Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Revue - Wolf With Axe

I think it's pretty obvious that Clampett was the most influential 40s animation director. His "looney" energy, character driven comedy and wild invention dragged Chuck and Friz along practically against their will for years. The whole attitude of Looney Tunes is based on Bob's personality (and some of Tex's). Everyone was influenced by and imitated Clampett superficially, but there are some things he did so well that almost nobody followed up on them. His style of custom movement for example. He directed the motion in his cartoons like nobody else. By the mid 40s, it was never enough to just tell the joke or get the character from this pose to that pose. The motion itself is mesmerizing. It's not merely "cartoony" as in early 30s cartoons. It's cartoony and unrealistic, but unlike early cartoons it has weight power, emphasis and control. It feels more real than reality. Clampett found a way to combine the magic and invention of early cartoons with the skills and principles of Disney animation.

Book Revue, like Tokyo Woes is a practical encyclopedia of amazing animation techniques that he just dumped on the whole business to let everyone pick up on them - and no one did. I don't get it.

Here's a scene that has a ton of energy and power, and it's totally cartoony.

Antic, Bounce, swing and antic
This would merely be an antic in anyone else's cartoon, but here it's like an animation tour de force. The wolf actually antics a couple times as the axe bounces from its heavy weight.

..then instead of just going from the antic directly to the tree, the wolf swings the whole axe all the way around first. This builds up way more energy than a direct antic and hit. - he uses this same technique to get the characters into the scene. They don't just run directly to the tree - they go all the way around first, but it's animated so fast that you don't really see it. You feel all that extra speed and energy though.
Clampett packs more action into a scene than anyone, yet he does it with such perfect timing that you don't miss anything important. All the actions take place within a structured hierarchy.

Axe Hits and Recoils
When he finally hits the tree with the axe, he generates more power with this crazy long vibrating recoil...

CUT: Wolf wobbles and hat pops off
This scene always baffled me. I never quite understood what was happening, but it's animated so powerfully and with such great timing and fun that it just stands out like a piece of pure animation candy. The animation is the reason for it's existence. It's not exactly needed for story or even for the completion of the point of the scene. It's just really Goddamned cool.

The only person smart enough (that I can think of) that ever took advantage of Clampett's great animation techniques was Brad Caslor - almost 40 years later in his NFB cartoon "Get A Job". After Clampett left Warner Bros. in 1946 his style of movement was replaced (or abandoned) quickly with pose to pose animation and formula. Even his own animators never did this kind of thing again-probably because no one would let them.

To me, this is the whole reason to even do animation. -To make things move with such inventiveness and vigor that no other medium can compete with it. It should be fun to watch even with the sound off. Story, characters, design, backgrounds and the other arts we use to supplement our medium are all extra gravy, but without the basic ingredient of customized magic movement we are not taking advantage of what it's all about.

You can find better stories in books and movies. Better illustrations in magazines and on book covers, richer characters in Dickens and in classic sitcoms. Where else can you get get magic moving eye candy but in animated cartoons when they are in top form? - and why do so few places and people want to give it to you?

Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume Two