Monday, July 31, 2006

WHY CARTOONS FAVOR ZOMBIE AUDIENCES

It's amazing how many vintage cartoons contain zombie audience scenes like this one (above) from Clampett's "Henpecked Duck."
Look at the audience behind Daffy. The characters in the background painting are hazy and ghost-like, with blank faces as if they were just bussed in from Hell.

Here the audience has acquired some definition but they're still engulfed by an eerie mist and are lit from only one direction. Why did so many old-time directors favor this kind of weird treatment? The obvious answer is that drawing each individual head in the crowd would have been time-consuming and take too much attention away from the main characters. Look at these sharply-drawn Jack Davis heads (above). I don't know about you but I spend a lot more time looking at the faces in the crowd than the people in the car. So that might be the answer.....but it's not the only possible answer. Maybe zombie audiences were just plain funny.

28 comments:

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Oops! I forgot to thank Mark Deckter for the great pictures!

David Germain said...

Check out the zombie audience in Porky and Daffy (by Bob Clampett c. 1938) in the scene where Daffy is unconscious and Porky's trying to wake him up. All the people are frozen with big smiles on their faces. I don't know if Clampett did this on purpose to make the scene extra gooney or if it was just a mistake he didn't catch. Oh well, whatever, it's still a great cartoon.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I don't know about the zombie audience- but that busy Davis drawing is fun to look at. My eyes went straight to the profiled man eating a melting ice cream cone/chicken leg. The Where the fuck is Waldo books must have ripped this style off.

The marching band in the background also brought back some memories of being in band. This scene pretty much replicates perfectly how it felt to be in the christmas parade at Universal Studios. Gah!

Marlo Meekins said...

I thank deckter too! Hey, eddie you can use the david drawing for whatever you like.

ncross said...

Ha ha i wonder why you posted this ;)

Jorge Garrido said...

Greta post! I never noticed this before!

Ryan G. said...

Yeah, im thinking its a time issue. That Jack Davis drawing is exhausting to look at.

Anonymous said...

The Fleischers also did a ton of weird audience and background characters, starting long before Warners was even established. Sometimes they were animated, inked and painted in light grays to knock them far into the background. When there was a glaring paint flash on a prolonged cycle, it probably triggered audience seizures. Look at that Popeye cartoon that takes place in the skating rink ("A Date to Skate" from 1938) and you'll see what I'm talking about. The ghostly background people work yet that paint flash really messes with the whole cartoon. Too bad they couldn't afford (or had no time) to fix it, since it repeats so very many times. It's a pity since the rest of that cartoon is pretty darned well done.

john a said...

john aSpeaking of Fleischer Crowd scenes, there a really amazing one in the opening of "Customers Wanted"(1939)All those people walking up and down the boardwalk in front of the Penny Arcade where Popeye and Bluto are working as barkers. Popeye's moving, Bluto's moving,and the crowd is an incredible cycle that must have driven some poor artist crazy doing clean up.

Warners had a very good reason for not doing many moving crowds; they were working under extremely tight budgets, and they normally kept things like crowd scenes and special effects to a minimum. Max and Dave had small budgets too (Except on the Superman cartoons)but whenever there was an opportunity to show off their technical superiority,Max didn't have a problem with paying a few dollars more.

I'm so glad the black and white cartoons are finally coming to DVD, Cartoon Network only runs those horrible traced versions that completely butcher the craftsmanship that went into their cartoons.

ryan said...

doesnt the audience eat daffy's brains at the end of this cartoon?

Louisa The Last said...

Personally, I'd tend to think it's a combination of factors...saving time, saving money, and zombies are funny to look at. Have you ever closely watched a crowd of people staring at a TV or movie screen? They look hilariously undead. No brain activity whatsoever.

Dennis said...

Zombie audiences are just plain funny. That's as good a reason as any!

Dustin said...

That Jack Davis picture makes my head hurt.

mike f. said...

With all due respect to the Fleischers, (and the painted background ghost characters in the Betty Boop cartoon SNOW WHITE is a classic of the form) and Jack Davis, (and the incredible crowds of wall-to-wall celebrity caricatures he did for MAD Magazine in the 1950's have never been beat) - THE greatest depictions of cartoon audiences were drawn by the great E.C. Segar. They were all the same guy! Bald heads and swollen, overlapping noses, all crushed together with the same beady-eyed, blank expressions. Sometimes the action would spill out of the prizefighting ring, and Popeye and his opponent would spend a week's worth of daily strips walking around on the (oblivious) audience members' heads. Was that cool, or what?

Once, working on Beany And Cecil, we had to layout a scene at a bullfight - and for simplicity's sake the audience was drawn as a sea of sombreros.

Well, we got an angry note back from ABC's Standards & Practices Dept. informing us that was offensive or something, and it had to be changed immediately. (After all, whoever heard of anyone wearing a sombrero in Mexico?)
So someone, possibly John, suggested changing it to a sea of space helmets instead - which we did. I think S&P asked us to change it back into sombreros.

You can't "out-stupid" a network executive, now can you?

Jorge Garrido said...

Fleischer's backgrounds were best when they were in that amazing 3D tapletop process! I was watching "L'il Swee Pea" last night (in addition to all the color classics and Customers Wanted, although I didn't notice the zombie backgrounds in that one.) and their effect is absolutely astounding, even today. More cartoons these days should have interesting background. If the networks are too cheap to build 3D sets, it seems to me that the tapletop effect would be easy to duplicate in CGI, with a really realistic computerized set that could be viewed from any angle.

Eric Dotseth said...

Obviously putting less detail in the background audience would reduce costs and look favorable to the corporate-power-to-be. However, the background audience in these frames were meant to serve as background i.e. entities further in the distance. And objects in the distance will have less clarity then the foreground subject matter.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Mike: Wow! Interesting point! Why not scan a Segar crowd and send it to me? I'll put it up here. Or better still, start a blog and put it up yourself!

Jorge: I like the idea of trying a 3D model background. Either Steve or Cartoon Brew just put up something about that.

Anonymous said...

It was Cartoon Brew, from a 1939 issue of Popular Mechanics.

john a said...

No Zombie backgrounds in Popeye's "Customers Wanted"--I was commenting on an actual honest to God crowd scene, with individual characters all shown in complete clarity. Here is the opposite of the zombie background--the crowd is a living undulating mass of individual figures moving to and fro, made even more amazing because some poor bastard worked all these figures out as a cycle, try looking for something like that in a modern cartoon. I think there are Zombie backgrounds in "Morning, Noon, and Nightclub" or "Let's Celebrake".

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Marlow: Thanks!!!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Marlo: Excuse me, "Marlo!" Why do I have to spell something wrong every time I sit down to type?

David Germain said...

Hey, Eddie, I noticed something else rather interesting about The Hen-Pecked Duck (by Bob Clampett c. 1941). You don't have a picture of it here unfortnately.

Near the end of the cartoon when Daffy pleads with Judge Porky for one more chance, there's a single and quite noticeacle drop of sweat on top of his head. Anime cartoons from Japan have been using a single drop of sweat on their characters' heads pretty much since manga's inception in 1951. Did Bob Clampett invent the now famous "anime sweat drop"??? That would sooooooooo blow everybody's minds if it turns out that he did.

Marc Deckter said...

Eddie Fitzgerald said...
Oops! I forgot to thank Mark Deckter for the great pictures!


No problem! Thanks for the great post!

Louisa The Last said...

David- I know the sweatdrop was in use in Disney cartoons before then. I believe Ub Iwerks was the first to use it in those, and I'm talking before sound was added. Anyone know if it started there, or was it adopted from another medium?

Nick Sweet said...

They're both motivated-

The Daffy Duck scene (or at least the shot in question) is concentraiting on performance, it's the same thing as using a zoom lens in live-action.

I mean it's a joke right? Jack Davis is using deep focus to get the gag across. There is some real chaos in that Lonsome Pine Pinic Area. Side note- I heard Frank Miller talking about how to control the speed at which you read a comic, this seems to be an example of keeping you from immediately flipping the page. Davis's sense of draftsmanship is out of this world.

I dig them both, they work for different reasons.

David Germain said...

David- I know the sweatdrop was in use in Disney cartoons before then. I believe Ub Iwerks was the first to use it in those, and I'm talking before sound was added.

Can you cite any examples? Vague descriptions will do in lieu of knwoing any titles. I could present those descriptions to Jerry Beck and I'm sure he'd be able to figure out what they are.

Shawn Luke said...

Hi, Eddie. Great post.

When they film live action movies they fill the room with smoke to create more depth in the shot. These ghost crowds could be "ghostly" to give them a slightly out of focus effect too.
Who knows, but next time you make a cartoon you should do it too! It looks cool any ways.

Also, Mike. Space helmuts would have been HILARIOUS! My next cartoon will be all about crowds and they'll all be wearing space helmuts and...getting walked on. It'll have to take place in the desert or arctic to keep the BG cost down.

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