Thursday, March 08, 2007

Jones Against the Tide

Courtesy of Paul Spector (son of animator Irv Spector), here is a really interesting article by Chuck Jones from 1964. I don't believe it's ever been reprinted. Certainly, it was unknown to me. The article comes from program notes for a screening sponsored by ASIFA.




The article is worth reading for Jones' view on the state of the industry during a major transition. This was the second big industrial transition for the business (the first being the introduction of sound) and for most of the veteran animation personnel of the time, it was the first big shift in the business since they joined it.

We've been through a lot of transitions in the last 15 years (the collapse of drawn animation, the growth of cgi, the introduction of 2D software like Flash, increased globalization, etc.), so it's interesting to see how Jones viewed 1964. He fought a losing battle, first trying to reinvigorate theatrical shorts at MGM and then retreating to TV, but fighting to work for prime time with its higher budgets rather than for Saturday mornings.

While he justifiably casts stones at UPA and Hanna-Barbera, the irony is that Jones didn't do much with the opportunities that he found for himself. His timing and posing became increasingly mannered and his TV work became dominated by dialogue. While he cursed the darkness, the candles he lit didn't burn very brightly. He obviously had hopes for the future, but the truth is that his best films were already behind him, just as they were for UPA and Hanna-Barbera.

13 comments:

Thad K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thad K said...

Jones was really on-the-mark with much of his commentary, particularly about UPA, though ironically, he began to imitate those pose-to-pose moving graphic pictures in much of his own later Warner work.

It's a shame his own cartoons from this time on seemed to hark back to his Sniffles days. Beautiful drawings, but bland as hell.

Pete Emslie said...

I agree with much of what Chuck has said here, though I certainly understand Mark's criticism of his animated output during that same time period. Chuck's "Tom and Jerry" cartoons are pretty mediocre for a start, and I know his "Gay Purr-ee" and "Phantom Tollbooth" are not highly thought of. I do think he fared better on TV, creating his fully-animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", which has remained a high point in TV animation to this day. Ironically, I think his Warners colleague, Friz Freleng was quietly doing something quite admirable with his 60's "Pink Panther" cartoons, picking up the torch and running with it, even if it was not burning quite so brightly as in the Golden Age days. At least there was some fun cartoon design in a (somewhat)fully-animated and highly visual pantomime approach.

It's interesting how the passing of time changes our opinions somewhat, however. Looking back at the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, many of us can appreciate them for what they are, as opposed to what they aren't. They may not have had the luxury of full animation, but they were still rather attractively designed for the low budgets and time constraints of the medium of television. And all things being relative, they sure do look great compared to much of the poorly designed dreck that is on TV today. I personally will never be convinced of any merit to Flash animation, I admit. It was created to allow some primitive animation on internet sites, where I can appreciate it as a novelty, but as soon as it made the leap to broadcast TV it became an excuse for creating ever cheaper and uglier crap in very tight schedules. It is the computerized equivalent of cardboard cutouts shifting around onscreen, completely devoid of the personality and individuality that might be brought to it by a talented cartoonist. Oddly enough, Chuck Jones dabbled in it briefly in his final years with that rather awful "Timber Wolf" stuff. Whatever was he thinking?

Nancy said...

The THOMAS TIMBERWOLF cartoons were improving dramatically toward the latter part of the series. The character was a bit of a one-note, but some of the secondary characters were very nice and Thomas was starting to develop as a character when Chuck died.
The Flash work was no worse than that of some television animation, particularly the Hanna Barbera variety; and Maurice Noble's color and design translated beautifully to the internet.
You can see all of the cartoons here. http://frededison.free.fr/ and judge for yourself if they amuse more or less than 6o's Pink Panther cartons (which I found dull and formulaic.)
The medium is not the message!
Some of the most amusing and interesting animation I've seen recently has been in FLASH. Nina Paley's SITA SINGS THE BLUES (http://www.ninapaley.com) is a lot more appealing to me than most television animation, and I saw no quanlitative difference between John Kricfalusi's THE GODDAMN GEORGE LIQUOR PROGRAM and the REN AND STIMPY SHOW. Flash is improving all the time--it's the ideas that need work.

Pete Emslie said...

The medium may not be the message, Nancy, but in my case the medium is what captures my interest or not. Just to clarify, I am not knocking the actual drawing on "Thomas Timberwolf", only the medium of Flash in which it is presented. I've seen enough Flash animation at this point to know there is a range of difference in quality, however there is something inherent in Flash that I absolutely can't stand no matter how good the execution may be. I find the harsh vectorized line to be sterile and not as appealing as a line made by human hand with a traditional pencil, pen or brush. There are incongruities in the Flash line that make it look like it's been hacked out with an Exacto knife on either side. Even if the artist goes in and fixes it with the damn bezier curves tool, it still looks harsh and unnatural to me. Likewise, I really can't stand computerized colour - it's painting with light rather than real paint and it lacks warmth and humanity. Sorry, but it boils down to one's personal tastes, and I just detest the look of Flash. As for the difference between John K's "George Liquor Show" with Flash and his original "Ren and Stimpy" TV shows in traditional animation, to me it's like night and day. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Now please excuse me while I go and watch "The Pink Phink"... :)

Michael Sporn said...

You go, Pete! I couldn't agree with you more. However, you should take a look at Nina Paley's films; they're quite good.

Another problem with most Flash work to me is that hey're really just cut outs shifting about. This doesn't go much beyond the animation in some of JR Bray's animated films of the 19-teens. Animation should convince you that the character is alive and thinking. I haven't seen this by anyone in a Flash film yet. As a matter of fact that's also true of most recent tv work (which these days is also done in Flash.)

As for Jones' article, it looks more like a disguised press release than anything else. I don't blame him for it, but some of that MGM work he did was ghastly. It hardly felt like a return to full character animation.

Anonymous said...

http://www.biteycastle.com/

That's some pretty impressive work. Flash is just a medium.

David N said...

Well, there may be a whiff of self-aggrandizement in Chuck Jones's article, but I think he basically was correct in his assessment of what was happening to the craft of animation at that time and , surprise, surprise: "the more things change the more they stay the same", his words are easily applied to much of what is produced in Flash these days .

"The spastic cut-outs of today's "animation" are for those who can stomach them, but do not , I ask you , disgrace a great craft by calling what you do "modern" and do not call yourselves "animators" -- it is a proud name and should be reserved for those who find pride in it."

Mark Mayerson said...

David, I think that Jones was bang on and I hope I didn't imply otherwise. It's just odd to me that Jones continued to be articulate when talking about good animation in the years after WB but was less capable of making good animation.

Kent B said...

In the late '70s Ben Washam was teaching "clasical" animation to a bunch of young cartoonists. I was in this class alopng with eddie Fitzgerald & Tom Minton. For one class, Benny took us up to Chuck Jones' studio on Sunset Blvd. Well, this was a great treat for all of us! Chuck had a couple of TV specials he was working on, and he said he'd give us each a scene to animate for him. (Benny was assigned 100 feet or so, but he was very busy at this time animating Captain Crunch commercials for Jay Ward) Well, for one reason or another, Chuck didn't give any of us a scene to animate, and Ben ended up animating one scene out of the 100 feet, and returned the rest.

Now it seems that Chuck had a chance to do something about the lack of "Master animators" by giving us a chance. You know we all would have knocked ourselves out to do our scene for Chuck, but he ended up giving the work to Charlie Downs & Tom Ray (nothing against those guys, by the way) - So it was a kind of self-fullfilling prophesy.

Anonymous said...

>> I find the harsh vectorized line to be sterile and not as appealing as a line made by human hand with a traditional pencil, pen or brush. There are incongruities in the Flash line that make it look like it's been hacked out with an Exacto knife on either side. Even if the artist goes in and fixes it with the damn bezier curves tool, it still looks harsh and unnatural to me. Likewise, I really can't stand computerized colour - it's painting with light rather than real paint and it lacks warmth and humanity.

Copernicus Turnaround music video

hand drawn keys,flash animation, with a hell of a lot of after effects(like a multiplane camera), photoshop and art rage to kill the "vector razorblade".

You can make it look "classic" if you really try, with out the armada of ink and paint and camera techs you would need doing it the traditional route.

Anonymous said...

oops /\ link doesn't work...

http://www.belowmemusic.com/turnaround/

Will Finn said...

wow. great post! its a real treat to read this. i have to agree, but at the same time i do think there is such a thing as artful "limited" animation, where the action is well thought out and fun to watch.