Friday, June 27, 2008

Rocky and Bullwinkle Genius Bumper

How the Hell did they come up with this great bumper? Not only is this frame the best drawing of Bullwinkle, but just about every aspect of the cartoon is inspired.

It's designed and cut expertly, full of stark graphic images-but what do they mean? There's no real story or even continuity.
There's a thunderstorm

Rocky and Bullwinkle run around in the storm
These poses are tiny, yet incredible. Perfect silhouettes and full of clever planned design. You barely catch them because they are not only small, but they are being interspersed with flashes of lightning. So much graphic thought for such little time to absorb it!
Beautiful clear poses!
Why is the ground breaking up?
What does it all mean?

They plummet down a crevice. Crevices are always entertaining. No mystery there.
then their faces appear and rise up through the ground
followed by their bodies - and such great stylish drawings!

Asymmetry-Organic in every way
Clear sillos
Great use of negative spaces around and within he characters
Contrasts in sizes and shapes, direction and in angles versus curves
Details much smaller than he major forms
Everything that toots my whistle

They are reborn and pop out of the dirt with the season's sunflower crop. Makes perfect sense!
How would you plan a cartoon like this? Certainly not with a script. I don't think you could do it with just a storyboard either, because it has no logical continuity , but it all seems to go perfectly to the crazy wonderful music. Did the composer write the music and record it first and then hand it to a director to figure out something to go with it? Did he smoke a joint and sit back and listen to it a bunch of times, till this sequence of images popped into his head? Or did he have malaria?

Is this drawn by Bill Hurtz? I'm dying to know the process that went into making this. Any Ward experts out there?

Anyhow, it has to be just about the best cartoon bumper ever. Every time I saw this as a kid, it put me in the mood to sit down and be ready for a real cartoon show. Then the story cartoons would be kinda disappointing by comparison.


Sven Hoek said...

The crazy imagery, the wonderful music. One of the greatest cartoons of all time. Right up there with Looney Tunes and Ren & Stimpy. It's amazing what can be done with such limited animation.

perspex said...

it's nice that we are able to see a fairly concise shot- by-shot screen capture of that. i never knew it was so intricate.
i'm also glad you threw some Jay Ward on yer page... i mean don't get me wrong, i love that old WB stuff, but yeah! Rocky&Bullwinkle! and let's not forget Commander McBragg- he was always my favorite...reminded me of my mom's relations...pip pip, cheerio, old bean... wouldn't that be awesome if you got the rights to re-do that stuff? holy crap! you're the only one who could do it justice.

Peter Bernard said...

Okay when I reached the line where you ask if he smoked a joint to do this, I spit out my lunch onto the computer monitor like a scene from an old Stooges film. Now my monitor is stained and I'm left hungry. Thanks a LOT!

Rudy Tenebre said...

Ahh, yes, we enter territory where intuition and not merely conscious methodology, irrationality and not intentionality, deliver a sequence of imagery where narrative only disappoints!!!!!!!!

Peggy said...

Damn, I never realized how short that bumper is. Single-stepping through that Quicktime of it, the wild running-around-and-falling part takes place over the span of ten frames.

mrquizzical said...

Brilliant imagery and technique aside, I remember the very visceral, emotional impact this bumper had on me when I watched it as a kid. My favorite cartoon characters, dying and being reborn? That bolt of lightning? Falling to their doom during the raging storm, and springing from the ground with the blooming flowers? Blew my mind then, and still does.

jim said...

This brought a smile to my face because even I, at age like six, used to sit in wonderment of this bumper -- how improbable yet satisfying the sequence was. I'd stop what I was doing to watch this. Then I'd go back to playing while the regular cartoon was on.

smackmonkey said...

Hands down this has been my favorite piece of animation outside of the Warner's classic stuff since I was a kid. Mythic and deeply visceral, it takes the viewer on a complete adventure from calamity to resolution. ONLY a great story artist could have imagined it.

Bill Field said...

John- It's Bill Hurtz' storyboards and Harvey Siegle Williams at Gamma then took it from there, overseeing the production.

John, I own a few pages of Hurtz' George of the Jungle boards from Big Top Flop- and there is a storm sequence that is definitely from the same artist that did the R&B boards- that's how I can say this with certainty. I haven't scanned them, but if there's interest by you and the "In K.rowd"- I'll do it! It'll give me cause to re-ignite my blog- "The Bill Field Trip"

Darius Kazemi said...

That music has stayed with me my entire life since I first heard it at the age of, I don't know, 4 or 5.

Whit said...

It points up that animation doesn't need tons of money to be profound. I'll bet Bill Hurtz might have been involved, and possibly Bill Littlejohn. Does Steve Worth know?

Mitch K said...

WOW! Right from the past! I forgot all about this bumper until now!

I used to watch this show on Nick every night before bedtime. I remember that bumper as clear as day, now.

I never understood this show as a kid. With all of the bumpers, and then with the stories starting in what seemed to be the middle of a bigger story I had not scene, I just couldn't wrap my head around it but.... I just couldn't stop watching the show, either!

I used to try and do Bullwinkle voice impersonations on the playground, but none of the other kids seemed to know who I was talking about.

lastangelman said...

Wait a minute, this was animated in Mexico, right? Not marijuana ... mescaline! Yes, this is definitely across the border sensibilities.

JohnK said...

I doubt that was "animated" in Mexico

there aren't many drawings in it.

It wouldn't worth it to ship the layouts.

It would be cheaper just to do it here. It's obviously drawn by a top American designer.

Bitter Animator said...

It definitely looks great.

But... isn't this - "but what do they mean? There's no real story or even continuity" - a problem? Or not?

I enjoyed it as an animator. Would the non-animating decent normal folk of this world? Does that even matter? Probably not.

Bill Field said...

John, Although what you say makes logical sense, I believe they did that as part of one big lot of the pilot with the laughtrack and redeyed Boris, plus Dudley and Mr. Peabody- because Gamma animated those as well.
Harvey was responsible for the backgrounds in this intro, and all of his work was done in Gamma's Mexico studio. When he couldn't get the level of work he needed from the artists he had hired there, he would do it himself.
It wasn't until around the Hoppity Hooper Show (1964)that Jay opened a small studio in New York, he may have done it with the big money he received when Quaker chose him for the Cap'n Crunch contract, the year before.

Bill Field said...

John, not to slam Jay Ward, but he was a notorious cheapskate, and for years, sent it all to Mexico to be animated. Jay even had them smuggle a VW Bug's worth of cels
INTO Mexico to avoid the higher prices as well as tariffs if getting them "in country" or shipping them to Mexico "properly".

litlgrey said...

If not Bill Hurtz, I would have assumed Pete Burness.

One thing you didn't mention is the jagged but expert detail on the lightning bolts, the way they are clearly defined and JUST this far short of being completely filled in. The lightning bolt looks to have been painted, but at great speed to give it those exciting edges. Whoever animated those had an incredible background in naturalist painting.

In addition, the appealing music for the bumper, most probably by Fred Steiner, is instantly memorable. In fact, you never forget it, even if you haven't heard it in forty years, you can recall it note for note.

The silhouettes of Rocky and Bullwinkle you isolated are absolutely phenomenal.

PCUnfunny said...

You're right John, this wasn't animated in Mexico. I think it was the bumpers that were done in America and the main segments were done in Mexico.

DanO said...

It is SOO superbly done that it still curls my toes when I watch it today.
(Although, the lightening design/wipes/effects are a lot like those in the beginning of Yellow Submarine which preceded it, but I digress)

JohnK said...

Hi Bill

thanks for all the info

If you have any artwork or stories, post them on your blog and I'll link to it!

Your pal,

Guy said...

But... isn't this - "but what do they mean? There's no real story or even continuity" - a problem? Or not?

Of course not.

Mr. Semaj said...

This was sometimes played to a different theme. All the same, some powerful stuff.

BadIdeaSociety said...

When I was younger, I watched Rocky and Bullwinkle every morning on WGN 9 in Chicago right before The Bozo Show. When this eyecatch sequence came up, my memory hadn't completely familiarized itself with the sequence. It always drew my attention, and until Rocky and Bullwinkle popped out of the ground, I didn't remember it was part of the show.

I know many animators like Chuck Jones despised Jay Ward Studios. However, I do not know a studio that made more consistently rewatchable, fun cartoons as Jay Ward's. I can watch the original George of the Jungle, Rocky and Friends, Crusader Rabbit, and the various cereal commercials he animated anytime and in any mood and instantly be cheered up.

But, to defend the Warner studio cartoons, I have probably watched them a good hundred times a piece. If I have seen an episode of a Jay Ward cartoon more than three times each, I would be shocked.

Colter said...

Ahhh yes, I remember this. Good stuff.

C. A. M. Thompson said...

To me this sequence is a lot like a dream that doesn't make sense or have continuity and you drift, float, or teleport from one thing to another. It's really cool seeing it broken down because the thing is incredibly short and the design makes you not question it. It's brilliant and there's nothing else like it.

Jay Sabicer said...

This used to scare me when I was a small child, especially Bullwinkle's foreshortened expression. I'd either had to leave the room or get up and change the channel (pre-remote days). It is essentially a cliffhanger, distilled to it's basic components, including the resolution/happy ending. For years I couldn't tell if Bullwinkle was smiling (with Rocky looking quite bemused). It served several purposes: a)although the episode had ended, the plot was still in play and you had to stay tuned to see how they get out of their current fix
b)it helped transition to the next sequence or commercial break
c)shown twice every show, it took away almost 30 seconds of program time (aside from opening/closing credits and other bumpers)so they didn't have to produce any new animation, a clever and effective cost-cutting measure. Although the show was produced mostly in Mexico, the bumpers (and Fractured Fairy Tales) were made in the US. Calling Mr. Ward a cheapskate is inaccurate, the decision to have the work done in Mexico was by the insistence of the producers/sponsors. Ward wanted it all done in the US, but even limited animation was still cost-prohibitive.

lastangelman said...

I've been searching for an old interview done with Rudy Zamora (his work stretches all the way back to the Fleischers studios), he was Jay's go-between with the Mexican studio, where the bumpers where discussed , I accidentally discovered this old interview with some of the main participants (Bill Scott,June Foray and Walker Edmiston). Here's the link. You will need the Real Player, it's a little less than hour long.

mindwrecker said...

Ha! You pegged that one! It is pretty much universally acknowledged as the best thing that they ever did on the show! Yeesh! I've looked it over frame-by-frame as well and been amazed by some of the drawings in it. To BILL FIELD-- yes, Bill- please put up any data you have about this! It is an important mini-sequence. It's been written about so many places! Hmmm, I see here that there's more info below that I missed from Bill and John. Gosh these are the best things to come out of the Mexican 'studio' if that's indeed where they were done. I'm glad someone mentioned Fred Steiner as well, of I would have. Someday perhaps more info about his work on the show'll come to light. Now I've gotta check out lastangelman's link, doggonit!

Doug said...

amazing - one of my favorites

Jim Rockford said...

I always loved the surreal nature of this bumper since I first saw it as a kid.
It is so imaginative and the music is incredible.
I have to confess to being a little let down by the somewhat dull nature of actual cartoons too after seing such an inspired and exciting bumper.

to bill field-Yes please post your George of the Jungle boards so we can all check 'em out.

trevor said...

Hey John:

All this talk about animating in Mexico got me thinking about American animators working outside the U.S. Like when you went over to Hong Kong during The New Jetsons.

What are your thoughts on Gene Deitch, specifically, his 12 Tom and Jerry cartoons that he did in Prague?

- trevor.

lastangelman said...

Damn, finding that article may be a little beyond the Internet. I've even tried using the Wayback Machine,a very useful powerful tool, if you know how to cajole and manipulate it.

I may have to sneaker a visit to the source of the article (The Dallas Observer library/archives) and pray it's somewhere in their microfiche files. I grant, John, it's an excellent contention, that the job may have been "too small" to piece out to Mexico studio. I just have this nagging feeling from the article I read, Rudy Zamora may have been involved. Whether he was merely the go-between, translating orders from New York, or actually decided to try something himself, got the budget or permission, and had some fun. What I am remembering is reading is that:
1.)the New York office was initially upset by seeing the bumper, but shrugged their shoulders and ran it anyway.
2.)Zamora may or may not been threatened if anything like that happened again he'd be fired.

It does have some surreal Fleischer elements, don't you think? Not rubber hose stuff, of course, but like the stuff the Fleischer Studio did when depicting storms, nature, impossible gags, stuff know-nothing executives would put the kibosh on in a New York minute.

It's a very far out, dramatic surrealist piece of limited animation (the short music score was already composed and recorded), almost akin to a lost "Fantasia" segment, but all compacted in less than a few seconds. Not typical of other R&B bumpers, which were gentle goofy slapstick or the vaudeville routines, akin to original concept idea of Frostbite Falls Review.

Damn shame their cereal commercials were better animated than the television shows.

Bill Field said...

John,Mindwrecker,Jim Rockford-

I'll scan or shoot em and try to have them up post haste.

Last Angelman- I'm not sure that's what capacity Zamora was in- He was more important than "Go-Between"- He may have had more contact with Hurtz and Scott, than he did Ward.

PCUnfunny said...

I like how at the beginning this bumper it make sense, Rocky and Bullwinkle are in danger and then they fall to certain doom. Then after that it's completely retarded, they some how end up in the ground and then they pop up along with a feild of flowers. I would loved to have been in the room were this idea was pitched. How the hell do explain this to someone ? LOL !

Jim Rockford said...

I hope you can get the wayback machine to do its stuff (dont go back too far though, time travel can be risky bussiness,lol!),it sure would be interesting to get to the bottom of this mystery!
If Rudy Zamora was involved it would explain a lot!
That bumpers really wild.

Melton Bing said...

Ward always regretted sending the Rocky and Bullwinkle serials to Mexico. He kept Dudley Do Rite in house, out of sheer grit. The difference between Ward Studios and Gamma was really obvious when you see them side by side, the Dudley cartoons are much, much more expressive and fluid. If you get around to telling us about cartoon introduction sequences, the Dudley Do Rite opener is probably the best one I can personally think of. I still get a thrill when I hear that trumpet alarm and see Dudley's silhoette trotting by backwards... classic stuff.

Jim Meadows said...

I must have seen this bumper thousands of times as a child, and its surreal qualities never bothered me.

As for the music, I think this bumper originally ran with Frank Comstock's music in the "Rocky and his Friends" series that was running in syndication when I was rotting my mind with TV in the 1960s. At the same time, later episodes were running (or rerunning) in ABC in early prime time and after that on Sunday mornings as "The Bullwinkle Show". On the latter series, I saw the same bumper, but with the music that appears in your link.

If my memory holds true, it may be that the animator created the sequence to fit the Frank Comstock music. But the composer (Fred Steiner?) of the later music had to hit the same points with a completely different theme.

patchwork said...

This breakdown helps immensely in constructing Bullwinkle, thanks!

Do you have any tips for drawing Milt Gross characters?

(I noticed awhile ago you mentioned possibly putting together a post on constructing his characters for animation.)

Jim Rockford said...

Speaking of Frank Comstock,
you should check out his Lp "Project from outer space" on the Warners label.
Its really wild and has some very imaginative futuristic arrangements featuring the Theremin.
Its not as wild as Esquivel,but still pretty incredible.
Another really great example of his ability would be the arrangements he did for the 1958 Frankie Laine Lp "Torchin"
later on in the 70's he wound up scoring shows like Laverne & Shirley. a real waste of his talent.

rodineisilveira said...

Johnny K.,

I've seen several times this vignette on Rocky & Bullwinkle and Friends (a.k.a. The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show). And I can prove that Jay Ward made fantastic stuff.

Luminary said...

Does anyone know how I can get the orchestral score for the original theme?

mugwump2006 said...

On one of the early versions of this show, they had a 'bumper' that a a circus theme. There was a tent show with a belly dancer and a sign showing that her name was 'Legs Akimbo'. Does anyone remember this? I've tried to find any reference to it on the net with no luck. I wonder if these bumpers are included in the DVD's?

mugwump2006 said...

This is a bit of a longshot, but does anyone remember a 'Rocky and Bullwinkle' bumper that featured a female circus dance act named (according to the sign on the easel beside her) 'LEGS AKIMBO'? My girlfriend and I have been trying for five years to find any referrence to her, or a DVD compilation with her in it. Thanks to anyone who knows!