Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Generic Well Drawn Oaf by Chuck Jones

Here is a character "type" that Chuck Jones specialized in - THE OAF. Jones did the best Oaves of anyone.

This OAF only has one specific visual trait, which makes him a stereotypical Oaf. He's large and dumpy. Otherwise he is a completely generic 40s animated cartoon design. He's a big fat Elmer Fudd. Whoops! He has another Oafish trait coined by Chuck Jones - tiny legs supporting the huge dumpy body.

Jones made his proportions funny by using ridiculous contrasts.

Chuck Jones did more specific Oaf designs later with more unique physical traits as he got good at working with the general oaf type.
So what can we learn from an almost generic character? Plenty! If he's drawn phenomenally well.

Specific poses- while the character is a generic design, his poses aren't. They are very specific unto themselves and also specific to Jones' own style. They aren't stock animation poses. Jones is making them up on the spot, custom-tailored to the story. He is doing it with the aid of an extremely good knowledge of animation and drawing fundamentals.

His construction is solid.
The lines of action are strong and clear.
Clear silhouettes and staging.

Hierarchy of details -
subject to the larger forms and graphic statement.

Here's an expression that is specific to Chuck Jones. In his world it's generic, because he uses it a lot and expanded upon it later, but compared to most other cartoons of the period it is unique. It doesn't conform exactly to the formula of the Disney studio.

Perspective. The strong perspective of the mallet and the character are used to add humor to the situation. Jones' drawing tools are in service to the story and gags. They aren't used arbitrarily, just to show off that he draws well. (Not till later in his career)

These fundamental cartoon drawing skills are what the schools should be teaching. I wish to Hell artists would come to me who already have all these skills down. It would make it much easier for me to revive the kinds of cartoons most of my visitors expect from me.

If you don't have skill, you will have trouble controlling any visual idea. You will certainly not be able to tailor your drawings to a specific character in a specific scene in a specific story.

You will be a slave to the poor dexterity of your fingers and your small visual vocabulary.

Well the schools aren't going to change their evil ways, so your next best bet is just to study these great old cartoons themselves. Copy the drawings using the techniques I (and a few other blogs) explain to you and you will quickly improve.

Remember, there is a huge difference between general principles and style. You can't be an individual until you understand how things work. These early 40s cartoons are not overly stylish yet, but they are extremely controlled and can teach you a lot.

Back to the cartoon.... the cartoon progresses, Jones' poses and expressions become more and more original - or specific.

The gags in this little action sequence are the poses themselves. The guy keeps running then freezing in mid air in funny poses. If the poses were stock animation poses, they wouldn't be funny.

Amazing control! Perspective, construction, dynamics, organic flow; it's all there!

Here is a typical Jones oafish pose mixed with a typical Jones post explosion expression.

This is from 1942, right around when Jones started to find his niche. His cartoons were very experimental for years and you could see him grow from cartoon to cartoon. Extremely fast growth too!

Compare Jones cartoons from 1942 to 1947 to any 5 years of any modern cartoon studio or series. everything today is against growth. The whole system is geared to stop you from learning anything and putting your knowledge to entertainment use.



Here is a Jones cartoon with a very specific variation of an Oaf. The incongruous combination of a well-mannered, well groomed gentleman with an oafish body made for a great contrast and opened up possibilities for humor.

Jones played against the type and surprised our expectation of what an oaf should be.

I love the poses of him and Bugs riding in the elevator. Not much animation, but great observant visual humor. Jones did it by understanding the physicality of an Oaf and then drew the character trying to maintain dignified posture against his own physical nature.


Sherm Cohen can help you

While the design of these characters is decidedly primitive, they can still benefit from some strong staging tools.

Sherm explains some good tips very clearly and you can apply them to any character design.
But don't let that deter you from learning construction!


rubenh ( said...


Zoran Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
trevor said...

Hey John:

As much as I've studied this period in Jones' production, I've never taken notice of the genericness of his oaf characters.

You've given me a lot to think about.

I like this era of Chuck's work more than any other because he seemed to rely less on Maurice Noble to sell you on the art for art's sake aspect so that the animators could move the characters less and less.

- trevor.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nico said...

i love OAFS! Great post John. i wanna watch both of these cartoons right now!!

Dr. Tim said...

John Kricfalusi,

You have the most interesting blog on the internet.

Eric Stefani

Anonymous said...

Hi johnk
just read your new post about oafs and also that bit about "the spongebob picture" acting is movement and change and contrast.
so thats what good animation is made of :)
it was just a tidbit that made me think a little.

Anonymous said...

It amazes me how even the stock, (read generic,) characters of Chuck Jones, and I am assuming some other classic cartoonists, are so much better designed and utilized than almost any of the MAIN characters we see in Dreamworks, Disney, etc., today.

As a kid, I obviously never appreciated the generic oafs in WB cartoons, and always just thought they weren't interesting at all. Glad to be proven wrong. ;)

Bitter Animator said...

I'm pretty sure I don't agree at all with what is written on that Spongebob sheet. After many years of animating (mostly poorly) and seeing some people animate really well, and others not so much, one of the things that bugs the hell out of me is movement in a scene that serves no other purpose than to move something. Like somebody bobbing up and down or flailing their limbs out during lip sync, not because it enhances or illustrates the voice track, but because they (or me) are working under the misguided assumption that movement=acting. Or now, with Flash, the antic/settle abuse that goes on. It's movement. It's change. And, often, it's contrast. But it's not acting.


Movement, change and contrast are just tools to get that across. In my mind, they aren't acting itself.

Dave_the_Turnip said...

this was informative and entertaining. I laughed out loud at that picture of the magician in midair, and i haven't seen that bugs cartoon in forever (I especially love the bit when they keep running back and forth but the rooms keep changing).

It's great to see some more cartoon analysis from you.

Aaron said...

I love the timing and that little mid air thrust and the oaf's laugh, and I hate when people say "classic". No offense, rubenh. It's like saying it isn't enjoyed in a natural way anymore. Somethin's either good or it ain't (or in between). It stands the test of time or it don't (or sorta). That's my little rant for the night.

Oliver_A said...

>>Do you have an analog print of this that you could copy somehow? I suspect that if your claims of unrepresentative garishness in the digital restorations applied to just one cartoon, it would have to be this one.<<

You forget that the color Looney Tunes, along with all other cartoons, were produced in 3 strip Technicolor process. Each frame is printed 3 times on a black/white film using red/green/blue color filters, yielding a much better color seperation than later bi-pack films. Prints were made by combining the 3 layers using dye printing, resulting in very strong colors. Not only Looney Tunes, but also the life action color movies of that time were shot in this process, and they also have very strong colors. Some were even shot colourful on purpose that way, to justify this very expensive process.

So I am not completely buying into the theory that the colors on ALL Looney Tunes cartoons on DVD are much too bright. Many old movies transferred to NTSC video in the 70's and 80's have very subdued colors, and are generally looking dull. Given the primitiveness of the telecine equipment, and the lack of fidelity of colour cameras in those times, how on earth can someone claim that THESE colours are the correct ones? Just because you saw them this way the first time?

All Looney Tunes on the DVD's have been remastered from the original black/white color seperation negatives. They even developed a special software to re-align the 3 layers perfectly, resulting in a very sharp picture which could never have been achieved in this time using analogue aligning methods.

That's what John is probably referring to as "line thinning", which is technically not possible. You can sharpen images by appying a sharpening filter, but this also results in white halos around sharp contours, like black lines, and only few of the Looney Tunes have this problem. The thinner lines in those cartoons are 100% a result from the improved transfer process Warner developed. If you can't align the 3 color layers perfectly, because it is a subtractive process, you also end up with thicker black lines.

Some Cartoons may have way too bright colours, but those people working at the restoration facility are among the best people working in this field. Look at Warners life action Technicolor films on DVD like Robin Hood, Gone With the Wind, or Wizard of Oz. They look magnificient. And Technicolor IS supposed to have a strong, vibrant look.

They even replaced those DVNR Looney Tunes DVD's with copies which don't have DVNR applied.

Deemo said...

Hey John

One question I forgot to ask you is do you want the drawings really finished?

I also really like this post you put up great stuff.

I took a break later from working on stuff, and I drew some of the poses from Chucks pictures. Except I used George and Jimmy for the drawings that I did. I just wanted you to take a look and tell me what you think.

Would you like my board drawings to be as finished as some of these drawings? Im guessing you just want the proportions right.

Anyway Im going to spend all day tommorow drawing and trying to get everything proportioned right.

Thanks again


Hurricane Mitch said...

Did you notice how the Spongebob character fits the Jones Oaf formula? Big body and tiny legs. More of the Jones style in modern animation.

lastangelman said...

Several Chuck Jones oafs sprung to mind, especially the cartoons they starred in:
Cotton-tail Smith from Super-Rabbit
Joonyer from Bugs Bunny and The Three Bears
The loutish construction worker from Homeless Hare
Crusher from Rabbit Punch and Bunny Hugged

After the creation of Red Hot Ryder from Buckaroo Bugs, I noticed when Bob McKimson started directing, he kept trying to create his own little half-pint foil for Bugs, without much success, as they were all one-off variations on Yosemite Sam. It's a shame McKimson didn't simply appropriate Sam, like Freleng hijacked Tweety, he might have been funnier.

Anonymous said...


Reading this post, all of "Hare Conditioned" came back in seconds, and so did the quote "I've struck an oaf!" I know you didn't work on that episode, and it only came back to me becacuse it was hilarious, especially the word oaf.

This gives me a lot to study.

Thanks, John!

Larry Levine said...

Purest examples of Chuck Jones' sheer genius!!!

Chuck was a great fan of Chaplin (he grew up near Charlie's studio & watched him work), he knew the importance of Eric Campbell 'oaf' type villains & how to play them in the humor.

Chuck was more than an animation director, like Chaplin, he was an artist.

Nikita said...

I think I still need better character construction.

thanks for this Chuck is actually my favorite from the looney toons directors, I really want to learn how to make those kinds of inbetweens

JohnK said...

Forget the inbetweens, get the strong keys!

trevor said...

So I am not completely buying into the theory that the colors on ALL Looney Tunes cartoons on DVD are much too bright.

You should. The best way to prove that is to look at the books ( "That's All Folks" by Steve Schneider or Chuck's books "Chuck Amuck" and "Chuck Reducks" ) that have full color photos of the original cels and backgrounds.

If you look at them and then the corresponding 'cleaned up' counterparts, you'll notice, without a doubt, that those videotapes do a much more accurate job of matching the original artists' intent.

I had those books when I was a lil' tyke, and would read them while watching the cartoons on videotape. They didn't stand out as different at all.

They do now, though. They look like they were colored by 80's color stylists.

- trevor.

Max Ward said...

Speaking of oafs, i watched "Fake Dad" last night. That's one of the most underrated episodes of Ren and Stimpy ever! I was cracking up so hard all the way through. Do you like that one?

:: smo :: said...

right now i'm feeling really stuck.

i feel like i only progressed so far as an artist, started getting work, then couldn't study as much as i'd like to get from "ok" to "good."

especially when the work i'm getting doesn't expect me to use any of these good principles let alone actually draw half the time.

i sneak it in when i can but it's not the best way to learn.

part of me really wants to leave new york city and move somewhere i can take a little bit of a financial hit and just STUDY.

working in animation isn't the same as being an animator. at least not being a good one.

what are your thoughts on bailing on the industry for a bit for the sake of devoted study?

JohnK said...

Hi Max

I like Fake Dad lot, although they cut it down pretty awkwardly. Nickelodeon really hated that episode!

Smo: keep working! Study at nights. That's what I did. I would just pop a tape into the vcr and freeze frame it. I drew the poses and tried to analyze what made them so good.

Bob Jaques would actually study the timing by measuring the distance between each drawing on the TV screen! He became an expert at it.

David Nethery said...

I love that big Oaf !

*Hi, John,

I just noticed several posts back you had asked me a question, but I missed it then . (sometimes I go a week or two between visits to the blog) Sorry, I didn't mean to ignore your question.

You asked:

"David N.
what are you working on now?"

Well, at the moment my day job is preaching the Good News about the True Faith , that Old Time Animation Gospel ( i.e . Clampett, Jones, Avery, Freleng, et al. ... YES, Freleng .. don't you say anything John ... and also the good Disney stuff ... uh-uh ... not a word now. ) to animation students at Academy of Art University. By the way, you make my job easier because a lot of times I can say : "hey kids, just go look at the examples that John K posted today. Couldn't have come up with better examples myself . Go spend a few hours analyzing that stuff . Class dismissed." . ( ok, maybe not really that simple , and I am way more positive about Disney than you generally are, so they get more or less equal amounts of Warner's/MGM/Disney stuff from me , but seriously I do sincerely appreciate the good examples you post on your blog here. )

"These fundamental cartoon drawing skills are what the schools should be teaching. I wish to Hell artists would come to me who already have all these skills down. It would make it much easier for me to revive the kinds of cartoons most of my visitors expect from me."

Doing my best .


trevor said...


- trevor.

PS: "GOOD-BYE DADDY!! GOOD-BYE DADDY!!" I remember actually getting a lump when I was a kid.

David Nethery said...

"Generic" character or not, these really are great poses and expressions. Thanks for posting these.

This one almost looks like a Milt Gross drawing, especially in the face.

I haven't seen "Case of the Missing Hare" in a while, but I'm going to go step through it frame-by- frame again. Students : this is a great exercise to do , go through the whole film frame by frame.

(Case of the Missing Hare is one of the ones that *we used to put on the Steenbeck and trace-off poses on to animation paper by taping a peg bar to the Steenbeck screen. We got a bunch of old 16mm prints from one of the libraries in Ottawa that was converting to video so they were selling their 16mm and Super8mm prints cheap.

(*I say "we" : that means me, Jamie Oliff, Nik Ranieri, Cal LeDuc, Gerard DeSouza , and some of the other guys when we were all serving our time at Atkinsons in the mid-80's. This was the best education , and now it's so much easier with DVD to step-frame through these things and even put them on a Cintiq screen to trace off the poses.)

There's something about actually tracing off these poses by your own hand that makes you start to "feel" the kind of shapes and animation techniques the Schelesinger/Warner animators were using. I'm not too proud to admit it: I'm still analyzing this stuff because I'm still learning. And it's not just nostalgia for "the good ol' days" . This stuff really is better. End of sermon.

Tim Rauch said...

dear god those are beautiful drawings! thanks for posting.

Mitch K said...

Oh man!! My mom bought me that cartoon on VHS when I was two or three. She bought me a few Looney Tunes, some Popeyes and some Supermans. She wanted me to have 'boy' cartoons, I guess (she never bought me any Betty Boop!)

I've seen that cartoon a million times. I'm sure I wore out that tape. I don't think they once show the audience.

Deniseletter said...

Sorry John,I don't understand your comment about Bob Jaques.Could you explain me more?
Which is the relation that have the distance between each drawing and to measure the timing in animation? in other words
How to measure the timing with the distance between drawings?

Thanx in advance

Bob Jaques said...

>>Bob Jaques would actually study the timing by measuring the distance between each drawing on the TV screen! He became an expert at it.<<

Long before I studied animation on a TV screen I would set up a 16mm projector aimed at my animation disc and trace off scenes of animation to flip.

Elana Pritchard said...

A few months ago I was a very different artist. I thought everything I spit out was fucking phenomenal, all I wanted was my own style (so I could be famous?), and I assumed that being an animator these days didn't have much to do with classic animation principals. Basically I was pretty clueless.

Present day I feel like a whole new world has opened up for me, I have studied, my work has improved, and I have learned (and learn more everyday) so much from your blog- I just want to thank you for all the time you have taken sharing your knowledge-



Sven Hoek said...

Being an oaf myself(sort of a cross between Kowalski and Bakshi) I loved this post!
1-2-3-4 Red Light, what a riot!

Looking at these "classic" screenshots it occured to me that a huge difference between the older and newer animation is the depiction of emotions. I was trying to describe the emotion of the characters in this post and had to use a bunch of different descriptions. I look at the newer animation and it is so bland I dont think they have any emotion beyond happy and sad.

He is Oh-ly, you are Sven.
Love you John

Raff said...

These fundamental cartoon drawing skills are what the schools should be teaching. <<

They have to be teaching these skills - hell, I need them just to get in the door at Sheridan!

(Practice continues)

Everyone must be learning them and then IMMEDIATELY throwing them away once they graduate - or sooner. It's like graduating from a major music school and then playing nothing but punk for 5 years.

Plus that crucial period of ongoing practice and application after school just isn't there.

Stephen Worth said...

Oliver, three strip Technicolor wasn't known for the brilliance of its colors, it was known for the balance and blend of colors it was capable of reproducing.

I've restored hundreds of original Warner Bros cels, carefully matching all of the colors of paint that they used. Warners used a limited range of colors compared to Disney, and I came to know that palette well. There's a grayed magenta and pale mint green that they often used for props that are dead giveaways for improper color saturation.

Some of the recent transfers are good, but the majority of them have boosted saturation. The pale magenta turns hot pink and the grayed mint green turns into electric true green. The subtlety of underpainting in backgrounds and colors muted with a complement (rather than just graying them down) gets totally wiped out by the glowing primaries that the video process emphasizes.

I've seen many of these films on the big screen in original IB Tech prints, and the films look quite different than the videos. These fadeless prints look much closer to the original artwork than the videos do.

See ya

smackmonkey said...

Does Yosemite Sam qualify as a quasi mini-oaf in the general Warner's pantheon?

"I wish to Hell artists would come to me who already have all these skills down. It would make it much easier for me to revive the kinds of cartoons most of my visitors expect from me."

Not sure I gots the goods. Would like to give it a try sometime.

Oliver_A said...

Hello Stephen,

>>I've seen many of these films on the big screen in original IB Tech prints, and the films look quite different than the videos. These fadeless prints look much closer to the original artwork than the videos do.<<

Watching original dye prints of that time is of course the strongest indicator of the original look, and are normally used as a reference when doing digital restorations from the original seperation masters.

I was mainly arguing against that everyone was referring VHS copies (!) as an indication how those cartoons are supposed to look, without realizing that the result can be as fake looking as digital tampering, due to the telecine equipment being used and the fact that NTSC has its own way to mess with colors. Especially when stored on analogue tape mediums.

I was being that sceptical because Warner has the best reputation among all major studios in film restoration, and a lot of things in most Looney Tunes indicate they did a good job:

- original grain is clearly visible
- artefacts like cel dust are also clearly visible

Which indicates they really held themselves back. Just look at the Disney DVD's of their classic movies, they basically look now as if they have been animated on the CAPS system.

trevor said...

I would just pop a tape into the vcr and freeze frame it.


I wasn't able to do that until after Ren and Stimpy came out. Before that, the VCRs we had at my house weren't capable of holding the frame still.

All the drawings of stuff I'd freeze-framed didn't look too good, because I had to guess a lot of the time.

The worst were my Roger Rabbit and Jessica Rabbit copies ( there were many dirty attempts on the latter ).

Thank God for that Preston Blair book and my comics.

- trevor.

:: smo :: said...

thanks for the input!

i figure new york is a solid forum for getting other disgruntled animators together to study with too, so i'll try and do some of that if i can.

i've been doing a lot of old preston blair study again and am going through a lot of your cartoon college posts and other things i've collected. i definitely don't pick apart dvds enough! i've got to get doing more of that and look at spacing! i did it a little with some scribner in piggybank robbery, but i should be doing it all the time!

thanks again for the blog, it definitely helps keep me pushing to be better.

Gabriele_Gabba said...

I have to say, drawing the right way recently with the aid of Preston Blair is changing the way i think AND draw.

I can't believe its taken me so long to discover construction!

I really like this post on Chuck Jones, and i REALLY REALLY hope you do more on other directors since i know so little about them and their stylistic contributions!


SoleilSmile said...

I remember one of the Spumcoites told me you and therefore the studio was no fond Chuck Jones. What changed you mind?

He was always my favorite, because his cartoons are so pretty and he portrayed Bugs as a swanky bachelor.
I love that!

mike f. said...

One reason the oaf of HARE CONDITIONED may be slightly more specific is because he's based on a real person - veteran character actor Hal Peary, who played The Great Gildersleeve on the radio. Bugs even refers to him as the "Great Gildersneeze" at one point. Mel Blanc is actually imitating Peary; including his weird laugh and odd speech rhythms, (it sounds like he might also be channeling Frank Nelson, the rude clerk from the Jack Benny Show).

By the time of the Crusher, Little John from RABBIT HOOD and Junyer Bear, Jones virtually owned this character type in cartoons. Great analytical post.

JohnK said...

"I remember one of the Spumcoites told me you and therefore the studio was no fond Chuck Jones. What changed you mind?"

Just goes to show, you shouldn't believe any crazy rumors.

I've always loved Chuck Jones. Esp. his 40s stuff.

Caleb Bowen said...

Hey John,
You may already know this, but Wicks started a cartoon fundamentals blog. So far we're going thru every Preston drawing one at a time. There is already a lot of improvement, and all due to your great tutelage. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey John,

Although I'm not sure about the other Animation schooling out there, But from what I hear, you're totally right.
Except for the Vancouver Film School classical animation course.
The teachers there are wonderful, They teach the fundamentals of Animation: Structure, Line of Action, Antic and Overshoot.. And the rest I haven't mentioned.
One of my teachers.. Moose Pagen, worked on your Big House Blues pilot with Carbunkle Cartoons..
And 2 others, Peter MacAdams and Cory Evans Both worked on your Lost Episodes.

Anywho.. I just wanted to let you and anyone else who cares, that there still is hope among the restraints out there.

trevor said...

Yaay Cartoon Fundamentals!

Hey Caleb:

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I am at the mercy of Verizon right now, who seem to be hellbent on making me miserable.

I promise I will post lessons 2 through 4 soon. Tell David to not hate me.

- trevor.

Zoran Taylor said...

>It's like graduating from a major music school and then playing nothing but punk for 5 years.<

Except that punk had vitality, energy and humanity. Modern cartoons have bupkiss. different story.

Mitch K said...

> Each frame is printed 3 times on a black/white film using red/green/blue color filters...

'Green' wasn't used at all. It was actually Yellow. The colour filters that were used for Technicolor were: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow.

Vince M. said...

Hey john, don't forget "Crusher", the biggest oaf of them all! When I first came out here to the west coast a Warner Stores exec blew all kinds of smoke up my rear, telling me that one of my Crusher "Surf Programs" opened the WB Animation heads eyes to the fact that a Crusher short or feature film was just what they were lookin' for. The schmuck was fired a few months later and I'm still waiting to see Crusher hangin' ten at the local cineplex.

Sound familiar?

Rossco said...

My favourite Jones oaf is Giovanni Jones, from Long-Haired Hare. Creating a highly sophisticated Oaf is a true testiment to Jones' cartoon genius. Giovanni's expressions when Bugs becomes Leopold are amazing.

JohnK said...

Oliver: You're wrong.

They even have a documentary on one of the disks where they show the engineers bragging about how they can change the colors.

There are a lot more colors in the cartoons before they started tampering with them.

Now there are just primary and secondary colors and all the subtle tints that you used to be able to see are wiped out and replaced with flat one shade-covers-all.

And they do a lot more than that.

I have caught post houses doing that to my own cartoons ... and ruining the sound too.

Patrick Seery said...

John, thank you so much for posting up Sherm's work. It's really helping me express my inanimate object in his double take.

Luckily our Animation class isn't uptight when it comes to the "Rules of Animation" She really lets us experiment, but lets us find out things for ourselves. Which could be a bad thing if you don't do your research and find great advice from people like you.