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: