Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wally Walrus VS UPA part 1.


I've been watching a lot of Lantz cartoons lately, particularly the late 40s films. These cartoons sort of represent full animation's last gasp before the 50s when flatter, stiffer, less animated cartoons became the style.

At Warner's in the late 40s, Jones was making his funniest films, but his animation style had already become less fully animated. His animators were mainly traveling from one Chuck Jones pose to another, but the stories Jones was directing were less geared towards allowing the animators to be the stars of the show, as they were just a few years earlier.

It depends.

Lantz had a really interesting studio. It didn't have a central style or any major creative force directing the overall studio philosophy or style. Having no strong central control I think in his case was a really good thing.

Disney on the other hand, was a studio completely controlled by his personal taste - his naive ultra-Christian bumpkin point of view. There wasn't much room for his animators to do their thing. They had to second guess or follow Walt's every kitschy tasteless whim.

Warner Bros. was also a "control" studio, but the control was split up between very different directors. Each director had free reign (as long as he made funny films) to do his cartoons the way he wanted.

Total strict control can be good or bad, depending on who's doing the controlling.


Chuck Jones and Walt Disney both exercised extreme control over their films. The difference between them is that Chuck had talent and Walt didn't. Chuck could actually do most of the things he was asking his artists to do. Walt couldn't. He had to talk them through it. He couldn't do the drawings or stage the scenes or time the cartoons. All he could do was restrict his artists from exercising what magic, personal abilities and surprises they might have had. Disney bent everyone to his will and poor artistic taste. His philosophy is he didn't want anyone or any idea to stand out:

"We allow no geniuses around our Studio."
Walt Disney

Clampett had a very different type of control over his cartoons. He could draw and had a really strong personal style, but instead of forcing his crew to draw and think just like him, he inspired everyone to add their own personal inspirations and quirks to his cartoons. They combined their styles with his. Clampett gave people the context to work within and he creatively cast his artists and managed to get everyone to do the best work of their careers. McKimson did better animation in Clampett's cartoons than he did in his own! Clampett unleashed the amazing creative powers of Rod Scribner, while every other director tried to tone him down. Mel Blanc did his best voices for Clampett. Stalling did his best music.

Clampett's style of control, to me is the optimal way to make cartoons...BUT! We need another way too. The random uncontrolled studio way.


There were so many extremely talented and skilled animators in the 30s and 40s that it would be a shame not to have ways to let them all explore what they themselves could invent if they were let loose and didn't have to be slaves to trends. Too much control over talent can lose a lot of great ideas and personal inspirations.

Luckily for history there were some studios that had great talent coming through them and no one putting the clamps on them. Terrytoons and Walter Lantz are 2 of those studios.

Jim Tyer could never have done his kind of animation at any other place but Terry's.


Even at Famous his stuff seems toned down, as if someone is really leaning on him to try to be normal. At Terry's, as long as you made your footage quota each week, you could do your own style and he sure did!

Walter Lantz himself, was probably not super talented, but he was a cartoonist and animator who obviously loved his profession and loved other cartoonists. Animators from all over the cartoon business would take breaks from other more controlled studios and work for awhile at Lantz. His directors were not strong visionaries or personalities and the cartoons that came out of Lantz' studio-especially in the 1940s are basically the products of the animators' personal styles. All kinds of different styled animators worked on the cartoons in various orders and the cartoons all look different.

The Lantz cartoons aren't really funny, not like Warner's or Tex Avery, they are basically fun stuff for kids. But some of the most fun cartoony full animation in history happened under this loose system.

Dick Lundy probably was the director with the most personal style or look of his own and you can see that he did a lot of the poses, but he still let the animators put their own personal stamps on the animation.

Stars like Grim Natwick, Freddie Moore, Ed Love, Pat Matthews and many more all had wildly different personal styles and they all obviously liked full animation for its own sake. They liked to make the movement itself shine. Under more restrictive directors, they didn't always do their best stuff, but at Lantz you can see these great full-animators doing beautiful, sometimes funny, but very lush and creative animation that just rejoices in the art of the animator. Not the art of the director, not the art of the writer, not even the art of the layout pose artist. The sheer joy of fun appealing character movement and cartoon magic. Which is what cartoon animation is primarily about.

Chuck Jones explains:

In 1948, Lantz made a whole pile of beautiful, fully animated cartoon classics, all featuring virtuoso performances by some of the all time great animators.


Now compare that scene to what happened to cartoons just 2 years later.


That's a UPA cartoon. Doesn't it make you wanna kill yourself? After a couple decades of really fun, upbeat cartoons that brought a new form of art into the world - complete magic designed to make you happy, now we have depressing downbeat dreary, creatively stifled drizzle. WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? I have a new theory about it.

To be continued...