Tuesday, February 19, 2008

BG Painting 5 - Hep Cat - Can Funny Cartoons Be Beautiful?

Well that was a rhetorical question.

This is a post for that rough gang of Clampett fans.When Clampett first got a color cartoon unit, he sure didn't take it for granted.
This is a beloved cartoon among the cartoon intelligentsia, and many of them can't quite figure out why. It just feels so good!
It's not Clampett's funniest cartoon, although it is pretty funny. It doesn't have any star characters in it. What makes it stand out, then?
This cartoon is a mood piece. It's an experiment in atmosphere and emotion.
What's really interesting about the color is how muted and greyed down it is. Yet, it's not at all monochromatic.
If you look closely at the greys, you can see very subtle and beautiful soft variations in hue and value. This keeps it from looking dull.

I think Bob told me these backgrounds were painted by Johnny Johnson. Johnny painted in oils on some Avery and Clampett cartoons - which causes a total mess under the camera platen. The cameraman hated Johnny! The oil would never quite dry, so under the hot lights and under the tightly pressed down glass, the paintings would stick to the cels and smear all over the glass. It took forever to shoot these cartoons.

Clampett though, figured the extra effort was well worth it and most of the fans agree!This cartoon (like most of Bob's) is full of experiments, not just in color. This scene cut above is one of the experiments. In the previous scene we see the dog's eyes inside the doghouse. Then it cuts and the dogs just pops into the scene in the air behind the cat. It's crazy, but works great.
You have to still frame this run to believe it. I'll post it later.

This is Avery's dog, Willoughby, but he is much more designy and cartoony in Bob's cartoon. Look how beautiful and goofy this pose is!
I love the design of this Scribner bird too. Clampett is WB's master of cuteness. I know Jones is the one usually considered the cute guy, but his cuteness sometimes gets too cloying for me, sometimes even cynical. It doesn't have the smooth sincerity of Clampett's natural kid like feeling. That's not a criticism of Jones, I think he's one of the greatest cartoonists ever. I just think he gets full credit for some things that maybe others did even better. He has other traits that are more unique to him and that no one else ever matched. He owns Lummoxes, among other things.
I think the best cartoons revel in goofiness and achieve a kind of gorgeous beauty not attainable in any other medium.
Clampett takes the wacky surrealism natural to cartoons and places it in a lush atmosphere.

Cartoons do things you can't do in real life. Well they used to! Strangely, that obvious fact makes a lot of people mad. I've never been able to figure that out. Someone explain it to us cartoonists!
The Hep Cat is like a pop hit song. The gags are mainly stock Looney Tunes, but presented with happy Jazz music.
The sheer beauty and joy of heartfelt goofiness!

Clampett's cartoons have crazy attention to detail. Even the effects are carefully planned and artistically painted. I always wonder where Bob got the energy to could pay so much attention to every aspect of his films. He wasn't merely concerned with the gags or story. He was attentive to everything, from the broadest strokes down to the minutest detail.

Perversion mixed with cuteness - Clampett's trademark.
He loved doing these shadow scenes.

The happiest poses are in Bob's cartoons.
More cartoon impossible stuff just for the pure fun of it.

Here's another of one of his dynamic cuts. Not only is this an arresting angle, after following stock left and right shots, the animation of the brick is beautiful. He cares about a damn brick!
The way this mere prop animates adds a ton of artful "oomph" to the impact that follows.

Later, I'm going to post the animation of the cat shadow boxing. It's pure beauty in motion and only could happen in a cartoon.

Look how cute all this stuff is! Bob loved to combine cute sweetness with sick jokes. What a great recipe for fun!

How different is this from the flat moodless cartoons in vogue today?
I find it hard to believe that pure flatness is so popular amongst animators today. It's so cold and lifeless. It sure doesn't do anything for the general audience.
I can understand some experimenting with graphic looks now and then, but to only do that? Doesn't anyone want their characters to come to life? To exist in worlds full of warmth, mood, atmosphere and a variety of emotions?
You've heard of eye candy? This is heart candy.

Clampett should have made features. He's got the film chops, the endless supply of ideas, the natrual sense of character, and all the heart, mood and sincerity to bring you a wealth of emotional experiences.
Here's the most beautiful goofy dog I have ever seen. (I'm sure this was inspired by Milt Gross, who Clampett loved)

I have to post more stuff from this cartoon and I will, too!


/\/\ikeB said...

Holy shit even that dirt shows
someone put time and effort into it.

Kali Fontecchio said...

What a great post! So many cool frames! These are such happy drawings! I'm in love with the cat on the fence, and then the Milt Gross dog face. So cute! I feel like such a ruffian indulging in the adorableness. Clampett is so charming. I drew him a while ago- but I don't think I quite captured him... I'll post a new one soon.

Tony said...

These frame grabs are great. I love the posing the characters do. Please post more from this cartoon!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Man, what beautiful color! What energy and appeal and...desire to entertain...is embodied in these characters! And you're right, the stupid dog is terrific. it would make a great picture, done large, to hang over a cozy fireplace.

Mitch said...

Wow this cartoon really looks awesome! Nice drawings to study from.

Mad Taylor said...

I do not understand why people expect realness from a cartoon. I figure cartoons should be made to break all forces of reality. My theory is reality is easier to do. Running realness through the creative mill takes more work.

On the live action side compare a Buster Keaton film to a show like Oprah. It is this whole thing where cartoons also have to contribute some sort of logic as opposed to just cleverly entertain. All that does is limit what can be done. Then we get boring stupid reality. School. Work.

David Germain said...

Johnny painted in oils on some Avery and Clampett cartoons - which causes a total mess under the camera platen. The cameraman hated Johnny! The oil would never quite dry, so under the hot lights and under the tightly pressed down glass, the paintings would stick to the cels and smear all over the glass.

I read that Clampett sped up the drying process on those paintings by holding hair dryers over them for several hours. That's what he did for the Wabbit Twouble backgrounds anyway.

Yes, The Hep Cat is indeed awesome. One of Clampett's many masterpieces.

Michael said...

Dear gorgeous Hunk,

make some new cartoons.


Payo said...



Chris said...

Wow, just wow. I've seen this cartoon a few times and always loved it, but I've always just watched in a casual way and had no idea how much attention to detail was in this piece. What really escapes me is how controlled Clampett is with every single aspect of every single frame of his cartoons, it's mind boggling. I've never seen someone put so much effort into masterful details that go by so fast they can only be felt and can never be fully appreciated, unless you happen to be looking at frames one at a time.

What really intrigues me about Clampett is that besides being able to masterfully control every aspect of a cartoon in his head, he was able to get his visions across to his cartoonists and effectively lead and challenge them to create the best works of their careers. Does anyone have any insights on how Clampett ran his studio to get all the best works out of his cartoonists? That topic seems like it'd warrant a few posts at least.

Lynsey said...

I found this cartoon about a week ago, and can't stop watching it! I love the dancing - like you said, such happy, energetic poses! I probably know the words to that song off by heart now.

Mike Caracappa said...

I found this cartoon on You Tube for anyone who wants to check it out.


I LOVE the cat's dance at the beginning of the cartoon. Was that animated by Rod Scribner as well? I've been having so much fun watching these Clampett shorts. It's true, nobody makes cartoons like these anymore! I want to see this kind of animation make a comeback. BADLY.

Charlie J. said...

Thanks! I think I'm going to do some drawings from these stills and post them.

"I can understand some experimenting with graphic looks now and then, but to only do that?"

I bet that's all they can draw. Or they're just drawing the BG's fast on flash.

Pete Emslie said...

Eddie Fitzgerald, what's a nice kid like you doing here? I thought I warned you not to hang around with these young hoodlums! First they get you hooked on Bob Clampett cartoons, then before you know it they'll have you addicted to the harder Jim Tyer stuff. Come back home, Eddie. Besides, I've made you an appointment with the orthodontist - he'll take care of that overbite, have you looking as keen as Victor Mature in no time. There's a good lad...

Andrew said...

Young animators today favor the flat animation style because it's easy. It requires no real talent,and it's easy to train another drone to do it.It's totally risk free animation, and you're right, it is soulless.

Emmett said...

How long did Bob Clampett spend on this cartoon? For someone with such precise attention to detail, he must have had a very luxurious schedule to work with. Maybe that's one of today's problems, is that nobody gets as luxurious a schedule to be able to do stuff like this anymore.

Nick Taxidermy said...

Hey, John. first time commenter, i actually made this blog handle solely so i could post on here. I've been studying things about classic cartoons for a while now, and even though I'm not an animator, my eventual goal is to be a voice actor. back in the day, I feel no shame in telling you that Ren and Stimpy changed my life.

I know you're not keen on most current animation, but I've never seen you mention Venture Brothers on here, and wonder if you've seen it or know much about it. it's a johnny quest parody (that goes kinda way beyond those boundaries) but it's some of the best animation on TV now. awesome colors, wild, iconic-looking characters, and DISTINCTIVE VOICES!! YOW! http://www.adultswim.com/shows/venturebros/index.html worth perusal, man.


Dume3 said...

"I do not understand why people expect realness from a cartoon. I figure cartoons should be made to break all forces of reality. My theory is reality is easier to do. Running realness through the creative mill takes more work."

I don't see many 2D cartoons today that are realistic, or even show any trace of natural observation so realism is not the problem. One must first have an accurate knowledge of nature to be able to charicature it as cartoons like this one do.

JohnK said...

I don't think literally "realness" is what Mad meant.

I think he just reinforcing the idea that cartoons should do things that can't be done in real life. Right Mad?

There may be lots of cartoon characters that aren't drawn realistically, but they still don't really take advantage of the magic of animation.

Whit said...

Victor Mature had one of the longest male units in Hollywood, a fact surely not lost on Bob Clampett, king of multi-level entertainment.

joseanderson said...

Hey! I remembered Weekend Pussy Hunt!
The evil dog making plans and cheating the cat. :)
John, Do you intend to finish that story some day? I never could sleep well again whitout knowing the end :(

Dume3 said...

"I think he just reinforcing the idea that cartoons should do things that can't be done in real life. Right Mad?"

Sure, but I wouldn't say that that the cartoons on television today have a problem with that principal. The characters on Fairly Oddparents and Ben 10 do plenty of unrealistic things, but they're still bad shows.

Perhaps if these animators weren't so concerned with imitating each other's horrible work and instead observed nature and exagerrated that, they would produce something better. During the thirties at Disney, the artists didn't simply copy each other, they studied real motion and form and charicatured that. When Disney did start copying their own stuff, the evolution slowed down.

akira said...

was clampett a stooges fan?

Paul Penna said...

At the time, Victor Mature was widely known and referred to as "The Hunk" in Hollywood star fandom and publicity. That's the tie-in when the Hep Cat croons about being "a hunk o' man" at which point his head turns into Mature's.

Anthony P. Rizzo said...

"Pitch some woo?" "Oh boy a rend ezz voosah?" A hot cartoon lady cat with heels for paws, a character melting down stairs shot, twice! Good stuff! The way that cat walks and tap dances. Hes like a more sassy version of bugs with the combined body stylings of Bugs and Sylvester.

Its interesting how a lot of the characters in these old cartoons and in old movies in general, the actors, had Brooklyn accents. Weren't most if not all cartoons and films shot in Hollywood in those days? Would that mean all the talent came from the east coast? Or maybe they just faked it to sound tough. What to you guys think?


Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

You started a trend back in the 90's, John. Now, ALL the world's best animation is online.

Wait, I shouldn't say 'all'... I have yet to see 'Persepolis'.

Did Clampett do ANY layout character poses, or did he just design model sheets and overlook storyboards?

- trevor.

Rotgut said...

God, it is blatantly obvious that classics like this one are so superior to the cut-n-paste stuff we see now. John, I am not in the animation field, I'm just a lover of classic cartoons and happen to make funny greeting cards for a living. I make it a point to visit your blog nearly every day (this is my first post). Thank you so much for doing this.

I think if I had just one question for professionals such as yourself it would be this. When are we going to see a return to this type of cartoon philosophy in animation? Is it even possible?

Or is the situation too far gone with these souless, CG-rendered characters being churned out by clueless, greedy corporate?

Rodrigo said...

I concurr. Flat cartoons are ugly and hurt my soul.

I heard from a CalArts student that the graphic flat look was all the rage about 10 years ago in their school, and this is why it's so prevelant in television cartoons these days.

Hopefully it's just a phase. . .

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

Look at the back half of that girl kitty's shadow. I'm pitchin' a tent.

I find it hard to believe that pure flatness is so popular amongst animators today. It's so cold and lifeless. It sure doesn't do anything for the general audience.

I'm certainly not attracted to it. The best I can say for it is that it can be entertaining when done by really good artists, but they will probably end up using only a subset of their true skills.

I think there is a belief that TV cartoons are flat, motionless, and stupid looking. That's what they are supposed to be. This idea is so ingrained into the industry's psyche that even a runaway hit like R&S can't really dissuade people from it. Which people specifically, I don't know. Some may be artists or producers, but I suspect kowtowing to stupid execs as the real reason.

The evidence is here.

This jars me in two ways. One, that they could've easily made a better show, and also that they are so willing to help execs sell out their audiences.

I guess I'd rather make a crap show than be a convenience store clerk, but that's all the good I can say about it.

In the end I'd rather do something I can control the way I want to.

PCUnfunny said...

John, it's also important that a cartooning in traning must spend at least a week in a pysch ward. Trust me, you'll get ideas.

JohnK said...

Hi PC.

Yep, I know a few who could use that advice.

Mike said...

absolutely brilliant.eb

C. A. M. Thompson said...

That red bird is great. I wish they'd continued using designs like that, or put a character that looked like that in more cartoons. It's a funny character too since it has nothing to do with the story that I can remember, it just exists to set up jokes and its cuteness provides a funny contrast to all this mayhem.

Did your BG artists study this cartoon for APC? Those did a really good job of reminding me of a 40's cartoon, especially in Ren Seeks Help.

PCUnfunny said...

I meant "cartoonist in training". Sorry about that.

Brian B said...

Yeah, I love this cartoon. It's one of my favorites of Bob Clampett's for whatever reason. Thanks for all the captures.

Guilherme said...

Hi John,
sorry about the off topic question...

What software do you use to convert dvd to mov?

Adam said...

Hot diggity damn! Look at that spot on construction. Especially in the close-ups. The heads are waving every which direction in space and perspective, but the animators kept the features solidly in place. Amazing talent.

I don't have any sound right now watching this, and it is still incredibly funny. I think that is a true test for a cartoon that most all of today's fare fails time and again. If you mute something today you just see lips flapping and you are completely lost. I can't wait to see this with sound included, thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I can really see Clampett's love for swing, and jazz in general just by watching The Hep Cat. Carl Stalling does a neat score in this cartoon (It actually sounds as if Darrell Calker scored it at one point). I also love the posing (especially of the scene where Willoughby looks something Milt Gross would draw. Very cartoony stuff)

Payo said...

By the way John, that Bugs reference at the end of the post made me laugh out loud. And I don't mean with keyboard characters.

Marc Deckter said...

I always liked that gag where the flowers on the dog's head get angry at the flowers on the cat's head.

The flowers taking a life of their own reminds me of Fleischer cartoons - where any and everything can become alive at any given moment.

Johnny Mastronardi said...

Speaking of the unrealism of cartoons, I love the gag later on where he recoils from the dog into a circle with eyes. And "Something new has been added!" Classic.

Adam said...

The cat in this cartoon has serious charisma. I wonder if he's based on a real person.

Who's being caricatured in the mirror when the cat is looking at himself? Is that Dean Martin?

Cartoon Creators said...

Great post John.

So I had a question for you, maybe it could be the subject of a future post, but I was wondering what you think are the best WB shorts that have amazing dancing animation.



A.M.Bush said...

Ha, I like the human sexy lady legs on the girl cat. Also I was like "woa" for the scene where the cat is making out with the puppet because it looks really real. It reminded me of how a guy really moves. I'm not digging the color though.

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

John, is the picture of the cat close-up in the mirror a Clampett key pose?

I only ask because this looks a lot like the pose of Bugs that he draws in 'Bugs Bunny Superstar' next to the mirror on his desk.

- trevor.

Vincent Waller said...

Wow, looking at your blog (which is a daily occurrence) makes me feel like a slacker. Some days I don't have time to read and digest all the valuable information that you've posted here. I can only imagine how much work goes into coordinating them.
Thanks for doing it.

Clinton said...

Hep Cat is an excellent cartoon! I did a whole post on it to practice construction. I'm glad that you did a post about it. If you are taking requests, can you comment on Tex Avery's "Who Killed Who"?

Alexander Thomas said...

I think the problem with people getting mad at cartoons and comedies acting crazy is due to the fact that everyone wants to be a clever as Mystery Science Theater 3000. Everyone wants to be smarter than the filmmakers, everyone wants to impress their friends by pointing out flaws in logic. It's a really unfortunate disease that I wish we could shake because it's ruining animation and film in general.

X180 said...

What gets me about this one is the pose where the cat's doing the splits, right before he gets hit with the brick. Most cartoons would just show him frozen there for like two seconds—he's just holding a pose. But not here. Here, they draw what must be ten or fifteen whole frames of him slowly, gradually sinking down what would only be a couple of inches in real life. A dozen or more completely different drawings with lines almost imperceptibly moving between them. Who would even conceive of doing that today, instead of just throwing down a single key frame and calling it a day?

Jerry Beck said...

I just noticed that the "Dear Gorgeous Hunk" letter was written by Bob himself - that's his handwriting! Never noticed that before.

Adam, the caricature is not Dean Martin, it's Victor Mature who was, in 1942, the latest "Hollywood Hunk".

Chris Bivins said...

I dont think ive even seen this cartoon before. The animation is clearly on another level.


SparkyMK3 said...

Hey John, since you're an expert on Clampett, I wanted to ask you if Clampett really did direct Wabbit Twouble, or if it's just an Avery picture that Clampett did enough finishing on to get credit. It feels so much more conservative than his other work, that i'm seriously unsure if Clampett really did direct it.

Any help will be appreciated.

P.S. Hep Cat is a great short, but it would have been better if they left out the Charles Boyer impersonation (i want to punch something whenever i hear Pepe Le Pew's teeth gratingly-annoying voice--i just despise Charles Boyer impressions for some odd reason).