Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Revue - Wolf With Axe


I think it's pretty obvious that Clampett was the most influential 40s animation director. His "looney" energy, character driven comedy and wild invention dragged Chuck and Friz along practically against their will for years. The whole attitude of Looney Tunes is based on Bob's personality (and some of Tex's). Everyone was influenced by and imitated Clampett superficially, but there are some things he did so well that almost nobody followed up on them. His style of custom movement for example. He directed the motion in his cartoons like nobody else. By the mid 40s, it was never enough to just tell the joke or get the character from this pose to that pose. The motion itself is mesmerizing. It's not merely "cartoony" as in early 30s cartoons. It's cartoony and unrealistic, but unlike early cartoons it has weight power, emphasis and control. It feels more real than reality. Clampett found a way to combine the magic and invention of early cartoons with the skills and principles of Disney animation.

Book Revue, like Tokyo Woes is a practical encyclopedia of amazing animation techniques that he just dumped on the whole business to let everyone pick up on them - and no one did. I don't get it.

Here's a scene that has a ton of energy and power, and it's totally cartoony.




















Antic, Bounce, swing and antic
This would merely be an antic in anyone else's cartoon, but here it's like an animation tour de force. The wolf actually antics a couple times as the axe bounces from its heavy weight.




..then instead of just going from the antic directly to the tree, the wolf swings the whole axe all the way around first. This builds up way more energy than a direct antic and hit. - he uses this same technique to get the characters into the scene. They don't just run directly to the tree - they go all the way around first, but it's animated so fast that you don't really see it. You feel all that extra speed and energy though.
Clampett packs more action into a scene than anyone, yet he does it with such perfect timing that you don't miss anything important. All the actions take place within a structured hierarchy.


Axe Hits and Recoils
When he finally hits the tree with the axe, he generates more power with this crazy long vibrating recoil...






CUT: Wolf wobbles and hat pops off
This scene always baffled me. I never quite understood what was happening, but it's animated so powerfully and with such great timing and fun that it just stands out like a piece of pure animation candy. The animation is the reason for it's existence. It's not exactly needed for story or even for the completion of the point of the scene. It's just really Goddamned cool.










http://www.cartoonthrills.org/blog/Clampett/46BookRevue/WolfRevueAxe-desktop.mov

The only person smart enough (that I can think of) that ever took advantage of Clampett's great animation techniques was Brad Caslor - almost 40 years later in his NFB cartoon "Get A Job". After Clampett left Warner Bros. in 1946 his style of movement was replaced (or abandoned) quickly with pose to pose animation and formula. Even his own animators never did this kind of thing again-probably because no one would let them.

To me, this is the whole reason to even do animation. -To make things move with such inventiveness and vigor that no other medium can compete with it. It should be fun to watch even with the sound off. Story, characters, design, backgrounds and the other arts we use to supplement our medium are all extra gravy, but without the basic ingredient of customized magic movement we are not taking advantage of what it's all about.

You can find better stories in books and movies. Better illustrations in magazines and on book covers, richer characters in Dickens and in classic sitcoms. Where else can you get get magic moving eye candy but in animated cartoons when they are in top form? - and why do so few places and people want to give it to you?

Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume Two

51 comments:

Jonathan Harris said...

That's such a great clip! I love the difference in the timing between where he's looking about and when he brings back the axe.

Also, when he is looking about, it's great that instead of standard smears, his face actually comes much closer to the camera, and is much bigger. It looks pleasing, like a smear, but is also a bit different, and really exaggerates the motion.

Stephen Rogers said...

Thanks for this, John. I love it when you do these breakdowns of Clampett's cartoons.

Roberto Severino said...

That Bob Clampett clip is so beautifully animated. It's exactly what separates animation from all other mediums like literature and live-action. To be honest, I find it kinda weird how nowadays, everyone's trying to make animation more "realistic" like live-action, with "realistic" water in the CG films and stuff like that. It just makes no sense to me.

And oh yeah, remember that Nike commercial you made a few years ago? I can definitely see the influence this cartoon had on that commercial.

Geneva said...

Beautiful!!

I think people are just afraid of the frenetic, of the angry, of the energetic (of the human, basically. I think one of the reasons so many ignorant parents were scared of Ren and Stimpy because they validated these human instincts in their children).

Roberto beat me to mentioning that I totally see this cartoon in that great Nike commercial!

Saturnome said...

It's great to see some love for Brad Caslor! I wish he did more cartoons.

Chris_Garrison said...

Yeah, Get a Job is awesome! You should do some posts on that one.

RooniMan said...

Clampett is a kind of magic. And his cartoons prove that point clearly.

Calvin said...

Such great animation!

I also love how the background shakes a little when the axe hits the tree.

I saw the nike commercial for the first time today. I can't believe I haven't seen that before. I'm glad that you're taking advantage of what Clampett brought to the table.

akira said...

thanks for another animation lesson, John. so amazing! almost no drawings are even inbetweens.. some drawings are so different from one frame to the next that it's amazing how well it works. LOTS to learn here!

Craig Something said...

So, have you heard about the new Looney Tunes Show?

Oisin O'Sullivan said...

wow I knew this scenes was great, but these stills are amazing. Especially the one where the axe is recoiling.
This confused me at first till I saw the title of the book they were in.
Get a Job was amazing and Clampett was even more amazing.

Oisin O'Sullivan said...

wow I knew this scenes was great, but these stills are amazing. Especially the one where the axe is recoiling.
This confused me at first till I saw the title of the book they were in.
Get a Job was amazing and Clampett was even more amazing.

The Horns and the Hawk said...

ha! i just recently saw Get a Job when i borrowed a crappy NFB DVD from the library (because apparently i hate myself). i ended up skipping through almost the whole thing, but i saw Get a Job and watched it twice. i was stunned by Canada's ability to make one (if only one) cartoon that didn't suck!

Pedro Vargas said...

So amazing!! Love the foreshortening of the axe. Lots of great appeal in this cartoon, but this one scene really stood out for me the most in the cartoon! Beautifully animated! Thanks for posting this!

Alex said...

There's a reason why Warners didn't pursue the Clampett form of animation. Back in 1948, there was a new union rule that saw artists earn an increase in wage, which perhaps compromised the fluid movements and loose energy of a few years earlier.

Also, WWII had a lot to do with that wild, knock-out spirit that distinguished 1940s cartoons.

Kawks! said...

"and why do so few places and people want to give it to you?"

because it is expensive.

Lampshade said...

Kawks: No, not really. Inbetweening is expensive, not custom posing and etc.

Paul Penna said...

Why don't they do anything like this anymore? It's sort of like asking why nobody makes Fabergé eggs anymore. It takes skill, craftsmanship, a high degree of perceptiveness - all items in short supply in the world. That all of those things could come together and flourish, even as briefly as it did, in an industrial-like setting - the Hollywood film industry - is kind of astonishing. A rare combination of circumstances. Why it didn't continue probably has to do with what the public is willing to accept, and a realization that what they'd accept was both easier and cheaper to produce. The vast majority of people would be as happy with a garish, colorful figurine stamped out by machinery by the thousands at a cheap price as they would be with a hand-made, finely-crafted Fabergé egg. That being the case, why go to all the trouble and expense of finding and nurturing a group of craftsmen to make Fabergé eggs? We're lucky that it happened more or less by accident or circumstance for a few years in the cartoon studios of the 40s.

Kawks! said...

Lampshade: Tweening with bad poses costs the same amount as tweening with good poses.

Many talented artists throw out a lot of drawings, time is expensive.

Good artists usually ask for a lot of money, that is also expensive.

Scrawnypumpkinseed said...

What a tasty bit of eye candy! You've basically persuaded (or maybe I should should say shown) me that Clampett is the best animation director in WB History and possibly all animation history.

For many years I thought it was Chuck Jones but Clampett had a lot more animation in it rather than nice looking poses.

Thanks for another insightful though John

Niki said...

This was the weirdest cartoon I had ever seen. I don't remember whether I laughed or anything because of the feel of it. I always thought it was one of the older cartoons were they had just started drawing this way.

Brad said...

Gah, this is one of the most brilliant bits of animation I've ever seen, I love the way the antic sort of folds on top of a few more antics during the axe charge, until the foot is straight. The timing and rhythm is just.... Incredible..,

I definitely see what you mean by all the frames creating an almost subconscious energy that your eyes can't really follow. Almost wish the antic around the tree went slower so I could really see it.

I really can't tell if this makes me want to give up animation or try even harder...

kurtwil said...

Very nice animation examples, JK..thanks! Definitely saw echos of it in your Nike and other commercials.

Craig Something, are there any indications the New Looneytoons show is more than the rather stiff anime CN's been showcasing for some time?

Neutrinoide said...

What are your opinion on this kind of video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVFdAJRVm94

Whit said...

Amazingly no one has mentioned Rod Scribner, who animated this iconic scene. Stop-framing it reveals an incredible mind at work. That double ax swing is something no other animator would think to do.

Martin Juneau said...

This entire cartoon can be possibly ranked at the 10 best cartoons in history. This have a wonderful timing to the wolf with axe scene. I like also the Daffy's big eye scene when the wolf come before the chase. This such a true masterpiece but Clampett having rarely credits to his animation teamwork.

kurtwil said...

Following links posted here:

JK, was COAL BLACK AND DE SEBBEN DWARFS the inspiration for some of the girl animation in your NIKE and Pizza commercials (just watched the cartoon to confirm) ?

Neutrinoide, clip you referenced looks like mix of live action and cutout "puppet" animation currently in vogue.

JohnK said...

Absolutely. Coal Black is the best girl animation ever.

Sea Monster (Travis) said...

Hey John I had an idea. Sorry this has nothing to do with the post, which is great by the way, but I couldn't find another place to post anything. Anyway, I don't know if you are familiar with Frank Zappa's 1972 song "Billy the Mountain" but if not set aside a half hour and pull it up on Grooveshark. I've thought for year it deserves an equally awesome movie. I was looking back over my Ren and Stimpy DVDs when it hits me, who better to animate a cartoon of Billy than John K! Just and idea, it could be great...

JohnK said...

Yeah. I have that album. It's great!

Craig Something said...

@kurtwil
There are pictures floating around. All the Looney Tunes characters will be living in a suburb, episodes will be a half hour with a main story, music videos and CG Roadrunner shorts.

Zoran Taylor said...

"This scene always baffled me. I never quite understood what was happening."

Huh? The shock of the recoil is moving through his body. Isn't that kind of obvious? That even happens in real life.

Will Finn said...

The axe thing is almost like a double anticipation. There's another beat like it a few shots before, where the wolf is chasing Daffy--right on the doorstep of "UNCLE TOM'S CABIN" the wolf reels back a bit in the middle of his frantic run instead of just peeling straight through the door.

Love this cartoon. Great frame grabs. The proportions and control of perspective on the keys of the wolf leaning toward the audience are masterful.

I strongly agree about "GET A JOB": a wonderful, funny film and a great tribute to this kind of animation.

vhpayes said...

This is exactly the "Book Revue" I was talking about. The whole cartoon is filled with amazing animation, and that whole routine with Daffy is terrific. It actually made me laugh out loud as an adult.

SandraRivas said...

I remember this cartoon! I saw this when I was a little kid! I think I used to mimic this cartoon. I just love how the wolf wobbles when he tries to chop down the tree.

Bob Clampett is a genius! I remember buying the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5, and my dad and I watched the entire CD that had the Bob Clampett cartoons. We were laughing until our sides exploded. I only wish they had Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs.

Wonderfully said about the purpose of animation. It's a shame a lot of people don't understand since they're more obsessed with story.

Book Revue was absolutely beautiful, and it didn't even have a story. I was too entranced by the animation to notice it anyway. It's not to say that story doesn't matter but like you said, they're all "extra gravy".

kurtwil said...

Sea Monster, if you are not familiar with Bruce Bickford (I suspect you are) web search for him and then visit his web page. Bruce clay-animated BILLY THE MOUNTAIN and a number of other Zappa songs. He's featured at intro of and within Zappa's 'BABY SNAKES' DVD, one of Franks' best filmed concerts.

kurtwil said...

A pleasant surprise...there is a web blog called the Rod Scribner Project.
Its last article was in 2007.

http://rodscribner.blogspot.com/

is the web address for it (moderator, my apologies if this is incorrect way to provide a web link.)

craig clark said...

I always looked forward to seeing this cartoon when I was growing up in LA in the 60's and 70's. "Book Revue" and to a lesser extent "Wabbit Trouble" were some of my favorites! The Daffy Danny Kaye bit with the proto- rap scatting was the best. It would be very difficult to achieve this on a TV schedule, but I'd like to see some of this at the feature level where appropriate.

mr paal said...

man, that's fantastic! thanks for breaking that down...this post is a goldmine!

J C Roberts said...

"amazing animation techniques that he just dumped on the whole business to let everyone pick up on them - and no one did. I don't get it."


I sure picked up on it, but with an endless supply of hurdles getting into a business that turned it's back on such genius anyway, what good does it do?

I guess it's one of my biggest failings that I didn't cross the country to toil away at bleached-out garbage in the hopes of breaking out somehow and bringing some of it back (thankfully we had you to do that, so we got some relief). Is it any better now? should I pack up a bindle and start hoofin' along the railroad tracks to sunny L.A.? Hmm, didn't think so...

A force of nature like Clampett doesn't happen very often. As you point out here he raised Freleng and Jones' game while he was there, and when he left, they wasted little time in letting his momentum die. I'm sure they were relieved to be able to cool off and start stretching out the character's legs and purging the looniness from Looney Tunes.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

*Sigh!* Refreshed at the fountain of Clampett!

Caresse said...

This clip is an amazing display of confidence and intuition. It milks movement in a concise manner.

I agree with Geneva - people today are generally too afraid.

As a young aspiring animator, my fear is what led me into the world of CG - because I always felt like my drawings were "wrong" and with CG I could be "right" all the time - no one could say my perspective was off or my character's proportions changed because math and science took care of all that when I modeled and textured the character.

But I still plan all my CG action in 2D first and I really hope I can one day actually trust myself enough to push the envelope.

Oscar Grillo said...

My favourite cartoon of all times. I always wonder how they pitched this beauty at the studio!
Have you seen it's previous incarnation, "Speaking of the Weather" by Tashlin?

JohnK said...

Sure. And also "A Coy Decoy" is very similar.

ari said...

hey,

you mention that he doesn't use pose to pose? what kind of techniques do you think he used? straight ahead or a layering technique or something. it's hard to imagine how to plan a shot out like that i guess thats why he was a genius

Johnny said...

Hey John... I know this is a bit off topic.. but I was thinking of you and your blog while watching an old Disney short "Rugged Bear".

I hadn't seen it in years and I thought it was probably the closest thing to a 'looney tunes' type cartoon that Disney ever attempted.

Humphrey the bear is hands down my favorite Disney character... he is always freaking out about something!

"Rugged Bear" almost felt like an episode of Ren and Stimpy.

Anyhoo, I was wondering if you had any particular favorite shorts from that 50's disney era.

Gabe's Cartoons said...

Oh my gawd John, been a while since i popped in, but WOW Clampett keys blow my mind! I'd love to see some Tex stuff too! :D

Yowp said...

John, how many of these drawings were by Scribner and how many were his assistant's?

Yowp

JohnK said...

I don't think it is Scribner, but I don't know who else...

sorry!

Liimlsan said...

I always thought (this is wierd) that Clampett's cartoons are awesome partially because they DON'T have their heirarchy specifically in the drawings. None of the drawings is a bland on-model inbetween. It's incredible. He realized intuitively what Richard Williams and all the straight ahead guys had to learn by 50-year analysis - THERE'S REALLY NO SUCH THING AS AN INBETWEEN. Every single drawing is on the screen for the same amount of time as the last one. Heirarchy in that case blends together and leaves a mushy slop.

For an example, compare a piece of Scribner under Clampett with some later stuff - you've already covered a lot of them that cramped the characters; but there's some that failed from nobody knowing how to inbetween his distortions.
Id Est, in 'Fool Insurance', there's a scene where Daffy does a really cool take upon being handed a candle he knows is a dynamite stick (nobody these days would even approve the idea); it's obviously scribner.
And it actually fills the whole frame like good Scribner should (unlike the McKimson '40%' you talked about); the problem is that the inbetweens are so BLAND they suck the life out of it. Freeze Frame it and you can tell when Daffy slips between inbetweens...astonishingly easily, in fact.
If it was in a Clampett cartoon, it'd have decent inbetweens at the very least; but if it was in a clampett cartoon Scribner would be doing even better things than 'Have Daffy React With Surprise'.

Zoran Taylor said...

"Every single drawing is on the screen for the same amount of time as the last one."

Not true at all. There are ones, twos, fours and a whole variety of much longer holds. That's what a exposure sheet is for.

"Heirarchy in that case blends together and leaves a mushy slop."

No, it's the ABSENCE of such a heirarchy that makes things blend together. Even Scribners uses holds, extremes, in-betweens, etc. If he did exactly what you seem to be describing 100% of the time, he'd be Winsor McKay - and HE only did it that way because there was no precedent for what he was doing AT ALL. He even had to re-draw the BG for every single frame.