Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Clampett Takes - For Gags, for Punctuation, for Visual Music

Held takes vs moving takesThis eyeball is a "held" take.

Clampett did the occasional Avery style held takes and even went a bit further in Book Revue. The strange thing about this take is that it's only on for a few frames and you barely see it. It's also buried in the middle of some wild Scribner animation of Daffy Duck scat singing.
Evidently Bob had so many ideas that he didn't feel the need to linger on any of them for too long. "Aaah..there's lots more where that came from".
Some of his takes are pretty perverted.

As I said in my Avery take post, some takes are used as entertainment and some are mere punctuation. Clampett (and Avery) used both. Most animators just use milder takes as part of their cartoon film grammar.

My favorite Clampett takes are the ones that aren't held in place. You aren't laughing solely at a graphic image. Instead, the crazy motion adds a whole new dimension to the gag.

2 seconds...

The actual animated eye take here is less than a second long! But you sure don't miss it...

Bob must not have thought of his takes as being that important. They are usually really short, even though they are wildly imaginative. He didn't build any cartoons around them. What would be a crazy punch line in anyone else's cartoon is just another tool that could be used when appropriate, to accentuate a story point.

In Bacall to Arms, the wolf does a montage of takes in quick succession to show how horny he is watching Lauren Bacall in a movie. Here's a 1 second take from it.

1 second


This is a very short scene with really only one gag that you could call "written". "Babbit pulls the anvil out of the ground and Catstello is flattened at the bottom of it".
The rest of the scene is narrative actions and punctuation. To a cartoon writer, the flat image of Catstello would be enough creativity to put the scene across. But to Clampett and his animators, every bit of the narrative is soil for creativity - amazing creativity!
How many takes can you count in the scene above? If you watch it in real time you'd have trouble because all the action is at lightning speed. Yet you feel everything that is happening. It's not too fast to follow the story.

There was one take in particular that I was going to plan this post around because I thought it was so creative, but when I actually started making the clip and slowed down the action, I was surprised at how elaborate the whole scene was-and how much creativity went in to just the narrative parts of the action, so I've broken it down into 3 clips.

Each clip - as short as it is, is chock full of narrative information and more than one animated punctuation.
Here the cat does a simple take and then a wild anticipation into the next pose of him looking down in the hole.

Now he jumps in the air to say he's shocked that Catstello is down in the hole. Then he does a "What do I do??!" dance before he reaches down.

Here's a quick small take to show that he is confused that Catstello wasn't in the hole.
He anticipates
Looks at the flat Catstello...

And does another surprise take. This time his legs spin in the air. You barely even see the action, but you feel it. You know exactly what story-wise is going on.
It kills me that this much inventiveness goes into such minor story points. This really all could have been done with standard animation grammatical tools.
You've heard of film language? There is also a cartoon-film-language with rules and accepted visual signals all its own. The rules started in comic strips, moved to early animated cartoons, then were developed further in the 30s and then for most of the animated cartoon world basically stopped (or at least slowed down considerably) around 1940. But not in Clampett's unit.

Cartoons have their own accepted traditions and structures and grammar, but the mere "correct" application of the rules is not enough to be entertaining or art. We need to use them as tools to create emotions and experiences that work with or without words or literal meanings.

Like in music. The melody, arrangement plus the personalities and styles of the individual musicians all contribute to the overall emotional experience of the music. Why do the Beatles work in every country - most countries can't understand the words or literal meanings of the songs at all - but the musical grammar (which they contributed to) is almost universal, and the soul and talent of musicians playing the music are understood.

Great music with or without words is international.
The musicians in Clampett's unit are his animators. They all understood their shared grammar and punctuation, but were constantly creating new ways to exhibit it.

Can you imagine what a great job it would be to be able to come to work every day and draw new ideas for every scene?

No wonder these guys (Scribner and Gould) look so happy! They're in Clampett's unit.

Today we get rules and formula for the sake of them, "That's not the way to do an anticipation, check the manual to see how we do that." That's how animation has been in the last 40 years at most studios.


1940 The Sour Puss
I used to think all the flowering of Clampett's creativity happened when he teamed with Scribner and the Avery animators, but you can find all this kind of stuff in the black and white cartoons too.
Here's a crazy animated take from The Sour Puss.
I wonder how you would go about "directing" a scene like this. How did Clampett get this stuff out of all his animators?

Take and Anticipation

1938 - Porky and Daffy
Here Porky does a standard take, then goes into trying to revive Daffy.
The crazy animation happens during an anticipation, another standrad animated punctuation mark. Anticipations are like commas; they pause before a new point is to be's a "normal" anticipation that you see before a character zips offstage

In animation, your punctuation marks have a lot more versatility. You can have an endless variety of commas if you choose. Porky does this wild action before zipping off screen. It's as if he is building up a ball of energy, so that his explosion off screen is that much more powerful.
Takes, antics, squash and stretch, lines of action are some animation tools that are usually done in a standard way, but they don't have to be. They can be creative and enhance the total entertainment package.

There is so much invisible creativity in Clampett's cartoons that you wonder why they went to so much trouble and detail for every little point in the cartoons. Why? Because it's fun! Who wants to just draw what the script says? Or watch it?

It's called "animation". Let's put the creativity back into the core of the art.


The animated grammar in Clampett's unit makes his cartoons seem way more intense and real than what anyone else was doing. It's not just the gag ideas in the cartoons that are delivering the entertainment. It's the tools of the artform itself. Jones and Avery continued adding to cartoon film grammar for awhile but I think Clampett did more than anyone. After Clampett left Warners our cartoon language went into a long period of decline. Today, we remember disconnected fragments of what was once a vital, growing, extremely versatile language.

We're still using narrative signals that were forged by cartoonists and animators long ago, but in a very stilted and decayed, blindly dogmatic way. So many animators talk of the importance of telling stories and doing things in live action, novels or cartoons all using the same narrative tools, but they don't.

We use broken animation cliches to tell the same worn-out stories using a handful of shadowy traditions to feebly act them out.

Here's an interesting excerpt from a site about written punctuation:

Many people believe that punctuation rules are rigid commandments and that only the “experts” know all the rules. You may be surprised to learn, however, that it is not the “experts” but rather educated speakers and writers, such as yourself, who have established the practices that have come to be known as the “rules of punctuation.” In other words, over the years good writers have used punctuation in ways that have made their messages especially clear to their readers. Writers have agreed to follow these practices because they have proven to be so effective...


The rules of punctuation are not static; they have changed throughout the years and will continue to change. What once might have been considered improper punctuation may now be considered correct. The rules of punctuation are created and maintained by writers to help make their prose more effective, and their exact meaning changes over time, just as traffic rules evolve with time. (For example, in many states it is now acceptable to make a right turn at a red light if no oncoming vehicles are in sight.) At any point in time, a particular punctuation mark means what writers agree it means; as consensus shifts, so will its meaning.

If you approach punctuation with this understanding of its origin and flexibility, you will not be intimidated by the conventions of punctuation.

Here's the whole article:


/\/\ikeB said...

It seems to me the common thing between Clampett, Avery and just about any of these legends is they took advantage of their medium. They found out what gave the maximum entertainment for minimum amount of effort for that particular medium.

For example, its easy to distort things in traditional animation - so they distorted stuff! Daffy duck could turn into a flat pancake and slide down the stairs, that dog in your previous post could pop off his stripes.
Of course they did it skillfully, maintaining volumes, takes, ect. Sure it took effort, but they didn't try and challenge themselves with 3/4 angles and detailed figures.
They figured out the advantages of traditional animation and used them.

In order to entertain, whoever in charge needs to understand the medium well.

Chris said...

Hey John,

I'd just like to say that your posts have really been amazing lately. There's been so much information written in your posts on the subtleties of great classic animation that it's going to take me a long time to really assimilate it all. And without you, this kind of knowledge would be impossible for most of us to come by. So thanks a lot, and keep up the hard work.

patchwork said...

Wow, one of your best posts ever! And that's saying a lot. Thanks so much for explaining the concept of gags in context of the story (to name one). There's such a valuable education here!

Rodrigo said...

Holy shit. I really digged this post. The parallel between the visual and written punctuation is fanscinating.

I've been studying character animation with the help of a Pixar mentor, and unfortunately when we covered "anticipation", she never showed this kind of possibility. This blows my mind.

And also, it worries me. I'm worried about one day working for a studio (be it Pixar, Dreamworks, etc) and then having to make plain/conventional animation. John, why don't you make cartoons anymore?

boootooons ltd. said...

it's simple. no one bothered the greats while making their cartoons. now, EVERYone's seen interviews with old animators and documentaries, and suddenly, they think they're experts. every producer tells the animator not just WHAT to do but HOW as well.

i've been studying animation since i was six. but i read this blog and realize i haven't even scratched the surface.

thanks for this great post john!

- trevor.

Adam said...

I'm starting to understand what sets Clampett apart from other directors.

Clampett cartoons are like good jazz music.

Good jazz music is created when the people playing it are having fun and they have just enough direction to keep everything somewhat together but not so much direction that creativity is stifled.

If Clampett's trumpet player decided to venture out of the scale a little bit, I think Clampett would've gone with it if it sounded good. Jones and Avery would probably have told the trumpet player to stick to the charts.

Clampett just seemed open to new ideas. He had this 'We'll try it and if it works we'll keep it' attitude. Jones and Avery both had really narrow ideas of what made a cartoon entertaining. They settled for formula.

Okay so I said nothing about takes, but the takes got me thinking.

Larry Levine said...

"No wonder these guys (Scribner and Gould) look so happy! They're in Clampett's unit."

Wonder if Rod & Manny were smiling much a few years later when they were sentenced to the Bob McKimson unit.

But--they did have many reasons to smile in Clampett's unit and this posting showcases the brilliance of Clampett & his animators (one of 'em being McKimson doing what he did best).

Peggy said...

Beautiful, beautiful analysis, John. Thank you.

It's posts like this that make me want a BOOK of this, but I know that prying permission out of WB/Disney/etc for all the imagery would be a fucking nightmare.

How did Clampett get this stuff out of all his animators?

I figure he did the same thing I've seen you do - he'd wander in and look over their shoulders for a bit, then push them out of the way, draw something completely insane, and leave it to them to figure out how to make it work!

Anonymous said...

Who knew grammar and punctuation had so much to do with animation. Thanks for pointing that out, John. I love how your posts are always packed with valuable information (mostly about great Golden Age cartoons and even movies) to digest.

BTW, in "The Wacky Wabbit," I saw one of those "motion takes" you were talking about in this post. Bugs had a surprised expression on his face, and he was literally wiggling around.

MetzlerInRuin said...

1st off, the info that you provide for us most have to pay for, so thank you very much. I have learned much, command me lord; Ok enough ass kissing (although I could go on) ;)

Question(s) for you: With the seemingly limitless range of possibilities availiable to display these "takes", do you think that there is a point where they can become over done or redundant? If so what is that point?
As a cartoonist do you think that there is a line that should be drawn to avoid seeming like you are trying too hard to fill space? Curious as to your personal opinion.

pinkboi said...

This is why John K is good - he asks questions. How were all these wild antics communicated to the animators?? You must be willing to learn from others (and learn what not to do, too) even when you think you've mastered the art.

Stephen Worth said...

Thanks for making the point that all of the greatness of the animation in Clampett's later cartoons had precursors in the earlier B&W cartoons. That's a point that sometimes gets overlooked.

See ya

Anonymous said...

i love that damn daffy scat singing cartoon! i stll remember the song from when i was a youngin'.

stiff said...

But you just can't start a sentence with a conjunction!!!

PCUnfunny said...

"How did Clampett get this stuff out of all his animators?"

My theory is Clampett never exactly told them do to that animation. I think he would see Rod, Manny's, or Bob's drawings and tell them to go further and further until they got the craziest result. Clampett brought out their potentials by giving them freedom as well as direction.

Barbara said...

Man, that Sour Puss clip made my day! The take is just a bunch of randomly repeated drawings of different poses, and then he takes off in three different directions! Crazy!!

PCUnfunny said...

"Jones and Avery both had really narrow ideas of what made a cartoon entertaining."

I think that's a pretty unfair startment, especially for Avery. Avery, at Warners, wanted alot of gags but it really didn't see nessecity for extremely funny drawings.

Roberto González said...

Yeah, that's a lot of drawings for Babitt in that sequence. It never seemed so complex to me. I do like when you can see the take, though. Those motion takes are very smooth and great, but I love when you can see a really good drawing without freeze-framing.

Let's not forget the drawing of flat Catstello is fantastic too. Yeah, probably another cartoonist would have used only that, but how many cartoonists would have drawn it in such a funny way? I love the way he wisthles while keeping that shape.

Book Review is awesome too, Daffy is really likeable in that cartoon and he is more or less the hero for once.

I do believe in a more limited range of movements too and I also dig Jones' style in the 50's but there is sure a lot to learn from this older stuff too. When something like the Pixar movies, for example, does try to include some off model animation they do it in a so shy way...they at least do it but their approach is so realistic they seem to think they are going to kill the reality by including those things. And they probably would but there is no reason to be hyper-realistic in the first place. Including one or two expressions similar to those of late Chuck Jones it's the idea of being pretty cartoony now. Something like earlier Jones or Clampett seems as it has never existed.

Rodrigo said...

"it's simple. no one bothered the greats while making their cartoons. now, EVERYone's seen interviews with old animators and documentaries, and suddenly, they think they're experts. every producer tells the animator not just WHAT to do but HOW as well."

That doesn't seem "simple" to me. I also don't buy that everyone's a self proclaimed animation guru just because they watch documentaries. That sounds pretty fucking stupid. I do understand your point that the suits all to often interfere with the creative process, but John used to pump out creative cartoons, so it can be done. The question still stands.

David Germain said...

Hey, John, another great 'takes within an action' scene is in Clampett's Birdy and the Beast. Slow down the part where the cat shoves dog food into the dog's face and then scrambles away. Much like the other examples, every single drawing is amazing.

lilly piri said...

Are the wolf takes from the same episode where the wolf whistles & his whole tongue rolls out of his mouth like a red carpet/one of those party noise makers?

I always remembered that wolf.

boootooons ltd. said...


i think you misunderstood me. i was commenting on what john said about how the methods set in motion by the greats get re-interpreted by people who don't know the original techniques.

i also think it's weird how termite terrace was the perfect example of artists being left alone to be artists; and the proof is in the pudding. so, the weird thing is that there's only been a few occasions since then where the animators and cartoonists were left alone. you'd think it'd happen more often considering the quality of the cartoons of the golden age.

- trevor.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Unbelievable! A great post on a subject near and dear to cartoonists. I wish there was more discussion of things like this on the net.

Roberto González said...

I just went and draw a quickie take on flash...

I should add more drawings to make it smoother.

Larry Levine said...

John, Do you have any images of Clampett's layout drawings?

Seamus said...

Hey, John- This is unrelated, but where can I find the full version of "Boo Boo Runs Wild?"

Seamus said...

Hey John- Where can I download the full version of "Boo Boo Runs Wild"?

Rodrigo said...

my bad trevor. Good points you made.

Matt Hawkins said...

Thanks John for another great post!
I really like your comparison of Clampetts work to music. When folks say Freleng was the "musical" one I always think thats a little like saying a metronome is musical. His may have been timed to notes on a page but these Clampett examples really SING with vim and verve!

Rodrigo said...

Hey, Juan.

This is a tangent from accents, but I thought you might find this interesting. It's an article on composition for "Horton Slaps a Ho", errr, rather "Horton Hears a Who":


Johnny Mastronardi said...

Some great stuff here. Stepping through Two Kitties is amazing.

Something I noticed in the Sourpuss clip, it almost seems some of the last few frames are out of order. Is this to keep the pace of the action and yet prolong it?

Raff said...

There are two big lessons that are reinforced for me here:

- Attention to detail in the right places really does make a difference.

- Use your resources to build up the audience's expectations and then sock 'em when they're vulnerable.

Speaking of lessons, I finally completed the Jinks assingment:


boootooons ltd. said...

did clampett even DO layout poses?

i heard once that he didn't have to give ANY drawings to mckimson because he had a photographic memory and was just so talented to boot.

anyone know anything about this? eddie? john? steve?

- trevor.

amir avni said...

I second Eddie's comment, extraordinary!

Bacall to Arms- The whole cartoon is available here

patchwork said...

I love how Clampett can so brilliantly animate a cat freaking the f*** out.

(That's how they really do it!)

Guilherme said...

Hi John!

cartoon grammar is gold! talk more and more about it!


Norman Bates said...

John, Do you have any images of Clampett's layout drawings?
I doubt it. I've never seen a single Clampett layout. Which is odd because Clampett was a notorious packrat at the studio, saving artwork from even other directors' cartoons. They must have really sucked if Clampett himself didn't keep them.

Laura said...

Hey Mistah Jay.

It's saturday morning here, and by chance I caught a couple seconds of a Billy and Mandy episode, "hog wild." (curious if anyone else has seen this?)
Now, normally this is just shit I have to listen to when I am in the same room as my 6 and 4 year old, so I pay it no heed, as it is usually grating to my nerves. On this morning though, I happened to actually see some of it.
I was suprised to notice a few instances where the animators were actually using held and moving takes quite expressively.
One thing that gets me though, when I see any "out there" modern cartoons, is how much influence seems to have been gleamed directly from your own work.
They never get it right though. It all seems very contrived. Like an attempt to be something it directly contradicts. And it ends up kind of ticking me off.
Now, I won't go and ask what YOUR thoughts are on such cartoons, 'cause if I were you, I would pretty much hate them all.
But I thought I would make note. It feels sometimes like knowledge of the tools doesn't always produce a good cartoon when it's just a drop in a bucket of chum.
Okay, rant over!

JohnK said...

Tom McKimson did most of Clampett's layouts. Layouts weren't used to do all the poses in the 40s by most directors.

Clampett did rough sketches to add to the layouts when he sat down to hand out the scenes to the animators. He sure must have been doing something right to make his cartoons look so uniquely Clampett.

I myself saw Clampett draw and he still drew in the style of the early 1940s cartoons.

Maybe you should post some of your excellent poses.

Mattieshoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.