that's dry and on model...that no one will want to look at twice.

i've been able to laught at kitty cornered since i was six, and i stil i can now. and now i have the added appreciation of an animator's eye.

i know what you mean about critics and historians. i did read "hollywood cartoons," and gathered a lot of useful information, like how much work WB animators output per week...yet i will admit i definitely skimmed over every review and had to block out all the bias opinion.

i will be at comic con this year. if you are there, i will be heckling you about animation theories.

classy sparrow said...

This is my favorite cartoon next to the Dover Boys. I was SO excited to see my boyfriend point this post out to me (while he was trying to show a great example of the principles of animation) I shouted, "Kitty Kornered!!" I had been searching for this on YouTube for forever. Thank you so much for bringing this cartoon to everyone's attention.

"I like cheeeese~!"

Eric B said...

This actually spawned Clampett's idea to pair Sylvester with Tweety, but when Clampett left, then Tweety was picked up by Freleng and replaced a woodpecker from an earlier Sylvester cartoon.
One of the great mysteries to me was what the completed Clampett project would have been like, especially since his version of Sylvester was so different from the later Tweety villain. (I wonder if the Davis film "Catch as Cats Can" might have had something to do with it, since some aspects of it resemble Clampett's films, and the Davis unit generally picked up the uncompleted Clampett projects).


But what about Dora the explora? She has so much MORE going on! And she teaches the kids how to be a good and has good eyeballs.