Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius

Recently, it was announced that Cinesite would start making feature animated films based on Harold Lloyd’s silent film character.  The whole purpose of this blog and my book is to teach animators about the art of physical comedy as practiced by the masters.  Harold Lloyd was not as naturally talented as Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, but he made up for that by hard work.  He once said:

All the comedians of my day, had to be students of comedy. You studied comedy. It just didn’t happen, believe me.

To enlighten young animators about Harold Lloyd, here are YouTube videos for the entire PBS American Masters program about Harold.








The Great Cartoon Directors: Friz Freleng

I have selected some passages from Jeff Lenberg’s book The Great Cartoon Directors to share here.  I chose them for their practical examples of creating funny cartoons, or if they support the idea of being inspired by live comedians.

No matter what Friz directed, he always made the most of it, especially when he supervised the  Melodies cartoons.  He gave gags his maximum precision by timing his films on musical bar sheets.  Other directors preferred to time scenes on exposure sheets, but Freleng  believed he got a much better feel of the movement by using musical bar sheets.  Timing the action this way made the problem of doing the musical score to the picture much easier for Carl Stallings, who scored most of the Warners cartoons.

ON YOSEMITE SAM

Explains Freleng, “I found Yosemite Sam to be the perfect opponent for Bugs, as there are so subtleties in Sam’s character.  The moment he appeared on the scree, there was no doubt about his character, or motives.  He was an absolute villain.  When another adversary appeared, we would have to build a motive for the unknown character.  I really thought Elmer was the wrong guy to oppose Bugs, because he was weak and stupid.  He could have been outwitted by a chicken.  But who am I to argue with success?”

ON TWEETY AND SYLVESTER

…The basic structure of the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons was much like Metro’s Tom and Jerry series.  Each character tried to outwit (or destroy) the other.  It was also similar to Chuck Jones’ later Roadrunner/Coyote series for Warners; the unending conflict between the two characters sustained the series.

As Freleng stated in an interview with the author: “When I made Sylvester cartoons, the only restriction I had was to be sure to keep him as an alley cat with vicious intent.  I think that he was really responsible for the success of the Tweety cartoons.  Tweety was used in a very minor role.  If you analyze the cartoons, he only served as a foil.

ON SPEEDY GONZALES

Speedy had all the physical elements for comedy; his innocent, impish grin and naive remarks in times of trouble provoked laughter.  The trouble was mainly caused by Sylvester the Cat, Speedys’ costar and adversary in the series.  Casting Sylvester opposite Speedy provided a firm foundation for comedy situations.  Without a strong personality like Sylvester,  Speedy’s characterization was weak, almost lifeless.  Not that Speedy wasn’t lovable on the screen; he just couldn’t carry a cartoon without having someone to antagonize.

ON THE PINK PANTHER:

Though the character didn’t talk, he provided laughs by reenacting sight gags that Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton first made famous in the 1920’s.  Who said the silents were dead?  The Panther Cartoons were just that, purely visual cartoons accompanied by a lively ragtime musical soundtrack.

 

The Great Cartoon Directors: Chuck Jones

I have selected some passages from Jeff Lenberg’s book The Great Cartoon Directors to share here.  I chose them for their practical examples of creating funny cartoons, or if they support the idea of being inspired by live comedians.

Chuck first became infatuated with the movie business at the tender age of six.  It was several years after his birth on September 21, 1912 that Jones and his parents moved from Spokane Washington, to Hollywood.  They lived on Sunset Boulevard, right across from Hollywood High School.  It was here that Jones learned about movie making.  Just two blocks down from his house was the Chaplin Studios.

Jones has a snub nose, he says, from pressing it too hard against the fence in front of the Chaplin Studios to watch how comedies were made.  As he recalled, “I learned a great deal from watching Chaplin.  Father came home one day, and said he saw Chaplin film a scene he’d done 52 times to get it right for fifteen seconds on the screen.  It had a lot to do with timing.”  The bit Chaplin was trying to perfect was his famous one-legged turn.

Jones analyzes Bug’s personality as such:  “Bugs stood with one leg straight and the other leg akimbo.  Because he’s not afraid, he engages in the matter.  We always started Bugs out in a natural rabbit environment and somebody came along an tried to do him in.  And then he fought back.  So it was no more like Groucho Marx. Once the battle is joined you can’t get him loose even with a pair of crowbars.  Because it’s a joy.  As Groucho said, “You know of course this means war!”  And so it was with Bugs.  He was something more personal and special to me, more than any other character I have directed.”

See, this is why I don’t like the new Looney Tunes TV show.  Bugs lives in a house.

“We followed certain disciplines.  Bugs always made his appearance in a natural rabbit situation.  Unlike Woody Woodpecker, he was never mischievous without a particular reason. Only when he was disturbed did he then decide the time has come to war.  In a sense, in a sense, he was a counterrevolutionary.”

The world could be coming to an end, but Bugs opted to be the straight man rather than the comic.  Bugs was the straight man to a myriad of characters in his cartoons; thugs, gremlins, aliens from outer space, and giants.  By playing it straight, Bugs delivered the necessary comic punch in putting the comedy across.  Bugs in the role of the straight man was as important to the success of the comedy as Bud Abbott was to Lou Costello, or as George Burns was to Gracie Allen.

BUGS AND ELMER FUDD.

The animated duo reminded moviegoers of the same chemistry seen in comedies staring Laurel and Hardy.  Fudd was much like Laurel; he was a slow thinker and even slower to react.  He had a slow burn quality about that would have made Edgar Kennedy , the technicians originator, especially proud.  In other ways, he was also like W.C. Fields since he kept his gestures close to his body.  Bugs, in contrast, was like Hardy; he had quick reactions and was fast footed when it was time to make chase.  Like most slender comedians, Bugs gestured freely and was never afraid to go outside his own boundary; Fudd was.

While their personalities are possibly that way, I don’t see Bugs and Elmer’s relationship that way at all.  Laurel and Hardy worked together, they weren’t at odds, intentionally.  There was certainly a chemistry between Bugs and Fudd, but not like L&H.

ON THE COYOTE

“The Coyote is victimized by his own ineptitude.  I never understood how to use tools, and that’s really the Coyotes problem.  He’s not at war with the gods, but with the miniscule things of every day life.  It is out of mounting frustration that the comedy develops.”

 

The Great Cartoon Directors: Bob Clampett

I have selected some passages from Jeff Lenberg’s book The Great Cartoon Directors to share here.  I chose them for their practical examples of creating funny cartoons, or if they support the idea of being inspired by live comedians.

Bob Clampett was born a hundred miles south of the movie capital in San Diego California, but moved to Hollywood while still a toddler and lived next door  to Charlie Chaplin (and his brother Syd).  Clampett recalls seeing the filming of movies on the street and in the studios over the years – from Valentino, Mack Sennett and Hal Roach’s Our Gang to Bogart, Cagney, Bete Davis, Errol Flynn, Busby Berekleys Gold Diggers, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.    His high school yearbook bears the autographs of not only chums, but Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charlie Chase, and other notables.

Hmm, seems like he and Chuck Jones should have bumped into one another somewhere.

Many of Clampetts ideas, he has said, stem from the films he saw as a youngster.  His major comedy influences were Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Harry Langdon, and Buster Keaton, and the bespectacled comedian Harold Lloyd.  Lloyd, who was a friend of Clampett’s father is best remembered for his comedy stunts, such as hanging from the hands of a clock in “Safety Last” (1923).  What Clampett means, in essence, is that certain bits and pieces, attitudes, actions, timing, posing, facial expressions and gags that top comedians executed in their movies became a source for animators to draw from and refine.

“Sometimes a character comes to you in just one night, “ Clampett explains, “and other times it comes in little tiny individual pieces like a jigsaw puzzle that finally comes together in one magical moment.  In school I remembered seeing nature films which showed newborn birds in a nest.   They always looked so funny to me.  This stuck in my mind; the helpless bird in the nest.  One time I kicked around the idea of a twin pair of baby birds called ‘Twick ‘n’ Tweet’, who were the precursors of Tweety.”

During Bugs’ first years on the screen, Clampett and other directors at Warners began to explore the outer boundaries of his possibilities.  As Clampett later said; “We originated and developed a number of divergent formats, each of which was tremendously successful.  For one of the strengths of Bugs Bunny is that, like all humans, he has varying moods.  At one point he is at peace with the world and slow to react to an invasion of privacy.  At another time, he is in a playful and mischievous mood, full of practical jokes.  At other times, he is irritable, bugged by the claim that a tortoise can beat a hare, or whatever.  So you can see we made every effort to keep Bugs in character – to retain his true personality – but this never meant keeping him at all times exactly the same.”

Clampett cartoons are distinguished by the lifelike personality he brings to each character.  The characters in a Clampett cartoon are not only agile, full of vitality, insane and slapsticky, but also imbued with very appealing and believable personalities.  This spark of life his characters have is due in part to his own role-playing of each character.  When making a cartoon he visualizes and then acts out each character’s complete performance – each movement, facial expression, voice inflection, nuance, each gesture of the hand.

As he explains: “If I’m doing Porky Pig I don’t stand off removed from Porky directing him; I get inside of Porky and I think like Porky.  I talk like Porky.  I have a s-s-s-s-speech p-p-problem.  I walk like Porky, and I feel like Porky.  I m too, was short and hubbey as a child, and I know exactly how Porky feels.  I’m helpful, trusting,  concerned, kindly and sometimes a trifle pu-pu-pu-put out.  S-s-s-s-shucks, I am Porky.”

He says the same applies to Bugs Bunny:  “Bug’s personality  is quite opposite of Porky’s.  And much more fun to do. Whe I do Bugs Bunny I get inside of him, and I not ony think like, feel like and walk and talk like Bugs [whispers] but confidentially, Doc [yells] I am the wabbit!”

ON THE BEANY AND CECIL TV SERIES:

United Artists asked Bob to come to New York to discuss the creative aspects of the contract.  After Bob had returned home to Hollywood, United Artists phoned saying before the contract could be signed they had to have a complete list of the titles, story outlines and names of all new characters in the 104 cartoon shorts being contemplated.  U.A. Called on a Thursday and said they had to have the list early the following week.  Sody Clampett vividly recalls how bob originated and wrote and she typed all 104 story ideas in that one weekend and got them to New York in time.  The Beany and Cecil series you saw hewed closely to what Bob wrote that one weekend.  He always felt they could have been (even) better if he had more time.

That’s amazing.

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