Sunday, December 14, 2008


A quick disclaimer: every shot and clip here was stolen from John K's blog, the 12/8/08 installment of "John K Stuff. " John delivered a marvelous analysis of this scene from "The Old Gray Hare," which I won't attempt to improve on.  To tell the truth, I have no idea what I want to say about this animation, I'm only writing because it's one of my all-time favorite Clampett scenes, and I can't let the occasion of seeing it discussed go without comment.

This is the famous Elmer head roll, animated by Bob McKimson. Bugs is brilliant as the dying rabbit, but the scene is stolen by Elmer's reactions. Elmer underplays the scene, and Bugs overplays it, and yet our eyes are mostly on Elmer...proof, if it was needed, that good reactions are reliable scene stealers.

A lot of directors like to play reactions on a one-shot, which is usually a mistake. People like to see the give and take between the action and re-action, and cutting is a distraction. I remember that Jackie Gleason almost always did his slow burns in two-shots.

Elmer slowly rolls his head right and left in perspective. 2D animators hate this because flaws in the inbetweens always show up when you go this slow. This didn't deter McKimson who was a killer draughtsman.

There are so many delights in Elmer's character design. The big hat emphasizes the head rolls nicely. McKimson could have gone for a perspective distortion by leaning the hat far into camera as it rolled, but he wisely underplayed it. Come to think of it, the whole character design is an example of underplaying the extreme and flamboyant elements. The huge head and tiny, peanut body are sooooo graphically drastic, but Clampett softens them, makes them appealing.

I love the way Elmer reacts to what Bugs is saying. Whenever Bugs has an accent in his animation, Elmer does a quick recoil then drifts back to his previous pose. I love the hand hesitantly patting Bugs' stomach. I love the way Elmer looks offscreen when the delusional Bugs points something out, then drifts back to his original pose. Drifting back after a quick movement is a powerful technique. I love the way Elmer looks at Bugs with those impassive, old-people's eyes. I don't think I've ever seen those kind of eyes in any other Hollywood cartoon.

In the first three pictures at the top, I love the way Elmer seems to be studying Bugs. I'm getting off the subject, but in real life I love the way an irritated person will sometimes study the guy who's irritating him. He'll study him like a scientist for a moment, and it all seems so academic and scholarly, then all of a sudden the irritated person will leap up and try to strangle the other guy. I love it when people on the street try to study each other.

It's amazing that Clampett, who has a reputation for being wild and over-the-top, is also the master of subtle, under-the-top, as in this sequence. Clampett makes you laugh and cry, always in the same cartoon. John K is the same way. No doubt John was influenced by cartoons like this, where subtle acting and broad action go hand in hand.


Hans Flagon said...

Eddie, do you remember who, if anyone, commented on Old Gray Hare on the Golden DVDs? Or the one of yours that got to Mike Barrier because you laughed all the way througit?

Boy, I've got to improve this filing system. I can barely find my popeye.

PJS said...

Hans: it was Greg Ford, it's a great commentary!

I love all the ones you & John do Eddie, I hope you get to do more sometime.

Anonymous said...

This cartoon gets HUGE reaction from a big crowd. Last time I saw this cartoon, people were going nuts! I can't even imagine what it must have been like in the theaters!

I like how the caricature of old people is the same in this cartoon as it is now. It's a universal thing anyone can recognize. This cartoon must have influenced a whole generation of cartoonists!

I can't believe that Clampett didn't do another Bugs/Elmer pairing for another 2 years. It's kind of a credit to Clampett that he didn't fall into a formula.

David Germain said...

Hans, the commentary was done by Greg Ford.

It is indeed one of Clampett's best. If Leon or Eddie had submitted it to the Acadamy I'm sure it would have done very well.

Trevor Thompson said...

For a guy who's a historian on cartoons, Barrier doesn't seem to have much of a sense of humor.

His commentaries ( even the ones for Clampett's cartoons ) put me to sleep. When I was a kid I told my dad that even a boring teacher could have a good class if they taught us how to make fun cartoons.

This was before I knew of the barrier that is Michael.

Part of the reason why I love John and Uncle Eddie's commentaries are because there's no attempt to hide the love of these cartoons, and laughter, being infectious, carries over and I truly am laughing with my heroes.

Didn't McKimson also animate Elmer's subtle head movements in A Wild Hare? Same type of scene, and I know he worked in Avery's unit, right?

- trevor.

John A said...

You are so right about the effectiveness of keeping the acting in a two shot, instead of breaking away to closeups or reaction shots. This is something I've notice in a lot of post '80s live action films; actors would be filmed one at a time and the scene would edit back and forth,rather than let the two or more actors act and react in the same frame, like all the acting seen in movies made during Hollywood's golden age. Part of it just seems to be poor filmmaking, but I think some of it must be due to today's actors being too lazy to even be in the same frame while someone else is giving a line. Having a little experience in stage acting, I know that on stage, the actor sharing a scene with another actor can't just disappear while the other character is speaking, he has to keep on acting in character to keep the scene "alive". But it's important that one person's acting doesn't overpower another persons performance (although its been known to happen)usally its a subtle bit of give and take between the actors one recedes momentarily to give the other a chance to dominate. The same kind of give and take occurs in this scene too. It would been easy to just use a held cel like they did in later years, but Clampett and McKimson choose to keep the whole scene "alive" by animating them both.

Shawn Dickinson said...

Elmer's subtle reactions to Bugs' acting in this scene is great! I still remember one the the most beneficial things I learned in my 7th grade drama class--Don't fall out of character when it's the other person's turn to give his/her lines. Bad actors have a habit of unconsciously falling out of character whenever their lines are finished, thinking nobody is watching them if they're not talking. Staying "on", even when the focus is meant to be on the OTHER person is just as important as making your OWN lines convincing. It's important in animation too...which this scene obviously proves. It's even important in comics! Some of the best comic strips (which are non-existent today) has drawings of characters who can actually REACT to each others dialogue. Just like in real life!

Ricardo Cantoral said...

Like I said before, only Clampett would think of doing both extremes of age in one cartoon. We saw Bugs and Elmer as old men and babies and they still remained hilarous no matter what age.

Aaronphilby said...

That is definitely a nice head roll.

I hate that feeling of making eye contact with somebody and there's no nod or no acknowlegement. It's unavoidable, but it can kind of wears away at you. It's so much a big city life thing, and it makes me think there's so many people in the world and everybody can't be your friend.

On the flip side maybe no one wishes me ill and they just one to study me for a moment like I want to study them.

Anonymous said...

Youre dead on about Barrier Trevor. I can't stand the humorless academic style of cartoon criticism. Blah blah blah Semiotics blah blah blah

pappy d said...


"The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention."
Flannery O'Connor

cartoonists, too.

Gabe Swarr said...

I have something I want to send you, and I can't seem to find your email online anywheres! Can you send me an email?



Hans Flagon said...

I sorry I mentioned Mike Barrier. To be kind, I think its merely that he wants to share these audio interviews he did with the animators before they kicked the bucket, sometimes to the point of being out of context with the cartoon being commented upon.

I'm surprised that no one has done a split screen of Frelings remake of Clampetts, what is it, Porky in Wonderland, with the Whatsit? Seems a natural for YouTube, if WB were not to pull them. I have never watched side by side to see if they are the exact same drawings with color, or if there is any timing or scene differences, other than switching Daffy(?) for Porky.

The strangest thing (to me) Clampett ever did, was going back to Fat Elmer after the cute redesign he did. Wasn't it Fat >Big Head> Fat>Big head?

Ricardo Cantoral said...

I like Barrier's info, I think he should at least be given that credit.

Anonymous said...

Barrier is kind of like Richard Williams, thanks for imparting your knowledge and helping the industry but please don't ever tell me your opinions you pompous pretentious such and such

Ricardo Cantoral said...

I really wish the animation industry had more individuals like Micheal Barrier, John K., and Eric Goldberg. I am 100% precent sure things would be alot better in this feild, both from a critical and a creative lense.

Anyway, back to this post. Elmer adds alot to this scene. Most animators would have had him in one position but McKimson showed his brilliance by making Elmer move his head in specific reactions. He observes Bugs as well as listens to him and makes it a remarkably touching scene. Like I said in John's post, this is comedy at it's finest, when you don't know if you should laugh or cry.

Trevor Thompson said...

After recieving a flurry of e-mails from a mysterious and borderline-threatening "M.B.", I have decided to rescind my statement about Michael Barrier.

I think he is a talent and gift to us all, and the only thing that sucks about him is that he doesn't draw his wonderful ideas.

I also now feel that if his commentaries put me to sleep, that it is merely my incompetent brain that can't keep up with his genius.

I know what you're thinking, but this anonymous emailer isn't Barrier. At the end of the letter ( which has some lovely writing, I might add ) there was a post-script:

"PS: This is not Michael Barrier, but rather, his hot secretary who fucks him a lot."

One last thing. If I want to see my cat alive again, I'm to tell you that I now officially hate Ren and Stimpy's Adult Party Cartoon because it is too gross and purile.

- trevor.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Hans, David, Patrick: Thanks guys! On a related subject, I just saw a commentary I did with John and Kali on the third Popeye set. My part of it was TERRIBLE beyond belief! I was seeing the cartoon for the first time in ages and was appalled by how bad it looked compared to the earlier Popeyes. I didn't want to hurt Warners' chance of selling the dics...They're still worth I clammed up, and didn't add anything to the discussion.

It turns out that I needn't have been so cautious. John said what he really thought, and instead of censoring it, they let it go through. The people supervising the disc had real integrity!

Selksie, John A: Interesting!!!

Trevor: I don't have my copy at hand, but Mike reminded me that McKimson animated Beaky that way (sort of) in Bugs Bunny Gets the Bird.

John A: I know it's impractical, and probably distracting to animate too many reactions creatively, but you hardly see it done at all on shorts these days!

Shawn: Interesting!

Aaron: Eye contact, and the reactions associated with it, is omething every cartoonist should study.

Hans: was it!? let me think about that!

Hans, Anon, Trevor: I very strongly disagree with some of what Mike B said about Clampett and John K in the past, but I'm not as down on him as some of you guys. I liked his last book about Disney (except for the cover art), in fact all of his books are worth having.

I'm hopeful that the man can be won over. I thought we'd have him on ourside by now, but it looks like it's going to take a little longer.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

"I'm hopeful that the man can be won over. I thought we'd have him on ourside by now, but it looks like it's going to take a little longer."

From what I see from Barrier's website, and his exchanges with John K., there is actually little you all disagree on in general. You and John hate CGI and you both clearly have a negative view of Disney's, and other studios', feature films from the 60's onward. You all just don't agree on Clampett's work and Disney's "humanity". Just my two cents. ;)

Ricardo Cantoral said...

One last thing, I do applaud that you appericate Mike enough to have a link to his site on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks Michael Barrier writes academic criticism of animated films has never read an academic paper.

And that's a compliment to Michael Barrier. He doesn't use words like "intertextual" and "indexical image."