Thursday, February 14, 2008

CARTOONING LESSONS BY SCRIBNER AND CLAMPETT

I thought I'd do a whole post on the subject of Clampett's "Buckaroo Bugs," but I quickly realized that the cartoon is so rich that I could scarcely do justice to a whole sequence here, let alone the whole film. Maybe I'll focus in more narrowly, just on the cartooning in one of the sequences.

Clampett was lucky to have an animator, Rod Scribner, who was a terrific cartoonist as well as a brilliant animator. He could draw funny, he could move things funny, he could act a character and project a winning personality, and he had that indefinable thing that's so rare in the industry...charisma. Since Clampett had a lot of these virtues himself, the match was made in heaven.

The title card credits Manny Gould as the principal animator in this cartoon. I wish I could tell which scenes were his. I'm crediting Scribner with the animation here, because it looks like his style, but Clampett's practice of switching animators in mid-scene can make identification difficult.

Anyway, here's the cartoon, starting about a quarter of the way in. Bugs is pretending to be a bandit and has just denuded Red Hot Ryder with a magnet to the belt buckle.


Before we talk about the action, check out what's happening in the drawing above. Bugs is a big guy wearing a black mask, which is a strong graphic symbol denoting mystery and menace. Red Hot Ryder is a tiny little guy with panties and what appears to be woman's shoes (they're actually short boots).

It's a clash of opposites with big, pretending-to-be-mean Bugs attacking what looks like a poor little lady. A third element is the absurdly over-sized hat, which has a life of its own and threatens to overshadow whatever Bugs and the "lady" do.

Bugs makes like he's going to grapple with the little guy but instead comically attacks the guy's hat.


He pulls up on the hat and the little guy is pulled along with it. Look how inert the little guy is! It's funny to see a body that had a will and a structure a moment before, suddenly become a wet sack of potatoes. This is not only a funny thing to do, but it underlines the idea that gravity is attempting to hold everything down and sets up the gravity-gags to follow.

This is a good example of how exaggerated, cartooney handling -- the suddenly inert body -- makes for interesting animation possibilities. If I were an animator I'd kill to get scenes with gravity gags because they're fun and make use of the unique capabilities of animation. Don't expect to find gags like this in scripts written by non-artist writers.

BTW, the long, back part of the hat (above) is a great visual joke. Why are long, sagging things that stretch out behind us funny? Do they remind us of testicles or loaded baby diapers? I'm not sure.

Clampett was a visceral director. He did lots of gags about things that are funny for reasons that are difficult to put into words. Most other artists avoided gags like that but Clampett reveled in them. Life contains zillions of funny but hard to articulate anomalies, but among the Warner directors, only Clampett seemed to be interested in them.


Here (above) the hat as wet bed sheet (or pizza dough) is emphasized. Bugs' earnest, serious expression is a terrific contrast to the absurdity of it all.

How do you like the funny proportions in Ryder's body: a long torso, a bulbous round pelvis, then stubby little legs with girl shoes. Genius!


Bugs (above) suddenly covers Ryder with the stretched out hat.


The momentum (above) causes him to flip over.


Ryder (above) stands and flails around inside the hat.


Bugs (above) needs to run off screen to set up the next gag, but instead of going into an immediate run he instead flails around with Ryder for an instant. I had to cut frames to compress the action so you may not see the scramble here. I mention it because I like it when characters unexpectedly go in and out of synchronization with each other. You see it in Fred Astaire movies and it's devastatingly effective.


When it's time to leave bugs just leans into his run and is offstage in an instant.


More cute pantie shots (above). Notice that Ryder has stepped out of his pants while we was flailing.


He steps back into his pants, which for some inexplicable reason I find funny, and the hat brim takes over as the dominant funny element. Here the brim develops wings, sort of. I always find it funny when a comedic character has a suddenly billowing cape or a loose, blowing skirt. Maybe that's because you don't expect a fleshed-out, three-dimensional character to become, without warning, a graphic symbol.



The big, floppy brim (above) really dominates now. it's like a wet bed sheet.


Ryder (above) pushes up and it pops off.


Now it billows out (above) and settles down. Look at the oodles of energized space that's enclosed between the hat and the top of Ryder's head. Artists love stuff like this. We're constantly amazed at the efficacy of the tools at our command. Only a moment before, the scene was about how much like pizza dough the hat was. Now the scene is about the gracefulness of the falling hat and the power of unexpectedly enclosed and activated space.


Now the hat (above) goes back to its previous shape, which is delightfully drawn. Simultaneously we're reminded of how stupid-looking and funny Ryder is. This sets us up for a bunch of stupid poses that are coming shortly.

I'm just amazed at how frequently Scribner and/or Clampett change the focus of the gag within a scene. One thing is emphasized and then another, and yet the scene retains it's over-all unity of purpose.


I'd intended to comment on a the frames that follow but look how much space it's taken just to describe the few pictures we've seen so far. Clampett cartoons are so rich that you could spend hours analyzing simple actions.

I'll leave up the remaining frames without comment. Remember that I had to drop frames to compress the action.












Oops! I can't help but comment on this one (above)! Ryder puts down his guns and withdraws his hands. That doesn't sound like much, and it won't seem like much in still pictures like the one above, but when you see it in motion it's hilarious!

I associate this technique with Friz because he used it so often. He realized that the simple, understated act of picking things up and putting them down can be incredibly funny when it's done right.




25 comments:

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Oops! I forgot to thank John for teaching me how to make frame grabs. Making video grabs seems to be a little more complicated but he promised to teach me that too, maybe tomorrow.

Nico said...

The amazing thing is that the sequence this entire post excavated is only equal to about 12 seconds of footage.

INCREDIBLE POST

JohnK said...

You're welcome Eddie.

Buckaroo Bugs is full of virtuoso scenes like this! These are the masters of cartoon animation at the top of their form.

This scene is not only written and staged funny, it's performed incredibly.

It's not merely smooth, funny and stylish but it's totally controlled.

Each "story" gag reads perfectly, all of Bob's key poses are in there and yet Scribner still finds a ton of room to create more ideas in.

Bob was definitely a lucky director to have Scribner and I'd add that Scribner was just as lucky to have Bob, who would push him to add so much of his own personality and ideas to the scenes.

All the animators in Buckaroo Bugs are doing more creative and funny animation than they'd ever be allowed to do again.

They must have had a blast working on these cartoons.

Most directors would be satisfied just having the animators "hit the marks". Some even get angry if you create anything on your own!

This is what makes Clampett's cartoons so alive and rich for me. You can watch them on every level from the general crazy ideas down to the minutest details and find invention and love of the art.

I also like how upbeat and fun they always are, no matter how bizarre some of the gags get!

Great post!

Thad said...

Yes, this is a great sequence in a (forgive me) lackluster cartoon (for Clampett anyway). The flow of action in Scribner's animation is so spontaneous! Spontaneity -- that's a crucial and exclusive element to the Bob Clampett cartoons!

mike f. said...

Thanks, Eddie, for defending this classic film, which cartoon buffs have loved for more than sixty years.

You'd hardly think it needed defending at this point, but the Internet makes instant "geniuses" and "experts" out of blowhards and idiots - none of whom, BTW, possess a fraction of the talent that went into the making of BUCKAROO BUGS.

alex said...

Ha, I love that last screenshot. The music in this cartoon is great, too. I wonder if the production on this cartoon was so high because it was Leon Schleshinger's last screen credit?

One of the local theaters around here runs 60's Terrytoons and Walter Lantz cartoons before every picture... I wish the guy would smarten up and show something like this instead. Clampett cartoons can make a crowd howl more than anything.

I.D.R.C. said...

Why would anybody want to see that when they can listen to DUCKMAN complain about his wife's cellulite?

Anonymous said...

heh heh, blowhards and experts annoy the shit out of me... It's alot easier to critique then create. This has got to be some of the best animation ever done.

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

This is great! My favorite cartoon of all time, broken down into detail! I must be dreaming.

Hey, Eddie:

I was so inspired by the commentary that you, John and Kali did for this cartoon that I did my own. So check out my Buckaroo Bugs commentary, which, while it can't be as informative as yours, or even this last post, it was fun to try. Plus, I think I point out the change in animators.

And unlike Barrier, I do something that only your lot does in the commentary: I actually laugh!

Thanks for the fun and tell me what you think, please!

- trevor.

Stephen Worth said...

What a great post, and what a great cartoon! The thing that gets me in Clampett's prime cartoons is the way there are so many levels and so many details, yet they all point in the same direction to serve the overall whole. That's the mark of a brilliant director working with the best of the best animators.

This particular cartoon is great because it's full of surprises... and surprise is a key element of comedy. If you judge cartoons by how much they resemble other cartoons, this one would rate low. But if you value originality, skill and the occasional totally unexpected gag, this cartoon is pure gold. I rank this one up with Porky in Egypt and the Daffy Doc for merrily dancing all around the line between a regular old cartoon, and something completely different.

See ya
Steve

Some Guy said...

I actually think this is the most well animated cartoon of all time.
It is consistently dazzling and entertaining in terms of animation ALONE (not to mention gags, characters, and all the other aspects) and the animation is not only brilliant technically, but also viscerally and visually.

It kills me everyime I see Bugs flip upside down.

amir avni said...

Eddie Fitzgerald, You're a Genius!

Eshniner Forest said...

I cant find this cartoon on youtube. :(

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

You're not gonna find it on YouTube, Forest. They hawk-eye Looney Tunes cartoons, and by 'they' I mean Viacom and Time Warner.

That's why when I did my commentary for it, I didn't use the words "Bugs Bunny" "Bob Clampett" "Looney Tunes" or "Buckaroo Bugs" in my label description, nor in my title. Just says "Booo Tooons Commentary #1". I don't want them taking it down so's I have to get other people to repost it.

I mean, I agree with John's disgust over that. They had him take it down last year when he used clips to illustrate a point of interest. I don't think they should get mad at you for just hosting small clips or even commentaries...

Try looking for it on dailymotion.com.

See ya

- trevor.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Eddie. Buckaroo Bugs is yet another example of the wonderfully cartoony appeal of the Clampett/Scribner collaboration. Nobody drew cute better than these two guys. Along with all the things you and John have pointed out, even on an abstract level, the drawings are beautiful, cartoony, appealing, organic shapes. You rarely, if ever, find this kind of sustained plasticity in the cartoons of other director/animator collaborations. It's used for comic effect but the sheer beauty and joy in the drawings is breathtaking. By not staying "on model," the Red Hot Ryder character becomes a moving work of art. The colours are beautiful too with the spotted reds and blues. A great cartoon.

Love your blog. Keep 'em coming.
Your fan,
Brad Caslor

Weirdo said...

I love the way Bugs seems to be pushing himself out of the scene. He seems to be trying to get the air to help him. That was an amazingly funny sequence. There was a reason Clampett is remembered as one of the top directors at Warners.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Everybody: Thanks much for the kind words!

Brad: BRAD CASLOR!!!!??????? Holy Cow! I'm a huge fan of yours! "Get a Job" is a wonderful film! Sometime soon I'll do an appreciation of that film here!

Boo: Let me check out that commentary.......

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Boo: I just watched your commentary and it was terrific! I bookmarked the site immediately. Fans of Buckaroo Bugs should hear this!

John: Thanks for the insightful comment and many, many thanks for taking the time to help me with frame grabs!

Eshniner Forest said...

I just noticed something in the back groud of the drawing. In the image of the one I list below. It seems the background image is raised up slightly. Its this a common sort of thing?

http://bp1.blogger.com/_Rs53-MPsJaI/R7U7TjDso8I/AAAAAAAAFSc/DZoxVItLo3w/s1600-h/44BucarooBugs22.jpg

J. J. Hunsecker said...

>>Thanks, Eddie, for defending this classic film, which cartoon buffs have loved for more than sixty years.

You'd hardly think it needed defending at this point, but the Internet makes instant "geniuses" and "experts" out of blowhards and idiots - none of whom, BTW, possess a fraction of the talent that went into the making of BUCKAROO BUGS.

I’ve never seen an airing of Buckaroo Bugs in all the decades I’ve watched Looney Tunes on television. (I first saw it on a Turner videotape in the 80’s.) So how accurate is it to say that cartoon buffs have loved this particular cartoon for sixty years? When it comes to Clampett, most fans are more familiar with The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, Book Revue, Baby Bottleneck, A Gruesome Twosome, etc. Even then, most fans are more aware of Jones, Freleng and McKimson cartoons from network airings of The Bugs Bunny Show in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Even if it were the case that audiences were savvy with Buckaroo Bugs, why is it bad if some criticize this cartoon? People on these boards have criticized the fan favorite What’s Opera, Doc? before, and they didn’t have the talent to create such a cartoon. Does that mean they are somehow wrong in not appreciating that Jones classic?

I think everyone is entitled to their opinion. I don’t think people need to have the stature of a Kubrick in order to form a viewpoint about a live action film, so I don’t think non-artists should be condemned for their critiques, either. Plus, there are plenty of artists and animators who have “questionable” tastes themselves. Being in the animation business is no guarantee that one has knowledge, imagination and aestheticism.

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

Uncle Eddie, this was an awesome post! I'd definitely like some more where this came from!

My favorite parts of this cartoon weren't the big gags, but the little ones, the acting jokes. Especially after he says "Have you seen him?" where he's so stupid and flustered that he just bounces on the spot with droopy lips and wiggling his arms.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the wonderful music that acoompanies this: Carl Stalling's jazzed-up version of "The Arkansas Travel," heavy on the xylophones and cowbells, is like Spike Jones on crack.

ubik#1 said...

great critique. i noticed in the clip that the guys pants (underpants) shift position and seem to flicker a bit just after he pulls the hat up. im guessing that this is a layer thing, they must have drawn the pants on a different layer, but i cant remeber seeing flicker this strong before.
Also, the animator has drawn the lower body in under the pants as you can see when they flick. i'd love to see what detail they have gone into! i wonder if the WB people added little in-jokes in the layers to amuse themselves. im guessing they would not have been above a little crudity ;)

Anonymous said...

Could we be seeing more
for this Cartoon.
It is a Classic, my first time
seeing it was in 78, on a local station and it never ran much at all in syndication or cable till the late 90's and then the dvd release (and vhs tape in 90).
I would love to see the anization(sp) of the famous Magnet Gag, be interesting to see it as we did in this post :)

suncub said...

would love to see a part 2 of the scribner/clampet team on this cartoon, especially on the other gags in this cartoon.
just found this blog, sorry for
not writting sooner, but would love
to hear more :)