Thursday, July 09, 2009

Smears and Poses

I remember when I first discovered "The Dover Boys" I was swept away by the technique of "smears" that the animators used to get from one pose to the next. What I later realized was much more important were the poses themselves. If you don't have great poses to get to, the smears are wasted.
This whole cartoon is great: the gags, the timing, the design, the backgrounds, the voices, the music. The smears are really just an added cool trick.

Like other animation tricks, smears are hypnotically tempting and they can distract an animator from what is more important - the cartoon itself. Luckily, Chuck Jones had his whole cartoon working from top to bottom and the smears were tailored to the ideas, rather than the other way around. Animation tricks won't make a bad design, generic pose, bland characters or a boring cartoon any better than what they are in essence.

I love this character! Dan Backslide's design is funny - a specific variation (a caricature of Ken Harris?) of a generic villain - and Mel Blanc's voice acting is great.

These poses are very strong, specific and organic.

...and funny!

This is an early experiment in "limited animation". Once the character hits his pose, his head moves around while he talks and his body stays held - but in very dynamic poses. The way the moving parts look and move is very funny and creative and this separates this kind of limited animation from the kind that most people (even executives) associate with cheap crappy stuff.
The Dover Boys really influenced the way I used limited animation once I started directing. - not the smears, but the posing and expressiveness. If you can't move everything - at least you can make the poses fun and make what does move expressive and funny.

Again, the smears are fun, but the poses are way more important to the success of the film. I see a lot of young animators who discover animation tricks and get carried away by them - while neglecting the much more important aspects of the entertainment. The harder things to do - like drawing well and drawing specific or original poses and expressions that are tailored to the story.
The rumor is that Leon Schlesinger hated this cartoon, but I can't figure out why. It's one of Jones' first really funny cartoons. But he never did anything this extreme again.
The irony is that the Dover Boys inspired the founders of UPA cartoons and later Jones said he didn't approve of the UPA approach to animation.
Bob Cannon was one of those founders and he was one of Jones' main animators in the early to mid 40s. Some say The Dover Boys was largely his idea, but who knows? Which part of the "idea"? The story? The timing? The design? The smears? It sure has Jones' posing all over it. I think it's one of the best cartoons ever made.
1942 was a very creative year at WB. The competition among the directors must have been fierce.
"Idea". What a misleading word. I meet so many people who think all it takes to make a successful cartoon is a magic "good idea". People ask me all the time, "How did you get the idea for Ren and Stimpy?" It's hard to answer quickly because there is no single idea. It's a whole bunch of ideas that keep changing. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The execution is what makes things work - or not. Talent, skill, experience putting things together coherently and entertainingly, working with people who complement your talents - a lot of more important things than having an "idea". What's the idea for The Beatles? Long hair?

I think I'll expand upon "What is an idea?" in another post