Sunday, January 11, 2009

Brer Fox Shuffle

Here's a great "character-walk", I think by Milt Kahl. Someone else says Eric Larson. I'll let the experts argue it out. I put "character-walk" in quotes because so many walks today are merely walks - just to get the character across the room. The classic animators knew that walks were a part of the entertainment.
In the early 30s, animators would animate goofy walks just for fun, not even thinking too much about character - and I'm all for that! Anything besides merely walking to get a character from here to there like we do today. By the mid 30s, the Fleischers had started animating according to who the characters were in the Popeye series. The walks were still funny, but fit the characters specifically. In the mid to late 30s, the west coast animators began experimenting with character walks too. At Disney's they were generally less concerned with the humorous aspects of it (or were just less funny people period). Warners managed to do character walks that were funny, stylish and specific all at the same time - the best of all worlds.

Tell the story with movement, not dialogue
This Brer Fox walk from 1946 is not wacky or funny, but it sure is great. Instead of him telling us with words how confident he is that he caught Brer Rabbit; his cocksure, slow shuffling walk with his hat over his eyes tells us visually exactly how he is feeling. I think some Disney animators are more comfortable acting in silence than when they are stuck with dialogue.

http://www.cartoonthrills.org/blog/Dis/46SongOfTheSouth/BFSHUFFLSML.mov


TIMED TO THE BEAT
I tried to number the keys, but my copy is at 29 frames per second, rather than 24 so I had to transfer it back to 24. In all this process the odd frame gets dropped and some get doubled, so I will be off by a frame or so here and there. It should be a 32x per step walk if I figured it right.

But if you watch the clip and whistle along with the music you can get a better idea of how the walk works. It's 4/4 timing at 8x per beat. On the first beat of each bar , Brer Fox kicks his foot out and up. Then he bounces in place, steps back down and then crosses his legs into the next step. Each action on the beat in this pattern:

1KICK, 2 Bounce 3 bounce and step (foot contacts ground), 4 step flat and cross legs into next kick
Repeat with other foot.

It's interesting that the whole scene is to this beat - even Fox's dialogue.

"HOW DO YOU DO" -each word on the beat

"he WISHin HE NEVer BEEN BORN"

They must have played the metronome for the actor so he would speak in 4/4 time at 8x per beat.

1 CONTACT RIGHT FOOT

4 RIGHT FOOT FLAT ON GROUND

12 MIDDLE POSITION. LEGS CROSSING- BODY LEANS FORWARD
15 FOOT STARTS INTO KICK - BODY STARTS LEANING BACK AGAIN
17 KICK LEFT FOOT OUT - RIGHT FOOT SLIDES FORWARD
18 KICK LEFT FOOT UP - CONT. SLIDE RIGHT FOOT FORWARD - LEAN BACK
23 - SQUASH DOWN FROM LAST POSE - SLOW SLIDE
27 - STRETCH UP INTO SETTLE FROM BOUNCE DOWN
30 CONTACT LEFT HEEL
33 LEFT FOOT FLAT ON GROUND
43 FOOT MIDDLE POSITION, CROSSING OTHER LEG - LEAN FORWARD
45 START KICK AND SLIDE
49 KICK UP AND SLIDE - LEAN BACK

53 SQUASH DOWN TAKE WEIGHT

57 SPRING BACK UP SETTLE
61 CONTACT RIGHT HEEL AGAIN

This post got me to thinking about why animation and cartoons began to steer off course in the late 1940s. I'll tell you my theory later.

20 comments:

Geneva said...

This walk specifically is one of my favorite pieces of animation from Disney. Thanks so much for breaking it down-- I never noticed that the rhythm is really what drives every little aspect that makes it work. Why isn't stuff animated to a beat anymore? Is it uncool or something?

Elana Pritchard said...

Brilliant animation!

HemlockMan said...

Tex Avery did some really funny walks, too. Man.

MLP said...

Brer Fox's walk may not be particularly funny, but Brer Bear's lumbering attempts to keep in step with him seem funny to me.

JM Brown said...

It still amazes me the attention to detail that went into this stuff. People took pride in their work. Nowadays it's just cheap entertainment for "kids." Today's "storyboards" (I don't even want to say animators since it's all done overseas) think "Who cares how the character's move, little kids don't pay attention that stuff!"

M. R Darbyshire said...

I was just thinking yesterday about how nobody seems to care about walks anymore. I imagine today's animators doing walks on their cigarette breaks without complaint, because it's so simple.


Man, I need to work on drawing weight. The thing I enjoyed most as a kid was watching how cartoonists made things appear heavy or light, in old cartoons.

Can't wait to read your theory

Lluis Fuzzhound said...

G'day John!
Walkin', Strutting', Jivin' gotta keep those feet movin'!
Before, I couldn't understand a word you ment with posts like this, but after trying to figuer out your post on Flip the Frog and trying to animate his double bounce walk, I understand.
Thanks heaps!!

tobor68 said...

Thanks for analysing this. This is fanastic animation and one of my favorite Disney movies.

I watched for the very first time last year and actually frame-by-framed this walk just to study it.

craigp said...

john,
i'm assuming there are a lot of people like me who know very little about music and things like "4/4 time at 8x per beat" don't make perfect sense. could you help decipher how musically structures relate to visual timing or point to a good source for this?
thank you.

Ted said...

Couple of Jimmy walks (inaccurately timed due to animated GIF limits):

http://tag.rubberslug.com/gallery/inv_info.asp?ItemID=182454

http://tag.rubberslug.com/gallery/inv_info.asp?ItemID=182457

Trevor Thompson said...

I tried to number the keys, but my copy is at 29 frames per second, rather than 24 so I had to transfer it back to 24.

What program did you use?

There's a program out there that my uncle Rick uses at his job ( he works for finishing houses in LA and Philly ) designed specifically to restore 29.9 frame video which has been altered from 24 frame film into true 29.976p for NTSC video.

Basically, it drops the original held frames ( or 'blended' frames ) created in video transfer to match the original film print.

I'll see if I can get it for you.

- trevor.

James said...

This was a very helpful post! I'd love to read anything else you have to say about animating to a beat/ music!

Alex said...

brilliant. I was going to break that down recently, but you did anyway. Amazing walk.


so long as the NTSC version wasn't interlaced (which I dont think it was), it should have been the same frames, just a little faster of a film rate, so really I don't see why you're needing to convert it. But I may be wrong.

Cartoon Crank said...

Hi John,
Eric Larson animated this scene. I had to ask around because it's one of those scenes where I HAD to verify it, not just 'guess'. The cocksure walk may be one of the best pieces of animation done anywhere.

Steven said...

Thanks for breaking it down, John. How I used to love this film!

In my opinion, the funniest character walk in this scene is by Brer Bear. He tries to mimic Brer Fox, but he is off beat and he's miserably late when Brer Fox jumps joyfully to the left.

JohnK said...

"Why isn't stuff animated to a beat anymore? Is it uncool or something?"

Hi Geneva


It's partly because people have forgotten about it and partly because not many animators use exposure sheets anymore.
It's a shame, because music and rhythm takes you halfway there to good animation.

Zoran Taylor said...

I think it's all pretty funny, if not WB funny. It's almost like he's skating. Part of the reason it looks so "cocksure" is because it would be hard to balance like that in real life. My 'confident' walk formula is "I don't fall down doing this" = "I'm in total control" = "Don't fuck with me!"

David Nethery said...

"It's partly because people have forgotten about it and partly because not many animators use exposure sheets anymore.

It's a shame, because music and rhythm takes you halfway there to good animation."


----

John,

Would you discuss more on that topic of using Exposure Sheets ? I've noticed the same thing in working with students . People working in Flash or other "paperless" apps tend to work out their timing in a really haphazard manner. I'm always telling them that they should still work with a regular X-sheet even if they are drawing directly into Flash or TVPaint or whatever using a wacom tablet. Maybe I'm just set in my old fashioned ways, but to my way of thinking I don't see why any animator would give up the level of control and fine-tuning that an X-sheet allows . To me it's an essential part of planning the animation.

I noticed in his recent book on animation that Eric Goldberg made the same point (on pg. 67) about how the X-sheet is going the way of the dodo and that in his opinion "this is a crime to the art. "

Whit said...

We used to complain in the late 1970's how animators had grown unfamiliar with bar sheets, but they still had to use x-sheets. Now even x-sheets are a thing of the past? Jesus. It isn't called 'software' for nothing.

Frederik said...

Hi John, thanks a lot for the detailed breakdown of this walk. I am a student at The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark, and I spend last week studying character walks.
At our school we are still very much encouraged to use the x-sheet and as far as I know the new version of TV-Paint Animation has a build in x-sheet, so hopefully it wont disappear!
On the matter of timing things to a certain beat and having the musical rhythm being an important part in your animation, my personal theory is that far less animators today are with insight in music theory.
That walks are mostly treated as transport movement these days puzzles me as well. It even seems that you can get away with lack of technical precision to some extend if you value character higher than physics.
Thanks again for the breakdown of this walk.