Saturday, January 16, 2010

Unabashedly Cartoony Clampett: Corny Concerto

I remember how shocked I was when I first saw this cartoon. It looked so different and was full of very graphic images, mixed in with solid classic principles.
That angular Bugs is an amazing drawing. It's not a bunch of arbitrary angles like today. They are in perspective and all aiming at the gag. It's to exaggerate Bugs acting like a hunting dog: a pointer. Clampett's seemingly crazy ideas always have a purpose - to be attractive and fun for sure, but also to direct you to be involved in the story. His crazy ideas, animation and graphics are inspired by the storyline and always in context.
Some people assume this is a Rod Scribner scene, but it isn't. It's Bob McKimson, the conservative solid animator - being pushed by Clampett, so I asume Clampett roughed out the extreme keys and positions for McKimson, and McKimson wrapped the roughs in his super solid forms.
This is one of the handful of Bugs cartoons actually drawn in the style of the 1943 Clampett/McKimson model sheet. He still has an arched back and bent legs and small proportions. Soon after this he grew taller and a bit older and stood up more straight. I like this Bugs best; he's younger and more playful. Still a comedian himself rather than the straight man (rabbit) he soon became.
Look at these magically difficult back poses. You can really feel that fluffy tail! (If that's your thing)

There's something entertaining in pure skill itself. Witnessing something that no one you know can do. Like watching gymnasts at the Olympics. Or hurdlers. I think that's why (classic) Disney cartoons are so impressive. The stories are as boring as church, but they are just so well executed and pretty that you can't help marvel at them.
Clampett combines superhuman skill with character, gags and entertainment.
Here's a Clampett stretch as Bugs anticipates to toss the gun away. All the poses, even though funny, are drawn with elegance, because they are part of a ballet: Tales Of The Vienna Woods.
One of the things I liked about Corny Concerto is that it seems to be a cartoon going through a transitional stage at the WB studio. It's packed with new ideas, and the new Bugs design and not everyone on the crew has had time to practice all these new things, so that there are scenes with some rough edges and a slight bit of awkwardness here and there. They aren't pencil tested to death like Bambi where everything is meticulously perfectly balanced - and stale. This cartoon feels like a bunch of really fun adventurous guys were bursting with energy and just had to get every idea out that they could, so they could get to the next cartoon full of new experiments. So only 85% of it is perfectly polished. But the energy, excitement and invention is so extreme that it more than compensates for the slightly less polish.
Boy, talk about clarity and line of action, negative shapes and solidity all balanced together
Direction tip: Porky and the dog look clearly offscreen left at the end of the scene. This directs our attention to where they are looking - into the scene cut and makes the scenes flow into each other. I use this a lot and have to remind my layout artists about it frequently.
Here's what they are looking at. That look in this direction makes the cut flow smoothly and keeps the audience involved in the characters' concerns.
Everything moves in a fun way in a Clampett cartoon. Nothing is just animated for pure continuity. It's not just to get you from here to there. Even this inanimate object sails into the tree in a beautiful arc.

Unfortunately the cartoon (with the rest on the Clampett side of the DVD) have been transferred terribly. Every second frame is double exposed like this just so you can't fully enjoy the smoothness of the animation.
This cartoon is obviously a spoof of Fantasia. Clampett told me that he and his layout man Tom McKimson (Bob's brother) were very close. They collaborated on a lot of the ideas and hung out. They went to see Fantasia together and came away in awe. They were brimming with ideas and came up with Corny Concerto. Mike Sasanoff painted the crazy beautiful backgrounds (which through the magic of digital technology have had many of the subtler colors removed).
I may be confusing 2 stories here. Maybe Milt Gray can clear it up for us. It might have been Sasanoff that went to see Fantasia with Bob.

Beauty, elegance and comedy all neatly wrapped up together. A gift from the cartoon Gods!

This scene is on for such a short time that you'd probably miss it if not for the extreme rubbery exaggeration of the way this Disney squirrel whips it out of his hole.
When I first saw the cartoon, the scene stood out in my mind and sent my own brain reeling, as Fantasia did to Bob. It seems like such a little thing, but it really showed me that cartoons were their own medium with their own much broader language than other media. It is the medium of fun, without the filler.
The way it snaps from floppy to rigid rattles my senses even after the 100th time watching it.
Not McKimson?
Compare these drawings to the ones of the characters at the top of the post. They have all of a sudden lost their solidity, which makes me suspect another animator has picked up where McKimson left off.
This almost looks like Friz animation to me. Creatures made of jelly moving underwater.
But it happens so fast and hits the dynamic key compositional poses that it works anyway.
I still think the best drybrush effects ever are in Clampett cartoons. Again, he doesn't use them just to connect poses functionally. Every tool in Clampett's arsenal is used as part of the art and fun itself. Can motion blur ever come close to this?
I want this drybrush cel setup on my wall!
Back to jelly friends.
This last key below looks like McKimson drew it. They become solid again. Maybe he did the key layouts in the scene and someone else animated it.

I love how the cute Disney squirrel decides to murder the stars of the cartoon with his rubber rifle.

The barrel retracts artfully - while giving it 10 times the power.

Here's what half of the frames look like because the folks who make the DVDs must hate Clampett
Somehow Clampett always seems to get the worse transfers on the DVD releases, even though his cartoons are the most fun to watch; someone feels they just have to ruin them for some reason but won't ever admit it.

Watch the fuzzy action above. If you have the old Turner video tapes or laser disks, it looks a lot better.

Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume TwoGolden Age of Looney Tunes, Vol. 4: Bob Clampett [VHS]


cartoonretro said...

The crappy quality of the Clampett transfers is really frustrating, since it's the only reason I bought those dvds. They are unwatchable.

One Clampett that I never paid much attention to is Draftee Daffy. I've been watching it almost every night lately, and I can't believe how beautiful the drawings and acting are. Clampett cartoons are crazy and wild and more exaggerated than most, but at the same time feel more real than any other cartoons. I feel like I'm watching characters that actually exist.
I'm not stating that very well, it's hard to put into words.

Austin Papageorge said...

Glad to know it's not jut me who's bothered by seeing double on DVDs.

JohnK said...

You stated it perfectly, Shane.

And Austin I wonder how many people even notice the bad transfers. I've had people argue with me about it!

thaddmccarson said...

wow, John thanks for the breadown on these scenes...i am trying to train my eye to pick up on these the dogs hand placement in the "corny41.jpg" image.

These type posts are very helpful to the not-so talented masses such as myself.

One quick question: what is you opinion of the artwork of Bill Wray?

Jonathan Harris said...

It's an unfortunate necessity due to framerate conversions. You can't make a piece of 24fps footage run at 30fps without either duplicating frames or having blending.

We in the 25fps PAL region should theoretically get a better deal, since you can just speed it up a bit and have a 1:1 frame conversion (the difference in speed is negligible), but, alas, it is not always the case.

It's not too bad if you're actually watching it on an interlaced display (an old CRT TV, for example), but that's old technology. When the day comes where we don't have to put up with such issues anymore, I will be very thankful.

Adam Gunn said...

Do those double frames have something to do with compensating for the frame rate change from 24fps to 32fps?

All that work the animators did to make the motion move smoothly is smudged away! It must ruin the impact and force of some motions to. I don't know if everyone realizes the difference one frame can make!

There must be some way they could transfer these cartoons so they stay at 24fps.

JohnK said...

It's not a necessity at all. I have a ton of DVDs that play at 24x per second with perfectly clear images.

drawingtherightway said...

I'm assuming that cartoon network probably uses these transfers when they air these cartoons.

JohnK said...

They do more. They stretch the images and clutter them up with logos and ads.

Impossible to watch

K. Nacht said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trevor Thompson said...

If I still had a VCR and a means to convert them, I'd gladly elect myself to 'restore the restored' Clampetts. Hell, I'd even fix the colors if need be.

Hey, anyone ever see on the 'restoration' extra on one if the discs when one of the fat execs is talking about the process with Jerry Beck? The guy makes it a point to say "we restore, we don't alter". He f--ing lies right to our faces! I know he's an exec, but what the hell? Then right after, it cuts to a shot of Rick Gehr altering the color!!

They really think we're stupid, don't they?

Thom said...

Wikipedia article on telecine

Film can and usually is stored on DVDs at 24fps, and the player does the 3:2 pulldown on the fly at playback. It doesn't make sense (to me) that someone would go through the trouble of digital "restoration" and then hard-telecine it on the DVD, but there you go.

Austin Papageorge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

John, you may be confusing the Michael Sassonoff painting story with the first Charlie Dog cartoon story, where Clampett and Mike went out and photographed things that fit their layouts and Sassonoff airbrushed the backgrounds.

Jonathan Harris said...

"It's not a necessity at all. I have a ton of DVDs that play at 24x per second with perfectly clear images."

Agh, really? Actually I had heard that they can do that and let the DVD player itself handle any framerate conversion and pulldown, but I guess I was pessimistic based on my own experiences and assumed nobody actually did it. So do DVDs like that play properly on a computer (which is what I use to watch all my DVDs)?

What are some examples of those? Disney features?

Niki said...

I thought that would be a lot easier to see. Now it just reminds me of Scooby doo. And I was hoping I wouldn't notice it get pixelized every few frames

MLP said...

This has always been an all-time favorite of mine -- partly because of the exceptionally appealing Bugs. IMO, he never looked better.

lovetta said...

Hey john check this free software it's not tween software like flash. It might serve as replacement for flash if you really want a more traditional method.http://www.pencil-animation...

JohnK said...

Jorge, no I know that story too.

Bob had told me on different times how close he was to Sasanoff and Tom.

I just don't remember which one he went to Fantasia with and which one worked on Corny Concerto, probably Sasanoff when I think about it, because it's very artsy.

Zoran Taylor said...

I actually think the sloppy drawings are hilarious, especially the very last one in the scene, where Bugs' and the Dog's expressions are identical and Bugs' feet are smothering Porky's mouth. Something about is just so RIGHT, yet wrong.

Also, I always knew something about the colours didn't smell right, but I never noticed the motion being quite that f---ed up (there is no milder word for it) on my DVD player. I pick up on the mutedness of the sound and the lack of contrast and subtlety in the picture and even the DVNR artefacts, but THIS particular type of problem never quite hit me when it was playing at regular speed.
Do any of the other Clampetts have that specific issue? Or is it just this one? I've slowed them all down and haven't run across too much of that problem.

RooniMan said...


Your absolutly right, John. Those flickering frames inrage me to no end. "Book Revue," another Clampeet cartoon is LOADED with this and it's really hard to watch now, as with the others. (Damn those engineers!)

Operation GutterBall said...

John this is off topic(don't post this) , thought this might interest you about Clampett:

I had no idea! Cool!

Jaime J. Weinman said...

WB actually put out a replacement disc program because of the screwed-up transfers. I got my replacement disc by calling this number:


I don't know if they're still sending them out, but I can tell you that the replacement disc does correct the problem (which is not an excuse for the screw-up in the first place).

Niki said...

Hey JohnK! This just struck me but since this and so many others are ruined, were do we find good quality videos to practice animating?

R.A. MacNeil said...

I love this one. It might be my favorite Clampett cartoon. It's amazing how he fits two cartoons into the time frame which many people would have a hard time fitting one.

Oliver_A said...

Dear John,

I have just checked Corny Concerto on my European Looney Tunes DVD set, and they don't have any kind of those problems you mention here.

The problem seems to be that the digital video files on the NTSC DVD's is incorrectly encoded with 30fps, instead of 24fps. So when you press the pause button, the player doesn't know when a new film frame starts, which is why you occasionally catch a frame which is a mixture between 2 film images.

On the European PAL discs, every animation frame is one video frame. Since the PAL frame rate of 25fps is close to 24fps, the shorts are encoded with 25fps. The result is 4% faster playback, but no double images as you posted here.

If you want to study every single frame of the shorts, you need the PAL discs.

David Germain said...

This is absolutely a masterpiece of animation and definitely a perfect example of Bob Clampett in his prime.

I wonder if this cartoon was submitted to the Acadamy for consideration. If not it should have been. It could have easily gone up against Yankee Doodle Mouse or any other cartoon released that year. Oh well, Oscar is more of a political game than an artistic game anyway. Time judges this cartoon a masterpiece even if a golden "naked man with a hammer" action figure doesn't.

Guy Cx said...

Geez, John! It must be about 14 years since the last time I watched this cartoon (and I'm only 19!). The scene that definately most marked me (when I was only 5) was the scene, in Blue Danube, when little Daffy Duck turns into a P-40 airplane. It was the only scene that I could perfectly clearly see it coming, watching it again 14 years after the last time. The sound effects, in perfect synchrony with the music and still hilarious, also marked me a lot.

It was absolutely delightful remembering this gem of my childhood! Thanks a lot, John!

Larry Levine said...

Great cartoon!!!

Jack G. said...

Everything moves in a fun way in a Clampett cartoon. Nothing is just animated for pure continuity. It's not just to get you from here to there
That's one of the things that strikes me about Clampett's work; like Daffy's pacing to Powerhouse at the beginning of The Great Piggybank Robbery. It makes a story point, but it is also entertaining in itself.

John A said...

Jonathan Harris: Normally when tranfering film aniation to video they will double print every fourth frame, to make up for the 6 frame discrepancy. There is no real need for this double exposure stuff.

Jeff Read said...

When as a kid I was asked to do Elmer Fudd's voice I would always give them a line from this cartoon:

"Today we are going to hear a waltz, witten by Johann Stwauss. And as you hear the wythmic stwain of the haunting wefwain, wisten to the wippwing wythm of the woodwinds, as it wolls awound and awound... and it comes out here. Hahahahahahahahahahaha."

Classic Elmer. Classic all around cartoon. Used to look forward to seeing it on TNT Toons.

384Sprites said...

Your perspective on this opens my eyes, you just made animation sound like rock 'n' roll.

devan said...

Just in case no one has mentioned this yet: The alternate frames you didn't post, John, are interlaced. If you've seen live action youtube videos with lots of motion, you'll notice a similar yet more noticeable effect. The televisions of the time of the DVDs release were only capable of interlaced frames. A choppy effect would occur if you played only deinterlaced.

This, combined with the poor transfer to digital, explains why clampetts shorts look so terrible today.

JohnK said...

It's only one side of one set that has this problem. They screwed up the whole side.

contact said...

Since it's reported that the European DVD is fine, my guess is that proper standards conversion was not applied. Usually this kind of interlacing is caused by the 24fps master being transferred to PAL (25fps with 4% speedup), and then being transferred to NTSC without converting. That way, even a 3:2 pulldown (which makes 25fps display fine at NTSC's 30fps) can't save it, because the DVD would have to be able to convert 25fps to 30fps.

It works the other way too, when NTSC in converted to PAL rather than a direct transfer from the 24fps master.

Very cheap and shoddy.