Monday, February 18, 2008

Ben Washam's Style

I'm not that good at naming which animators did what scenes in Chuck Jones cartoons, partly because Chuck did most of the key poses himself. There are certain styles I know I like a lot but am never sure who drew them.
There is at least one animator in the early Jones cartoons that really stands out.
His drawings are really tight and carefully balanced designs.
Greg Duffel told me this scene was by Ben Washam.
Whoever it is has a really appealing style. Crisp, angular, clearly posed and staged, and fluid confident movement.

This is a very modern look for Bugs Bunny considering it was only 1945.

The very next scene below seems to be a different animator. Bugs is more rounded and closer to the McKimson/Clampett model sheet.Just for contrast, some of the other Jones animators' drawings are not as tight:

These drawings are not as confident. The facial features are not anchored on a solid head shape. They float and shift around. It's possible that could be because of the cleanup or inking, I don't know.

Mike Kazaleh thinks Washam animated that scene I posted about awhile ago...

To me, it doesn't look anything like the Bugs animation above, but maybe Washam changed his style periodically.

Mike gives us some hints for how to recognize Ben Washam's style:

Washam's animation always had an unusual quality.

It looks as if the head, shoulders and hips are weights that are loosely connected by sticks, with the hip being the part initiating the action.

The shoulders then rock in a counter motion, followed by the head.

As the shoulders try to move the head, the head has a little more than the usual cartoon inertia that must be overcome.

When the head finally moves, there is a lot of drag on the end of Daffy's bill, it then smoothly arcs out before popping into the next pose, but it is still a step behind the body.

These are not neccesarily unique ideas in themselves, but the particular way that he times it makes it distinctive.

Warner Bros. cartoons in general seldom have action on 2's during a pan (even when they could get away with it.) In the first scene where Daffy walks towards the camera, it starts moving on 1's when the pan begins, which has the effect of softening the action.

Washam also animated the scenes of Elmer trying to "shush" Daffy.
Later in his carreer, Washam's animation became even more angular, and the motion almost abstract. This tended to work better on stylized characters (like in his work for the Bell Science films) than traditional designs, although he still did good stuff at WB.

Things would slow out in an arc, and then suddenly pop into the next pose with a little follow through. Sometimes the character would slow out, and pop to the next pose, with the body stopping dead, and the arms (or ears, in the case of Bugs Bunny) providing the follow through.

Hair Raising Hare:

Greg Duffel told me that Washam did the animation of Bugs in Hare Raising Hare

where Bugs tip toes down the hall and taps a hammer on it.

I always loved that scene because of the crisp way it moved, and the stylish angular drawings of the poses.

But that looks totally different to me than what you are describing.

Is it someone else?


Yeah, I just looked at that cartoon, and Washam did do the scene of Bugs tip toeing withe hammer, it's a funny scene alright, although in some ways it's not typical of his work (the scenes before and after that were Harris'.) Maybe Chuck worked a lot of that out before hand? A little more typical Washam scene is near the beginning, when Bugs tries to kiss the robot, and where Bugs is in the scientist's arms.

As for imitating Benny's style, a funny thing... by the late 70's, his animation had become somewhat formulaic. Washam began to have classes at his home about time for anyone interested. I knew a few people who took his classes, and the short term effect of it was their animation looked a bit like Benny's, largely because they were using his timing formulas.

Mike Kazaleh