Saturday, September 27, 2008

50s Woody, Conservative Control and Style

Lantz cartoons are not only fun; they are very interesting to study. The different period styles offer different kinds of entertainment.The first Woody had the most unique and funny design. The animation tended to be loose and unstructured. the direction was even more haphazard.

When Lantz was imitating the Looney Tunes Avery and Clampett cartoons, they missed the point. The timing was mushy and the gags were mostly executed without much conviction. But they are still fun, lively cartoons. I had "The Screwball" on a silent 8mm film when I was a kid and I ran it a million times.
The poses in the early 40s were wacky, but not too carefully planned to balance against each other.

MID 40S - Dick Lundy Tightens The Tools

In the mid 40s Dick Lundy came in from Disney and tightened everything up. He streamlined the posing and gave the timing much more control and variety.
These poses are extremely principled. No extraneous details. The style - or aesthetics of it come straight out of the 40s West Coast animation principles. Lantz had been imitating that style superficially before Lundy brought the real thing over from Disney. It's a style built amost solely of principles.

Perfect line of action. The forms flow around the line of action.
The details-clothes, hair, color separations wrap around the forms.

Perfect hierarchy.

In this quest for perfect principles, Lundy created a beautiful style for Lantz, but also lost some of the wackiness of the earlier sloppy style.

Unlike Warner Bros., Lantz really never quite got all the elements that make a good cartoon working together at the same time. But each period, even up to about the mid fifties has some good stuff in it.
I bought the 2nd Woody DVD and found out that most of the cartoons were from the 50s and I groaned. Though Lantz completely changed Woody's design and made him cute instead of zany, you can still find some pretty good animation in some of the early 50s films . The design of most of the cartoons is really bland and conservative, and sometimes just plain drawn badly - but not in all of them.
I was looking for some cartoons that have crummy drawings but good animation - because that is a very intersting combination, and then was surprised when I found one where I actually kind of liked the design.

I really hate what they did to Buzz in the 50s - even more than Woody! After seeing those great 40s Buzz Buzzard cartoons animated by Ed Love, I sure wonder what they were thinking when they evened him out and took away all his nasty appeal.
40s Buzz

Yeesh Buzz
This degree of conservatism is evil.

But I like these...

I like the way Woody is drawn in Buccaneer Woodpecker. It's conservative, but very stylish.
He has very controlled poses and subtle stylish angles bending around his classic cartoon principles.

I like conservatism when it is stylish and very controlled. This animator has a neat way of drawing hands. It reminds me a bit of John Sibley.
You can see the great control in these poses. They are very direct and non-ambiguous.
All the separate shapes that make up the character are carefuly put together to make a whole statement. No arbitrary corners, no erratic details sticking out of his silhouette to distract you from the overall pose.
If 40s cartoons are your standard for high quality animation - as they are for me, then these don't stand up. But if you had never seen 40s cartoons, and grew up on 90s cartoons, these would seem positively brilliant.

The poses are still lively - unlke today's disjointed talking corpses.

There is still much entertainment created from what only can happen in cartoons. The animators are so used to bending the laws of nature, that even when they are going through their conservative stage, they just take cartoon magic for granted. They haven't yet got so conservative that they stop animating things that "don't make sense". That did happen in the late 50s.
That's a beautifully conservative stylish pose there.

Interesting to see just slight stylization. I like it. It must take some self control, not to go further with it.

This animator has a lot of natural appeal. I'm not sure which one it is. Maybe someone can help me out here. La Verne Harding?

When you draw small, you have to get rid of more details, and just go for the basic pose. This animator still manages to squeeze out some style.

Look how well planned these poses are in relation to each other. Everything about Woody's pose draws us down the line of his sword right know.

Compare these to modern cartoons. Characters don't relate to each other visually anymore. They are merely in proximity to each other. Just close enough to say their one-liners.
Butt stabs were still essential to cartoon humor, even as the 50s started to calm everything down.

This would be considered completely wild today. How many times have you been scolded for drawing "too cartoony" at work?

I'm not opposed to conservative styles, as long as they are not so conservative that they throw out the essentials of cartoon quality- skill, style, control and butt stabs.

The Viewmaster Woodies are much more appealing than Lantz' own cartoons from the late 50s.

It's a good thing Woody couldn't see the future.