Thursday, February 19, 2009

Solid Ivory - Axe Sequence

Here's a sequence from one of my favorite Lantz cartoons: Solid Ivory.
It shows a perfect combination of good direction and animation happening at the same time. You don't always find these two skills in the same film. When they are working together its cartoon magic.
The director (Dick Lundy) did the overall timing and cutting. It looks like it's mostly on a 10x beat - a "march beat". Same beat I used for the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" song. 10x beats evoke a feeling of nervous energy. Don't ask me why.
Within that beat, it has a good variety of contrasts in the timing. Some things happen fast, and other things are slower or more evenly timed. It all adds up to visual melody.
The animation is very cartoony and elastic. It's full of principles but they are all subservient to the gags. You're not thinking to yourself "My, what wonderful squash and stretch", or "How beautiful is that overlapping action?" as you might in "Lady and The Tramp" or "Cats Don't Dance" where you can admire the motion on a technical level, but it all seems just too conscious of following all the animation rules and tricks for their own sake.
These Lantz cartoons are aimed mainly at kids (or grown up cartoon freaks like me). They aren't as funny, witty or layered as WB cartoons were, but that's fine. It gives the kids and purists what they want - crazy but controlled action and gags, slapstick, violence and loads of life. LIFE! - which seems to be missing from cartoons today. Modern cartoons don't seem to be "alive" anymore no matter how much money is spent on them. They look "manufactured" instead. Like committees of zombies get together and read all the rules to each other then put the cartoon together with tape one rule at a time.
Woody doesn't have a boatload of personality, but he has a huge reservoir of motivation and energy - like most kids - before the world of serious dull adults wears it out of them.
This is pure fun for fun sake - made with love, instinct and lots of superhuman skill.

Even the camera moves had life in the old cartoons! They are organic (as if the viewer is actually following the action with his human head and eyeballs) - unlike today's inhuman mathematical camera moves calculated on dead uncaring computers. Look at the great camera shakes in the scenes where Woody slams into the wooden shack.

I'm going to put up shorter clips from this to illustrate some of the principles and concepts I've talked about in previous posts.

Wanna know the best way to learn animation? Study frame by frame the animation in classic 30s and 40s cartoons. Like these Woody Woodpeckers:

Or any of the cartoons I organized for you here:





Gerry Stankiewicz said...

Here two more constructions studies
If you get a chance, can you look at them for me John?


Niki said...

1) They didn't use tape! they used Elmer's glue

2) How can we study an animation frame by frame? Cause I can't do that with media player as far as I know.

JohnK said...

Put the dvd in your computer and use the player.

Or study the clips on my blog that are in quicktime.

patrick said...

I love this film too.

Good point about the camera movements. A lot of people don't think about that.

Kaydesi said...

If you have a Windows computer, you can use Windows Movie Maker to set a video up frame by frame.

There are much better pieces of software for this, but Windows Movie Maker is right on your computer now, free of charge.

Just digitize the cartoons and throw the video file into the program.

Great tip, John, I have been watching old Woody Woodpecker stuff all night comparing it to the stiff Yogi Bear stuff.

So much emotion using the body, i cant understand why studios had that stopped...

Elekid 64 said...

Taking shots at Disney and Mark Dindal (CDD) again? What if they think they DO know about these principles of life in 'tooning? Is it possible that kiddos today don't even CARE about chaos and slapstick?
I don't mean to be a stickler, but all I see kids enjoying these days are live-action Disney sitcoms. Disgusting.
By the way, I HAVE seen this cartoon since reading the post. Woody looks great in this era of volume and construction. It also validated that cartoons from this era to not come from Warners or Disney (crazy, I know) did not bother to invest the audience in much story telling. It's mostly a series of gags based on the premise.

JohnK said...

Well actually, I admire a lot of CDD. It's obviously made by animators who like to animate - and are really good at it.

At the time, there wasn't anything like it. They might have overdone the animation because they were so starved to be let loose, and I don't blame them.

It's like when me and a pile of cartoonists made Mighty Mouse for Ralph Bakshi, we just kinda went crazy doing wacky cartoony stuff and didn't have time to stop to check whether everything was working together.

Talented people need practice before they get to the point where they can make films that are not only technically good, but also have humanity and natural individualistic storytelling and characterizations.

The unfortunate truth about the business today, is the corporations who have a lock on the distribution won't let you in to experiment a bit and benefit from what you learn along the way.

Gabriele_Gabba said...

Thanks for answering Niki, i also wanted to know, but now it seems like that should have been obvious to me.

Great post and wow Woody hardly touches the ground at all in this! Such madness!

Have a look at how the axe is imbedded in the tree, it looks like the tree is made of soft pillow! This seems to be common in a lot of cartoons but it always somehow bugged me, especially when people overuse it for everything in a scene.

When woody is dazed i notice he's not like that for long at all! I suppose that's to keep the pace up, show the audience and then have a reaction.

This has very basic emotions too, i reckon you nailed it when you said it was for kids and us cartoon trolls!

bob said...

you should try teaching these lessons to the overseas animation studios that took all our jobs. id love to get a chance to apply this great info into a show, but the industry will never be the same. unless we start working for what the overseas people are getting paid, i would do it.

Trevor Thompson said...

I wonder if the only audience for pure entertainment exists almost solely on blogs like this.

Like Elekid64 pointed out, kids are spoon-fed these sitcoms about skinny pre-teens dressing like whores on the Disney channel. I put Ren and Stimpy on a few weeks ago for my roommate's ten year old daughter ( who is ripe with Hanna Montana and Jonas Brothers crap ) and she didn't laugh, couldn't follow it and said the extreme drawings were scary.

Every time something cartoony happened ( like Ren growing a trunk ) she said, "That's impossible". I really think there's a conscious effort to lower the standards in entertainment ( and everything else, but that's a completely different rant ) so that people won't know how to react to something that's genuinely entertaining as well as thought provoking and a monument to fun.

If people start actually demanding crap, that makes life super easy for an exec who doesn't know the difference. The best thing about crap is it's easy to churn out, and you don't have to worry about any artists getting snotty with you.

John once pointed out that each generation is dumber than the previous... maybe that's not an accident.

- trevor.

Rick Roberts said...

Even when they watch the Hanna Montanas and other stuff, the kids still don't enjoy themselves. They just stare like zombies. Their senses are just dull and can't be stimulated by anything. I hope to break into children's entertainment one day and maybe save a generation from dullness.

Will Finn said...

i was glad to finally see these cartoons again on DVD last year. the ones from this era fell out of circulation for the most part when i was a kid. i loved them, but then began to wonder if maybe i had it wrong--they ran the rotten later ones so much more often...

you've hit on one of the things i enjoy about these: the gags are kind of routine, but the entertainment comes straight from the execution. maybe the personalities of the animators comes thru more than the characters, but hey, in this case that's quite enough. these are very breezy and unapologetic shorts. maybe not grade A classics, but a joy to watch any way you slice it.

Niki said...

Ya know, there's a Miss Lauren Faust who worked on CDD she actually has a Deviantart account Mr. JohnK. She gave me advice once or twice on books to read.

HemlockMan said...

I never much cared for the Lantz cartoons when I was a kid. Maybe just a few of them--probably the Tex Avery ones if I ever went back to check. We always graded the toons from best to worst when I was in grade school. Top of the heap were always the WB cartoons. Most of my pals didn't like the Lantz stuff--we generally rated it about the same as Terrytoons. The thing that always bugged us about the Terrytoons was the liberal use of looping. I don't know why the looping in Terrytoons bothered us when it didn't in Hanna Barbera material. Maybe because we just felt more affection for the HB characters. I'm really not sure.

krakit said...

Another great part of the
direction involved in the
Woody segment you posted
is that a deliberate choice was
made to show only some of the
action and to let our imagination
provide what's taking place in the
wood shack. Just because something
can be done doesn't mean it has to
be done.

To use a car racing analogy,
it takes a good director to know
when to mash the throttle down
and when to ease up through the turns.

Keunemeun said...

funny scene! It's almost as good as some of the better warner cartoons. And the acting is all very clear, compared to today's cartoon acting.

Fernando Ventura said...

Woody Woodpecker is for sure the most loved cartoon character in Brazil. He's a personal favorite of mine, togheter with Uncle Scrooge, Fethry Duck and Joe Carioca. For some reason the Warner cartoons are not as popular around here. Probably Woody had a better dubbing.

rodineisilveira said...

Johnny K.,

I've enjoyed to regard this Woody Woodpecker short on YouTube.

rodineisilveira said...

Johnny K.,

Have you noticed that Grim Natwick (the man who animated Betty Boop and Snow White) was involved on the animation from this Woody Woodpecker short?