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


Ardy said...

Holy crap! I literally just finished watching that cartoon before you posted this. And the first thing I thought during the opening credits was, "I have never heard anything about these animators." Thanks for shedding a little light on it.

I also wanted to ask, do you think Chuck Jones' control over his animators was a good thing? His cartoons were definitely more consistent, but is it less entertaining that way?

Timefishblue said...

that's a really nice looking bugs!

the ones with the candle though look like they should be on the cover of a VHS tape of public domain cartoons in a dollar store

Paul Penna said...

The candle shots are close-ups of a comparatively small image of Bugs, as you can see when there's a pull-back to show it's really on a screen in Mad Doctor/Peter Lorre's lab. This is something I always noticed in shots like this, where there's a zoom into or back from a character that occupies a relatively small area of the cel; the smaller the drawing, the sloppier it looks. I always figured it was because it gets trickier and trickier to ink something the smaller it gets.

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

Ben Washam and Ken Harris are my two favorite of Chuck's animators, and Ben because his early stlye almost belonged with the Tex and Clampett camp.

Piece of trivia: Ben was the one responsible for some of the sillier swears the cartoons sometimes had. Like in 'Duck Amuck', they used his 'Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin'.

- trevor.

Bill Field said...

At this point, were all Looney Tunes in color? There are times where this cartoon seems like a black n white, although the horror genre calls for darker, almost monochromatic stylings. Was this always on the boards to be color? Or was it planned as a black n white and then "upgraded" to full color?

Kali Fontecchio said...

This is a really appealing Bugs, really cute eyes in this cartoon!

Shawn said...

I always loved the way Bugs looks in this cartoon, more than any of Chuck's other cartoons. I also love how he walks hunched forward in this cartoon, like Groucho Marx.

Mattieshoe said...

I love Bug's Groucho Marx walk i his segment. Makes him seem more animated and fun. Do you know why Chuck sent him in the opposite direction?

Anthony P. Rizzo said...

Hey John! More homework for ya to look at if u have the time. Tried to tackle another Scribner still and some others too over the weekend.

Thanks for leaving me a comment last Friday btw. Amazing!

-Mr. Rizzo

Richard said...

I love this cartoon!
Great design and appealing shapes in the poses.
Bugs' walk is fantastic also. Out of character, but very funny.
This cartoon in my mind, tends to stand out amongst many of Chucks others. Perhaps he was trying something a little different, who knows?

Mattieshoe said...

John, I though you should see this, so you can help put a stop to it.

I honestly can't believe this.

patchwork said...

Thanks for pointing this out, it's really inspiring! And I love being able to spot each individual animator.

Could you sometime post a tutorial on how to make frame-grabs?!

Larry Levine said...

Great Benny Washam images. He was a great talent & a constant force for most of Chuck's career. I'm very glad he gave up the hamburger stand to become an animator!

Larry Levine said...

"do you think Chuck Jones' control over his animators was a good thing? His cartoons were definitely more consistent, but is it less entertaining that way?"

Yes, I think it worked beautifully. Senior animators like Washam & Ken Harris did have some breathing room, the main importance with Chuck was to stay on model & hit the layout poses at key moments. IMO the results were animation magic and the reason why Charles M. Jones' Unit A is legendary.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

That version of Bugs was Benny Washam!? Holy cow, he was great! All this time I ws crediting that to Ken Harris!

Ross Irving said...

I like the second screen grab with Bugs Bunny's arms spread out. It looks really sleek and dramatic considering the pose. I like the Jones design of Bugs Bunny too, but it has to be just right, like Washam did in this scene. The part where he's holding the mallet though, I thought that was Basil Davidovich.

To answer your question Bill, both the Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes series were all in color by the start of 1944. It could be that this cartoon's colors were "remastered" or changed, or that the colors just happened to be that way in the first place. I hope that helps, since I'm not a certified expert.