Sunday, April 18, 2010

Daffy In Book Revue-Cartoony Believable Action

Here is the exact opposite of the "Human-Animal-Hybrid" school of animation that is so prevalent today (Shrek, Mr. Fox etc.). This is totally cartoony, completely unrealistic, yet far more believable as a living character than all those restrained, cautious and unsure-of-themselves detailed stiff modern things.

I first saw Book Revue shortly after I discovered Great Piggy Bank Robbery, Coal Black and a few other of Clampett's classics. I was initially disappointed with Book Revue because there was no story. It seemed to be a throwback to early 30s Merrie Melodies where things come to life for no reason. But I found that a lot of the scenes stayed with me - I couldn't get them out of my mind. This Daffy Duck scene is one of them. It seems like almost nothing (storywise) is happening, yet the animation of Daffy commands serious attention. Something about him and his severe belief in his mission is riveting.

These are some great staggers. Bob Jaques used to call Ren and Stimpy "the Stagger Show" which I hadn't noticed until he pointed it out.
I love the way Daffy shudders to the Jazz music.
The animation in Clampet's cartoons is so different than in the other WB directors'. I was watching some 50s Looney Tunes last night with Mike Fontanelli and it was clear that they had devolved into "Layout Cartoons" (like what I do), rather than "animated cartoons". They are expertly done, but the movement eventually became secondary to the poses.
In my favorite fully animated cartoons, I am not as aware of particular held poses as I am of the whole actions themselves - and especially when the characters are so driven from within themselves that they don't seem to be drawings at all.

You don't see these drawings in Daffy's jump, but you feel the dynamism of the action because the arc is so high.

This walk is great. It isn't just a standard formula walk; it really makes you feel how determined Daffy is in whatever he is about to do. Nothing else is important to him except his mission.
Part of that feeling is in the drawings-his expression and poses, but it's also in the great timing.
Daffy, even though he is skinny and slight, has weight and force in the walk. Can someone explain to me why CG characters have no weight? They always seem to be skating to me.

There is absolutely nothing realistic in this animation, yet to me, it's far more believable than anything modern that is crafted from Satan's recipe of formula and fear.
These animators in the 1940s had amazing confidence. They just took the scenes, did them fast with no executive interference, no formula and made the characters come to life. I think it's partly because they didn't think much of what they were doing. They took their amazing skills for granted.

This is sheer beauty to me-not just n the abstract of each flowing cartoony image - but in the intensity of Daffy's feeling. The drawings aren't just there to be examples of good principles, they do that as a secondary result of expressing the emotions of the character. Like how the Space Program gave us Velcro.

Pure, beautiful cartooniness, yet all subservient to a greater purpose.

I think that the closer animation gets to superficial "realism" the faker it looks. Do these look remotely "believable"?
Not as believable as if they just shot the actual actors.

This has been demonstrated over and over again in our history - going back to Snow White. Everybody (even then) loved the cartoony Dwarfs and noted the complete incongruity and stiffness of Snow White and the Prince. Well animated cartoon characters are far more "believable" than "realistic" mannequins.

...Yet the people who have stolen the medium away from the cartoonists keep making the same mistake. They can't let go of the impossible dream of making animation not be be magic. They are all ashamed to be stuck in our world and hope that by imitating realism they might get invited into the more respectable world of live action. Has anyone noticed that that has hardly ever happened? Tim Burton is about the only person who has made the transition and he is a cartoonist - not a "writer" or executive or producer type.
Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume Two


Olivia said...

If I recall correctly, it was in an old Disney animation book I read that for something to look more realistic, the less realistic you must make it.

I think it's supposed to relate more to robots, but it's kind of relevant here. The "uncanny valley" is a point where the closer to "human" a non-human thing looks, the more people are creeped out or repulsed.

Which yes, yes I am repulsed. I'd pick Daffy over whatever the hell is below any day.

Arctic Bunny said...

Yeh I agree- less is more. The over detailed attention applied in some 3D animations like Beowulf forces us to view it more closely and thus scrutinize it. Making them look more liken wax dolls rather than flesh and blood. Whilst simplifying allows the imagination to fill in the gaps, which is usually better.

ComiCrazys said...

Tim Burton is a cartoonist, yes, but his movies have slowly been sucking since Nightmare Before Christmas. Alice in Wonderland was utter crap.

Mitch K said...

Frank Tashlin made the transition.

Personally, after working as a tv animator for a while, I've gone back to school for live action. I can tell you that live action is only a fraction as fun as animation. When I'm finished with school, I'm going right back to cartoons.

zoe said...


What the heck does anyone do about the fact that these movies do very well at the box office? People actually like them and see them multiple times. Yeah, sure, you can always say it's because that's all that's available and no one knows any better, but what how will there ever be an incentive to change?

In other words, how do you get people's tastes to improve? Whether it's taste for awful food, awful music, awful movies, or anything else?

JohnK said...

Not many of them do. We just remember the few hits.

they don't have any competition from creative people, so no one has any choice about what to watch.

Calvin said...

The movement of Daffy in that scene is simply amazing.

The CGI stuff below was a waste of time and money. I agree with you, they should have just used the real actors.

zoe said...

It seems like the only way forward is a kind of return to Renaissance-style patronage. Make friends with a really rich guy and convince him to bankroll your project.

Anonymous said...

I was watching that same cartoon the other day on my LTGC DVD, and that scene with Daffy has always made me think that way too. There's pretty much not much of a story or even a point to "Book Revue" at all, but it's more of an excuse for the animators to do some expertly done animation. I doubt they even thought that way, but that's what I was thinking.

And I definitely agree with you on animation trying to be realistic. It's been proven over and over again that animation looks fake when it tries to be realistic and something that it wasn't meant to be, like with rotoscaping, mo-c(r)ap, and a bunch of those 70s and 80s cartoons. We haven't really learned much from the past, have we?

Oliver_A said...

Beowulf is one of the most idiotic film projects ever made. Ironically, in case of Zemeckis, it's a the other way around: a film director somehow wanting to become a cartoonist. Which brings me back to Roger Rabbit, a film which you managed to not mention in the last 4 years, yet being constantly credited for bringing back traditional animation.

talkingtj said...

again this goes to a certain artistic attitude prevalent for the last twenty years-young artist view cartoons as not serious or worthy of their time. they hate cartoons! i just had an argument with a young artist about excessive detail-i said his work had too much he felt it didnt have enough! young artist only want to draw dark and detailed in order to prove theyre serious artist, current entertainment reflects that, i argued about this in high school 20 years ago, so its no surprise to me how far its gone. creativity, originality and fun be damned, we are in the midst of a dark age of facebook name is troy cartoonist reyes-no shame in my game- ilove cartoons!

Lampshade said...

I don't get how cartoons are hyped for their "stories" instead of the qualities they're best doing at.

skillz said...

John, do you have any projects in the works?

And would you ever consider directing a CGI movie or show?

David Germain said...

I was initially disappointed with Book Revue because there was no story.

I personally think Bob Clampett did something much better with this cartoon than tell a story. Instead he plays a joke on the audience, promising them a coherent story but then yanking the rug and saying "ha ha I fooled you".

It starts with book titles coming to life. It's all fun and everything but soon you're wondering "where's the story?". Right then we see Daffy, a familiar character, and he seems to object to all the jazz being played. "Alright, a familiar character with some conflict. Here we go."
So, Daffy in a Danny Kaye impression then says POOEY to jazz and then speaks wistfully about his old village in Russia. But, with a shout of cucaracha and big splash of red, that conflict is shoved aside as Daffy just goes nuts. That's the first instance of Clampett yanking the rug on us.
Almost immediately though, Daffy invades the red riding hood story and is soon being chased by the wolf. "Aha! Now the story begins," we say. The wolf is eventually vanquished as he slides into Dante's inferno which makes everyone else, including Daffy, cheer. But, just before the cartoon ends, the wolf pops his head out of the book and shouts "STOP THAT DANCING UP THERE!!!! You sillies". So, the wolf wasn't vanquished after all, which means the story didn't truly have a resolution. That right there is Clampett yanking the rug the second time.

And he accomplished all that in 7 minutes. Only an ingenius director with a strong animation staff could have pulled off such a feat.

In case you couldn't tell, Book Revue is easily my most favourite cartoon of all time. Sadly, I'm one of the only people on the planet who fully understands it. Everyone else I show it too says "what's going on?"

HemlockMan said...

A very short but effective philosophical post. Of course the best arguments are the shortest and most logical paths.

I don't know why they keep making these so-called "realistic" animated film. The first one or two were interesting merely because it was new and I was curious to see what they were going to do with their new technology.

Alas, what they did was squeeze out turds. Now all I have to do is hear that a film is packed with CGI to know that it's going to make me freaking puke if I try to sit through it. The only time I saw CGI used in anything approximating an effective manner was in the first JURASSIC PARK film. I also liked THE INCREDIBLES, since I've always seen superheroes as funny kid stuff with cartoon physics and crazy science and not as "adult" themes. Since then, the lousy computer-generated cartoons have sucked ass.

Jonathan Harris said...

I like the way Daffy breaks out of the boundary of the book cover but the lid of the chest doesn't.

Isaac said...
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Jonathan Harris said...

Actually, I will also make a response of sort to the "restrained" remark up there. It's basically because every aspect of CG encapsulates that sort of restraint.

I'm curious to know how much you know about the process of animating a character in CG? It's pretty much all about what you CAN'T do, and working around that, and its strengths are completely contrary to any sort of spontaneity or freedom. It's great for being able to keep details and volumes consistent, but that's it.

With a good rig, you could probably do something like the example you've posted here pretty well, but, for example, the "never draw the characters the same way twice" mentality often attributed to Ren & Stimpy would be literally impossible.

Well, you could do it, with a 20 minute episode's worth of budget for 5 minutes of animation, but everything would still have to go through a million layers of planning, modelling, rigging, and what have you, so it wouldn't be nearly the same. It wouldn't be spontaneous.

Paul B said...

what do you mean by "staggers"?

drawingtherightway said...

Sometimes I wonder if today's executives use these "cgi actors" because they think that they mesh better with the cgi special effects,environments and creatures. However these "actors" always turn out unappealing so what's the point. They should just use real actors and no cgi! Get Sam Winston's studio to make the creatures out of real material! Of course this is probably more expensive then using computers... maybe they can fire a few executives!

Kingfish said...

I never understood the point of those Robert Zemeckis CGI/live action hybrids- they look awful and there are two styles they could easily use that have been proven successful on their own: animation and live action. I also don't get why with all the advances in CG technology and all the quality work that HAS been done, how a movie that looks like Shrek can still come out, and 99% of people can't see the flaws.

coolhand said...

you didnt like fantastic mr fox very much john? i would love to hear your thoughts on it. i thought it was pretty good, considering it was all stop motion puppets

Trevor Thompson said...

Mike Judge and Terry Gilliam as well.

Hey John, did you see Sin City?

Elana Pritchard said...

CGI actors have soulless eyes- but hey they're not SAG and you don't have to pay them!

Niki said...

I hated Beowulf. I read the Epic just a month before seeing it and the crazy bastardized nonsense with Grendel's mother ticked me off.

And there's this game called Mass Effect 2. It's a good game but the characters are so damn ugly. I wanted a pretty woman for my character and it was relatively impossible to do.

RooniMan said...

I'd take cartooniness over realisim anyday.

Pedro Vargas said...

Wow, that animation is beautiful. Who animated it? I love that he lands with his arms immediately up in the air next to the trunk and then swings them around to open the trunk. Lots of great rubbery arm action there.

That's a really great walk cycle too. I really feel Daffy's expression in that walk. I love the solidity of each step. So cool.

It's cool seeing it frame by frame like this in your post. I love that you can immediately feel the action in the arms and body when played normally.

Really great and original movements in these cartoons. So expressive yet super functional!

kurtwil said...

"Can someone explain to me why CG characters have no weight? They always seem to be skating to me."

That's because, often, they are.
It takes mondo computer power for a CGI character to "know" when its foot's on a floor or wall and is then supposed to propel the character. So CGI animators use motion/performance data, or various tricks to get characters to "hook up" to floors, etc. Often the tricks don't work and the character appears to "float". CGI Animators I've known hate this but their tools don't offer good solutions.

But hey, if one're animating a classic character on 2's, and panning on 1's, that character's gonna be sliding some of the time.
A digital compositor can "fix" that but at cost of having characters "Ghost" themselves. Hence Disney and other's usual trick of switching to 1's when camera's moving and back to 2's when camera's still (happens lots in Disney's Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, etc.). In rare cases they shoot camera moves on 2's which strobe like mad.

Isaac said...

Jonathan, I was under the impression that prior to rigging, a layout artist draws the scene by hand, just like in classical animation. I've seen layouts for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Wall•E, and I think the CGI artists do a good job at translating the drawings into rigs. I think it's a mental barrier more than a technological one.

kurtwil said...

Wrt layout, JK...what was/is the reason that long poses have become so prevalent in classic animation? Cost? Comic book influence? A particular director (Chuck Jones, possibly?).

It's truly ironic that CGI Animation, in an effort to imitate classic animation, also resorts to long held poses!!

BTW, unless the camera's completely locked and __nothing__ changes from frame to frame, 3D software takes just as long to render __held__ characters as it does __moving__ characters !!

Matt said...

Hey John,

I started to post a comment in response to this, but it became more than is adequate for here, so I decided to write you an open letter. :)

Amyiss said...

Most 3D animation is done in a simulated frictionless environment. A walk or running animation is done separately from the actual forward movement of the character, so rather than 'pushing' off the ground they are sliding forward along a designated path.

So, you're right, they are skating along. Actually, it's been a mark of shoddy 3d animation for ten years, odd that it still happens.

Dave_the_Turnip said...

This cartoon is one of my favourites. Especially because of Daffy's monologue and scatting.

Scrawnypumpkinseed said...

Funny, I just saw Book Revue for the first time a few days ago (very late in my life compared to most, I know).

I love it when a cartoon puts lots of detail into split-second shots rather than long, held poses. It makes it look so much more alive and its fun to freeze-frame through them!

GW said...

This may be the first and last time I post here. Since there's so many complaints about computer animation, I'd like to point out this device for drawing in virtual depth with computer animation.

This might make for some more interesting computer animation. I could do without the stereoscopic glasses, but I like the idea. It's possible to never draw the characters the same way twice on the computer with a tool like this.

Stone said...

Ugly, creepy furry stuff existed as long ago as the 1930's, Mr. K.

agsma_entretainment said...

Meh, I didn't like so much that cartoon though

lastangelman said...

Frank Tashlin made the transition into live action beautifully.

K. Nacht said...
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Roberto González said...

Book Revue is one of my favourite cartoons ever too, along with Baby Bottleneck. I totally agree with David Germain's comments. Yeah, you can totally feel the energy and determination of Daffy in that scene. I also get what you say about CGI characters "ice-skating", though they are getting better lately.

I watched Beowulf at home and the plot itself was pretty strange, as most of Neil Gaiman's work, but not exactly terrible, there were some interesting things in it. What completely ruined the movie was the way it looked and the fact that there were not real performances. I spent the whole movie thinking how unbelievable the faces of the characters were and how much better would have worked in life action. There were instances where the characters acted so artificially that I wasn't sure if they were trying to make their movements a little silly cause that was the comic relief, or it was intended to be dramatic but it didn't work.

Even Polar Express, which was previous to that one, worked a little better cause at least they used the CGI to make the whole imaginary world, but Beowulf should have been done in life action with special FX. It didn't work at all the way it was done.

She-Thing said...

Tim Burton is the only cartoonist I can think of, really. I have no other choice to watch his stuff to see something different, even if sometimes might suck.

I saw Alice, it didn't suck, but it makes me wish Mr. Burton made something original, for a change. You know, like he used to do 20 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, not related to this post, but I was curious how you got to be a commentator on one of the Looney Tunes(*Vol. 5) DVD's?

Did you know the producers involved or..?

I thoroughly enjoyed the commentaries in that collection, especially the film historians(*Mr. Ford and someone else)

I was also wondering how Kali F. got to be there also. Seemed like all she did was giggle childly and laugh at everything you and the other guy said.

Personally I found the commentaries more interesting when people had something historically relevant to say about the cartoon, not just a "fans" p.o.v.

No disrespect, I usually share your sense of design and cartoony-ness, but not on this Box set. Sincerely.

Incomparable Brian Charles said...

John I was behind you one hundred percent on this topic until you brought Sleeping Beauty into the argument. Although Prince Philip has no redeeming features, the other characters are BRILLIANT! I challenge you to present a woman in the real world as graceful and elegant as Aurora... I challenge you.

...Beowulf sucked. Just saying.

Jeffrey said...

That Daffy analysis was incredible. Until seeing it broken in to frames like that I never realized how amazing that ~7 seconds was. I am floored.

Something someone said below was making me think. A lot of CG, especially the CG in the "real world", is all motion capture. If it's motion capture, then how is that animation? It's not drawing movement. It's not even rotoscoping, where at least they have to still draw frame-by-frame over the physical action. In CG mo-cap they just make their pixels or whatever move in conjunction with their actor:
suits with sensors
is this animation?

Though, truth be told, I think Gollum is the closest they've ever come with "believable" CG...and the success is partially because he is so cartoon-like. And though Jackson's Kong was a terrible movie, I did enjoyed WETA's CG work on the giant gorilla.

And, once again, for horror it has to be believable, and NOT necessarily realistic (which is why CG has yet to hold a candle to anything Ray Harryhausen ever did).

But more to the point (one that John had made many times), why on earth are they striving for "realism" in a flying superhero mouse?

It is obvious why horror and action need to interact with a real world setting, but why the heck do they want to keep putting classic cartoons and comics (under dog, mighty mouse, chipmunks, garfield, etc.) to interact in the real world? Why not leave them in their context (i.e. an animated world) where they can actually strive and be funny? Are they just doing it because they can, without really thinking about why they should?

Kingfish said...

One of the things I love about stuff like this is that when you look at the still frames, each drawing is so solid and expertly done that you expect it to move kind of slowly, so you can see everything that’s happening. The animation was about 10 times faster than I expected because it’s all about giving the character life- there’s no showing off at all.

It’s a bit difficult to articulate what I mean but you mentioned the layout animation that happened more in the 50’s- they wanted you to see all the main poses, and everything else is mostly in-betweening (this is of course simplifying the brilliant work that WB and Chuck Jones did in the 50s). Whereas here every incredible drawing goes by faster than you can see, but the flat 2-D character actually appears to be alive.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I think this is one of my all time favs.

smackmonkey said...

Zoe said...
It seems like the only way forward is a kind of return to Renaissance-style patronage. Make friends with a really rich guy and convince him to bankroll your project.

Does anybody remember when Sir Paul bank-rolled an animated short? Yeech! A patron with a desire to control content is every bit as bad as a patron (corporation) that's only in it for the money.

I always thought that the move toward pose-to-pose animation in the Warner cartoons had more to do with directorial style than anything else. I know Jones would nearly lay out the whole cartoon whereas I thought Clampett tended to select the appropriate animator for a scene and let him do his thing.

Now I'm not so sure. Maybe it was just a money thing. Moving holds are cheaper to animate than free-flowing full animated fare.

There may also be an issue with control. There is a noticeable difference between shows like Power Puff Girls and Foster's. Both are headed up by the same person and are fairly successful productions but one show was driven heavily by the storyboard artists and the other is largely the product of writers. I was told "control" was the reason.

kurtwil said...

Jeffery, many CGI animators yearn to breath more "life" into CGI characters. Sometimes they get an opportunity - LOTH Gollum's animators often exaggerated mocap data or added embellishments to give Gollum more life. We embellished our virtual characters in THE SIXTH DAY (in my case, the girl.). But if the director/producer clamps down and demands fast results, often mocap is the only resort.

WRT Disney's Sleeping Beauty, Disney animators had extensive live action references and exaggerated drawings frequently to get characters to be "living illustrations". Still, time and money ran out and corners got cut (Aurora's awakening was limited animation, horses in the castle were xeroxed rather than colored inked).

K. Nacht said...
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Adam Tavares said...

"Satan's recipe of formula and fear".

That had me laughing. Yeah that's the same reason why the American car industry is in the gutter too. It's why any industry stagnates. You give insecure people positions of power they'll just make decisions to ensure they keep their jobs. Their self preservation takes precedent over everything else and the result is mediocrity at best and decay at worst.

vhpayes said...

Wait. Is there 2 "Book Revue" cartoons?

Brian said...


There isn't another cartoon called "Book Revue" as far as I know. You might be thinking of "Book Review", which is what it was renamed as when the cartoon was re-released.

Anonymous said...

"Book Revue" was the only entertaining cartoon in the "inanimate objects come to life" genre. Part of it is due to the animation, which as you basically said, is full of life.

Greg said...

BEOWULF is perhaps the most embarrassing film I've ever seen.

John, I have a couple questions for you:

1) Are there any instances you enjoy CGI? As another user mentioned, Lord of the Rings had some fantastic CG. I think it is works, due to the marriage of CGI and practical FX (miniatures, sets, costumes, puppets, make-up, etcetera)

2) You mentioned the stiffness of Snow White.
What are your thoughts on the rotoscoped animation in your friend Ralph Bakshi's animated version of Lord of the Rings?

Appologies for both these LOTR themed questions, but both seemed appropriate for the topic at hand.

vhpayes said...

I have one where Daffy is dressed up in a green zoot zuit singing "nothing would be finer than to be in carolina in da moooorning." in sort of a Russian accent. It's hilarious and I believe the title says "Book Revue"

Martin Juneau said...

I like everything from "Book Revue". It's kinda a more alive "inanimate Objects comes to life" film than the entire 30's cartoons formula. (Except "Have You Got Any Castles? which was mysteriously a fan-favorite since it was restored on DVD.)

pappy d said...

There was a meeting at work where somebody spliced together a closeup from Beowulf & one from 300. Both readings had the same inflection. The only difference was one was saying "I am BEOwulf!" & the other, "This is SPARta!" I won't try to describe it, but everybody was either moaning & cringing or howling with derisive laughter.

duckandfish said...

i made love to the pope last night in my dream with a eel 

duckandfish said...

i made love to the pope last night in my dream with a eel