Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Boy, this is a big subject! For a start, lets ask whether 3D (above) really improved cartoons. Which version of Popeye do you prefer, the one above or the hand-drawn version below?

If 3D hasn't improved cartoons, why are we wasting time with it?

Which version of the Alvin characters do you prefer?

It's hard to be funny in 3D. I laughed when Clampett did the old shoes-for-wheels gag in "Coal black," but in 3D the same gag (above) is only mildly interesting.

Make the gag even more realistic (above) and it's not funny at all. The more realistic the shoe gag gets, the harder it is to make it funny. It's harder to be funny to be funny in 3D. It's less of a caricature of the real world.

Characters without pants can be funny (or almost funny) in 3D, but you have to work at it

Look how effortlessly 2D (above) accomplishes the same thing.

This group of old men looks hilarious in this (above) old Rube Goldberg cartoon. Would they have looked as funny in 3D? And the cost...I'll bet it was a hundred times faster and cheaper to draw these people than it would have been to create computer models.

2D cartooning has an incredibly rich history.  Some of the best minds who ever worked in popular art  gave us a legacy of gutsy and streetwise artwork that might have stimulated our own creativity for hundreds of years to come. 3D has so far been indifferent to all that.

But maybe I'm being too harsh. Every once in a while you see a moment in a 3D film (above) that gives you reason to hope. "Horton Hears a Who" had more moments like that than any other 3D movie I've seen. It gives me reason to think that in 40 years 3D might catch up to hand-drawn.

Here's a couple of shots (above and below) from George Pal's Puppetoons. These are very crude, and I'm not suggesting we return to that, but they do prove that some type of cartoony 3D can be funny.

Pal's Jasper proves that it's possible to do 3D design that's so incredibly funny that the characters look great even when they're standing still.

I've noticed that cartoony 3D subjects (above) sometimes look funnier in black and white. Why is that? Is it the ultra-retro design or the fact that digital makes black and white looks so sharp and appealing?

Sunday, August 17, 2008


One of the best things about having kids is that you get to get to make cool stuff with them, like paper castles. Most of the ones I and my kids made looked like the one above; not very imaginative really, just a kazillion spires and pennants held together with scotch tape.

It's a good thing that I hadn't seen this picture (above) in those days because if I had, I would have been seduced into making really elaborate castles that I wouldn't have wanted to see smashed. Smashing dad's precious castle is just about the most fun thing a kid can do. It could be that a rubber T-Rex smashes it, or a plastic Batman or fighter plane bombs it...there are lots of ways a kid will demolish it, but demolish it they will, probably within 15 minutes after it's built.

Look at that sucker (above)...that guy really put a lot of work into it! He must have been a bachelor!

Here's a nice one (above) that looks a slum dwelling on the edge of one of Dr. Seuss's cities.

Boy, you add color to these things (above) and they look great!

It's a bit off-topic but I couldn't help putting up this picture (above) of a tower built with empty cardboard boxes. If I did this and my kid destroyed it, Armageddon would ensue.

I once saw a built-up paper sculpture of St. Basil's cathedral, for my money one of the most beautiful buildings on the planet. The sculpture was made from one of those craft store books where you cut out a zillion tiny parts and glue them together. I don't know who buys those kits. Only prisoners have the time to make those things, and they're not allowed to have scissors.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


The other night I saw the latest Ultimate Fighting bout at John's place, and it was beyond great! The graphics and sound were the best I'd seen in any sports event, ever. The announcers whipped the audience into a frenzy, searchlights scanned the fans going wild in the dark, the titles were written in fire and slid in with F-14 sound effects, the biographies perfectly set up the human dimension, and the girls who held up the information cards were knock-outs...all in all, a perfect presentation! Oh yes, the fights themselves were terrific! What a night!

On the way home I found myself wishing that animation could be presented like that. Why can't we generate that kind of excitement? I mean the "Iron Man" show does it with cooks, why can't we do it with artists?

I can envision a TV show with two competing 2-D animators emerging one at a time through corridors in the crowd. Each is surrounded with three surly assistant animators who protect their animator captain from the fans. In the ring the two artists are brought together, nose to nose, facing each other down. Both may have glasses and weigh 98 lbs, but they're all hyped up on adrenalin and it looks like they'd like to kill each other. The announcer gives us the specs on each, tells us how it's a grudge match. Filmed biographies show them each confidently predicting the demise of the other.

The announcers whip the audience into a frenzy then the animators are separated and, along with their assistant animators, are led to desks at opposite ends of the platform. Each desk has a video camera over the desk and a foot pedal to click off frames. A hush falls over the audience as a beautiful girl in a thong bikini reaches into a bowl and chooses a story line. Both animators will do a 20 second film, which must use the story chosen by the girl. Both will do the same story!

The story is announced! Maybe it's something like: "A guy and a girl attempt to kiss, but their noses get in the way." The clock is started. The captains take a minute to brainstorm  with their crew. When they're ready the animator quickly does the rough character designs and starts working so he can hand out to the assistants. No time to color, no time to redo: it'll be a pencil test done with heavy, black pencil!

The audience cheers for their favorite. An overhead video screen shows the artists' progress. More biographical clips and commentary fill up the slow spots. Not making the deadline is unthinkable. The question is, how good will it be? How funny will it be? It's gotta be funny! The artists work at a furious pace. The audience cheers their favorite and attempts to harass and distract the other!

Finally the films are finished and fast, crude, home-made SFX and canned music are quickly layered in. The film is run for the audience and the judges, and the winner chosen. The panting, sweating winner is awarded a gold belt and the opportunity to date one of the card girls. The loser drags his sorry butt out of the arena, humiliated and forever marked as a beaten man.

Girls: Is there a girl version of this?

Friday, August 08, 2008


An awful lot of Theory Corner people also read John K's blog, so I'll assume that people here are familiar with the excellent article, "Milt Gray on Clampett" that was serialized there recently. If you're not, then try the June 3 and May 12 installments at http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/

Anyway, if you're like me you were frustrated beyond endurance when John wasn't able to run the final installment. He just didn't have time. Well, I have time, so here it is, complete with pictures chosen by the author. It's a preeeety interesting piece, something that oughta stir things up a bit. Enjoy!


In 1941 Bob is finally rewarded for his successes -- he is given the best color unit when Tex Avery leaves to go to M-G-M. Bob’s first cartoons are completing the cartoons that Tex had begun. Since it takes about nine months to complete a single cartoon, and a cartoon is in each stage of production (story, design and recording, layout, animation, inbetweening, etc.) only about five to six weeks, that means that each director has at least a half dozen cartoons in production at any given time, each one in a different stage of production. So Bob inherited several Avery-created cartoons, which share Avery’s and Bob’s sensibilities to some degree. But once Bob begins cartoons created entirely by himself, he sets a level of creativity and originality that has never been equaled. Every Clampett Warner cartoon from this time on is a unique new subject. On those rare occasions that Clampett does use an established formula -- like Bugs racing the tortoise -- he adds some really over-the-top elements that lift the cartoon(s) to a whole new level.

Clampett was always reaching for the new and unexpected, and not just copying things that were well done before. He was always focused not only on fresh subjects, but also on eccentric (and precise) acting, and visual surprises for the audience. He was, in his heart, an enthusiastic entertainer.

He never took the easy way, and his animators had to share his ambition or be replaced by someone who was eager to do his very best. For example, Virgil Ross, an excellent animator, admitted many years later that although he liked Bob and admired his work, he just wasn’t willing to do all the ambitious things that Bob always asked for, and so Virgil volunteered to be traded into the Freleng unit where the standards were much lower and the work much easier.

The only other director at Warners to come close to Bob’s level of energy was Frank Tashlin, on his third stint at the Schlesinger Studio, from about 1942 to 1944. Friz and Chuck struggled to try to keep up, and were extremely relieved when Bob left Warners to pursue an independent career. In Bob’s absence, the energy in the Warner cartoons quickly dissipated, as Friz and Chuck relaxed by making mostly cartoons in which the characters just stand around and talk (like Duck, Rabbit, Duck).

Chuck Jones once commented on the Clampett cartoons: “Most filmmakers pace their films by starting with a relaxed tempo, introducing the characters, and then gradually increase the tempo until they reach the climax on a high crescendo. But Bob Clampett was different. Bob would start his films at the top -- and from there he would go up!”

I think one of the biggest reasons that Clampett has so seldom gotten the recognition he deserves, especially for his 1940s Warner cartoons, is that critics and cartoon historians (including myself) have been largely unable to even describe in words what Clampett excelled at. By contrast, Friz and Chuck were primarily concerned with “respectability”, and so whatever the “rules” of filmmaking were -- which were already described in words in books and magazine articles even by the mid 1930s, and therefore ready-made for critics and historians to reference -- Friz and Chuck were anxious to adhere to. Plus, Friz and Chuck were focused on a linear exposition of story structure, with dialog that defined character -- which is also easy for critics and historians to write about. Clampett was certainly aware of these “rules”, but did not make himself a slave to them. Instead, Clampett was much more of an innovator, and his innovations were largely in the visceral areas of expressive movement, and the use of color, sound and cutting, that convey or resonate emotions in non-literal, purely intuitive ways. He let himself be guided by his emotions as much as by his intellect. These are the things that make movies powerful, and unique from books (or even comic books), but they are almost impossible for critics or historians to describe in words. As a consequence, these achievements that Clampett excelled in are almost never written about, while the works of Chuck and Friz are easy to describe and to praise. This, then, has left Clampett relatively defenseless against Chuck’s smug accusations that “Clampett was an irresponsible renegade who never followed the rules.” Frankly, the “rules” are for beginners. =

[That's the end of the article, but you might be interested in a couple of captions Milt wrote for the final five pictures. Check them out below].


About the pictures of Porky and the cats on the doorstep, Milt writes: "From Kitty Kornered: Clampett anticipates color with color: The open door is yellow, reflecting the warm light inside the house; the closed door is white, reflecting the cold light of the winter snow; but the inbetween door is green -- giving an extra snap to the changes of color."

About the final two pictures where the cat bashes into the closed door, Milt writes: "From Kitty Kornered: Two successive frames within the same scene: As the cat leaps at the door, the background changes perspective for additional impact to our senses."

Thursday, August 07, 2008


I've said it before, but it bears repeating...man, when you undertake to speak and write in English, you really are picking up a Strativarius. This language is a fine instrument, arguably just as expressive now as it was in Shakespeare's time. There's a lot of fine modern examples. Here's a few, taken from an internet monologue site. The first is from a TV script written by Stephen Fry (below):

"I think it was Donald Mainstock, the great amateur squash player, who pointed out how lovely I was. Until that time, I think it was safe to say that I'd never really been aware of my own timeless brand of loveliness. But his words smote me, because, of course, you see, I am lovely, in a fluffy, moist kind of a way.

I walk, let's be splendid about this, in a lightly-scented cloud of gorgeousness that isn't a far shot from being quite simply terrific. The secret to smooth, almost shiny loveliness, of the order which we are discussing in this simple, frank, creamy-soft way doesn't reside in oils, unduants, balms, ointments, astringments, creams, milks, moisturizers, linaments, lubricants, embracants or bolsoms, to be simply divine for just one noble moment; it resides, and I mean this in a pink, slightly special way, in one's attitude of mind. To be gorgeous and high and true and fine and fluffy and moist and sticky and lovely, all you have to do is to believe that one is gorgeous and high and true and fine and fluffy and moist and sticky and lovely. And I believe it of myself, tremulously at first and then with mounting heat and passion because, stopping off for a second to be super again, I'm so often told it. That's the secret really."

Wow! That's over-the-top gay English raised to the level of fine art! I love lines like, "I walk, let's be splendid about this, in a lightly-scented cloud of gorgeousness, that isn't a far shot from being simply terrific!" Of course a good English sentence doesn't have to be fluff. How about this (below) from "There Will Be Blood"?

Plainview: "Ladies and gentlemen... I've traveled over half our state to be here tonight. I couldn't get away sooner because my new well was coming in at Coyote Hills and I had to see about it. That well is now flowing at two thousand barrels and it's paying me an income of five thousand dollars a week. I have two others drilling and I have sixteen producing at Antelope. So, ladies and gentlemen... if I say I'm an oil man you will agree. You have a great chance here, but bear in mind, you can lose it all if you're not careful. Out of all men that beg for a chance to drill your lots, maybe one in twenty will be oilmen; the rest will be speculators-men trying to get between you and the oilmen-to get some of the money that ought by rights come to you. Even if you find one that has money, and means to drill, he'll maybe known nothing about drilling and he'll have to hire out the job on contract, and then you're depending on a contractor that's trying to rush the job through so he can get another contract just as quick as he can. This is the way this works."

Man: "What is your offer? We're wasting time."

Plainview: "I do my own drilling and the men that work for me, work for me and they are men I know. I make it my business to be there and see to their work. I don't lose my tools in the hole and spend months fishing for them; I don't botch the cementing off and let water in the hole and ruin the whole lease. I'm a family man- I run a family business. This is my son and my partner, H.W. Plainview. We offer you the bond of family that very few oilmen can understand. I'm fixed like no other company in this field and that's because my Coyote Hills well has just come in. I have a string of tools all ready to work. I can load a rig onto trucks and have them here in a week. I have business connections so I can get the lumber for the derrick; such things go by friendship in a rush like this. And this is why I can guarantee to start drilling and put up the cash to back my word. I assure you, whatever the others promise to do, when it comes to the showdown, they won't be there..."

Holy Mackerel!..a plain, blunt style, emphasizing harsh consonants and delivered in a battering ram rhythm! Veeery nice!!!!

Talking about rhythm, what do you think of this passage (below) from "How To Get Ahead in Advertising"? I've already posted the relevant clip from the film elsewhere, but thanks to the monologue site I have a printed transcription this time, and it's revelatory! What do you think?.........

Dennis Dimbleby Bagley: "Let me try and clarify some of this for you. Best Company Supermarkets are not interested in selling wholesome foods, they are not worried about the nation's health. What is concerning them, is that the nation appears to be getting worried about its health, and THAT is what's worrying BestCo, because BestCo wants to go on selling them what it always has, i.e. the white breads, baked beans, canned foods, and that suppurating, fat squirting little heart attack traditionally known as the British sausage. So, how can we help them with that? Clearly, we are looking for a label. We need a label brimming with health, and everything from a nosh pot to a white sliced will wear one with pride. And although I'm aware of the difficulties of coming to terms with this, it must be appreciated from the beginning that even the nosh pot must be low in something, and if it isn't, it must be high in something else, and that is it's health giving ingredient we will sell. Which brings me to my final question: Who are we trying to sell this to? Answer: We are trying to sell this to the archetypal average housewife, she who fills her basket. What you have here is a 22 year old pretty girl - what you need is a taut slob, something on foot deodorizers, in a brassiere." (laughter)

Student: "I'm not quite sure I can go along with that Mr Bagley, I mean if you look at, like, the market research..."

Bagley: "I don't need to look at the market research, I've lived with thirteen and a half million housewives for fifteen years and I know everything about them. She's 37 years old, she has 2.3 children, 1.6 of which will be girls. She uses 16 feet 6 inches of toilet tissue a week, and fucks no more than 4.2 times a month. She has 7 radiators, and is worried about her weight, which is why we have her on a diet. And because we have her on a diet, we also encourage her to reward herself with the little treats, and she deserves them, cause anyone existing on 1200 calories of artificial synthetic orange-flavoured waffle a day, deserves a little treat. We know it's naughty but you do deserve it, go on darling swallow a bun! And she does. And the instant she does, the guilt cuts in. So here we are again with our diet. It's a vicious but quite wonderful circle, and it adheres to only one rule: whatever it is, sell it. And if you want to stay in advertising, by God you'd better learn that!"

Bruce Robinson, the writer of these words, is clearly a genius. Of course, I have to say that this example sounds as gay as the Fry piece. Somehow gays managed to figure out how the language works while everyone else was struggling with it. How did that happen? My guess is that English works best when it's pushed and caricatured. Gays had a playful attitude toward the language and they reaped the benefits.

Here's a link to the YouTube version of the How to Get Ahead scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCxVUsMsWLw