Friday, May 23, 2008

WB Animators Who Improved After 1955?

As Warner animation fanatics know, the WB cartoon studio shut down for a few months in 1953 when Jack Warner decided that movies were going to go 3-D and it wasn't worthwhile to produce cartoons in 3-D. When he realized that 3-D wasn't going to catch on, he re-opened the cartoon department. Some animators didn't come back, but many did. The budgets, which had been getting smaller (or at least weren't keeping up with inflation), got smaller after the shutdown, the animation got more limited, and in general, while many people including Greg Duffell have called the early '50s one of the best periods for animation at Warner Brothers, hardly anyone says the same about the late '50s. See for example Gerry Chiniquy, a good animator in the '40s, but whose jerky style became a bit self-parodic when he returned in 1954.

But there's one animator at WB whose work seems to me to be a lot better after the shutdown, and it's Art Davis. His work as an animator at Warner Brothers in the '40s and early '50s (before and after his stint as a director) was terrific, but it seems to me that it's sometimes hampered by what looks like poor in-betweening. Or at least in-betweening that doesn't really connect Davis's drawings in a logical way. This isn't so much a problem in the '40s before he was directing at the studio, but it's very noticeable to me in his scenes in Friz Freleng cartoons of the early '50s, which are very choppy because the characters don't transition well between one pose and another. His scenes almost wind up looking like a series of still drawings.

For some reason, after the shutdown, from 1955 on, Davis's scenes become much more fluid and less choppy, and his animation actually seems more loose and wild and free, which you can't say about almost any other animation in the late '50s. I don't know if he had new or better in-betweeners or if something changed in his style, but he's the only WB animator I can think of whose animation actually improved in the late '50s, though I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to say it's his best animation ever, since his work in the Tashlin unit in the '40s is awfully good (it's hard to top some of his scenes in "Two Crows From Tacos," or Sylvester at the radiator in "Birds Anonymous," though).

For comparison's sake, here's a Freleng cartoon from 1950, "Mutiny on the Bunny," not on DVD yet; I think Davis does the first scene with Bugs and Sam on the boat ("Oh, yes you are!"). Another choppy-looking Davis scene is the first shot of Sam in "Ballot Box Bunny," where the drawings are great but Sam almost freezes into each one of them.

And here's one of the first cartoons after the shutdown, "Tweety's Circus"; Davis does a lot of the animation, including the opening with Sylvester singing and the scenes of Sylvester hitting the lion, and to me at least, it looks better than his earlier animation for the studio.


Thad said...

This is probably a good question for Mike Kazaleh or Greg Duffell.

Yes, the scenes you mentioned are all his, but I love all of Art Davis' animation regardless of the time period. There may have been some bad inbetweening earlier on though.

Ben Washam and Virgil Ross stayed pretty much the same throughout their careers, drawing with the same aesthetically pleasing traits. And as proof, take a look at the scenes they did in the [bore] "Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court"... Same drawing and timing, 15 years after the fact.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I mentioned on a comment on Thad's blog a couple of years ago that that little song of Sylvester's is one of my favorite bits of animation ever. Not that I guess there's anything technically tricky about it, but just that Sylvester seems so free-spirited and cat-like.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I must be missing something because I thought the "Oh yes you are!" scene to be animated and inbetweened just fine.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Hmm, I must be missing something because I thought the "Oh yes you are!" scene to be animated and inbetweened just fine.

It might be just me. It's certainly not bad (this is a state-of-the-art professional animation studio, after all), but there are moments in it where the movement looks a little choppy to me, as if the drawings aren't quite connected. The close shot of Bugs telling Sam to get rid of the ball and chain, particularly.

But like I said, maybe it's just me. The opening shot of "Ballot Box Bunny" is probably a better example but I just wanted an excuse to post a Bugs/Sam cartoon that isn't on DVD....

Anonymous said...

It is possible that with the studio's reopening, Artie got a better shake with the in-betweeners, since he moved up a couple of notches in the seniority pool with the Freleng unit.

Also, Tashlin's style in the 40s when Davis was working for him was really angular for its time, with the humor coming in part from the movements within those sharply angles poses. It was sort of a precursor to UPA, though Tashlin never gets much credit for it. On the other hand, Freleng really didn't get the hang of merging the Warners' style with the UPA influences until after the studio's reopening - his early attempts at moving towards the UPA look were, if not ugly, at least confused. Post re-opening, he seemed to have both a better idea of what he wanted in his layouts, and a better idea of how to "update" the main characters, giving them more ovular and wider faces, but softened around the edges. He also went to more angular poses, which is something Davis already had experience with from his work with Tashlin, and even used himself with the Shakespearian dog in "Two Gophers from Texas".

"Tweety's Circus" was the first example of Friz's revised Sylvester, and those from the post-reopening period though about 1960, as animated by Davis and Virgil Ross, had a better-looking cat than what was coming out of the McKimson unit (no fair comparing him to Jones, because Chuck only used Sylvester once post-shutdown. And, yes, Friz did go overboard on the ovular face thingy when he decided to redesign Granny. No amount of good animation from Davis, Ross or anyone else could make that design work better than the original).

Jenny Lerew said...

You know, I have NO memory of ever watching "Tweety's Circus" before now. A real treat.

I just love that song at the start. Who but WB(and especially Friz)would open a cartoon with a character singing his heart out simply for the sheer fun of it? One of the others that jumps to mind is whichever one has Conrad Cat(I think? it's late) doing a complete rendition of "Over the sea let's go men". One among many.

But topping this completely charming and irrelevant singing is Sylvester exclaiming over how much he loves circuses, or at least the "peanuts, pink lemonade, cotton candy"-! That's some cat!