Sunday, August 19, 2007

Donald's Cousin Gus - constructed bouncy layered animation

Hey, does anybody know who animated the opening scenes to this cartoon? Gus walking to the mailbox and then the front door?

My favorite style of animated motion happened from 1938 to 1943 or so.

Look at Gus' walk in the beginning of this Disney cartoon. Real bouncy, lots of squash and stretch. Fun overlapping actions-the tail esp. - and you can see all the motion. It's not like the zip zip pose to pose stuff that seems to want to favor the poses, but hide the action.

It revels in letting you see and feel the magic and fun of the cartoon movement. You can only do this sort of thing if you really understand the principles of animation. You can't do this with flat characters. You have to be super careful about controlling the construction. You can't use sloppy drawings or the inbetweens will boil and crawl - like in some early 40s Lantz cartoons.

This is a kind of movement and excitement that can only happen in a cartoon. It's not trying to imitate live-action, it doesn't beg to be taken seriously, it's just plain cartoon magic.

Cartoon magic, to me is a completely logical approach to animation. If we can do this and no other medium can, why don't we do more of it? Or how about even some of it? It seems like for most of our history we have been searching for every excuse to not do what animation can do.

Eddie, explain this to me.

The cartoon has a lot of really beautifully animated scenes in it. (Donald running around the table.) Unfortunately, it suffers from not being very funny, but that's Disney for you. The scenes where the characters do bits of "business" or acting drag the cartoon down. Imagine what a clever director could have done with great animators like these.

Disney quickly abandoned this style in the shorts and moved towards a more pose-to-pose style.

Other studios did this bouncy, squashy style for awhile, particularly Warners.

Elmer Fudd has a great happy walk in Jones' Elmer's Candid Camera. Bugs and Elmer in "The Wacky Wabbit". The Queen on the bike in "Coal Black". Brad Caslor's "Get A Job".

Clampett kept the style going longer than anyone else and expanded it. When he left Warners', it disappeared forever and pose to pose took over. Disney Features had developed into an altogether different full-animation style, not alway pose to pose, but a lot less fun.

I would love to see how this approach to motion could evolve in a studio where everyone decided to take it and run with it. I think you could build a whole separate cartoon-film- language with it and take it to extreme heights of fun.

If I can find a dvd copy of this maybe I'll break down the motion in another post.

Here is more fun stuff in that late 30s, early 40s super-construction style.


Gochris said...


You are right - the acting is very amusing and the characters are so much fun to watch and appealing that I could watch this cartoon 50 times.

But you mentioned that you don't laugh much. The director didn't time the performance of the gags in a way that really emphasizes the joke. Say what you will about Friz Freling - he knew how to time a joke. This director didn't do that. As you said, another director could have made a cartoon that was twice as funny with the same characters, backgrounds, animators - everything.

Cartoons are the ultimate forum for comedy, because the timing can be so precisely controlled. So much of Bill Plympton's success as a film maker is due to timing - not to his animation skill.

(Not that I think he's an unskilled animator.)

Still, I could watch this cartoon 50 times and never get tired of it, because the performers are just so damn good.

Kali Fontecchio said...

That is some mighty fine butt animation, mmhmm.

David Germain said...

I believe this Donald Duck cartoon was directed by Jack King. He directed some very lacklustre cartoons at Warner Bros. before this. See Hollywood Capers on the Looney Tunes Gold Collection Vol. 3

C. A. M. Thompson said...

I wonder why there's a big chunk missing from that Donald cartoon (in the youtube clip)?

It's on the first Chronological Donald DVD Disney put out. Link.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

People are always trying to make animation do what it's not good at, I can't even imagine why. We may as well use cars for flower planters and computers for door jams.

Emmett said...

"People are always trying to make animation do what it's not good at"

Mr. Fitzgerald, examples please?

I saw COUSIN GUS years ago. I can't remember how old I was, but only the very beginning sticks in my mind. I love walks like that; walks that are specific to the shape of the character.

JohnK said...

Hi Emmett

like trying to animate tall proportioned humans doing things that real humans can do...

for starters.

Rodrigo said...

Disney's animators were badass. I recently bought a Donald Duck collection that is predominately this era of animation, and it's beautiful to watch, but it's so damn boring. They take a boring situation, like trying to put a shoe on, and give it a creative twist and animate it beautifully, but I can't stomach more than 2 episodes at a time.

So I know you abhor most 3D feature length movies, but as bland as they are, they do adhere to most of the principles of animation. Can you at least tip your hat to that?

Sykomantis said...

This really doesn't have anything to do with this particular post, but I was wondering, have you ever read any of Scott McCloud's books on comics? I was recalling his most recent book "Making Comics" and in chapter 3 of that book, he talks about how the muscles of the face work together to create specific facial expressions and to show different emotions. It also showed how putting expressions together and changing the level of expression (blatent vs. subdued) can create different meanings. I thought you might like to know about it to share with your readers, since I found it to be very informative. Sorry to sound like an infomercial.

Rich said...

I started writing a comment about how this kind of motion is hard to do in CG because you're dealing with a rigid puppet... but then I thought about all the great personality in Wallace & Gromit.

What happens to you 2D people when you start to get creative with your motion? Do the character designs make it too difficult? Do you get a talking too from the animation director about staying on model?

Matt B said...

The funny thing is that the Disney guys are the ones who seemed to be big on story (as Illusion of Life seems to make clear) while guys like Tex Avery were all about revolving cartoons around gags(which I believe Joe Adamson recorded in an interview with the guy.)

I wonder if cartoon animation just lends itself to a visual gag-oriented structure better than to a written, scripted story-based kind of structure.

Maybe Disney animation should be classified as something different than cartoon animation. It could be more like storybook animation or something.

angello ///// said...

Que lindo rebote el del ganzo comilon.
Los background son muy lindos tambien ...

Boing - Boing!!!

Nor said...

I'm sure it's been mentioned before, but the Goofy sports cartoons were probably the most manic and well-produced cartoons Disney ever did.

As for the familial relationships, how can a goose become a cousin to a duck? Answer me, Walt-sicle!

kate yarberry said...

i had cousin gus on video when i was a kid. It's just as entertaining today as it was then. I think that's the ultimate test for animation, as well as anything else, the test of time. I love the sandwich card gag the best.

Brad said...

That sandwich card gag Kate Yarberry referred to: Olive Oyl did the same trick in 'We Aim to Please' at around 3:50 and she does it a little better

dave said...

that cousin gus animation is a kick in the pants!
i think i understand what youre saying about pose to pose.
i was confused, and i think its because youre defining 'pose to pose' as a style of animation, and ive always thought of 'pose to pose' as just an animation technique, like straight-ahead. from that perspective, avoiding that cliche timing is to be more judicious with your use of holds... not showcasing every pose, and moving in and out of them in a way that hides your keys... animating in whatever way expresses the emotion and not the mechanics

Dume3 said...

I just posted a link to Donald's Cousin Gus in one of my comments a couple posts back.

Dume3 said...

I think that Donald cartoon is way funnier than any Tweety and Sylvester cartoon or even most WB cartoons in general. The Goofy cartoons are about as funny as anything WB ever did, aside from a couple Clampett cartoons, not to mention that the Disney guys are simply better draftsmen.

animadi said...

What is up in your life right now?

Paul B said...





J. J. Hunsecker said...

>>"Hey, does anybody know who animated the opening scenes to this cartoon? Gus walking to the mailbox and then the front door?"

I hate to see you suffer, but this is the best I can do…

The credited animators for this cartoon are Lee Morehouse, Wolfgang Reitherman, and Don Towsley. It could be one of them, or maybe an uncredited animator. Maybe one of the Marks would know, either Mayerson or Kausler. Interestingly, Towsley was the supervising animator for Clampett’s last theatrical cartoon, “It’s A Grand Old Nag.”

John A said...

Interesting story about "Donald's Cousin Gus"; at the start of this production, Gus had a speaking role, and the voice actor who recorded the part was Mel Blanc (he was doing voices for MGM and Universal as well as Warners )In an interveiw, Mel said he gave Gus the voice of a "big dumb swedish goose".The guys working on the cartoon thought it was pretty funny, but Walt didn't like it, and insisted that the Gus be turned into a silent character. (oddly enough, the exact same thing happened with Mel's voice work for Gideon the Cat in "Pinocchio"--I don't know, maybe Walt felt Mel was making the cartoon too funny, or maybe he didn't want to use him because all the other studios were using Mel at the time and he didn't want his cartoons to sound like all the other ones, who knows?) A voice like Mel's would have definitely added a whole new dimension to a well animated, but fairly routine cartoon.

Jeff Pidgeon said...

I would have guessed that Ward Kimball animated Gus - I think he did the Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee stuff in Alice In Wonderland, and this looks similar.

drgrafik said...

I just have a question. Take the disney film Aladdin for example: how come when they are paying the voice "actor" like Robin Williams tons of cash, they just let him go and see what happens without restraining him to keep him in line with the film, and make sure the jokes will be timeless and seemless with the animation? Why dont they let the animators go and see what happens? Wouldnt the visual gags be 1000 times more funny? Does Buster Keaton become dated? never. Its my theory that if you were to pay the animators silly amounts of money they would be allowed to run with the ball a whole lot more. It seems that the more a person is paid from executives the more respect and freedom the get.
It doesnt make sense to me really. Another question: what happened to voice actors? Does anyone really like hearing and recognizing the voices of actors when trying to enjoy cartoons?

Peter said...

The Encyclopedia of Disney Shorts
has the production sheets from "Donald's Cousin Gus" posted on that page. It credits the opening sequence to Woolie Reitherman.