Monday, March 10, 2008

1st Season Rocky and Bullwinkle - Great Design and Style

They had some really good layout artists and designers on the first episodes of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Here are some images from the first and 2nd episode. I don't who the designer/layout artist is, but he is topnotch.

His drawings have all the classic principles -





Every pose he does of Bullwinkle is different in the details. They all follow the general idea of Bullwinkle-the basic shapes, the basic proportions, yet the artist experiments with the specifics in every single pose.

You can describe Bullwinkle's designs in general terms-with adjectives.
He is tall and thin
He has a long neck
short skinny legs
knobby knees
A furry peanut shaped torso
His head is made of two shapes, a small rounded cranium and a larger droopy nose and muzzle.
Goofy eyes

The exact dimensions of all these adjectives is not set in stone. A great designer can play with the proportions, angles and specific details and still make the characters recognizable.

There is no tracing of model sheets.

The artist messes around with the specific details to keep everything organic, alive....and artistic.


The variations on the general theme of Bullwinkle are not totally arbitrary either. The artist makes sure his poses are functional first-they tell the story, they show us the emotion of the character, they act and they are perfectly staged so we can tell what's going on.

These variations from "model" are done with extreme control, guided by instinct and taste.
Today, this seeming freedom can be misinterpreted as having no rules. An amateur artist who considers himself a designer ends up drawing anarchic shapes that don't fit together, what we sometimes call "wonky". It's a misunderstanding of the 50s style of design.


Note that the characters evolve from the first episode to the second. The first episode drawings are fun and creative, but by the 2nd, the artist is comfortable with characters and is in "the zone" He now understands them intimately and is able to be a lot freer with the designs and poses.

Totally clear staging and silhouettes.

I love the way they drew Rocky back then too. He's so much more appealing and streamlined than the lumpy disjointed thing he became.The proportions of many famous cartoon characters tend to get evened out with time. They lose fun, spontaneity and life.Yikes!

The mouth animation is really creative and fun in this early stuff.

These 2 close ups of Bullwinkle have completely different proportions, but does the viewer notice?

His nose is turned down above, and up below. Why not?

I love the odd proportions-the tiny hands compared to the giant head. Great designers use strong contrasts in their shapes and sizes.
The shapes in this image are fantastic. So much thought! Look at the way Rocky's eyes are angled apart at the top.
His skull slopes back and the eyes follow that plane.
The interesting angles in his flying cap.
The organic cube.
The keys that splay outward at bottom.

This artist is very observant and creative at the same time.

How cool was Boris?
I also like the thick itchy lines. I wonder what they inked the cells with? It must have been done by an artist too, because it's done with such flair.


I really like this UPA closed eye theory. It's abstract yet still drawn to wrap around the face.


This stuff is pure cartoon candy.

You know who this artist reminds me of?

George Baker. It's a crunchy angular sort of style that still has underlying great drawing principles. I loved the covers of these comics when I was a kid. Still do!

Super crunchy!
Goddamn I like these drawings.

If you gotta do limited animation, use great drawings I always say. They don't cost that much. Just hire real designers and don't step on them.

I recommend this dvd with a big warning:

It has some great drawings here and there.
The Fractured Fairy Tales are generally good design and well animated.
Some of the bumpers are really clever and beautiful


The people who put this out really did a number on the cartoons.

Different voices! - In some cartoons the voices have been changed!
Rerecorded music
The wrong title sequence-it's not the first season title sequence which was really cool.

I can't understand the logic of messing with classic film and TV. Especially when they market it as "original" - "The complete First Season" which is a flat out lie.

If they know that collectors want the films untouched by executives, why do they waste the money changing everything?


Kali Fontecchio said...

Those were fun to watch- but holy crap when we heard those new voices I got so angry!!! Why would they do such a thing???

I like Bullwinkle lookin' all crazy and different in each shot- keeps you on yer toes haha...

Brian O. said...

"I love the odd proportions-the tiny hands compared to the giant head. Great designers use strong contrasts in their shapes and sizes."

Boy, you must really love Chester Gould then!

Gavin Freitas said...

I never thought you would bring up Rocky & Bullwinkle John. Jay Ward didn't like the first couple of episodes due to his animators in Mexico didn't have the hang of the characters yet but I couldent agree with you more about the first season. The designs were great! Unfortunitly, Classic Media who put this out I heard are a bunch of cheap bastards and I also have nothing good to say about Tiffany Ward either. The over-dubs and title changes were probably her idea. I did like the animation for the movie in 2000 but the movie plot was horrible but that's another topic. Thanks for bringing this topic up....

Kris said...

They changed the voices? :(

I really love how cute Rocky is in those screenshots.

Blammo said...

Al Shean had a quiet hand on this stuff.
Top notch Designer who worked for everybody and yet he remains pretty unknown today.


The Butcher said...

Could you elaborate more on the UPA closed eye theory?

PCUnfunny said...

Kali: New Voices ?

"Jay Ward didn't like the first couple of episodes due to his animators in Mexico didn't have the hang of the characters yet but I couldent agree with you more about the first season."

Wow, this is just like Matt Groening with The Simpsons. He hated the Ullman shorts and the early seasons. Both men never saw the the cartoony fun of the early counterparts of their creations.

PCUnfunny said...

Kali: Never mind, I read the whole article.

David Germain said...

I believe it was during this season that Jay Ward and Bill Scott outsourced the animation to Mexico (the first outsourcing ever done in the industry but sadly not the last). Jay and Bill hated doing that because they felt that the end result had too many mistakes so they were always going back and forth across the border reworking everything. I think the thick itchy lines were most likely done by a poor Mexican artist who had never worked in cartoons before.

I've gotta say, Mr K. this post caught me by surprise. I thought you were unimpressed by Jay Ward's entire output.

Raff said...

Very UPA-influenced.

If you think about it, it's amazing how influential UPA has been considering that their work left so much to be desired. Ironically, that could be part of the reason why they were so influential.

UPA were on to something, and others must have been itching to do it better themselves.

Annie-Mae said...

This is one post I totally agree with you. I love these screen caps you showed here, they're hilarious. Rocky and Bullwinkle is a "dad's" cartoon because I wouldn't know of them if my dad didn't rent them for me to watch them, and I loved it. This is one UPA cartoon where I can watch and look past how cheeply it was made because each phrame has so much character in them, I'm getting a peice of artwork with each scene.
Thanks for sharing, I'm saddened that the VAs were changed at all. I might pick it up to give to my dad for his b-day (if he had a dvd player).

Taber said...

Yes! Those poses are amazing, and so much fun!

Johnny Mastronardi said...

I got this for my Dad for his birthday a few years back. I ended up watching the whole thing long before he ever did. This entire season is much more fun than the later ones where the arcs only lasted a few episodes. How better to keep kids interested than continue where the last episode left off, while having a lot of fun at the same time?

BTW, here's a short cartoon I just finished:
This is what 6 months of reading your blog and the Preston Blair book have produced.

Roberto González said...

Awesome stuff, especially Bullwinkle's drawings and those ones with the bears and the executives. I've never watched those early episodes. Makes me wonder if they'd ever release the Rocky and Bullwinkle series in dvd here in Spain. I guess they won't, so I'd probably have to order them via internet. Those are probably a great series to collect in dvd, I never really watched a whole bunch of subsequent episodes, but the stories were quite interesting to follow with all those clever dialogues and amusing cliffhangers.

Completely off-topic, I've been watching some more previous clips of that Horton Hears a Who flick and it looks kinda fun and cartoony for something made today in CGI. The voice of Jim Carrey for Horton is totally generic, though, I'd like him to have a voice like the one he has in Clampett's Horton Hatches The Egg,since they are making him more "wacky" and less naive in this film , compared to Jones' cartoon, that dumb voice would have been pretty cool. Anyway, I'd like you to read some comment about the film here when it finally airs.

Bitter Animator said...

What's interesting is that Jay Ward didn't seem to like them (It's not like I actually knew that, I'm just getting that from the comments).

One of the difficulties I guess when you allow or even encourage your animators to go off-model or keep things loose is that you risk getting drawings that you don't like or don't work with the character. And, even on a high-budget production (which most weren't and certainly aren't now), you have to call a halt to it at some point and go with what you have.

And, as seen in this post, what can be a really interesting drawing may not always be the actual drawing the director was going for.

How do you allow animators to wander while keeping things on-budget and on time?

Robert said...

I used to work with Bill "Tex" Henson who was a supervising animator in Mexico for these shows.

His opinion was that Ward was trying to sabotage their work (so he could bring it back to the US)by not giving them enough money to do the job right. He said they were using mexican house paint on the cels because they didn't have enough money to buy proper cel paint.

That's what he told us.

Mella said...

Good analisys!
Marco M.

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

Did June Foray re-do Rocky's voice, or did they get someone new completely?

Yeah, I don't like the later Rocky and Bullwinkle seasons. And how about that God awful movie with DeNiro? Eeeessh.

- trevor.

Anonymous said...

These cartoons are the reason I got into animation. The drawings are funny and the artists obviously had fun designing them. I just got the real George of the Jungle DVD - where there is way better animation ala Natwick and Scribner.

I worked with Tex Henson too - but found nobody out here in Hollywood to confirm he supervised Rocky and Bullwinkle, nor is he mentioned in any of the books.

Chickens and Beandip said...

Yeah I'm sorry but a kindergartner could have made those pics. I somehow get the feeling that you are taking us for a ride in the world of sarcasm, but there seems to be too much effort in it to beleive that is is in fact sarcasm. I was willing to go along with the analysis of genius to the slightly more refined 60's limited. The Yogi Bear stuff, dispite my not liking the cartoon, had nice Backgrounds. But this cartoon is just plain bad. I'm sorry but it's true. If this was an indy thing, I could put aside the horrible work and focus on the overall accomplishment. But this is just bad talent with poor budget. Not genius. The only way it succeeds it by being mildly entertaining story (I honestly hated the show growing up). But as far as animation is concerned it's awful.

Whit said...

Keith Scott's "The Mouse That Roared" book backs up the Mexican house paint used on cels anecdote. And Gerard Baldwin proudly will tell you it was he who personally drove the preproduction stuff down to Mexico to be cheaply produced. Disney loathes the cheap production values of Jay Ward's oeuvre.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! You single-handedly put this series back on the map! Beautiful pictures!

Frank Panucci said...

It's weird. I agree with you now about the merits of the early R&B and etc. But when I was tot, I was upset by the "sloppy" ones, preferring the more on-model later shows. Same with Bugs Bunny - the early episodes with squirrel-headed Bugs and "Woody" voice made me very uncomfortable. I would obsess and worry about it until a "normal" Bugs came on, and then I'd breathe easier. It was as if the foundations of reality were shattering, when the last Bugs of the day was one of the alternate-Earth demon Bugs. I anxiously waited until the next day's Mr. Cartoon to see Earth-1 Bugs again. I wondered if my parents and siblings would change like Bugs did. Now all the Bugs-versions seem great in their own way, but back then I wanted there to be one Bugs only.

Maybe it says something about playing to the audience, if the (ostensible) audience is kids. Is it possible that small children would rather see consistent blandness than superior, freewheeling character drawings that look different from cartoon to cartoon?

JohnK said...

depends on the kid

most kids love crazy fun stuff

none of them have model sheets to refer to

joe horne said...

show the moon men on the subway amigo.....great scene...joe

PCUnfunny said...

The thing I love about the early Bullwinkle design his how he looks alot more retarted. In general, the main characters' designs empasized their personalities alot better. Rocky looked cuter, Boris looked a bit more vicious, etc.

david gemmill said...

while there are some good drawings in there, some of them are hideous and not in a good way. It seems like you are over-exaggerating the importance of these so called "awesome" drawings. Some of the posing is there but it looks like someone smeared shit all over them and ruined them. yet you find some way to argue that it was a design choice when in reality its more some amateur mistake.

and as pointed out by others, it appears as if the drawings they had to work with were solid, but then the cheap labor working on it butchered them.

Robert said...

@Bob Harper... you worked with Tex Henson and DIDN'T hear about his Mexican adventures on Rocky and Bullwinkle? Unimagineable! You must have had earplugs in. And been in a different building.

He had a zillion stories and you didn't have to ask him twice to start unreeling 'em.

Here's the AWN obit on Tex (with mention of Rocky and Bullwinkle)

And his (woefully incomplete) IMDb profile:

Chickens and Beandip said...

I gotta agree with frank. I as well hated the early "squirrel" bugs. The early daffy , elmer, etc. I Hated the really early simpsons, southpark and king of the hill. Even Ren And Stimpy. I couldn't stand Big house blues. Shows usually don't find their groove till the second season or so. And that is from an abstract entertainment perspective. Looking at animation, the first seasons are usually ragged spastic and unappealing.

Marc Deckter said...

Great post! Thanks for all the fun screengrabs - I'm going to have to revisit these cartoons.

This also might be the first time I've ever seen you praise itchy lines.

JohnK said...

Normally I don't like itchy lines, Marc but these are done with style.

Kinda like editorial cartoons.

The Mexican animation story is interesting. I can't figure out what they did that so upset Jay Ward. There is no animation in these cartoons.It's almost all layout poses.

And Jay Ward wasn't even an artist. Maybe he hated the sloppy painting and camera mistakes and just referred to it all as "animation".

The Fractured Fairy tales look like they were animated here, because they actually have some slick animation in them.

If I remember correctly, the episodes later in the first series get more bland.

I'll have to keep watching to be sure of that.

The original titles (which aren't on the DVD) are beautifully designed. I think someone told me it was done by Bill Hurtz.

Anonymous said...

Robert - Oh I heard his stories of his so called adventures at Gamma, as well as his supposedly creating Chip and Dale for Disney at naseum - didn't have earplugs, just a desire to have such claims corraborated by the folks that worked there, which they weren't.

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

Yeah I'm sorry but a kindergartner could have made those pics.

It seems like you are over-exaggerating the importance of these so called "awesome" drawings.

Yet they have more fun per square inch than the next 10 things you will see in current production.

Anonymous said...

I may not so crazy about Jay Ward (I'm not against limited animation.), but the thick and thin inking is great (I agree with David on those 'itchy' lines. Those appear to be more like mistakes, rather than for an artistic purpose.). Good design sense in many of the framegrabs. I never knew that most of these were outsourced. So sad...

Mitch L said...

Never heard about it, I think it never aired in Europe.

I really like the "simple" design. I love Bullwinkle. Im doing some studies of his construction.

Brian said...

Wow! This is my favorite so far! I've been completely obsessed with Jay Ward productions lately. I don't care if others hate these cartoons. I LOVE 'em!

I'm saving the entire post. The pics are gems, imo. :)

Thanks John! Much appreciated!

Car2oon said...

I dunno, these cartoons always struck me as lazy. At least as far as the animation goes. It was such a huge turn off as a kid to see choppy animation like this.

And while some of these screens display some fun design, some of them look like a rush job. Which maybe contributed to their charm. Who knows. With some more love put into these shots, it would have made for an excellent storybook.

Stephen Worth said...

The funny thing about Jay Ward cartoons is that they seemed to have both good animation and good design, but rarely both at the same time. These frame grabs are great. I particularly like the Rocky take as Natasha runs out the door. His little squirrel toes are pointing to her exit!

The best Jay Ward stuff of all is the bumpers and title animation. The opening to Peabody's Improbable History and the cornfield bumper (both by Bill Hurtz I believe) are among the greatest pieces of animation done in the TV era. I'd like to see a whole show that looks like that.

See ya

Whit said...

Ever see the two self-financed, unsold Jay Ward pilots done after "George of the Jungle?" They were animated by Benny Washam and produced entirely in America. One featured a hero whose voice was a Gary Cooper sound-alike and the other starred a really big dog. Though written by Bill Scott himself, these unsold pilots are mysteriously not funny at all. The animation and design are some of the best the Ward studio ever did. This raises the question: was the low rent cheapo production value of the early Ward stuff essential to its being funny? Gerard Baldwin would say yes, and at his age he's really smearing shit now.

Bob said...

o wow john these frames are great. I used to watch this show back when I was a kid late at night or sometimes when i was sick they would appear at random times on cartoon network. I love this show because it has an over the top ridiculous humor that was matched by the goofy drawings and the animation was sudden and fast, which added to the funny appeal. I feel so many shows try to copy the type of humor in this show like family guy and south park by having funny voices and quick animation in their show, but this show had originality to it and part of it came from the art design but the rest I feel came from ward's love for cartoons. Perhaps the originality can deal with the cartoon "magic" that you subtlely speak about in your blogs. (sorry if that came across cheesey.)

Bill Field said...

Harvey Siegle-Williams, was responsible for that early work, he lives a block from my Mom here in San Antonio-I try to go see him every month or so, he ran Gamma, and directed most of the Total Television Shows- which Jay hated because everyone thought they were Jay's shows, and that had a lot to do with the self-sabotage.
The funny thing was- they were forced to smuggle things INTO Mexico(how often does THAT happen?)
They had to smuggle a VW Van full of blank cels every few months, INTO Mexico! Because they couldn't get what they needed there- and they weren't allowed to pay a tax or toll to bring them into the country! I'd be happy to introduce you to Harvey, anytime-John, he's my animation sensei/mentor, and a hell of an cartoon improviser!

Rotgut said...


John, you and I have very similar tastes in animation! I was wondering when you'd get around to the Jay Ward stuff!

Yeah, there are certain things you can't bottle or write a prescription for, and here's another example. R&B has a real specific charm to it.

Sometimes I think maybe I'm being fond of cartoons like these for nostalgic reasons only but regardless, as an artist/designer, I do gravitate toward certain kinds of illustration styles.

I visit the blog religiously. I work for a big greeting card company and recently did a write-up on you for our creative dept. newsletter. I respect your opinions and more than that, I admire your ability to analyze.

We speak the same language when it comes to the appeal of cartoons and animation. Thank you for giving me inspiration each and every day.

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir, I don't remember Natasha ever being pink, and I watched a lot of Rocky And Bullwinkle. Is that really an image from the show?

It wouldn't surprise me if it was, as I didn't exactly have the most color accurate TV.

Rotgut said...

Oh and also... John, you've given props to Roger Ramjet and Rocky & Bullwinkle - - so can Underdog be far behind? Some of that stuff is so great! And the bumper cartoons they had - Tennesee Tuxedo, Klondike Kat, King Leonardo, Go Go Gophers and others - those were awesome too!

My understanding is that a company called Total Television produced the Underdog Show and the animation was done at "Gamma Studios" in Mexico! Is that the same studio that did R&B? Over the years, I always associated the Jay Ward stuff with the Underdog stuff - they seem to have a very similar vibe... Gamma Studios?

PCUnfunny said...

"The best Jay Ward stuff of all is the bumpers and title animation."

Ya know, I noticed that too. The actual episodes never looked as good as the bumpers or intros.

Whit said...

"The best Jay Ward stuff of all is the bumpers and title animation."

That's because those elements were animated in Hollywood by skilled pros. Ward couldn't afford to make the whole R&B show in the U.S.A.

Bill Field said...

Hoppity Hooper and George of the Jungle were the two shows that Harvey Siegle Williams did not direct at Gamma for Jay Ward.
I don't know of any show he DIDN'T direct for Total Television... I think he did 'em all, even the last two-The Beagles and Go-Go Gophers. I need to go interview him on camera and upload it for all to see- Harvey is really an unsung hero of the early days of Saturday Morning Television!

mindwrecker said...

Nice to see this big discussion about early Rocky and Bullwinkle. I also thought that you weren't that interested in these shows, very glad you brought this up. Those "off-model" early shows are a treat, indeed. Actually, the second-season box is very good, too (although nothing compares with the early ones where they were still flailing around), and I never could bring myself to buy a third one. Good lord, I didn't know that there was vocal tampering! That is really, really a shame, considering the fantastic acting talent on these shows. I wonder if it was the old tired excuse (Zappa used to do this, too on his reissues) of "poor quality on the masters, so we have to re-record, because people will be confused by crummy sound". Technicians always freak when they hear old recordings on digital boards, and want to over-clean stuff; and indeed, the originals shows were notorious for low-grade sound recordings and mixes. Real quick, let me mention the VERY informative and interesting book about Jay Ward productions called "The Moose That Roared", which gets into a lot of neat nitpicky art and animation technical stuff about this series and ALL of the related Ward esoterica, one of my favorite cartoon history books. Highly recommended.

caduceus said...

I think they may muck with the cartoons so they can have a copyright on it. If the copyright on something expires but you make your own version (different colors, altered voices and what not) I think you would own the copyright on the new version and could take action against someone who copied it. Anyway, that is my guess.

John A said...

I haven't heard or seen these remastered shows, but I do remember that the first few episodes of Rocky & Friends had a laugh track(a really bad one at that) and the voices sounded as if all the actors were together in one room reading the script live, like a radio play. Even Bill Conrad's narration was slightly more subdued, like he was reading for a radio mystery. If these are the episodes that were rerecorded, I can understand why someone made the decision to change them, although I don't agree with it myself. History is history.

mindwrecker said...

Good point, Caduceus, however I'd always thought that these copyrights were current and jealously guarded. That could very well be one of the insane reasons for ruining one's chance to get a real unadulterated copy of such things.
The "special features" on this discs could also be a lot beefier, considering there's some neat rare ephemera out there relating to these shows that they didn't put in.
It looks like the consensus among the comments is that people like the in-house-supervised/animated stuff the best from this series, which figures. In other words, the fairy tales, the bumpers, the intros. The staff on the show were indeed very unhappy with all of the farmed-out work. Sounds like a song I've heard about Ren & Stimpy, too.

John A said...

Thanks for mentioning Sad Sack, I used to read that comic alot as a kid. The stories were fun (therewas one I kind of remember- one about the 'Mud Monster' that emerged from the swamp after the mess cook dumped one of his toxic meals in it)I'm sorry Harveytoons never tried to animate Sad Sack there was a lot of material there. From what I remember, the panel work was not that great, and I used to wish the artwork on the inside was as wild as the artwork on the cover.

dandeco said...

The music heard on the title card bumpers on that first season DVD set was music made for the third season. Yet the third season DVD set, while it has the correct music for the bumpers, it uses the first season opening sequence! How ironic is that?

And the only voice I know that sounded re-recorded was the narrator. Then again, June Foray is still alive and kicking, so she could've rerecorded some lines for Rocky and Natasha and I might not have noticed.

A note on those new title cards: I happen to know that in the old opening sequence with the flagpole, I saw a copy of that intro on Youtube that briefly showed Rocky flying toward the flag, but cutting to a still flag shot with it reading "THE ADVENTURES OF BULLWINKLE AND ROCKY." I think this was done back in the 1960s or 1970s. That might explain why they updated the intros a THIRD time so they read "ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE AND FRIENDS" with it cheaply grafted onto the flag.

Rotgut said...

"And the only voice I know that sounded re-recorded was the narrator."

WAIT - you mean to tell me they ditched William Conrad's narraration?!! WHA - ?! His voice was one of the best characteristics of the show!!

OMG I cannot believe they did that. Please tell me this is not so.

Jim Rockford said...

WoW!,You're right,the early scenes look incredible,wish they would have kept this style for its entire run.
I especially like the Bullwinkle drawings,the odd shapes and crazy eyes.

Too bad they ruined the dvd release.
Why did they re-voice some of these cartoons? I dont understand the logic behind that.

Jim Rockford said...

Roberto González said... "Completely off-topic, I've been watching some more previous clips of that Horton Hears a Who flick and it looks kinda fun and cartoony for something made today in CGI. The voice of Jim Carrey for Horton is totally generic, though, I'd like him to have a voice like the one he has in Clampett's Horton Hatches The Egg,since they are making him more "wacky" and less naive in this film , compared to Jones' cartoon, that dumb voice would have been pretty cool. Anyway, I'd like you to read some comment about the film here when it finally airs"

I agree,"Horton" looks much cartoonier than the previous CGI crap put out so far,But the voice work is lousy.
Jim Carrey is just doing Jim Carrey,the same for the rest of the vocal "talent" I fail to see the wisdom behind the casting...
and since when do Dr.Suess characters use phrases like "i've got your back" or "dude"?
I sure wish they'd go back to the practice of using real voice artists like they did in the past (what few there are remaining).
Jim Carreys personality doesnt fit into Dr.Suess's world.
In my opinion it completely detracts from the rest of the film as a whole.