Monday, December 10, 2007

Cartoony + Principles - 1942 - Eatin' On The Cuff

Watch this pure cartoon fun:
Clampett combined Fleischer's cartooniness with Disney skills and added his own unique imagination and control to them.

I think Clampett's "Eatin' On The Cuff" is a landmark cartoon. It may be the first one where Avery's animators (now under Clampett) finally got what Clampett was all about. Clampett takes virtuoso animators' talents and pushes them to a new level. It's a near-perfect cartoon. It mixes all the creative elements that have been available to animators at other studios at different times. It combines Disney principles, great drawings, great gags and Fleischer cartooniness all together. This became Clampett's style and approach. He not only used all the available creative tools. He pushed them farther than anyone else and focused them and controlled them much more precisely. He gave them context.

Principles Turned Into Entertainment

During the mid to late 30s, Disney led the way in discovering and developing animation principles. Warner Bros.' 30s animation by comparison was actually pretty conservative, even Clampett's. The gags and held poses were funnier in Looney Tunes but the movement in the Disney cartoons squashed, stretched, bounced, overlapped and dragged to crazy proportions-while it was moving. They didn't ever settle on exaggerated poses, but getting from one pose to the next was wild - you have to freeze frame it to see it. The problem with the Disney cartoons was - it was all principles and not much entertainment. But they made some great cartoons this way and broke a lot of ground for others to find uses for it.
Clampett and his cohorts put the principles to use. They gave them a context. The principles are there, but they are in service of the story, character and entertainment. Each gag or bit of acting requires certain animation tools-but not every one every time. Classic Disney cartoons tend to use all the principles all the time with no control, no selection process. Everything deserves the same lush treatment. (I'll post some examples this week.)

Making A Gag Out Of Overlapping Action

The power in this animation is awesome. These are the principles of overlap and drag caricatured. The spider zips into scene and then her hair and clothes follow after-completely unattached. They hit her with a huge force. These drawings are not merely exaggerated-they are timed in a way that the impact of the action is maximum. It draws attention to the gag and the final held poses. Warner Bros. and particularly Clampett knew how to make some poses and gags more important than others and they used the principles of animation to enforce the ideas, gags and stories.
The drawings in some Scribner animation look like they aren't even connected. When you still frame it, it looks like it would never work, yet when you watch it at regular speed, it not only works, it's incredibly smooth and has impact and calculated control. It isn't simply wild and crazy, as opposed to Jim Tyer for example.
You can see the hierarchy of forms and details in the hair here. The hair is drawn as a form in motion first, then the forms have a few extra hair lines drawn within the forms.

Scribner slowed down.

Scribner Draws Gorgeous Girls
Scribner not only caricatured Veronica Lake's face, but also her body. Angular shoulders and thin arms and waist.
I like this blur effect for the eyelashes. There are only two drawings in the cycle and it looks sexy as hell.

Beauty gets crazy

Scribner Wild

Scribner exaggerates stretch, squash, overlap

Forms within forms- hierarchy
Great construction and exaggeration at the same time.

Look how damn sexy these drawings are!

I love the way McKimson drew and animated these flames. They have solid hand anatomy, yet they still waver like flames. What control!

The Switch From From The Junior to the Senior Unit

Clampett switched cartoon units in 1941. He went from a black and white unit that only did Porky Pig cartoons to a full color unit that had the top animators at Warner Bros and was free to make cartoons with any characters at all.

Tex Avery was in charge of this unit before Clampett took over, and so far hadn't really taken advantage of it on an animation level. His cartoons were basically strings of gags and he had his animators connect them with motion. If the animators put something of themselves into the cartoons along the way, fine, but they aren't cartoons that you would consider wildly creative. Not like what Tex did later at MGM.

Clampett had a mostly younger set of animators in his black and white unit. He said that while they were all very talented, there were certain ideas and gags that he wanted to try, that he thought his crew wasn't quite skilled enough yet to pull off. To tell you that truth, I find that hard to believe. I love his black and white cartoons. They have some great animation in them. Maybe some of the drawings were a bit cruder than McKimson's or Scribner's but I would love to have a unit of animators that skilled to work with.

Clampett's style is evident in his B and W cartoons.

The black and white cartoons are the most original and energetic cartoons Warners had done to date and they are full of Clampett's style and ideas.Here is a solidly constructed cat. It's so extremely solid that it looks like Clampett is making fun of construction.

There is a great variety of animation techniques in the cartoons. They go from really subtle careful acting to really wild experimental action.
You have to see this take in action. It's the craziest take I've ever seen. The way it moves is awesome. I'll post it later, but here is an article about the cartoon.

1942 - Clampett and His New Animators Figure Out What They Can Do Together

The Henpecked Duck (30/8/1941)

John Carey born 4/6/1915
Vive Risto
Born: 1902
Norm McCabe 10 February 1911
David Hoffman
Izzy Ellis

This cartoon is one of Clampett's last black and whites. It is full of subtle acting and lots of really weird and sick jokes, yet it's cute as heck. It's animated by the "young" crew. The animation is all very controlled and not as extreme as Disney cartoons.

(Hmmm...I just looked up everyone's birthdates, and it seems the age ranges are pretty much the same, so it's not really a "young" crew. Maybe just less experiencced? Or maybe just lower budgets. )

Cagey Canary (22/11/1941) co-dir: Tex Avery

Bob McKimson
Born October 13, 191o
Virgil Ross
August 8, 1907
Rod Scribner
October 10, 1910
Charles McKimson?
December 20, 1914
Sid Sutherland?
7 August 1901

Tex Avery started Cagey Canary then left for MGM. Clampett finished the cartoon, but it looks like it's mostly Avery. The animation is very down to earth, slow and mainly tells the gags. There are some Scribner scenes that look like Clampett handed them out and they are a bit wilder than earlier Avery cartoons. This is also the cartoon that was the model for the later Tweety and Sylvester cartoons.

Wabbit Twouble (20/12/1941)
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

This is a half and half transition cartoon from the way the animators animated for Avery and the way they would soon be animating for Clampett. It's like they are starting to get used to Clampett's direction style.

The story is very similar to Avery's "A Wild Hare" and "The Heckling Hare". It's the same easy going feeling and pacing but weirder jokes and more acting.

Clampett also brought his more musical approach to this Bugs Bunny template cartoon. A lot of the action is timed to popular songs, so it really swings, instead of having the music post-written to fit already existing gag timing.

Porky's Pooch (27/12/1941)

This was another black and white cartoon done by the younger crew. It is the first Charlie Dog cartoon. Chuck Jones turned this one-shot Clampett idea into a series.

Any Bonds Today (1942) trailer for the U.S. War Bonds*

This is a strange little war bonds ad. It's partly animated by Scribner and Virgil Ross, but something about it looks more primitive than their regular series cartoons. Clampett told me some of the animation was by beginners.

Crazy Cruise (14/3/1942) co-dir: Tex Avery

Here's another Avery cartoon that Clampett finished.

Horton Hatches the Egg (11/4/1942)
From Horton Hatches the Egg (1942) directed by Bob Clampett.
This cartoon is the first Seuss cartoon and sticks fairly close to the book, with some added gags. The animation is superb and really gives the book a reason to be animated.

The Wacky Wabbit (2/5/1942)

This cartoon, according to Clampett is him experimenting with material and ideas he didn't think he could have done before. He has long subtle acting sequences in it, like the scene where Bugs is following Elmer through the desert singing "Oh Susanna".

Nutty News /23/42

Another from the B and W unit. Some of the last cartoons have slower timing than Clampett's earlier cartoons. My theory is because maybe he left the timing to someone else as he transitioned to the color unit.

Wacky Blackout 7/11/42

Bugs Bunny gets the Boid (11/7/1942)

Clampett proving he understands Bugs Bunny's classic character better than anyone else before or since. He also introduces Beaky Buzzard, patterned after Mortimer Snerd. Hilarious Clampett-only type gags and great acting and animation.

Eatin' on the Cuff

I'm having trouble pinpointing exactly why this cartoon stands out from Clampett's previous work, but it just feels like something completely new. The last few color cartoons are great but feel like transitions. It's interesting that this is a black and white cartoon, even though it was made by the color unit.

This whole cartoon is paced like Clampett's musical sequences in his earlier black and white cartoons. It's not just a story told in animation. It's an experience, like listening to a good song.

After this Cartoon, Clampett has a 4 year run of genius and takes animation to new levels and shows the world what animation and cartooning can be if you have the talent and the will to explore and entertain.

The Hep Cat (3/10/1942)

Clampett makes a cartoon with his new animators, but in the style of his musical black and white cartoons. Great backgrounds by Johnny Johnson.

A Tale of Two Kitties (21/11/1942)

The first Tweety cartoon has brilliant experiments in direction and pacing. I could do 20 posts on this.

Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (16/1/1943)

Clampett's masterpiece.

Tortoise wins by a Hare (20/2/1943)

Funniest Bugs Bunny cartoon ever. Virtuoso pacing and directorial control.

1942 was a pinnacle in animation history and this was Clampett at the top of the art form.

Here's your reward for plodding through some awkward sentences.


Eatin' On The Cuff is on the latest Looney Tunes DVD collection, and it's a great print. It also has a wonderful commentary by Jerry Beck.

Buy this set for everyone this Christmas!

Or get all 5 sets...


Anonymous said...

Porky's Pooch was also Clampett's experiment in new background styles. He and Mike Sassanoff drew the storyboards and set-ups and then went around LA taking photographs that would match the boards they had already drawn.

Then Sass airbrushed the layouts to make them softer and so the characters would read better. Clampett said he thought he was doing something new, until he saw Popeye cartoons.

Eating On The Cuff also had photo backgrounds, but in a different style.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Insightful post John. I love how dimensional those black and white Clampett's look. It's funny that you mention that the construction is so good that it's almost a parody. I'll be purchasing that box set soon. Merry Christmas to me!

David Nethery said...

Wow ! Thanks for posting those amazing frames from Eatin' On The Cuff !

Rossco said...

This is a great post John.

I remember watching a lot of Clampett and Avery cartoons when I was a kid on some old video my Mum got me, I especially loved a Tale of two Kitties and Corny Concerto, and I could never figure out where they fit in. It seemed to me like this strange dream-like period which came from another planet where the Warners cartoons were so wild and outrageous and characters like tweety and bugs could be outright arseholes, and I could never figure out why they became so much more sedate later on.

I knew that these ones were older than the later Jones and Freleng cartoons that were all over television but even as a kid I wondered what happened to that way of making cartoons, and saw them as a strange reversal of history when a cartoon was made more lively (so in my mind more advanced), and then becoming less so.

I always loved Chuck Jones and Bob McKimson's cartoons but I always wished they made more like the cartoons you've mentioned in this post.

Thanks John.

Colin Kahn said...

"The Sour Puss" sticks out in my mind (even though I probably haven't seen it in 10 years). I really like way Clampett draws peoples (humans) faces as well. Anyone know if "The Sour Puss" is available on DVD?

wolfboy said...

Hello John; just recently veiwing your blog--much appreciation for your endless displays of incredible archives, along with your frame-by-frame commentary. These are all amazing and amazingly funny cartoons that we are no longer "allowed" to make.


I seem to only laugh at the old ones...

Adam said...

As a little kid I always liked Clampett's cartoons best. I didn't pay much attention to the title cards so I didn't know they were his, and I didn't analyze them to figure out how they ticked so it's fun to see someone with your experience explain what I didn't consciously know but could just intuitively sense.

I gave my 8 year old nephew the first 2 box sets of the WB's Golden Collection and a few weeks later he tells me his favorites are 'Duck Twacy' and 'the one with the stupid bird, nope nope nope'. You don't have to theorize why Clampett's cartoons are great. If 8 year olds and animation pros are in agreement on this that says something.

Paul Stadden said...

Thanks for the screen grabs, these are fantastic! This greatly helps with dissecting good timing and well planned gags. Those Scribner caricatures of Veronica Lake are to die for.
My personal favorite of Clampett's toons, which also happens to be my favorite cartoon of all time, is Falling Hare.

Chris S. said...

I just watched "Tortoise Wins By A Hare" - THE ENERGY!!! What an entertaining Bugs cartoon! Just crazy insanity all around ... hilarious.

JohnK said...

Hi Andy

I just looked at your blog. You are very talented.

Larry Levine said...

John, Great images & information, but with it being Clampett how could it be anything other than GREAT!!

I've met his daughter Ruth a few times (who strongly resembles Bob--which I mean in a nice way) who always expresses great excitement in discussing her dad's work.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

A terrific post! Those Scribner drawings were an awesome revelation! Scribner was the answer it the question, "What would happen if you combined a truly great cartoonist and a truly great animator in the same person?"

Nick said...

definatley getting vol. 5 for christmas, already have 1-3

Emmett said...

Great post, Mr. K.

Those images are intimidating! Do you have any of Rod Scribner or McKimson's NON-animation drawings. I am still learning how to recognize the animators in these cartoons, and it might help if I compare some of their own stuff to their Warners/Clampett work.

Also, how do you get these great screengrabs? I am trying to make screengrabs for my own blog, but my computer won't allow it?

Kali Fontecchio said...

I'll draw more of these later this week!

Chris S. said...

On your Top Cat studies you said ... "Construction is not something that comes natural to me. I naturally draw "by design", that is to just put shapes that balance well together in 2 dimensions. That's a fault, because it doesn't mean the characters will turn well when animated." ... that really spoke to me. Thanks for your honesty and forthrightness - it's encouraging! I'm working on them now and I'd like to shove my pencil in my eyes. I WILL GET IT THOUGH!
Thanks again.

Weirdo said...

Wonderful pics. I love the work of Clampett, particularly "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery" and "Baby Bottleneck". You always have something very insightful to say. Thank you for this wonderful blog.

Will Finn said...

In addition to everything else, the actress doing the spider voice is very very funny. Tracks like that can really make you want to knock each scene out of the park.

PCUnfunny said...

I would sell my soul for Elmer Fudd's dancing car from WABBIT TWOUBLE. The greatest thing about Clampett cartoons is the fact that you have to see them more then once to fully absorb them. I go back to PIGGY BANK ROBBERY or BABY BOTTLENECK and I always discover a new drawing.

PCUnfunny said...

As for Scribner, he is one in a googolplex. I freeze frame his drawings and I am in always in awe about how they flow so smoothly when animated. They just look so random. I guess he was on such a high level that they look random to everyone else.

Adam H said...

These are some of my favorite posts of yours. Animation history combined with technique discussion & exposure to amazing animation. Those screen grabs are incredible... makes me wish I was superhuman like Clampett & Scribner to be able to combine such control, fluidity, & form.

Thanks so much for spending the time & energy on these.

Mr. Semaj said...

I just knew the moth and the flame scene was McKimson; he has a certain way of rendering the character's eyes that carried over into his own cartoons.

Even though Eatin on the Cuff was black-&-white, it had some really entertaining characters. How subversive is a hot chic with a nose the size of Texas?

Taber said...

Woo, what a long post! But certainly worth reading. I'll be studying those clips carefully.

Thanks John!

Leigh Fieldhouse said...

Cheers for the awesome post John, I'm going to start drawing from these screencaps asap.

Bitter Animator said...

This may sound a little odd but I can almost see those stills in colour. I actually had to scroll up again a couple of times to check if they were in colour or black and white. Something about the tone work really suggests the colours. They don't look black and white.

Nsixqatsi said...

I LOVE you, John K.

PCUnfunny said...

Hey John this is OT but I want to know what you think of this modern poster. It's actually HAND DRAWN !

Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull

Dume3 said...

"Hey John this is OT but I want to know what you think of this modern poster. It's actually HAND DRAWN!"

If they want it to look that realistic, why paint it?

Mattieshoe said...

"Hey John this is OT but I want to know what you think of this modern poster. It's actually HAND DRAWN!"

If they want it to look that realistic, why paint it?

Painting can be used for more then cartoons, you know.

It does what you can't do with a photograph.

It has a particular mood to it that adds excitement towards the Movie.

Really, It's unhealthy to be that much of a purist.

Rusty Spell said...

In case you're interested, for my World Literature class I rewrote "Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid" (in the link below) in the style of a Native American Trickster Myth. I always compare those stories to Bugs Bunny, so I figured I'd see how it plays out on paper.

Hare Tricks Vulture

Some Winnebago Trickster stories