Monday, July 09, 2007

A Story Of Rod Scribner


In the late 30s and early 40s, Tex Avery had a powerhouse animation crew that any director should die to have. He directed Bob McKimson, considered at the time Warner's top animator, Irv Spence for awhile and Rod Scribner, who no one had yet figured out was a total genius.

Tex had the #1 unit at Warner's but didn't really take advantage of them. The style he developed was a style of sarcastic jokes told with stand up comedy timing and delivery. This in itself was fresh and new for animation, a real innovation-especially for the west coast.

If you watch his Warner's cartoons the animation of course is great technically, but it isn't anywhere near as visual or exaggerated as what he would do a few years later at MGM. His animators seem uncast, interchangeable, because what he wanted from the animation was to get from one joke to the next smoothly and with live action comedy timing. The animators would inject some of their own styles into the scenes, as long as it didn't interfere with the joke.

Scribner's scenes are very solid and unless you are a fanatic like me, you would have a tough time telling the difference between his animation and McKimson's in Avery's cartoons. He started breaking out during the last couple years of Avery's direction.

Scribner's animation at the time actually feels a bit claustrophobic. It looks like the characters are filled with pent up energy. Their gestures now and then stretch out but are quickly pushed back as if there is an invisible force field surrounding them and stopping them from completing their motions.




Clampett took over Avery's unit in 1941 and the cartoons that the same animators were doing changed quickly. Clampett had already been directing for 5 years with the "junior unit", the younger "less experienced animators" as Clampett referred to them.


Even so, the most energetic and experimental animation happening at Warner's happened in the black and white "junior" unit.

http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/2007/05/pinch-and-outrage-bob-clampett.html

Chuck Jones and Bobe Cannon did some really wacky and expressive animation for him and then so did John Carey, Vive Risto, Izzy Ellis and a few other animators who are not as well known to history.

Bob told me that during the black and white period, he would have certain ideas he wanted to animate that he decided not to do, just because he didn't think his animators were yet skilled enough to pull them off.

After a short period of finishing some of Tex's cartoons and getting used to his new crew, his cartoons just exploded with imagination and most of all - a new energetic style of movement.

Eddie, Milt and I pestered Clampett for stories about all the animators all the time when we knew him and we would ask the most about Scribner. How did he get that crazy loose style?


George Lichty

Bob said Scribner came to him early on and asked if he could try a new looser style of animation - inspired by the loose finish of one of his favorite comic strip artists, George Lichty.


MORE GREAT LICHTY HERE!
http://www.animationarchive.org/2007/07/comics-george-lichty-grin-and-bear-it.html

Lichty was one of my favorite cartoonists when I was a kid so this story really interested me.

Lichty is great for a number of reasons. He was an extremely skilled technical artist who happens to draw cartoons. His compositions are great. He draws difficult and interesting perspectives in his cartoon panels. He can organize and compose crowd scenes.

He has a very hard bitten street-smart sarcastic outlook of life which I, as a hard-bitten sarcastic 8 year old kid really took to.

But what Scribner was alluding to in Lichty's work was the finish. The brush lines are very loose, organic and fast. To the untrained non-artist's eye it might even look sloppy. A non artist won't see the great solid drawings underneath the superficially loose finished line work.


Check out the beautiful natural poses of the girls in the panel on the left.


Looney Tunes morph from the McKimson Style to the Clampett style


TheWarner
Bros. cartoon drawing-animation style was basically Bob McKimson's making. Very very tight, solid and careful and volumetric. Less squashy and stretchy than Disney's. More weight and power. Conservative. Earthbound. The rest of the Warner's animation staff strove to emulate McKimson's skill-but didn't think to leave out the conservatism.Scribner wanted to break through the safe logical membrane that the Warner's house style confined him in.


Clampett was all for it. He was already experimenting and wanted more and more life and energy in his characters. He was already able to get more of that from his animators than other directors could, but here at last was a kindred soul that didn't need to be pushed to let go.


BEFORE LICHTY

AFTER LICHTY



He gave Scribner the go-ahead to try out his Lichty looseness and he got this:
The combination of Scribner's new breakthrough animation with Clampett's understanding of personality and his wildly inventive direction cemented the revolution of Warner's against Disney's. Scribner and Clampett not influenced the other animators in their unit, but also the rest of the studio - many against their wills. Friz hated what was happening but got swept along in the inexorable gushing current.

Warner's was no longer a cheap, less animated imitation of Disney. It was a force that everyone else now had to scramble not only to catch up to, but to even understand. To this day, not a lot of people realize what an explosion of creativity and power those few years in our history were.

I wonder if the animators knew at the time how big this revolution was. I get the feeling they really didn't and I'll tell you why in a later post.

SCRIBNER DOES AVERY - 1940


SCRIBNER DOES CLAMPETT - 1943

Interesting side note: After Clampett abandoned Warner Bros. in 1946, McKimson shoved Scribner back into a smothering force field again and when you watch Scribner's characters twitch and agitate, it looks like they are trying to bust their limbs through but never quite can.


MORAL OF THE STORY: GET SOME INFLUENCES FROM OTHER FORMS OF CARTOONS! NOT JUST DISNEY

Let's have animation evolve again!

http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/2006/09/importance-of-having-lot-of-influences.html

37 comments:

harpo said...

wish I could be a fly on the wall back in those days.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Bravo!!!!! I'm so happy to see this story see the light of day! Scribner's desire to try the "Lichty" style was a crucial turning point in cartoon art. It reminds me of Newton and the apple and Einstein's famous trolley car ride.

Chipnyu said...

MGM wasn't really that Insane really... Actually, no. Scratch that. They had Avery. But then Warner Bros. was really the first to harness the power of using insanity in an animated world, because THEY had him first. but still, Texy was calm back then, but perfect in his sense of timing. Something DISNEY would really never get a chance to use. They used "cuteness". Which works, but unlike insanity, it gets BORING after too much cuteness. With the inane drawings of WB, it just gets... scary.

Scribbles did Egghead? I completely forgot all about that! Egghead was so amazing, its a shame really it died off, and then evolved as Elmer Fudd. Who knows what they could've done with it in the future?

...Also, I regonize that anywhere. The blackie cels: its Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, am I right? That's a classic case of the Censored 11. Oh, how times have changed. Now we have black comedy. Then look at this. Wow. A key topic for any animator or comedian is to get their hands on whats "wrong" and "taboo" and really exaggerate this... But That cartoon short was gold. And hilarious...

...You know... What about Manny Gould? I've seen him credited on some in depth places... What's his importance anyway? I know an animator, but what can we "where's waldo" to find his work in a short?

But yeah, influences influences, everything rubs off on another, not just crudding Dislocated kneey. Another fantastic post by you, John. I can't wait for another one. And I'm sorry if I do sound a tad stupid sometimes, hah.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

Hello Mr. Kricfalusi,

It seems I've upset Eddie, who thinks I'm having a feud with you (which I'm not!), so I thought I'd be nice and tell you that I liked your last 2 posts.

Dooley said...

Please tell some more of the stories you, Eddie, and Milt learned by pestering Clampett. I would love to learn more about the individual animators.

For example, did Scribner and McKimson get along? Could it be that McKimson was jealous that his solid subtle animation was being outshined by Scribner's exaggerated brilliance, possibly leading to his style later being confined in McKimson's cartoons?

With most of the golden age animators long gone, you guys are the closest link us youngsters have to learning how the old studios used to be run.

Eddie, feel free to add your two cents to this too.

C. A. M. Thompson said...

Great post. Fascinating. To be able to draw that loose and still control the animation, that just takes other worldly talent.

I wonder what happened to Scribner after Clampett left? There was a pretty long period where he wasn't working at Warner's before McKimson became a director, wasn't there?

PCUnfunny said...

John do you have theory of why Avery decided break loose at MGM ? You think it was Clampett's influence ?

Mike_Nassar said...

Really nice post John. I'm curious to know what visual stuff guys like Clampet were weaned on?

What stuff was Clampett, and guys like him, into at the time and what did they grow up on?

Comics, comic stripping, painting?

Do you know if there are any specific illustrators, cartoonists, or painters that Bob Clampett went on record as his favorites?
E.C. Segar? Jow Shmoe?
anyone specifically that influenced him?

JohnK said...

>>
For example, did Scribner and McKimson get along? Could it be that McKimson was jealous that his solid subtle animation was being outshined by Scribner's exaggerated brilliance, possibly leading to his style later being confined in McKimson's cartoons?<<

I think he sincerely thought Scribner was just too wild and needed to tone down. I'm sure he knew that he was a special talent otherwise.

Custom Coaster said...

I was watching Cartoon alley the other day and oh I forgot who hosts the show was talking about how Clampett really took the cartoon world inside outand I agree it's a great form of art he did in all of his cartoons!

cartoon lad said...

Great post.

I read in a magazine article on the Unofficial Spumco website in a magazine article that at Spumco the cartoons were drawn up on a storyboarded and poses worked out by people that weren't animators but were more layout artists and great at drawing-like Bob Camp-and then sent away to Carbunkle Cartoons in Canada to be animated-who did excellent work by the way.

If this is true-don't you think it would be better to at least have a good animator/s in-house look at the cartoon at the storyboard stage and maybe make changes to make sure the planning of the cartoon is energetic and pushed to be fully suited to animation as well as being drawn well?

Or you think there is a chance animation would be screwed up when sent away so the drawings are more important-Or is this more of a budget concern working on cartoons in modern times-not having the time or money that the Warners Cartoons did so might as well make the storyboard simplier than a Warners cartoon so it has greater chance of not being screwed up under tighter deadlines when compared cartoons made- say in the 1940s.

Please don't lash out in anger in response to this post-I'm just curious on with your knowledge of the workings of Warners Bros studio you how you adapt this to a modern day studio.

JohnK said...

Part of animation IS the drawings. Most animators today, the few that are left - are not very energetic.

We did all the key poses in house at Spumco, which was a way of keeping some control over the final animation.

We couldn't afford to do animation in the country. If we could that would be my first choice every time.

I gave my favorite episodes to Carbunkle and they animated them beautifully.

If we had a prime time TV cartoon budget we could easily afford to do all the animation in North America and then animation would evolve again.

smackmonkey said...

Good info on Scribner and his energetic approach. Very inspiring. Thanks for the mention of Irv Spence as well. He did some nice work through the years especially on the Tom & Jerry Series. A nice guy to boot!

Bugs has always been the toughest character to draw (that I actually cared about) and without decent critiques or a model sheet I always just stumbled along. I'll have to go back and see if the old animation holds up. I'm sure everything will pale in comparison to Scribner's work.

And there's the rub. Without a real talent pool to foster a "mentor-pupil" environment animation will probably stumble along through various peaks and valleys until someone or something sparks a new renaissance. Money. Inspiration. A leader. Which will it be?

cartoon lad said...

>>If we had a prime time TV cartoon budget we could easily afford to do all the animation in North America and then animation would evolve again.<<

So was the budget for the original Ren and Stimpy was actually a lot lower than something like "The Simpsons"?

miss 3awashi t said...

you know.. if you had never posted this i would have never known this stuff
^^ thank you !

:: smo :: said...

tanks for posting this! i looked into this a little a while back but couldn't find too many good lichty examples. i only skimmed for now [just got excited] but isn't it true scribner animated in brush and ink often too? to get that looseness?

cartoon lad said...

>>Part of animation IS the drawings. Most animators today, the few that are left - are not very energetic.<<

But Kelly Armstrong and Bob Jaques are good at drawing AND animating.

Are you saying that while working on R&S it was too expensive to hire an animator to flesh out a storyboard with you and so you used layout artists instead?

Alexandra said...

Oh man, everyone has a thing against Disney. I know they employ cuteness in their cartoons, but Disney animation can't be all that bad. Look at The Jungle Book and The Emperor's New Groove (I think that's the title..)! Although Disney's been in suckage mode since after Pocahontas.

I am curious, how does everyone feel about Pixar animation? Do you think their animations push the limits of their art? I know it's not 2d animation, but it's animation nonetheless.

JohnK said...

Hi Cartoon Lad

Bob and Kelly are fantastic. They plussed everything I gave them.

Mark Kausler did animation here for me and he was wonderful too.

They are exceptional.

There are many other animators who are very good at movement, but are not so good at drawing interesting poses on their own.Most draw in the "Cal Arts Style" and can't break out of it.

This is a very specialized field.

There were animators in Spumco (Many now at Pixar). Some timed sheets, some drew layouts. I went over as many poses as I could in the layouts and probably drew half myself.

We used a system that was a hybrid of the Warner's system and the Saturday Morning reality of having to send animation and camera overseas.

Doing poses in house was a radical departure from the Saturday Morning TV system and the best way I could think of to get the kind of lively and expressive keys as I could into the animation.

There were no animators at the time who could have made Ren and Stimpy look the way it did without using my poses. It was a very conservative time.

And no, we didn't have anywhere near the budget of the Simpsons, or even Family Guy. That kind of money could bring animation back and save 2d animation from extinction.

Maximum Awesome said...

Eddie quote: "Scribner's desire to try the "Lichty" style was a crucial turning point in cartoon art. It reminds me of Newton and the apple and Einstein's famous trolley car ride."

No kidding. This Lichty - never heard of him before - is such a major puzzle piece of loose, cartoony stuff, I'm actively annoyed I never heard of him before.

This blog is ridiculously clear and important - I've never read anything as helpful about anything, and would gladly pay for it.

cartoon lad said...

thanks for your answer John K.

Gabriel said...

and Rod Scribner, who no one had yet figured out was a total genius.

John, don't you wonder if you ever had a genius working for you who for some reason didn't, hmm, awakened? I mean, the folks who held Scribner back didn't do it knowingly or on purpose, or did they?

Eddie, Milt and I pestered Clampett

Who's Milt?

JohnK said...

I'm very good at spotting genius and talent in folks that other producers overlooked.

Kali Fontecchio said...

This is kind of a sad story, considering he got restrained in the end!

Thanks for showing the Lichty comparison!

Kali Fontecchio said...

"Who's Milt?"

Milt Gray?

Tom said...

Milt is Milton Gray, animator, sheet timer and author. Milt kept the flame alive for Clampett during the dark decades of animation.

Clinton said...

Hi John,
I never studied Rod Scribner before until you mentioned him on the Looney Tunes DVD when you commented on 'The Great Piggy Bank Robbery'. This was a great post. I do not understand why Friz Freleng hated this 'revolution', and why McKimson moved Scribner back to the old method when the quality of animation was good with Clampett and Scribner. Did they think that without Clampett, WB could not sustain the quality of their cartoons? If so, why not promote Scribner to director? Or why didnt Scribner go with Clampett?

Mr. Semaj said...

I wonder if the animators knew at the time how big this revolution was. I get the feeling they really didn't and I'll tell you why in a later post.

Interesting side note: After Clampett abandoned Warner Bros. in 1946, McKimson shoved Scribner back into a smothering force field again and when you watch Scribner's characters twitch and agitate, it looks like they are trying to bust their limbs through but never quite can.

I think that helps answer your own question, when you bring up McKimson.

JohnK said...

>>I do not understand why Friz Freleng hated this 'revolution',<<

Because he was bland. Ther is a famous interview with him at a hamburger joint, where he recounts all this stuff and admits it. I wish it was online. Maybe it is.

He also told me all the same stuff.



>>and why McKimson moved Scribner back to the old method when the quality of animation was good with Clampett and Scribner.

They all thought Clampett was too unrestrained. Too creative in my opinion. Conservatives always hate too much invention.


>>If so, why not promote Scribner to director? Or why didnt Scribner go with Clampett?


Clampett said Scribner was happy animating and didn't want to direct.

Fris and Chuck engineered who would be the 3rd director. It's in the Friz interview.

JohnK said...

Friz even made a cartoon about it.

Roberto said...

Friz even made a cartoon about it.

Which cartoon was it? Was it a Looney Tune?

JohnK said...

"You Ought To Be In Pictures"

flashcartoons said...

i just purchased 2 of the warner brothers collections, i sure hope they didnt take out some of the contraversial cartoons, anyway john you ever see this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrqAeLJHr-8

Jim Rockford said...

I'm shocked that even though Mckimson was much more conservative,he would have felt the need to restrain Scribner after he saw the inspired direction he took animation,intstead of allowing him to expand his style and further creativly evolve.
In my opinion when you get someone that brilliant you should stand back and let them do their stuff

Jim Rockford said...

Tin Pan Alley cats is another great Clampett/Scribner cartoon!

Captain Napalm said...

WOW! I'm so impressed that you guys at Spumco managed to do what you did in 1991-'92 with such a small budget! I always felt that the early Ren & Stimpy had a few kinks in it; the movement and timing is good throughout, (sometimes it's unbelievably brilliant) but it's not quite as consistent as the acting or the design. Now I completely understand why and I'm in awe. I guess this explains why The peak period Simpsons ('92-'97) had such exceptional focus on movement and continuity, even when the McKimsons (meaning conservative directors - ie Mark Kirkland, Wes Archer) toned down the looser, funnier, more stylish and more SPECIFIC style of acting established by David Silverman, Jim Reardon, Rich Moore, Brad Bird et al. (Let's not have the "Storyboard vs. Script" debate right now - I'm just gonna put my cards on the table: IMO, The Simpsons was the only cartoon to ever balance script and storyboard in pre-production effectively enough to pay off, and anyone who wants to make a decent cartoon should either do it the old way or learn to write a good script. I think most cartoon scripts suck objectively, not contextually, and if they were an enjoyable, amusing read, like a good movie script, designers and animators, like actors, cinematographers and set designers in movies, might actually have fun deciding what they should look like instead of feeling like slaves to people who are just plain LESS CREATIVE, medium of choice irregardless, and who give them nothing of interest to exaggerate and experiment with visually. Just my opinion.)

I love Clampett like an imaginary brother and I think Scribner is the greatest animator of all time, no contest whatsoever. I stand up for lots of people whose work I feel is underrated -Bird! Silverman! Reardon! Moore! Non-Clampett Melendez! You!- but I still acknowledge that there is only one GREATEST animator and only one GREATEST director, and we both know who I'm talking about.

Keep making people think and best of luck doing it!
AH-GO-NEE!!!

-Zoran Taylor, fan and future animation student (narozz on YouTube)

Sanek said...

Great post!
Maybe you will in some of these shots of Scribner animation:

http://moremosaics.blogspot.com/2011/10/early-rod-scribner.html