Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Jim Tyer

Mags Tyer
Uploaded by thadk

The above compilation, done by Thad K, is a collection of Jim Tyer animation done for Terrytoons. Besides Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle, there are clips from the Terry Bears, Little Roquefort, Gandy Goose and Sourpuss, and one-shot cartoons.

In the past, I've compared Tyer to Curly Howard of The Three Stooges, but the more I see of Tyer's work, the more I think that I underestimated him. Ed Wynn said (as Chuck Jones quoted him) that a comedian isn't someone who opens a funny door, he's someone who opens a door funny. That's Tyer. The gags in this compilation are nothing special; their humour comes from how they are performed.

I'll admit to being something of an animation snob. My pet peeve is that animation sticks too much to surfaces and doesn't grapple enough with strong emotions and the realities of human existence. However, I love Tyer. His work makes me laugh out loud in ways that the work of more conventional animators does not. He's from the tradition of coarseness that Will Finn writes about here and here.

Most of all, he reminds us that it's possible to animate funny. There's a Harpo Marx innocence and exuberance in Tyer's work; you can tell how much fun he's having while animating a scene. He breaks just about all the rules of animating: he draws off model, his characters lack structure, his volumes are inconsistent, and his work lacks a feeling of weight and momentum. But his rule-breaking is not the result of ignorance or lack of skill. Everything he does provokes laughter, even when the material is old and tired. Jim Tyer was a gifted, natural comedian. Compare the compilation above to anything currently on TV. If TV animation has any motion as funny as Tyer, somebody please tell me about it. I could use the laughs.

I've recently begun to wonder if Bob Clampett and Rod Scribner weren't an influence on Tyer. Their wildest work was in the early to mid 1940s when Tyer was still at Famous Studios. It was at Famous that Tyer's animation style began to emerge and by all accounts, he was fired for not sticking to a more conservative approach. Once Clampett left Warners, Scribner's work was never the same as he never found a director as sympathetic as Clampett. Tyer never found a director as sympathetic, but he did find several who were apathetic. At Terry, Tyer was left alone to pursue his own approach. While his work is not as controlled or as structural as Scribner's, I wonder if Tyer didn't take Scribner's work as an inspiration and a challenge.

Kudos to Thad for editing the compilation. It was a nice way to start 2008 and here's hoping it's an indication of how the rest of the year will play out. I wish everyone reading this a happy, healthy and productive new year.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Hey Mark Great retrospect on Tyer. You as well as I never realized how talented he actually was. There is some absolutely amazing and inventive stuff going on in this compilation. Though it may lack weight and anticipation in some area's which is accustomed to our formalist animation point of views. Thanks for sharing this!
Also I was wondering will you ever make some print outs of your dissertation on Pinocchio, if so I would love to buy a copy from you :)

Thad said...

Thanks Mark!
Tyer is definitely one of the greats, and I don't think his narrow range should hurt him when compared to others. That's sort of like saying Groucho Marx or Stan Laurel are lesser actors for the same reason.
Looking forward to your blogging in '08!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that at Famous, Dan Gordon and Izzy Sparber were the ones who, for whatever reason, allowed Tyer's style to develop. He was never permitted by Seymour Kneitel to experiment as much when he supervised his Popeyes, and Bill Tytla put Tyer under extensive wraps after their first cartoon together.

(For me the first noticeable thing about the Tyer cartoons under Gordon and Sparber was how ugly and off-model some of the scenes were compared to the other cartoons done at the same time. Then I started connecting both the animation and the head animator to the fact that these were also among the funniest Popeyes done during that period, and that about the time Tyer left the studio, they started getting less and less funny.)

Will Finn said...

Mark your comments here and on Thad's are spot on and precisely put. I started getting "into" Tyer as an adult right around the time I came back to Disney and everybody thought I was nuts for liking Terrytoons. I didn't take much advantage of buying the VHS tapes that were around though (except SIDNEY) and i regret it. Every time I get to see one though, it blows my mind.

The most startling thing IMO about Tyer is the fact that everything he does would almost certainly ruin anyone else's work. Animation usually works best when it is more or less direct and devoid of tangental ideas, yet Tyer makes these his stock in trade. Somehow it's all "clear" too: you can see and understand everything he's doing (even extraneous effects) and it somehow all "flows" in spite of the general lack of simple or even direct motion patterns. And of course it is funny as hell.

Lastly I'll add that after watching decades of "experimental" and "independent" animation, it is ironic that these cheaply done Terrytoons harbor such nuggets of genuinely natural genius.

Mitchel Kennedy said...

I don't know how Tyer's stuff moves -- no matter how much I see it, I just don't get it! I want to be able to do it like he did. He always seems to treat the drawings as drawings, and not entirely as 3D forms. It's so lively and fun! How did he do it!?

Happy '08 Mark!

Willy Ashworth said...

Happy New Year Mark

Thanks for this posting!!

I've long loved the sheer fun and inventiveness of the H&J cartoons. They had a profound effect upon my early animation.

To me, it is all about funny drawings, and the element of surprise, and this compilation is rife with 'em!!

This has been a perfect antidote to a malady I've been suffering lately.... I'm not sure what you' d call it, but it is the trembles and shakes I get while watching what passes for most animation these days, especially "animation" create in Flash-like programs.

You probably know the kind I mean..thoughtless, lazy, unappealing movement, generated by the tools the program has to offer, with little input from the 'animator".

Volumes "squashed" digitally and awkwardly, heads pivoting weirdly, and arms and hands moving without joint consideration are only a few of things that make most of this type of "animation' most unwatchable.

Just because it moves does not mean it is animation.

There is good Flash-like animation out there, but it comes as no surprise that the best of it is hand drawn initially.

Thanks again for the post Mark. It brought a huge smile to my face.

Anonymous said...

Ive always been a huge Fleischer/Famous fan nad think that firing Jim Tyer was a big Mistake on the part of Famous Studios and probably cost them in the long run. His Popeyes were first rate- Were on our way To Rio and Rocket To Mars are my 2 favorite Tyer episodes. with WWII over and guys like Tom Johnson, Frank Endres and Al Eugster returning,mabye Tyer was the odd man out. Imagine Tyer turned loose on Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip and others,mabyr even Casper! This Iwould have loved to see.Also Ive always wondered why Dave Tendlar did no more Popeyes after 1949. He was amainstay since 1935,and this is rather peculiar. Anyone able to shed light on this?