Friday, January 18, 2008

Tale 2 Kitties - Clampett Film Pacing Structure

I got these model sheets from Kevin Langley's great blog. Thanks Kevin!

Tale Of Two Kitties Is a Practice Cartoon
A Tale Of Two Kitties is a good cartoon to study for directorial techniques and tools of storytelling and control.

It's not as wild and fluid as Clampett's later breakout films. Those are harder to analyze because by then he was so confident in his skills that he shoved them behind his conscious mind and acted on pure instinct, creative inspiration and impulse.

The Stock Looney Tunes Formula
This cartoon is what people today would consider a standard Warner Bros. cartoon plot. It's a chase cartoon, cat and mouse, bird and cat. A lot of people think that's pretty much all Warner Bros. made, but in reality, Clampett made very few of those. His black and white cartoons cover lots of different types of plots and scenarios that are not at all stock 40s chase cartoons. By the 40s, WB cartoons were heading towards formula stories, and Clampett contributed to the stock heckler - chase scenario, and then got bored with it, even though it was hugely successful for the studio.

Everybody made those types of cartoons, and the Warners' animators added the twist of having the character being chased be a heckler. Bugs, Daffy and now Tweety, who is a twist on heckler characters. He's completely helpless physically and doesn't go out of his way to bother the characters who chase him, but can't resist the fun when it offers itself. Cute with a devilish streak.

But none of that is my point.

One of the things that makes Clampett's cartoons feel so different than everyone else's is his sense and control of the film's pacing. His film and pacing structure is the skeleton of the entertainment. The story structure is less important to the experience.

Free Will Or Destiny? - 2 Approaches To Storytelling
A stickler for story structure might want the cats to catch the bird at the end of the cartoon or do something to deserve defeat, I don't know. To Clampett, the attempt, the eagerness and belief of the characters' motivations and the adventure along the way is more important.

This approach values the characters more than an abstract theory of storytelling. A Chuck Jones cartoon feels like the characters are at the mercy of an all powerful controller who pushes them from situation to situation and decides beforehand who is the winner and loser. This is the preordained fate style of direction. No matter how the characters struggle to assert their personalities and motivations, they are doomed to their creator's plans. As if he had a story structure first and then crammed some hapless characters into a prefabricated cage.

Clampett's is the free will approach. He gives the characters personalities and motivations and then uses his skills to take the audience on a tour through an intimate moment in their lives.

The characters aren't puppets controlled by their creator. They act upon their own inner wills and cause whatever mayhem that ensues. The story writes itself out of the characters. The outcome is less predictable, like in reality.

Director Needs both Talent and Tools:
A director is the person who tells the story and creates the experience. He tells you what's important, what to look at and what to feel. This takes a certain type talent and personality, but talent and vision is not enough. He has to learn the skills of storytelling for animation. The animators of the 30s and 40s were a lucky bunch, because they got to do this from the ground floor up. They learned their skills one at a time by practicing them and working with more experienced people. The more cartoons they made, the better they got. The gifted storytellers or directors came out of this logical system and exciting atmosphere of creativity and exploration.

What Tools, Moe?

A good director has many creative tools at his command.





Crew - your most important creative tool

You are only as good as your crew, but on the other hand, a good director can get a lot more out of his crew. He can get them to do things they didn't know they were capable of.

When you first work with new artists, no matter how talented, you have to get used to them, and they to you. You have to find out their strengths and they have to find out your creative limits.

Ever wonder why all-star basketball teams are usually not as successful as established teams that might have only one or 2 stars? It's because they have worked together as a team for awhile under a good coach. They know how to play off each other.

Before Clampett took over Avery's unit, he had a great rhythm going with the younger crew, because they had worked together for years. Now on Tale Of Two Kitties he has inherited the all-star crew and has to figure out how to use them. His first few cartoons have simple stories and you can see Clampett experimenting with techniques and his artists to find out what they will be capable of together.

It's important to keep crews together for a while to see what they can do. In today's shorts programs, it seems they are structured to satisfy the impatience and lack of confidence of executives. They throw together crew after crew, hoping by sheer chance to discover a magical new character and child genius who will pay for the next 10 years of the studio with the accidental discovery of another Sponge Bob.

That way, no one ever gains any experience and the whole system is a crap shoot. It's a system with no control at the top. Toss money at the wind and see if any of it blows back.

Clampett's Pacing Structure

Clampett has the same fundamental storytelling tools that all the directors had. He used them to present crazier, more imaginative ideas than most, but on top of that he excelled in pacing. Pacing is a wider view of timing. It's made up of timing, staging and cutting (and other things). It's how you weave them altogether. He builds them into waves of an accelerating forward momentum.

He uses film structure more than he does story structure. Film and particularly cartoons, have a different goal than words on a page.

Clampett's film pacing seems to have a basic structure.

Lure the audience in with a song or teasing opening.
Establish the characters and their needs.
Explore the needs to get the audience to understand the story and twists and turns to come.
Weave in lots of surprises and twists.
Build up the speed and intensity to a musical climax.
Get out fast and leave the audience gasping.

In Tale Of Two Kitties, he has sub sequences that each use this type of pacing structure. Each sequence is a heightened version of the previous pacing.

Here's a masterful sequence made out of basic Looney Tunes slapstick jokes. The jokes themselves are pretty standard cartoon fare, but the way the scenes build is where the magic happens.
1 Setup Gag with dialogue, acting, simple staging
Here's the setup of the sequence to come. He sets up the characters' feelings and the story with dialogue and physical acting.
The music in the beginning is fill music-no particular melody and the animation is not following it-like post scoring to the action. The acting is typical conservative Bob McKimson. Good, but not trying to draw too much attention to itself-just clearly telling the story.
He also sets up a gag for later. Having Catstello eating an apple serves to add interest to the scene and draw attention to his sadness, but it also prepares you for a later gag.

The staging is very simple, left to right like Hanna Barbera. This is all-purpose cartoon staging, chosen purely on a functional level, for clarity.

2 Catstello Flies upStill simple staging.
Listen to the track. The music starts building to make us start to feel excitement and lead us into the next scene.

3 Tweety Eats Worm"California Here I Come". Clampett likes using actual tunes to time his animation to, rather than animating first and then having the composer force music to fit the action after the fact.
This sounds like an 8 frame beat-fast swinging music...then it slows down just before Tweety grabs the apple to give the grab action a big accent
This is a great way to set up Tweety...with a gag. Tweety doesn't even care that a cat is after him. He just wants a worm.

the action all goes to the music, very light and happy
I like how the scene is not merely a story function. This quick seemingly throwaway gag also serves to give us a glimpse of Tweety's personality.
Look how much this specific expression tells us! He's not just happy. He's evil and he is foreshadowing more mischief to come and inviting us to watch it. Teasing us and keeping us interested.

4 Catstello Realizes he is airborneCartoon animals are always slow to realize they are 1,ooo ft up (as Tiny Tunes loved to inform us).
The reactions are perfectly timed to the structure of the song.

This means that Clampett was working directly with Stalling to plan the timing to the cartoon. It was not post-composed.
These drawings are really solid, yet conservative and symmetric. They do the trick though.

The timing slows a bit to prepare us for the next story point- the falling cat.

05 falling, hit roof, flattenThis is a very strange angle that the cat falls from. It's a trick of perspective.

It looks like we are looking straight up until the roof pans in.

Look at the huge impact!

He completely flattens out before snapping back into a really solid fat little form.

Then he stretches in the opposite direction, a double impact.
slides off slow....

another trick of perspective, as now we are looking down on the barn.
This scene had to planned well with the layout artist, and then with the animator (McKimson) to make it work so well.
You can really feel the tension on this wire.

Everything has slowed down for a bit and it gives us a strange unsettling feeling of foreboding.

6 PiggiesThis scene depends on really solid drawing and great animation timing.
Light happy music as in skips the demon fetus...
I like how uninterested Tweety is as he plays havoc with another creature's tenuous life.
This McKimson animation is incredible. It has such a feeling of reality. You can really feel all the tension in that rope.

The timing and drawing of Tweety prying these heavy tense fingers off the rope makes the gag funny and truly precarious at the same time.
You couldn't get this feeling using today's flat simplistic drawings and formula timing tricks. This is customized to the action and gag.

Even the vibration after the cat falls is incredibly timed and spaced. Extremely expert.

Clampett loved to give his characters specific and human expressions. This expression is particularly pointed to by the contrast of the baby talk happening before it.

7 more fallingCrazy straight ahead flailing...

8 Up Angle toss ropeNow back to musical timing on an 8 frame beat.
I love this angle! Clampett chose his angle shots carefully. He used them to punctuate certain moments in his continuity. Most of the shots so far have been simple, left-right or straight on angles-like Hanna Barbera. That is the easiest kind of staging to use to tell a story clearly.
Some folks think that using clear staging is cheating, precisely because it is too easy. You see lots of Saturday Morning cartoon storyboards calling for a new difficult and awkward angle in every scene so that the execs will think they are getting their money's worth. Really all they are getting is harder work for the animators and a loss of clarity in the continuity.
Angles are good for when only a certain angle will make the story point, or when it adds emphasis to a sequence of shots. Here, Clampett could have used a left right shot of Tweety tossing a rope over the edge of the roof and that would have told the story clearly. Instead he chose to give us some precarious tension. This angle shows us how high up the roof is and makes it seem as if Tweety is throwing us the rope. That makes us feel empathy for the cat who is falling because it puts us in his position.
This made it harder for the animator to draw, but he has the skill to pull it off and it adds weirdness and tension to what's happening to the story. It gives it a dimension of reality, even though what's happening is completely ridiculous.

9 more fallingThe music and frantic animation is picking up the pace of the sequence.

A short reprieve in the tension to prepare us for the next gag.

The music quiets down a bit to create a pause in order to emphasize the next story point

10 Throbbinng AnvilThis scene kills me. The way this anvil is animated is inspired. It's not just an anvil sliding down the roof. The anvil is part of the music. It pulsates to the driving music, but does it in a way to suggest real weight and resistance. It builds up weight to the music and pacing of the scene.

It's only 4 16x beats

11 more climbYou can feel exactly when the anvil slips off the roof (even though it actually hasn't yet)
because his hand over hand climbing speeds up at the end of the scene
First he pulls to the beat of the anvil throbbing on the roof, then double speed

12 Anvil 2
More genius animation of a throbbing and slippery anvil

It slows down at the edge of the roof just before it

...wriggles off...
This could have been animated completely normal or "straight" and would have clearly told the gag, but would not have had the thrilling tension and cartoony reality and urgency that this animation gave it

the animation is combined with the building tension in the brilliant music

This is no accident of elements. It's Clampett coordinating the work of supermen.

Now the pace turns to superspeed for the climax


15 Climax
Clampett anticipates the crash to come by first showing the shadow of the cat, then the cat and then the anvil

Of course just having the anvil hit is not enough for Clampett. He has to top it

after this is the wind down of the sequence, which has it's own weird gags and punctuation itself.
and a completely different pace.


amir avni said...

Wow, This post is incredible. Thanks so much for this in-depth analysis, and for mentioning "California Here I Come"

I feel the same impact you are describing when Stimpy touches the boiling sausage in "Stimpy's Pregnant" and The birthing scene in "Ren Seeks Help"

Larry Levine said...

Nothing to add, John said it all!This is one of my all time favorite cartoons.

brad caslor said...

Hi John,
I love your Clampett posts. Your analysis, as usual, is brilliant. You should write a long-overdue Clampett book. Kitties is one of my favourite cartoons. You're right about the music: nobody used it as creatively, dynamically or humourously as Clampett. Music is an often-poorly-used but very important tool in filmmaking, animation or live-action. Clampett's dynamic high and low angle shots were always used to enhance the drama -- he's the Scorsese of animation. The only other WB director who came close to Clampett's use of all the tools available to cartoon filmmakers was Tashlin, but even he wasn't in Clampett's league. Keep up the great posts.
Your fan,

buh2001j said...

Thanks so much, I am deeply inspired by your analysis, reading this post it's like you can practically feel the future of cartooning improving. This blog helps everyone to learn from and appreciate what came before. I knew cartoons were as viable an art form as any; this post makes it easier to explain why.

David Germain said...

I see Tweety as a representation of both sides of Bob Clampett's brain. He had the demeanor of an innocent child but could also be an overwhelming prankster when he wanted to be. One of the many reasons that this cartoon along with Clampett's other Tweety's are among my absolute favourites.

Larry Levine said...

Wait, I do have something to add--Tweety was such a hilarious little stinker before Friz castrated him into a cutesy bore!

Kali Fontecchio said...

His Tweety is also not only cute but a goldmine! WB lives off of the revenue of the Tweety Empire! In a fashion magazine I saw that there's a whole line of Diamond encrusted Tweety jewelry!

deadmanswill said...

gosh I never saw tweety in this light in other later cartoons! I missed this episode somehow. will watch it immediately.

thanks for the wonderful insight, John. I am learning how to analyze an animation movie as well as how to conceive and produce a really entertaining animation short/film

Anonymous said...

Holy hell! Information overload. This needs to absorb for a bit.

Here's something that's been bugging me for a while: The music isn't composed after the animation, and it's obviously not composed before the animation begins, so how do they do it? How do they know what songs will fit before they start animating? As far as I can figure it, it's:
Is that right? Do they look at the storyboard and try to decide what music would go with the visuals? They're obviously working together (the director and composer)but at what stage?

Anyways, thanks for this John. It's really amazing.

Josh Heisie

Timefishblue said...

Just amazing! This is really useful in learning how a great cartoon works, piece by piece and as a whole. Your knowledge and insight is impressive and inspiring.

If everyone read your blog, the world would be a better, more entertaining place. I can't believe the disgusting crap that retarded self-hating aesthetically challenged people rave about. Awful dorks who are nostalgic for filmation and rub their nethers to tentacle rape hentai. People who think an airbrush makes anything 500% more beautiful.

Thank god things seem like they're headed towards something better, now that animators are blogging up a storm and informing people that they could have real quality cartoons. I can only hope. The flat, pointy, eye-stabbing, ear-scraping cartoons that are everywhere today are getting so incestuous that they're going to have to die out soon.

Mr. Semaj said...

Why would Babbitt plant a victory garden when he's supposed to be helping Costello catch Tweety? :P

Clampett's film pacing seems to have a basic structure.

Lure the audience in with a song or teasing opening.
Establish the characters and their needs.
Explore the needs to get the audience to understand the story and twists and turns to come.
Weave in lots of surprises and twists.
Build up the speed and intensity to a musical climax.
Get out fast and leave the audience gasping.

The same analysis can be applied to Tortoise Wins by a Hare.

A Chuck Jones cartoon feels like the characters are at the mercy of an all powerful controller who pushes them from situation to situation and decides beforehand who is the winner and loser. This is the preordained fate style of direction. No matter how the characters struggle to assert their personalities and motivations, they are doomed to their creator's plans. As if he had a story structure first and then crammed some hapless characters into a prefabricated cage.

I always felt that way about the Tweety & Sylvester shorts, or just any Sylvester short in particular. Even if he didn't deserve the crap he got, Sylvester almost always lost.

Matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mitch Leeuwe said...

Wow thanks! It's so clear in this post when you should use angle's.

This really helps understanding and putting it in words why these cartoons are so superior!

I hope people with money will understand that too...

Bitter Animator said...

I actually really like the 'cutesy bore' version of Tweety. I like cute!

And something about that flesh-coloured Tweety makes my stomach turn. I have a really old dog (like really old) and he's getting bald patches and has these ugly skin-tag growth things. Really disgusting.

Flesh-creature Tweety looks exactly like them. Quite unpleasant.

Adam said...

Interesting comments and nice to see some study of classic cartoon direction.

Any chance of further directional styles?


deadmanswill said...

>>I can only hope. The flat, pointy, eye-stabbing, ear-scraping cartoons that are everywhere today are getting so incestuous that they're going to have to die out soon.<<

I doubt if it will die out so easily. The entire animation industry has changed radically in its core functional structure. Outsourcing has hit the animation industry the worst. And that hit is not just for US but even to outsourced countries like India where I live.

I see around me hundreds of people pouring into training institutes just to learn in-betweening and other stuff so they could earn a livelihood. They have neither the passion nor the understanding of animation. All they look for is sustenance. With the country now desperately seeking IP and Original content, all people can come up is stuff really suited for sitcoms and live action since the studios and writers are simply trying to make the 'big bucks' instead of taking up outsourced content.

It is very difficult to break this working system of pay-per-frame in-betweening. It works cheaper for the studios.

And having grown with cartoons like the looney tunes, I am simply unable to take the new 'content' being shitted out in the television. Everybody's talking in terms of producing so much quantity and are hardly even bothered to learn what constitutes a really wonderful cartoon.

The only way the trend can change is when a couple of passionate producers come forward to pour in money. Or maybe we should see the emergence of cheaper medium where animators can collaborate and work without the need for big bucks.

Matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mitch K said...

This cartoon is like music. Every sequence is a rishing crescendo, creating tention until it reaches its peak, and then comes down and recovers. The tention is increased in every sequence, making the whole cartoon a crescendo, building tention until the final climax, and then a recovery in the end.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

One of your very best and most important posts! Clampett had a lot of innovative techniques going but this is the big one, the core breakthrough! At last its been articulated in print!

Guilherme said...

These cartoons are really beatiful. The organic shapes are just great!

I am having a lot of fun drawing these frames. A solid study!

If you have time, take a look here .

patchwork said...

Thanks for another great breakdown. I get so wrapped up in Clampett's cartoons that I forget to analyze them. I guess that's a compliment...

And thanks Kevin and John for the model sheets, very fun! Are Tweety's feet butts?

erin said...

John, just so you know,
your blog is one of my favourite things to read on the internet. Thanks for writing it.

Karl said...

In the Preston Blair book, Blair writes to draw the character's "skeleton" before drawing the forms of the its construction. However, in your video demonstrations of how you copy characters from still frames of animation, you don't seem to do this step (nor to draw the underlying line of action either.) Should we skip these steps too when we copy frames, or did you just skip them yourself because of your level of experience? Thanks.

selks said...

Wow, what a great analysis. It's the best of everything I love about these Warner Bros. cartoons in one post.

The anvil scene is great. The gags in Clampett cartoons fit better to the situation than any other cartoons.

BobClampettFTW said...

Crap. a good episode of Animaniacs.

Insane analysis, John.

Julián höek said...

awesome post john!
thanks for such a great analysis on clampett's direction and storytelling tools! i've been reading all day long some interviews i found on the net and an article about him by milt gray. what a great guy he seem to be! creative all the time and funny to be with! i was shocked about how much chuck jones seems to hated him, but bob never talked bad about him (at least in the ones i read) in fact in one interview he tells some very funny anecdotes about chuck and him, like when they push Bobo, his assistance, as he named to the window and screamed in falsetto to the girls in the bulding across the street, hide and the guy just stood still there in shame. what a time must been working in those day with such a fun crew. it would be great if you could share some storyes you know directly from him.
thanks again!

Ross Irving said...

Wow! What an in depth analysis. I know what you mean before you do stuff to spell it out John, it's just that I kind of like to read posts like this. You said the music slows down right before Tweety grabs the apple to give that action an accent. It took me eight times to watch that clip until I could just barely hear it. You must have a good eye and excellent hearing! You have given me a refreshed outlook on this cartoon and I've watched it at least five times today. I guess once you get down to the nitty-gritty of it all, you never get bored. After much fishing through my brain, I think THIS was the first Clampett cartoon I saw, I liked his last name when I was little.

Going off topic, I also noticed that you said you weren't a big fan of Tashlin. I've been thinking about why you thought that, since Tashlin's stuff seems to be full of fun and speed and energy...

Anyway, thanks for spending however much time you did on this and for making such a big post, I'm finally learning so much about how to put my drawings together!

JohnK said...

Thanks Ross

I don't dislike Tashlin. I think almost all the WB directors are good. I just think Clampett and Jones really stand out.

Hey Brad,

nice to see you on here. Are you animating anything?

Looney Moon Cartoons said...

"Toss money at the wind and see if any of it blows back." Sounds like the New York Rangers.

Seriously tho, It is interesting to see all those subtle things in cartoons, that most people don't consciously notice but you definitely feel. Great post!

brad caslor said...

Hi John,
I haven't animated for years. I switched to live-action picture editing in the 1990s. It's easier! I'm kidding, but animation got to be a real grind, especially since I was trying to do everything yourself. I don't usually comment on your posts - my comments would be redundant - but I'm often looking in and enjoying them. I was serious when I suggested you should write a Clampett book. It's rare to read articulate analysis like yours, especially when it's informed by your own experience as an animator/director/producer.
Your fan, Brad

PCUnfunny said...

Indeed the main thing that makes the clampett chase toons so much better then the other ones is because of the clash of personalities.There really isn't that clash in the other cartoons.They just present the "A" character chasinge "B" character with gags and that's it. Nothing going on is distinctive of a character's personality really. You can switch Tom and Sylvester or Roadrunner and Tweety and there would be no real difference

PCUnfunny said...

Matthew: Even animated by TMS, the animaniacs still had boring animation. I can't blame them but more like the hacks who created the show in the first place.

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



Anonymous said...

If you could publish every month or two worth of blog posts as a magazine, you'd be a rich man, Mr. K.

Ross Irving said...

I made a mistake. I didn't think you disliked Tashlin, and I agree that Jones' and Clampett's stuff usually stand out a little more. Sorry, John.

Duck Dodgers said...

I've answered to your email (that left me a bit surprised), so I hope you'll answer soon.

"A Tale of Two Kitties" is really one of Clampett's best. The timing is superb an I love the fact that it takes place during one entire day, from day to night.
I'd remember I've watched a copy once when it was clear that Tweety was eating seeds from a box of bird see, while the anvil is falling. Guess this cannot be spotted on the LTGC 5 (still have to get my copy from Amazon).


Nice post of a great cartoon. But where can an aspiring young animator with good taste and talent go to make real animations these days? And I am sure I am not alone on this one.

scartoonist said...

Good fall sequence.

I am a lurker on your blog for years now. Would you do me the honor of visiting mine, where I am posting episodes of a comic I do with another one of your readers?


Anonymous said...

Tale of Two Kitties is my favorite Tweety Bird cartoon thanks to you.

Geneva said...

I know that this is an old post, but WOW! "Supermen" is really the word for it. It just boggles me how masterful this stuff is. I find myself watching that long clip over and over (when I should be studying for a dinosaur test).