Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Best Bugs - Pre 'Tude

This is one of my all time favorite model sheets and I can't figure out why they don't draw Bugs like this any more. Look how appealing he is!
It's a model sheet drawn by Bob McKimson for Bob Clampett's unit. There is an earlier version of the same sheet, also drawn by McKimson where he doesn't look as distinct. Clampett went over it and made Bugs' eyes splay at the top and gave his head more planes. Bugs became less egg-shaped. They also beefed up his cheeks, making him cuter. This design is full of tricky subtleties. He's not easy to draw.Maybe that's why he never looked quite like this except in Clampett's cartoons. Chuck came close in a couple cartoons-Hair-Raising Hare for one.It's funny, almost every classic WB cartoonist I met said that once they found this model, they never again strayed from it - when they all obviously did. Tom McKimson told me that he and his brother were the only ones that stuck to the Clampett model for the rest of Bugs' career. Chuck said it too. They also all said that everyone else changed the model except them. Friz never quite got the hang of it.
Shortly after that model sheet, Clampett and his animators made Bugs a little taller.Note how much more active and playful Bugs was in the mid 40s than what he has become. No damn 'tude for one thing! This Bugs is the one that made the character become the most popular in history, not because he had 'tude, but because he was actively mischievous and devious.

This Bugs actually did things in the cartoons. He didn't win by default. He went out of his way to cause trouble - and did it in a very likeable way. The 'tude Bugs is completely unlikable. He doesn't do anything to win. He just wins because the rules say so. It's like he was born an aristocrat who deserves to win because he's the star character.

Here he is cocksure and still playful, which is different than 'tude. 'Tude didn't happen till the 50s when Chuck turned Bugs smug and snooty like himself.

I wonder why they don't make merchandise and t shirts out of this Bugs. Who wants Bugs with 'tude? He may have started it, but now almost every character has 'tude so it's not unique anymore.
Here's Bugs Frog in the latest movie 'tude.

They oughta go back to the Bugs Bunny that made WB cartoons the most popular in the world, the one who did funny things, not the one who just stands around looking smug.

And they really should never team him with Daffy. That worked in 1 cartoon, but quickly became a predictable formula.



Kali Fontecchio said...

That model sheet is great! Thanks for finding one that isn't tiny.

The Butcher said...

I really wish they would have stuck with the heckler Daffy instead of changing him into the asshole Daffy. Didn't Looney Tunes already have enough asshole/villian characters? They only had a handful of reoccuring heckler heroes. Bugs, Clampett's Tweety, Daffy....are there any that I'm missing?

The same thing happened with Tweety as did with Bugs in the later cartoons. Tweety was pretty cool at first. He feigned innocence, but the audience knew damn well he was in complete control of the situation. In the later Sylvester/Tweety cartoons it was like he actually was innocent and just won by pure dumb luck.

alexkirtoon said...

There actually has been some experimentation over last couple years with using earlier versions of various looney tunes characters for consumer products and logos, although I don't think it ever quite bled into the mainstream.
Check out these Hallmark cards:,
A fat ankled Clampett-esque Bugs adorns some of these shirts:
and a youthful version of Bugs is featured in this animated WB logo from last year.

Roberto González said...

I agree but they usually don't even get Jones' Smugs Bugs right today, so it'd be too much to ask them for pre-tude Bugs. At least in modern cartoons, maybe they could change things in the merchandising.

Personally I must confess I really like the way Jones draws the smug expression, or almost any expression that includes eyelids. In fact I prefer the cynical expression to the smug expression. Variations of this kind of face is what cracks me up.

But yeah, Bugs is a little less likeable in Chuck's 50s cartoons though sometimes he does show some intelligence and I don't think he always wins by default, however he really is kind of a stinker cause instead of being playful it seems that he really doesn't care about Daffy as long as he saves his own ass.

Bugs was still pretty likeable in cartoons like Eightball Bunny, though. Not many people mentions this one as one of Jones' best but it's a personal favourite of mine.

"It worked once" you mean in Rabbit Fire?

I thought Bugs' cameo in Porky's Pig Feat was interesting cause this time Daffy was actually a fan of Bugs. Maybe they should have used them as friends a little more often, that could have worked too.

I really don't know what they should do in a modern cartoon. Part of the interest of the classic Looney Tunes is that the different directors used the characters in distinct ways, yet they still seemed to have the same personality because of Mel Blanc's great performances. Silvester was probably the one that showed more different faces, though McKimson's Daffy was also interesting cause he kept some of his old personality.

Anonymous said...

Well there are far more appealing "Freleng unit" Bugs drawings than that. Come on now.

talkingtj said...

the bugs with the tude, wasnt that in the late forties when schlesinger left and chuck jones took over, when most of the warner bros. cartoons looked exactly like chuck jones drawings? maybe he thought tude bugs was keeping in step with the times? the war was over, things were changing, maybe the country felt less mischievous and more and in control,snotty is a good word for it.

Trevor Thompson said...

It's like night and nuclear winter the difference between the colors in those pics from 'A Corny Concerto'.

Why would you make the colors look like kids cartoons? These aren't for the little ones. Man-children, perhaps, but not kids.

The other nice thing about that model sheet is that Clampett and Scribner merely used it as a starting point and got more appealing with each drawing.

I think I have a big version of McKimson's model sheet in one of my books. If so, I'll scan it high quality for you.

- trevor.

Trevor Thompson said...

Don't know if this is necessarily better. It's small even in the book.

McKimson's Bugs Model Sheet 1943

Kevin Langley said...

Amen, Clampett's bugs was the best looking and funniest.

The Butcher said...

I know many will disagree with me, but I don't like the Jone's style squishy face characters. The ones where the cheeks are all chubby and the eyes are huge. Every character looks the same the way Jones draws them. Porky, Bugs, Elmer, Tom and Jerry. I heard Jones would also get into the habit of making every character look like him. Is this true?

Trevor Thompson said...

Well there are far more appealing "Freleng unit" Bugs drawings than that. Come on now.

Where? When?

Freleng himself didn't do any drawing that showed up in the final cartoon, because his personal style was 30s rubber hose. Hawley Pratt was his star layout guy, and as solid as his style was, it was anything but appealing.

I actually like that Freleng example John posted, just because it's so off-model, although I'd much rather see it in a coloring book or a comic than a cartoon.

SandraRivas said...

Bugs Bunny became more dominant and relaxed, which kinda took the fun out of him. I like Chuck Jones but he should have kept him as a stinker. There was more personality in him before he was changed.

I loved the really old cartoons of Daffy Duck, where he would just act all crazy for no reason. You would never know what he would do next. Plus he was a lot cuter.

The jerk Daffy we know now always reminded me of Donald Duck for some reason, and Donald's a better angry and mean duck.

She-Thing said...

The episode where he reveals his "bra" is... is... UNIQUE. I never could stop laughing-- wish jokes like that appeared once in a while :'( Not those which are recycled again and again or they're too harsh or just randomly plotted in.

Thank you for the model sheet!! I'll try to draw those todee

bcthree said...

Off topic but... I thought you would like the squash in this pic

Klashka said...

Sorry, John. We'll have to disagree on this one. I like the so called 'tude Bugs best. Except I like to call him the swanky bachelor Bugs:)
He workes smarter and not harder and manipulates other characters into working towards a result that ends in the best possible favor for himself.

An ideal high-powered husband in my book ^_^

Klashka said...

In regards to Freeling's Bugs. I would take a screen cap from Bugs Bunny Rides Again and Hare Do.
The screen cap you've displayed isn't a fair representation of the best work from Freeling's crew.

Shame on youuuuu!

thomas said...

I think Bugs' going off model paralleled the studio's going off model.
The reason that Bugs was so good to begin with, was that he was just another Warner character actor, in a sense. Warner had such a distinct identity, that the animation crew could probably just go ahead and invent an actor in the Warners' mold. When the studio, in the 50's, began losing its identity, Bugs did too.

Ian Merch! said...

I don't always agree with you, John, but I have to agree that this is THE Bugs. Whenever the angular Chuck Jones one comes on TV or one of the DVDs I always get a little uneasy. Like he has some sort of horrible disease, and I'm trying not to notice it, but I just can't get over it.

The Butcher said...

"He workes smarter and not harder and manipulates other characters into working towards a result that ends in the best possible favor for himself."

I think this was John's point. There was more action in the Clampett Bug's cartoons, and the cartoon medium is best exploited by the actions of the characters.

JohnK said...

He doesn't do anything in the later cartoons. The directors do it all for him.

Klashka said...

Bugs does plenty, John. It's just not so much in broad actions. He's more of the wiley straight man, while Daffy takes all the slapstick risks. Beantalk Bunny with the glass cutter gag. FANTASTIC!

It works in live action too. Take the Good,the Bad and the Ugly. Clint Eastwood's, "Blondie" against Eli Wallach's, "Tuco". Eli does all the physical work and Clint'cs cool cat surreptitiously manages everyone and wins the reasure at the end.
Eli Wallach says in the commentaries that it LOOKS like Clint didn't do much, but he did with subtle acting which balances the broader actions made by the other characters. Having too many bat-shit crazy characters on screen at the same time makes a mess. Frank Oz echoed this philosophy with two character comedy teams: the Bert and Ernie theory. Push and Pull and Push and Push.

Mr. Semaj said...

This Bugs actually did things in the cartoons. He didn't win by default. He went out of his way to cause trouble - and did it in a very likeable way. The 'tude Bugs is completely unlikable. He doesn't do anything to win. He just wins because the rules say so. It's like he was born an aristocrat who deserves to win because he's the star character.

I agree with the "win because he's the designated good guy" bit. And it wasn't just limited to Bugs. The most bothersome examples occurred with either Tweety or Speedy Gonzales, where Sylvester would always always lose, even if the story was designed so that the usual good guys would come up short for a change.

And they really should never team him with Daffy. That worked once, but never again.

Or they shouldn't have turned Daffy so much against Bugs that he devolved into a SIXTH villain for the wabbit. Daffy was a particularly tragic example of how to ruin a likable character.

For Freleng's Bugs, you gave an example of how he was handled in 1942, before Bugs' definitive model sheet became official. Freleng got better with the character later that decade.

As for the Clampettian Bugs, they did use him in some Six Flags ads during the last couple years they were in charge of Darien Lake.

Elana Pritchard said...

My favorite is a combination of good writing and cartoon zaniness. How could you go wrong with that recipe?

lastangelman said...

I have said this before, I really wish Warner Brothers would hire you to do a few theatrical cartoons (no TV), a Bugs Bunny, and a couple of Daffy's. I'm certain they'd be flat out hilarious.

GoldDarkShadow said...

Bugs looks less appealing in the 50 and 60 cartoons. That model of Bugs your showing us is the best. And I don't understand way Chuck Jones change Daffy Duck's personality from a screwball to an asshole. He does not deserve any of that abuse whats so ever, and what did Daffy ever do to Chuck anyway.

Roberto González said...

>>He doesn't do anything in the later cartoons. The directors do it all for him.>>

I watched the LT dvd collection extras and I agree with you when you said that in Clampett's cartoons you never know who's going to win. And I get what you say.

However, Bugs sometimes does something in Jones' cartoons. In the rabbit seasoning trilogy he generally has just good luck but not all the time. He does manipulate Daffy and Elmer in some of the gags. And in Abominable Snow-Rabbit he disguises Daffy as a rabbit and hides his own ears everytime the snowman appears.

These actions are calmer and less enjoyable than his playful attitude in Clampett's shorts but he does some merits to win the cartoon. Yes, the stories are more predictable and formulaic but the character still uses his intellect, he doesn't totally win by default.

Now Tweety in the Freleng cartoons, that was REALLY a passive character.

AtomicTiki said...

Growing up, watching various Merrie Melodies over and over on Saturdays with the smattering of Bugs from across so many different eras and directors it was sometimes quite jarring to go from "playful trickster Bugs" to "smug Bugs" in rapid succession.

As Kali says, great model sheet but also some great screen captures, brings back a lot of fond memories.

Hans Flagon said...

I've asked before if you could critique Dan Romanellis Draw the Looney Tunes ISBN 9780811850162. It seems to be aimed at those who might have licensed Bugs for merchandizing. (no other characters shown much at all IIRC).

But, I found the Bugs in the book here a bit more appealing than the one that has appeared since the sixties, whether those examples have been Jones, Freleng, McKimson or those that followed. Not overwhelmed with 'tude, as he actually ends up in much of the merchandizing, not the Bugs that played Roger Rabbit Hoops with Michael Jordan, and a bit closer to the Bugs you often seem to like.

Just to see if I could even get a 'likeness' I once tried drawing Bugs from a Bugs short from one of those public domain collections (not in the Golden collection yet that I have seen) which has Elmer chasing bugs mostly through the snow. The length of Bugs legs vary by at least 100 percent through the toon.

SoleilSmile said...

Bugs is of the hardest WB character to draw, Hans. It takes a lot of thought NOT to make his proportions too human. Many people make his head too small. I used to screw up the eyes.
I found Sylvester to be the easiest of the WB to draw on model. Try drawing him and then move on to Bugs.

Fata Morgana said...

Thank you, Mr. K, for voicing what I've always felt. I sure do miss the old Bugs. :(

Jack G. said...

He doesn't do anything in the later cartoons. The directors do it all for him.

That's the problem I have with the Bug's cartoons as they moved farther into the 50s. Bugs didn't earn his keep.

I don't have much problem with Jones' Daffy in Rabbit Fire and Duck Amuck but as time went on we got things like Showbiz Bugs. Daffy's personality has gone too far in the jerk/loser direction.

Nicholas Burns said...

Bugs changed because American comedy changed. Slapstick, a product of Vaudeville, declineded and smugness --in the form of Jack Benny-- ascended. Benny was a huge influence on Jones's version of Bugs.

Getting laughs by 'doing nothing' looked pretty mature and sophisticated compared to all that running around.

Kasey said...

That drawing from the Freleng short is terrible mostly because Gil Turner was a poor animator. Phil Monroe's animation in that one's appealing enough (not to mention the animation in Freleng's shorts when Virgil Ross and Art Davis joined his unit, as well as Jack Bradbury beforehand).

StimpyHoek said...

Now look how more active and playful Bugs Bunny is. XD

Dorseytunes said...

I like the crazy stuff like "Bear For Punishment" that Jones did where no one really has the upper hand. Plus, all the great faces that Jones came up with were perfect.

The "in control" character starts to lose it's entertainment value in my opinion. My son and I watch cartoons together and what gets the biggest laughs are the manic/random gags that come out of nowhere.

Chris said...

John - Here's the 1942 model sheet for Bugs along with the 1943 model sheet. I scanned it from Joe Adamson's Bugs Bunny: Fifty Years And Only One Grey Hare.

Chris said...

Oops! Probably should've added a link.

JohnK said...

Thanks Chris! I added them to the post.

TedM said...

Interesting Bugs Bunny post. Chuck Jones is still my favorite.

HenriekeG said...

I never liked Loony Tunes as a kid because I only knew Space Jam and merchandise art. If I only knew.
And I couldn't agree more with that teeth thing, it's such a pity when teeth are reduced to white bars, they're so much fun to draw!

I took these photos of some vending machine nearly a year ago, maybe you like them-
(at your own risk)

I will be in California in Jan/Feb. If you have any recommendations for places to visit where I can see really cartoony stuff, I'd like to know!

Gad said...

hay john

when you say the later bugs bunny cartoons ... can you clarify your self a little more
bugs bunny performed in so many cartoons for a very long time... and for example you can say that chuck's bugs is newer then Clampett's, but there bugs's cartoons newer then chuck's...
maybe if you say who were the directors you don't like or some thing like that... cause as i understand you like Clampett's bugs bunny and hates chuck's bugs bunny... and that would be a very unfair comparison

Steve C. said...

I couldn't agree more with John K. regarding Bugs and Daffy. Remember that Mel Blanc entry posted a few days or so? Well, seems when they'd show cliops from his characters when he did the voices when it got to Daffy it was ALWAYS Showbiz Bugs..

Waqas Malik said...

After looking at the model sheet, i cud really see a difference. thank you! Bugs used to have so much emotion and movement. now he's just a standard cut-n-paste image.

Pete said...

That really is a great looking Bugs. He really is surprisingly hard to draw right... but I've been practicing off this model sheet and it does help.

I just have a question... Some of the differences in these two model sheets are very subtle, but you seem to have a definite preference of one over the other. You also get seem annoyed that all the artists eventually strayed form the later McKimson sheet.

On the other hand, you are a huge proponent of drawing off-model... and in some Ren & Stimpy cartoons, they look completely different from one scene to the next.

Where do you draw a line between staying on-model and having the artist put some of his/her own creativity into the final product?

Pokey said...

But look, wasn't Warners themselves back then about so-called 'tude? The movies, even the hit songs, the actors [Bogie, Sinatra..] and the cartoons...Much like other studios had their styles [note parody of marketing 'tude.:)]

Pokey said...

Really, there are THREE basic ways here:
Bugs or any other as character who just doesn't do anything to win. He just does.

Bugs as someone who does do something to cause trouble and in a likeable way, to save his carrots or to play a joke, or to save his skin, his home, or - eh, you fill in the rest, doc.

Then the Bugs who goes out top start trouble to someone who's innocent and most sadly, HASN'T provoked him, and this has a big kinship, IMO, with the one who doesn't do anything to win, as he's not bothered by anyone. It does tie in with the one I just mentioned in the middle----the character who causes trouble in a likeable way ["Wabbit Trouble"[1942/Clampett], for those who like the prankish, mischevious side to the wabbit, or "Hare Do"[1949/Freleng] for the self-preserving one-I love those..

Pokey said...

A lot of this can be traced to Tiny Toons [ever notice their voice cast also turning up, and the same stories, too, in ANIMANICS?], but also to GREMLINS??

Tude time [Jerry Goldsmith's only remembered for THIS kind of crap?-to paraphrase Eugene Levy.:-)]

Pokey said...

"Part of the interest of the classic Looney Tunes is that the different directors used the characters in distinct ways, yet they still seemed to have the same personality because of Mel Blanc's great performances. "

Even Elmer Fudd and Granny?:) [THey were voiced by others.:)]\