Sunday, December 02, 2007

Chuck Jones

I think Chuck Jones' best character design is Wile E. Coyote. Especially the early version. This is from "Beep Beep"... the second cartoon? From 2. I can't find the first one "Fast and Furryous" from 48 or 49 where he looks even better.
Chuck's style was an outgrowth of the general 40s animation style, and in particular, Bob McKimson's. What Chuck did to the pears and spheres style was add more complex shapes, inspired by anatomy. He combined the two types of forms and created an organic style with complex variations of the standard cartoon shapes.
The Coyote's head is actually the same basic construction as Bugs Bunny's, but with much more extreme contrasts and a long elaborately constructed nose with interwoven 's' curves.
I like this period of Chuck's work, before he got too angular. The angles in these designs are softened at the corners which makes them feel much more alive, as opposed to being graphic symbols.

CHUCK'S EXPRESSIONSChuck invented some expressions that are physically impossible, yet we instantly understand them and empathise with them when we see them. A great use of cartoon magic.

These expressions are more specific than say, Disney expressions. Disney expressions tend to be more general and much softer. These Jones expressions are much more like feelings actual humans experience.

Look at the beautiful asymmetry.
Constructed, complex shapes, human emotion and organicness.
Jones' great posing and expressions elevated the roadrunner cartoons that had pretty much standard cartoon jokes. The Coyote's reactions and his thought process made the physical gags funnier because of the irony in his plans.

Here's Chuck's smug expression. This was funny a long time ago, but I guess this eventually morphed into our modern 'tude expression. It was funny when it meant something.

Now we just paste in onto everything for no reason.

These frame grabs are from the Looney Tunes DVDs. Note the super skinny itchy ragged lines around the characters. On a TV screen they jitter and strobe and really flatten out the animation. What a shame, because these cartoons are so beautifully animated and once looked smooth as silk.

Oh, remind me to tell you about the difference between invention and variations on a theme.

Chuck invented a few things, but he was a master at doing variations on ideas that he liked...


Bitter Animator said...

Amazing to think these are over half a century old. I'm getting on. The expressions are wonderful.

Road Runner was always a favourite of mine and it came down to effort - the more effort the Coyote put into catching Road Runner, the funnier it got, and that the Road Runner seemed totally oblivious made it hilarious. Easily my favourite chase/cat and mouse style cartoon.

Cockybob said...

Have you ever read his auto-bio, Chuck Amuck?

CartoonSteve said...

John, are you posting images in a different format? The last 3 posts result in a download message when clicking on a graphic (in firefox or iexplorer). Earlier posts (from Flexitoon and before) are fine (clicking opens a new tab).

Anyway, good post. Can you illustrate what you mean by "super skinny itchy ragged lines". I'm not sure which pic you're talking about... or is it all of them?

Nick said...

i've got a copy of Fast and the Furryous on my computer... i'll try and upload it somewhere.. i love the animation of when coyote has the jet shoes

Larry Levine said...

John, Beautifully said..can't think of any better wording to praise Chuck Jones' Coyote animation.

I own original Coyote drawings by Chuck Jones (vintage layouts & 90s concept art) and incredible as Wile E. looks on film, Chuck's original graphites (drawn with his trusty Blackwing 602 pencil) are even more beautiful.

patchwork said...

I was just thinking about Wile E. Coyote the other day, and how far character constructions and designs had come along by the late 40's. I recently started the Bosko studies from a couple months ago, and this seems like such a quantum leap. Thanks for the great explaination

The Flea said...

Expressions have always been a difficult thing for me because what seems so easy is really quite difficult. Guess it's a matter of really understanding your characters and what they may or may not do.

As for drawing unique expressions, I only wish I were as inventive as Chuck Jones. All of expressions were EXTREME; it didn't matter if they were incredibly broad or incredibly subtle facial movements. He's definitely an artist we can all learn from!

The Flea said...

Expressions have always been a difficult thing for me because what seems so easy is really quite difficult. Guess it's a matter of really understanding your characters and what they may or may not do.

As for drawing unique expressions, I only wish I were as inventive as Chuck Jones. All of expressions were EXTREME; it didn't matter if they were incredibly broad or incredibly subtle facial movements. He's definitely an artist we can all learn from!

Weirdo said...

"I guess this eventually evolved into our modern tude expression. It was funny when it meant something"

It's like you once said, they copy the superficial aspects of the masters without really understanding their meaning. This is an incredible post. Please do more on Chuck Jones.

Adam said...

I have to agree. Jones' work was brilliantly observed, the single most important factor that keeps it fresh today. I did notice his design become more angular but I thought this was quite late on? I'm no expert in animation history, but I have seen alot of his films and they don't seem that different (although this style does stand out)

I didn't like the style Warner Bros adapted around time of 'Deduce, you say?' The sets felt separate from the characters. It was just cold.

Anyone know why they 'chucked' (get it?) a successful method for what looks like budget animation?

Interesting stuff John!

Clinton said...

So Chuck Jones came up with the single eyeball expression? Now that you mentioned it, I looked at a couple of Jones' films in the Looney dvds and see the same expression done by bugs, daffy, and secondary characters.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm not too huge a fan of his later stuff, like Transylvania 6-5000, where everything seemed to be trying to look to style-y and didn't end up being very funny at all, just interesting to look at. But this stuff is great.

Robert said...

A few gems among the first 20 episodes or so have some of the best animation I've ever seen. In particular the rocket rides in both episodes 6 and 8 are memorable.

I've uploaded the first episode at for anyone that's interested.

Charlie J. said...

Those drawings are great! I could never appreciate those as a kid because of how monotonous they are conceptually, but visually they're awesome!

David Germain said...

Chuck Jones is the reason I even started drawing in the first place and his facial expressions are the biggest part of it. To this day, I still look to Chuck's work for inspiration.

I think you've posted some of this info on a previous post, most likely sometime last year. But hey, Chuck's greatness can't be stated enough.

Anonymous said...

These expressions on Wile's face are both cartoony and they clearly convey what the character is thinking. Wonderful... These Road Runner cartoons were Chuck's funny stab at blackout cartoons.

BTW, some user on YouTube a couple of months back posted 43 Roadrunner cartoons, including "Fast and Furryous," (and they're still there!). Copy and paste the link if you don't believe me.

Emmett said...

I've been watching a lot of Chuck Jones stuff lately (including his 1970's book adaptations). Have you seen any of his 1970's work? I shudder to hear your reaction to them.

Mr. K, could show a compare and contrast in Jones' drawing style. I probably have seen it, I just can't think of it.

PCUnfunny said...

I love the Jones expressions and recations even the subtley subtle ones have me laughing. Some great example of sutble was Daffy in "Duck,Rabbit,Duck". Like his reaction when Elmer said he can't shoot Bugs because he dosen't have a fricasseeing Rabbit Licence.

Frank Macchia said...

Hey John!!

I have a request!
I really enjoyd the stills of while E Coyote's smear/ zip off screen.
One thing ive been experimenting with lately is animated zips/ was never taught to us properly at my i was wondering if you could do a post on smears/ zips, as they are definitely a huge part of cartoony cartoons...a lot of us aspiring animators would definitely find it helpful

thanks, i hope you take this into thought.

Frank Macchia said...

Hey John!!

I have a request!!
I really enjoyed the stills of While E Coyote's smear/zip off screen in this post...its actually something ive been experimenting with...the animation college i go to never really taught us about them...go i was wondering if you could do a post on different smear/zip techniques since theyre such a great tool used in cartoony cartoons...i'm sure many other aspiring animators as well as myself would find it helpful and informative.

Thanks. I hope you take this suggestion into consideration.
Keep up the amazing work with the blog

Your buddy from the mother country (CANADIA), FRANK

Julián höek said...

i been waiting a post about chuck for a long time!
and yeah, don't forget about that invention a variation post, sounds interesting!

lastangelman said...

Safe to say Jones & Maltese & Noble created magic when they brought Wile E. and The Roadrunner to life, certaibly one of the best and most stylishly violent slapstick in animation that was funny and fun to look at (Bob Clampett, notwithstanding) Amazing pathos, the best timing for the gags, beautiful southwestern panoramas, excellent music and sound effects. When Freleng decided to to try his hand at this team's creation, it is painful to watch and terribly unfunny. How can a guy with so much experience as Freleng who had been in the cartoon animation game right from the very beginning have become such a bland director?

Larry Levine said...

Most Chuck Jones fans don't know that he wrote/draw the syndicated comic strip "Crawford" (aka "Crawford & Morgan") between 1977-78 for (what was then) the Chicago Tribune-NY News Syndicate.

Here's the link to see a strip on Jerry Beck's website:

Anonymous said...

me doi cuenta que
los gestos en los dibujos son claves!

le dan toda la vida que nesecitan para representar algo o a alguien!!

es lo maximo este blog!

Blue said...

Jones is a great animator - one of my favorites! Thanks for putting up the screenshots. I've never noticed how they stretched out Wile E's face to make a fast movement - pretty interesting. Could you add more of these?
Oh, and congrats on the Annie Award! I just saw Jerry Beck's mention of it, and you deserve it!

Steve said...

Fast and Furryous

patchwork said...

yeah, zip-smears. Is it all about experementing, or is there a process to it?

Roberto González said...

Entirely off topic but John, is it true that you are animating the credit sequence in the movie The Perfect Holiday?

I must write an article about that movie in a local newspaper and I wanted to mention that, if it's real. I'll appreciate if you can answer tomorrow.

Great post by the way.

Timefishblue said...

Why is there a cut off tail in the first picture, and cut off feet in the stomping picture? Is that how it's actually drawn? I have no idea how this stuff works.

David Germain said...

Oh, by the way, Beep Beep actually came out in 1952. Whatever.

I'd also like to say something about Jones' "tude" drawing of Wile E. I think the reason it works so well in that scene is because his smug attitude is instantly demolished when he turns the rocket-powered skates on and is suddenly propelled lout of control. His tude was specifically made to suit that situation which is what makes it funny and engaging. This is sadly a far cry from today's toons inwhich tude is drawn when A) the artist can't think of an expression, B) the artist is incapable of drawing an actual facial expression, or C) some soul-less executive demands that the character stay "on model".

Oh, and congratulation on your Annie Award nomination. Your up against Glen Keane and John Canemaker though. That's some pretty stiff competition. Good luck, man. You've earned it.

Rafi animates said...

couldn't agree more. Wile E is by far my favourite character from the Looney Tunes crowd. Pepe, Daffy, Yosemite and Gossimer are close bhind though.

More Chuck Jones analysis please! I'd love for you to go into the more angular period of Chuck's work - eg. Broomstick Bunny. The more "designy" end of his WB output but still full of amazing, *specific* poses and expressions .

Kirk said...

Asymmetric facial expressions is a great way to put it. Makes it so real. I love the super wide - one eye - pose.. as long as it follows with that single little mouth twitch. I love that twitch; doesn't need to be there but, all hell, throw it in anyway.

Adam said...

The colors in the backgrounds here are amazing! Even though, I'm guessing, the saturation was turned up a touch. The range of colors used create great contrasts and yet all harmonize together.

These expressions are perfect. Chuck seems like the master of the devious smile. Great screen grabs, I think I'm going to have to try to draw some of them.

Thanks for the inspiring post.

Jeff Read said...

The smug expression is still awesome in 2007. It's specific and the eyes and snout are really funny. It says, "in spite of my 13,000 prior failures surely this plan will work!"

'Tude is generic and boring, and doesn't seem to say much beyond "I ride a skateboard" or perhaps "I wish I rode a skateboard".

Gustavo Teixeira said...


Jim Rockford said...

John,whats your opinion of Chuck Jones' "Nellys folly"?

Jorge "Jay" Garcia said...

Thank you for the post!!! Chuck is my all time favorite... :)