Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Tex Avery Takes and a Sense of Design

Everyone knows what a "take" is, right? It's a startled or surprised reaction.
All animators use them. Most use them as simple punctuation, an accent that draws your attention to the a character's surprise or change of emotion. You're not supposed to really notice them.

It's just another punctuation tool, to help the audience follow what is happening in the story.

Tex Avery Turns The Tools Into The Art Itself
Tex Avery, on the other hand thinks the animator's tools are more than mere grammatical devices. He thinks the tools are funny and can be entertaining in of themselves.
He thought takes were so funny that he constructed a few whole cartoons around them.
Northwest Hounded Police is a cartoon with a story that is just an excuse to draw wilder and wilder takes.
It makes you wonder what Heck Allen's role was.

Here's a "double-take", 2 in a row.

I love this one.

I first saw this take as a still black and white image in Joe Adamson's "Tex Avery, King Of Cartoons" book. I had never seen a Tex Avery MGM short before and just staring at pictures like these in the book made me completely rethink what was possible in cartoons. I had seen crazy images like this in Mad magazine - drawn by Basil Wolverton, and in Weirdo model kits and Nutty Mad toys, but never in cartoons. I didn't realize that this was being done at least 10 years before Mad and 20 before Weirdo's.

Shortly after reading the book, I started to see the actual Avery cartoons and they blew my mind. I instantly started drawing crazy drawings of my own. Not as great as this below!
These kinds of takes depend not on story or even animation. They depend on design. The way the take works is to quickly snap to the extreme pose and then basically hold it (usually moving holds). Leave it on screen long enough for the shock to sink in and make you laugh.

It's not the event itself that is funny. It's how funny and well designed the drawing is. You could write, "His eyes bug out and his tongue jiggles", but would that make anyone laugh just to read it?

A lot of other cartoons tried to imitate Tex' innovation, but didn't always get it.
Famous studios was basically made up of Fleischer animators who'd abandoned their own style in favor of imitating Warner Bros. and Avery cartoons, but they never seemed to feel it. It's like someone did actually write, "Olive's eyes stretch out" and the animators just literally did it, without thinking about it having to look funny or pleasant. They drew what was required according to the story, and collected their paychecks.
I wish I had a Casper cartoon on DVD to show you some of the takes they animated. What they missed was the good design. A funny cartoonist needs to have a sense of design and balance. Held takes work best when they have beautiful shapes and composition. They can't just be ugly.

Other animators also did funny Avery style takes, including Clampett and Walter Lantz animators.


Here's an Avery style take from "Man's Best Friend".


Clampett did do a few Avery style takes, but also had a really unique way to do takes that I've never seen anyone else do.

Instead of just relying on a held funny design, he also did "motion takes". I'll explain tomorrow.

BONUS: "Ugly art" that is actually beautiful design

I'm sure this is all inspired by Tex Avery's takes.

Personally, I think all this stuff has a ton more design-sense and skill than any of the so-called "designy" cartoons. Plus, they are fun.


Mr. Semaj said...

Ren's take was preceded by a Jim Tyer take. I actually saw the Avery take in at least one Ren & Stimpy music video.

Weirdo said...

Excellent post. I always that "Who framed Roger Rabbit" didn't use takes like Tex Avery, but like the studios who copied him but lacked his sense of design. Also, Tex's takes were much funnier. I don't know what it was but Tex always did them the best.

Ryan G. said...

Did you use Northwest Hounded Police as inspiration for Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksman?

patchwork said...

Who did those paintings at the very bottom? Anyone know? I can't make out the signature

Larry Levine said...

Outstanding examples of the genius of Frederick Bean 'Tex' Avery. One has to wonder if Tex's cartoons would have evolved in the same direction if he had stayed with Schlesinger.

pinkboi said...

What about Ed Roth's rat fink? That's some good eye-catching ugly!

Roberto González said...

They blew up my mind too, and I love to draw this kind of things too. Unfortunately when I draw my comics I can't always think of story ideas to include takes. Some of them look very underground, especially the wolf's ones you pointed out. I couldn't believe Tex Avery's cartoons in general, they looked so modern. Also the sexy aspects. I used to love the Droopy and Dripple cartoons as a kid, then I found out they were based on Avery's shorts that had all the good elements in those, only they were a gazillion times better. Now I can't hardly watch the Droopy and Dripple thing and I totally hate the MasterDetective+Screwball Squirrel series.

I believe Roger Rabbit had some half decent takes in the shorts they made lately. But I could be wrong, I don't remember them as well as I do with those fantastic Avery ones. I love the one with Spike you posted too, though I never really liked Spike's design that much, the Wolf was way better for this kind of stuff.

Emmett said...

Tex Avery's cartoons are incredible. His takes were among his trademarks.

Mr. K, how do you get these wonderful images you post?

What do you think of Bill Plympton's takes. John R. Dilworth does takes in his animation that are not only funny, but downright perverse. Check him out on his Stretch Films site.

rex said...

That Ren take from Man's Best Friend is maybe my favourite cartoon take ever!

boootooons ltd. said...

"I actually saw the Avery take in at least one Ren & Stimpy music video."

at least one? as in 'one of many'? i'm aware of none.

were there ren and stimpy music videos, john? or was it something an orlando editor put together post-Games Animation in order to create programming?

my favorite take of all time is the one from 'big house blues' when ren realizes he's kissed stimpy and holds his blue tongue.

funny funny.

- trevor.

I.D.R.C. said...

TEX's MGM stuff used to show up on the '60's syndicated TOM & JERRY.
It played Sunday mornings in Chicago. If you were lucky the cartoon in the middle was a Tex.

As kids we loved Tex's massive sense of scale and his way of "growing" a joke. We didn't call it all that, we didn't know who he was, we just tried to emulate it when we drew.

The main idea was start small, end big. That's a structure even a 10-year-old can grasp.

-jjmm- said...

Please, please, don't ever close this blog

Justin said...

one of my favourite Tex cartoons by far. Not only are the takes awesome, but the sound that goes with it makes it 500% funnier. But of course, you know that already.

MetzlerInRuin said...

I think that one of the most amazing things about Tex was the vast variety of ways he would display one single emotion. There was always something keeping it interesting. That is the exact quality that made Ren & Stimpy my fav.

patchwork said...

I have the same reaction as Woody when somebody offers me cake

Clinton said...

Northwest Hounded Police was take after take after take :) I really enjoyed it. Dumb-Hounded was the toned down version of it. I haven't seen takes as wild as Tex Avery until Tiny Toons and Ren and Stimpy in the 90s. Tex Avery's Spike had much better takes, in my opinion. Spike's reactions were almost human, when his tricks would backfire on him.

JohnK said...

>>Christ, good choice to show Famous Studios at its best. <<

Hi Norman

I couldn't find any of the Caspers that had the takes in them.

I have all this stuff on tape, just not on DVDs.

If you have one, gimme a link and I'll put it up.

But I'm not a big Famous fan for sure, although I love the Fleischers.

Anonymous said...

I liked how you put a Tyer-styled take right before an Avery-styled take, and then added some Clampett influence in that Ren clip from "Man's Best Friend."

Tex Avery always seemed to put crazy takes in many of his cartoons (especially at MGM and Lantz).

PCUnfunny said...

I just realized Tex's 100th Birthday is this year ! That makes two of my favorite creators turning 100. The other person being Ian Fleming. As for the topic at hand, Tex had wondaful takes. I also wonder what whould have happened if Tex stayed at Warners. Can you imagine all those crazy takes drawn by Scribner ? That would have been awesome.

Dume3 said...

Speaking of cartoons that rely on takes, what about the Red Hot Riding Hood series? They were completely based on the wolf's outrageous reaction to the girl.

Raff said...

I'm sorry - I'm just sick of big cartoon takes. Am I the only one?

Aren't they supposed to represent an involuntary change of face, the way a character reckons something he's not prepared to deal with?

There are so many things a character can do other than bug the eyes out and gasp in turn-of-the-century vaudeville shock. However numerous the varieties. Carrol O'Connor's delayed takes as Archie Bunker, or those "++" eyes that Ren gets in Space Madness do it more for me.

David Germain said...

According to that Tex Avery biography, Heck Allen stated that his role was "not alot". All he would do is watch Tex Avery pitch the stories and he'd simply laugh and appreciate everything. So yeah, all those MGM toons are pure Tex really. In terms of writing and design, he didn't need much help.

Oh, and about "the take that changed your life", John. I like how everyone else in the theatre has a blank look and a simple design. This way the take really stands out by comparison. That's one of the main reasons he was so great. He made sure every aspect of his cartoons was as perfect as can be. (Of course, the other WB directors were like that too).

mike f. said...

Whoa! I'm at home today dying of bronchitis, but this post actually made me feel human again.

I remember all this "get you Mom and teachers mad" ugly cartoon stuff from the sixties. It was positively life-affirming for kids of our generation. It sure takes me back.

(BTW, it was spelled 'WEIRD - OH's'. And you probably should also mention RAT FINK and Big Daddy Roth's monster decals.
And don't forget UGLY STICKERS - with art by Wally Wood, Wolverton and the great Norm Saunders...)

Chris S. said...

Here's a link to a Tex Documentary I found on youtube - there are some truly hilarious clips in it. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Tex's Droopy cartoons were my favorites, it was so outside the box with things like the wolf running off the film reel, I still cant stop laughing at it. Also the fact that he had a take every half a minute. It was one after another after another.

J Lee said...

Famous had some decent takes in their cartoons from 1942 to about 47, but that was because the reaction timing was varied, which produced the comedy. When the studio settled into bland pacing that was easier to animate on a budget, the reactions became nothing more than poses that had no shock value to make the audience laugh. So the animators knew how to do it, but like their west coast brethren in the 1960s, didn't have the approval/budgets to do it.

Al Eugster in the mid 1950s had a little more success in his Famous cartoons by jerking the characters from the normal Famous Studio "look" to UPA-like designs for reaction poses (get a PD copy of "The Crystal Brawl" and look at how Eugster handled Olive's reaction take there). The change did make the reactions read a lot better, but once Paramount cheapened their animation so that all the characters took on that UPA angular style, they went back to having the regular animation and the poses look too similar to be funny.

litlgrey said...

Justin said something that I feel deserves to be followed up on as a topic for study.

In full swing, Tex Avery's sound editing was as fast-paced, as cutting edge and as razor sharp as his approach to the visual side.

Check out two cartoons in particular for evidence, "Magical Maestro" and "Dixieland Droopy." Both cartoons hang, in their central section, on a series of gags which require an extremely heightened approach to sound editing. If the sound editing had fallen slack in even a single instance, the gags would have fallen flat.

Look at "Magical Maestro" and think about the technique employed to edit the sound that tightly in 1952... no sampling, no hard drives - nothing but audio tape and manual editing with razor blades.

This is beyond simply genius of comedy, but genius of physical execution, clearly micro managed at the frame-by-frame level, and clearly overseen with delicious zeal by Avery himself.

To me it's a crime that "Magical Maestro" wasn't at least nominated for a Sound Editing Oscar.

I still have an unresolved issue with Avery's dastardly racism, but as a comedic genius, damn few could even come near him.

J.E.Daniels said...

Wild Takes are indeed a favorite of mine. Tex really took advantage of the medium!
The classic "aaahhoogahh!" sound fits the takes perfectly, wonder why that is?

A.M.Bush said...

I'm sorry - I'm just sick of big cartoon takes. Am I the only one?

Yea I agree with you. I don't really have anything against takes, but I get pretty bored of people using the same played out takes over and over again. An animator can draw the wackiest take in the world but I won't laugh if I've seen it before. Something original will make me laugh, even if it's of a much more subtle expression.

There's one thing I'll never get tired of though. When a looney tune character walks away dazed and stiff legged after seeing something crazy. I always laugh at that.

A.M.Bush said...

Oh yea, I also really like those paintings on the bottom too.

Mr. Sean said...

Awesome. I was watching that very Droopy cartoon the other night & saw all those wolf takes & said to myself, "Rat Fink is always making a "take" face."

Anonymous said...

Yeah, those are awesome. And George Liquor must be damn scary to make Ren's nerve endings pop out.

lastangelman said...

Larry Levine said...

Outstanding examples of the genius of Frederick Bean 'Tex' Avery. One has to wonder if Tex's cartoons would have evolved in the same direction if he had stayed with Schlesinger.

Look no further All This And Rabbit Stew, one of Bugs Bunny's best takes, directed by Tex Avery. Bugs literally went to pieces and pulled himself back together. My guess, is yes, he was already heading in that direction - Leon's first great loss (why couldn't Freleng stay with MGM?) when Avery went to MGM.

Gabriel said...

I think Famous's stuff was really slick, but too restrained and boring.

And please tell us, who did the bottom paintings? The plane guy is amazing!

Anonymous said...

I love Tex Avery's cartoons, though more so at MGM than Warner Bros. He made one of my favorite Porky cartoons, though: "Porky the Wrestler".

patchwork said...

Ahh, the paintings at the bottom; Bill Campbell's weird-ohs. Cool

boootooons ltd. said...

hey pcunfunny:

did you know that scribner DID animate for tex? yep. but he didn't really perfect his 'lichty' style animation until he became a collaborator with clampett.

you're right. tex staying at warners' woulda been great. but he woulda been great anywhere.

...except disney.

- trevor.

Ross Irving said...

For some reason, I don't like cartoony takes. I've seen stuff like eyes bugging out at least a thousand times, and I especially hate tongue takes.

I only like takes if they have some sort of human trait that is clearly visible.

In a take of course, you can see a basic human emotion clear as day, I just don't like it that exaggerated. Even half of Clampett's takes annoy me.

I like doing more realistic acting. Not like stammering-all-small-stuff Family Guy, but I mean really real.

I'll do takes, but they would mainly be realistic unless the situation called for complete panic.

Making a bolder statement, as far as Ren and Stimpy takes go, my favorite takes are all in "Bighouse Blues". In R&S cartoons, I identified the takes with eyes bugging out and tongue hanging out among other common takes and didn't like them that much. No offense, they were well done, and somebody probably toned down your takes at the time John.

glamaFez said...

Spike's jaw dropping through the table is my favorite cartoon scene.

Second favorite is Ren hitting his head on the moon in "Marooned".

They're totally different...but they're both the work of geniuses.

PCUnfunny said...

boootooons ltd. :

I know Scribner did work for Tex iun his Warner years. I was saying that I loved to have seen his MGM work with Scribner.

PCUnfunny said...

"Porky the Wrestler".

Oh yeah ! Remember when the other wrestler was down for the count ? "One,Two, UH ! UH!, Three, Four, OH ! OH !". I don't know why that makes me laugh so frickin' hard.

litlgrey said...

Sigh... leave it to Winston Sharples to dull the impact of every gag his drearily predictable and never changing music touches.

Larry Levine said...

"Sigh... leave it to Winston Sharples to dull the impact of every gag his drearily predictable and never changing music touches."

Sharples was no Sammy Timberg!

Ted said...

A couple of Famous takes:

litlgrey said...

Can we simply decide once and for all to refer to it as "Infamous Studios" and leave it at that?

Ted's analysis of those two... uhh... turkeys was dead on.

Never tickle a gag with a feather that you can crush with a concrete block - that was their approach.

Patrick Seery said...

Thanks for the great post John! I was just looking through your old posts for some advice on double takes when I came across this one. I have to confess, the video you posted got me chuckling. I think it wasn't so much the double take that got me, it was the reaction of the audience.

you have any advice for me on doing double takes besides what you have? We are doing inanimate objects and giving them a double take than an actual character.

Anthony C. said...

I caught on to this idea the second I started drawing takes...just as important as good keys are to the inbetweens. Good to see it reinforced and confirmed here. :-)

fandumb said...

What I love the most about 'Man's Best Friend' is the characters' facial expressions; George's wry smiles as he bullies poor Ren and Stimpy, and the latter two's faces as they cower in fear of him.