Friday, July 08, 2005

Great WB Animators, Part 2

This is a follow-up to part 1, which is here. That post dealt with four animators; this one deals with only three, but I'll talk about a few more animators and their styles when I get the chance.

Update (1:18 p.m.): I've added a post on the animation of Bob McKimson, though I still need to find a few more screencaps.

Update (8:36 p.m.): A reader sends in a correction -- the "Porky Chops" screencap I originally posted was not by Emery Hawkins but by Don Williams (who animated in Art Davis's unit and later did many, many cartoons for Depatie-Freleng).

Gerry Chiniquy

Gerry Chiniquy was Friz Freleng's favorite animator. He started animating for Freleng in 1941, worked in his unit until around 1950, returning again in 1955 and staying with Freleng for more or less the rest of his career. After the end of WB cartoons, he became a director for Freleng's company, DePatie-Freleng, directing a number of Pink Panther cartoons. His name can also be found in the closing credits of Jem (animated mostly by DePatie-Freleng veterans), though I don't know that he would have considered that his proudest moment.

Chiniquy was not an animator who favored fluid movement; the hallmark of his animation, right from the beginning, was jerky, almost spastic motion, with Typically he will have a character move by moving his body downwards and then suddenly jerking upwards. You can always spot a Chiniquy scene by those jerky movements, down and up. He did this kind of movement from the beginning, and it became more pronounced as he got older and the budgets got smaller; by the time he animated Daffy Duck's big tap dance in "Show Biz Bugs", he was basically just holding the character's body still and moving it up and down.

The disadvantage of this kind of movement is that it makes fairly limited use of body motion; with Chiniquy, you don't get the kind of subtle indicators of personality you get with Virgil Ross, or the outrageous but equally character movements of Rod Scribner. Chiniquy's forte was not so much characterization as rhythm; his characters' movements emphasize the rhythm of Mel Blanc's dialogue delivery, Carl Stalling's music, and above all the timing of the gags; when Daffy stomps offstage in "Show Biz Bugs," his tick-tock way of moving helps point up the rhythm of the scene and sell the joke.

That sense of rhythm and timing made him indispensable to Freleng, for whom timing and rhythm were the most important parts of a cartoon. Also, Freleng was extremely fond of musical and dance sequences, and he often used Chiniquy's on-the-beat animation style for funny dances like Daffy's Carmen Miranda act in "Yankee Doodle Daffy".

Emery Hawkins

Before joining Warner Brothers, Emery Hawkins did a lot of excellent animation for Disney and Walter Lantz. At WB, he worked in the short-lived unit of director Arthur Davis; when that unit was shut down, most of the animators were transferred to other units (Davis himself became an animator for Friz Freleng), but Hawkins spent a year or so as a "rotating" animator, working for all three remaining directors at various times.

Hawkins was one of the greatest creators of wacky, freewheeling animation. He did not go as far as Scribner in terms of extreme poses and facial expressions; Hawkins' drawings are always pretty pleasant-looking. Hawkins' specialty was very loose, very fluid movement. His characters' bodies seem less "solid" than most of the other animators', drawn very skinny, constantly in motion, and able to change shape on a moment's notice. He also liked to use "smear" animation to get characters from one pose to another very quickly. (These screencaps are from "All A-Bir-r-r-d,", a Freleng cartoon where Hawkins' style is noticeably different from that of the regular Freleng animators, with much more freedom of movement.)

You can see the contrast between Hawkins and most of the other animators in the Freleng cartoon Golden Yeggs: right after a Gerry Chiniquy scene with Daffy moving rather stiffly, Hawkins takes over, with a freely moving, shape-shifting Daffy.

Some of this may reflect the fact that Hawkins had worked at Disney, where the animation was very fluid and had characters in constant motion, rather than the jerkier, more pronounced movements of typical WB animation. But Hawkins uses this fluid style not to be cute but to be funny; he uses the fluid style to take characters' bodies through a lot of changes and poses very quickly, with the fun coming from how quickly the character changes his movement and even his shape. If Scribner emphasizes extreme poses, Hawkins is more interested in how many unique poses and shapes he can create within a scene; his scenes are a delight to freeze-frame because his seemingly loose movements are created with so many contrasting and funny drawings. A great Hawkins scene in that respect is the climactic scene from McKimson's French Rarebit, where Bugs Bunny shows how to prepare Louisiana Back Bay
Bayou Bunny Bordelais à la Antoine. Not only does Bugs twist the other characters into hilarious shapes, Bugs himself changes shape almost unobtrusively; we can't really see some of the ways his body changes shape (even Bugs's hat changes shape sometimes), but we can sense it, and it makes the scene funnier without calling undue attention to its own cleverness, as "wacky" animation too often does.

Perhaps the best-known cartoon that Hawkins worked on is Chuck Jones' Rabbit of Seville, where Hawkins animated the opening scene and Bugs's drag scene.

Robert McKimson

To plagiarize a bit from my previous post on McKimson the director: Before he became a successful director, McKimson was one of the best and most influential animators at the studio. He did some work for Chuck Jones, then joined Tex Avery's unit (doing animation on Avery's first Bugs Bunny cartoons); after Bob Clampett took over Avery's old unit, McKimson animated for Clampett until being promoted to director. In the mid-'50s, when all his animators left, McKimson returned to animating on three cartoons, including "The Hole Idea", for which he did all the animation -- one of the few big-studio cartoons to be directed and animated by one person.

McKimson's animation was extremely funny, but also graceful, beautiful-looking, and -- compared to Rod Scribner, anyway -- subtle; he put so much detail into characters' movements that they almost seemed like real, breathing people. He made characters a bit taller and sleeker than other animators did, moved them a bit slower than usual to bring out the detail of their bodies' motion (he would have the whole body slowly move while a character was talking, rather than just sort of jerking them from pose to pose as Gerry Chiniquy did), and he was very careful about making sure that a character's gestures and body language were of a piece with what the character was thinking or feeling: in a scene like this (from "A Tale of Two Kitties"), the positioning of the characters' bodies, arms, and hands is carefully worked out to show which character in control in the scene. Or in the "cheater" cartoon "What's Cookin' Doc?", when Bugs Bunny shape-shifts into various celebrities, everything about the way he's drawn -- eyes, ears, body language -- is appropriate to the parody and to the character of Bugs, with imaginative transitions from the animation of "regular" Bugs to the animation of shape-shifted Bugs; it's funny not just because of the parody but because McKimson's sense of character allows him to emphasize the fact that it's still Bugs Bunny behind the parody.

McKimson's animation is also instantly recognizable by a kind of gesture he loved, which consisted of having a character do a slow, nonchalant gesture with both his arms and hands at once, as though the character is a conductor and he's conducting the cartoon. (Manny Gould also liked to have characters do things with both hands at once, but he would have them stretch out their hands very broadly, whereas McKimson's characters do it in a much more restrained way.) Examples of this can be found in Daffy's scene in Hell in "Draftee Daffy", the first scene between Sylvester and Sylvester Jr. in "Too Hop to Handle", and perhaps McKimson's best piece of animation (his last for Clampett), the beginning of Daffy's Danny Kaye routine in "Book Revue", which also demonstrates his wonderful ability to come up with appropriate physical gestures to accompany descriptive dialogue (assuming there is a gesture that is truly appropriate for a line like "Playing their samovars"). His attention to detail also pays off in his perfectly-synchronized animation of the huge shadow behind Daffy.

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