James “Stump” Cross and Eddie “Stumpy” Hartman were a comedy dance duo popular on stage and film from the mid-30s to the 50s. In addition to excellent dancing, the two also were a classic comedy duo with contrasting heights. The taller “Stump” made funny faces and shifted his hat and jacket around for comical effect, while the shorter “Stumpy” simply smiled and danced. Cross would also shift into a much slower motion, which also contrasted with Hartman’s continued speed.
I’ve recently read a couple of posts on other blogs about 2 man comedy teams.
The first was Pretty Clown, Ugly Clown by Anthony Balducci. It is a look at some interesting combinations of actors in movies.
The second post, Odd Couples by John Towsen is about some lesser known comedy pairings from the stage.
For animators, the idea of a comedy duo usually starts with the simple idea of Fat Guy/Skinny Guy like Laurel and Hardy, and Abbot and Costello. But really, the physical appearance won’t take the work very far. There needs to that special chemistry that creates contrast. Tex Avery is often remembered for his wacky wolf character. But it was the second wolf who was smooth and debonair who completed the scene.
Tex also created the ever calm Droopy Dog, but Droopy always played against a high energy partner:
The dysfunctional friends Ren and Stimpy had one of the more complex relationships in animation. More like a classic comedy team. They were real partners, sharing in each other’s lives, but each had very different personalities, and were often at odds.
When Porky Pig and Daffy Duck worked together, they were somewhat similar to the classic team. While they weren’t enemies, they weren’t pals either.
Another classic way to put two characters together is the star/sidekick team, such as Yogi Bear and Boo Boo. Wallace and Gromit, due to their owner/dog relationship can be considered an evolved example of this. While the sidekick is often the smarter of the two, the star is the character who causes the action. I’m thinking that Rocky & Bullwinkle fall into this category.
I suppose it’s possible to consider a pair of antagonists to be a comedy team. In fact, it may be the most common kind found in cartoons. You have your Roadrunner and Coyote, Tom and Jerry, Bugs and Elmer, Sylvestor and Tweety, Foghorn Leghorn and George P. Dog. Those arrangements obviously have a predator/prey relationship with the predator usually getting the worst of the situation. Still, each has unique characters that carry out their parts in their own style.
Comedy teams don’t always have to be in contrast with each other. Animation has the unusual combination of two characters that are very similar, such as Chip n’ Dale, and Heckle and Jeckle. These characters always work as a team to harrass a third character.
Mac and Tosh were a pair of gophers who premiered in the Bob Clampett short, Goofy Gophers. They played against a dog character. Here is a bit of trivia from wikipedia:
The gophers’ mannerisms and speech were patterned after Frederick Burr Opper‘s comics characters Alphonse and Gaston, which in the early 1900s engendered a “good honest laugh”. The crux of each four-frame strip was the ridiculousness of the characters’ over-politeness preventing their ability to get on with the task at hand.
The pair’s dialogue is peppered with such over politeness as “Indubitably!”, “You first, my dear,” and “But, no, no, no. It must be you who goes first!” The two often also tend to use unnecessarily long words, for example, in Lumber Jerks, instead of “We gotta get our tree back”, they say “We must take vital steps to reclaim our property.” Clampett later stated that the gophers’ effeminate mannerisms were derived from character actors Franklin Pangborn and Edward Everett Horton.
I am always looking out for fun animation exercises. Very few student animation demo reels actually make me laugh. There are too many fight scenes or parkour shots that can demonstrate skill but are rarely entertaining.
Here is a new challenge. Animate a bad actor doing a death scene. It’s all about overacting, so it’s perfect for exaggerated animation. I have collected several video examples for inspiration. All but one of these use guns as the weapon, but other methods of death could work just as well. Poisoning would have its own special contortions. Multiple arrow strikes could inspire other ideas.
We’ll start with what might be the best bad death scene. There so many things wrong with this. The crazy expressions, the bad framing, the cheap and badly timed effects. The guy gets shot several times and drags it out way too long. The final look to the camera. If you’re not entertained by this, quit now and go do something else.
I am going to focus here on live actors as inspiration, but there is, of course, one very famous example of an overacted death scene in cartoons. At about 39 seconds, note his left hand as he weakly covers his cough, then the delicate finger action, before it hits the ground with a heavy slap. From A Wild Hare (1940)
As you can see, the death scene can involve being cradled by the killer while last words are spoken. Jim Carrey followed up with this in The Mask.
This one is short and sweet. It’s funny for the one expression the guy has before falling out of frame. Extra points for the ninja star.
This SNL short gets laughs with common tropes found in murder scenes. Repetition makes it ever more ridiculous, with variations thrown in for good effect. They almost underact the moment of getting shot, like it’s more shock than pain.
Overacted death scenes appear to be quite popular in Indian film making. Here are three great examples.
The video I opened with is so popular, it is has spawned parodies. This one brings a different energy and shows how much room there is to play with this exercise.
A sample of Wolverton’s work:
I recently purchased “The Wolverton Bible” through Amazon. I have always enjoyed Wolverton’s illustration. The book includes an introduction by Grant Geissman, and I found this fun fact:
Before becoming a cartoonist, Wolverton had actually started out as a young Vaudeville performer in theaters in Oregon and Washington. “Eventually I heard or read,” recalled Wolverton, “that a two bit actor earns even less than a two bit cartoonist”
The introduction goes on to say the Wolverton was a devout Christian and took the job of illustrating the Bible very seriously.
On this excellent site, I learned this fun trivia fact about him.
Other sources of income were provided by his job as a journalist/cartoonist for the Portland News. One of his most exciting assignments was visiting the set of the film ‘The General’ and meeting Buster Keaton in person.
Wolverton’s work has a very sculpted quality about it, and it begs to be animated. I found this really well-done claymation based on his designs.
For a nice bio of Basil, with illustrations, I recommend THIS PAGE