February 28, 2011:
February 24, 2011:
February 16, 2011:
February 9, 2011:
The View From My Front Porch Today...
February 28, 2011:
Jordan Zakarin of the Huffington Post website emailed me a week ago to ask for a phone interview about what he called "the hand drawn vs computer animation shift." I agreed, and we talked for forty-five minutes last Wednesday. I expected that I might be quoted once or twice in an article that was based on interviews with several people. I was startled when a link to the article was posted on Cartoon Brew, and it turned out that my comments—which mostly echo in compressed form arguments I've already made on this website—were instead the basis for Zakarin's piece.
It seems odd to say it, since I've conducted thousands of interviews in my professional life, but I don't much like being interviewed. I think that's because I'm a compulsive rewriter. When I'm answering an interviewer's questions, I can't help but try to revise my answers in my head as I speak, and so what I say is too often repetitious and meandering, whether I'm doing a radio interview or an on-camera interview for a DVD.
I've done a lot of interviews in the last few years, anyway, mainly to make potential readers aware of my books. I have to wonder if this latest interview actually worked against that aim. I've been reading the comments at both Huffington Post and Cartoon Brew, and now at Jim Hill's Disney-fan site, and although a few of the commenters have dismissed me as a bitter old grump (my wife would probably agree), the prevailing sentiment seems to be that if I can't feel Pixar's magic, I must be hopelessly out of touch. It's hard for me to imagine many of my critics buying anything written by such a pathetic fuddy-duddy.
I like to think that if I'd been asked to write a piece for Huffington Post, rather than be interviewed for one, I could have elicited a different response from readers. As it is, a lot of people seem to have read Zakarin's piece as if it's entirely mine. I've been relieved to come across a few comments by people who recognize that I'm not the author, like the commenter on Cartoon Brew identified only as "w":
Barrier’s just expressing an opinion, and kind of mildly, at that. It’s the author, Jordan Zakarin, who’s making the sweeping summaries telling you what Barrier’s “really” saying, and it seems that those words are the ones commenters are crapping their pants about.
Some commenters have made thoughtful criticisms of my own statements, as have Mark Mayerson and Jim Hill on their respective blogs. I want to address just a couple of points.
"Emotional Manipulation." A number of people have taken issue with my criticism of Pixar for its "emotional manipulation" of its audience, as in the opening sequence of Up. That's what all artists do, my critics say. Here's Mark Mayerson, for one:
All movies manipulate emotions. It's the reason we go see them. A person going to a horror film wants to feel scared. A person going to a comedy wants to laugh. Those emotional responses are the result of manipulation. The question is whether a person resents the manipulation or not.
I think that's largely false. Certainly we go to certain kinds of movies in the expectation that we will be entertained by having our emotions manipulated. Hitchcock was expert at that sort of manipulation, but there was never anything hidden about what he was doing; the suspense in a good Hitchcock movie is as enjoyable as being worked over by an expert masseur. But there's nothing comparable going on in many of the best live-action films, and certainly not in the great Disney animated features.
The difference between, say, the opening sequence in Up and Dumbo's reunion with his mother can be summed up in one word, the old Disney shibboleth "sincerity." That's not to say that Pete Docter and his animators were cynical and insincere, only that they took shortcuts that Bill Tytla (and Walt Disney) refused to take. The animation in Dumbo, like all the best Disney animation, is "sincere" because it never seems to step outside itself to gauge its effect on its audience. Instead, Dumbo depicts emotion with what I think is complete faithfulness to the human original. By contrast, Carl and Ellie in Up's opening minutes are puppets, they're dolls; to weep over them is to wallow in sentimentality, in what has been called "an outpouring of emotion unimpeded by thought." I'm reminded of Oscar Wilde's remark about the death of the insufferably perfect child heroine in Dickens's Old Curiosity Shop: "That man has no soul who can read of the death of Little Nell without laughing."
Perhaps the Pixar people fall back on the manipulation of emotion because they lack confidence that their medium is capable of as much as the older medium of hand-drawn animation. I've suggested that they might be right, and Mark Mayerson has challenged that suggestion on more than one occasion, as in this 2008 post. Mark may well be correct about CGI's capabilities; as I've written in my review of Tangled, Pixar's scrawny little sister Disney Feature Animation has made a CGI film some of whose animation is eye-opening in its freedom from computer animation's seemingly ineradicable bad habits. But is achieving such results simply too hard in most cases, or for most animators? Is Pixar itself interested in pursuing such results? Why should it be, when something guaranteed-to-be-awful like Cars 2 is assured of tremendous success not just at the box office but, more important, also in the toy department at Walmart?
Hand-drawn's evolution v. CGI's evolution. I also got taken to task for comparing hand-drawn animation's highly compressed evolution, in the nine years between Steamboat Willie and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with what strikes me as CGI animation's less impressive rise from Toy Story in 1995 to Toy Story 3 in 2010. Someone suggested it would be fairer to measure Toy Story 3 against The Adventures of André & Wally B. the experimental Pixar short from 1984. Fair enough, I guess, and Pixar's progress in those twenty-six years has certainly been impressive. But then, wouldn't it be just as fair to measure Walt Disney's progress toward Snow White not from 1928 but from1922, when he was making his Laugh-O-grams in Kansas City? For my money, Walt's progress in those fifteen years, from 1922 to 1937, was far more dramatic than Pixar's in twenty-six.
But are such comparisons valid at all? Mark Mayerson says no:
I am at a loss to understand why the development of one medium is being measured against the development of another. It assumes that both media exist in a vacuum, not part of larger forces such as the Hollywood industrial model of the time, the availability of media to the public, the prevailing popular culture and the world economy. The conditions that existed when Walt Disney grew from Steamboat Willie to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are wholly different than those that exist today. ...
The state of live action films is a key point. Disney did not exceed the expectations of what a live action film was supposed to be in his time and computer animation is not exceeding it today. I can make an economic and cultural argument that computer animation is more successful than Walt Disney ever was in that cgi films have been nominated for Best Picture, are more numerous and have been more profitable on a consistent basis than the features Disney made himself. ... Computer animated films exist in the same economic structure and cultural zeitgeist as live action films and aren't going to escape the problems that plague the larger industry.
I have difficulty grasping Mark's point here. Perhaps it is that we should not expect too much from Pixar because its films are so successful, whereas Disney had the advantage of working on small budgets in a marginal and largely despised medium, at a time when the very idea of an animated feature was bizarre.
It seems to me that no other animated filmmakers have ever had the opportunity to do more than Pixar today, and no others have ever shown themselves to be more comfortable operating well within the bounds of the safely commercial. But maybe Pixar's success is more of a prison than I've thought—a prison that not only limits the studio's choices of subject matter but also forecloses advances in character animation, advances that might themselves lead to the making of different and better films.
Enough. I'm looking forward to not seeing Cars 2 next summer, and to not writing any more about Pixar. I've said about all that I want to say in my reviews of various Pixar films, whose titles you can find under the Commentary heading in the right-hand column on this page. Briefly: I admire Brad Bird's two features, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and I've grown increasingly fond of Pete Docter's Monsters, Inc., which I think is vastly superior to Up. The rest is dross.
From Mark Sonntag: I think it should also be pointed out that Pixar's progress is largely technological, the storytelling itself is not much different from Walt's time. I guess what I'm saying is that Pixar's film are built on a solid foundation. Walt and his guys literally had to build that from scratch. I like Pixar's films but personally I thought How to Train Your Dragon was a far superior film deserving of the Oscar and as you said—sincere. Also unlike most modern day films it had a message.
MB replies: I liked DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon, too, as I said in my review, and the interaction between boy and dragon is a perfect example of the kind of animated filmmaking—"sincere" is certainly a good word for it—that I find woefully absent in Pixar's recent product. Chris Sanders's name on a film is one of the few credits (along with Brad Bird's) that will draw me into a theater on the strength of that name alone.
[Posted March 1, 2011]
From Vincent Alexander: I see your point about audience manipulation in Pixar's worst moments. I'm thinking especially of Cars, in the segment that nostalgically recounts the glory days of Radiator Springs. The scene does nothing for me emotionally, and it seems to hinge on the music to make you tear up more than anything that has to do with the characters. However, I feel that Pixar's best movies do have very sincere emotion in them, especially the Toy Story films. The sad scenes in those movies (Buzz discovering he is only a toy, Jessie telling the story of how she was replaced, Andy giving away his toys when he leaves for college, etc.) flow very naturally from the story, and work for me because of how much the films make me care about the characters even before asking me to feel sorry for them. One of my favorite moments in the series is in the first film, when Woody tells Buzz how much better it is to be a toy than a space ranger. In most "children's movies," they would've reworked the scene by having Woody preach to Buzz about being true to yourself or some other standard moral that kids could relate to. And maybe that's in the subtext somewhere, but first and foremost the scene is simply about being a toy. They don't need to play on something we deal with in real life; we're so emotionally invested in the film's characters that it doesn't matter if their problems have anything to do with our real-life problems. Only the best fantasies reach that level. At least, in my opinion.
From Paul Reiter: I particularly liked the emotional manipulation piece because I it reminds me of a number of works I've watched and read. It's the fear that the audience won't care for the characters that drives this overblown emotional manipulation. The creators seem to have believe that making a character sympathetic by having something terrible happen to them is the only path to making us (the audience) can care about them, rather taking the harder and riskier path—making the characters real by making them interesting and entertaining, which will make us care about them. The audience isn't helping in this regard, either.
Overall, I'm reminded about what you wrote in Hollywood Cartoons about Dumbo and Bambi. I watched the two of them for assignment in a film class a few months ago, and I remember having tears build up in my eyes twice for Dumbo, but not once did I get the same experience with Bambi (although I still enjoyed it). In short, to use your words, Bambi appeals to emotions that are real, but in Dumbo the emotions are real. What makes it really work, I think, is that the bond between mother and child is a lot stronger and shown more often in the former, where as in the latter it's not really there, it's actually almost cold (as in Salten's novel). That's what it all comes down to.
From Eric Noble: The interview with the Huffington Post did not look good. First time I read it, I could have sworn that they had just pulled excerpts from your website and placed them in the article. It just seemed kind of sloppy to me. As for the discussion about hand-drawn vs. CGI, I do think that both are valid as storytelling mediums, although I prefer hand-drawn myself. I think it has to do with the system itself and the environment the artists are in. It helps when there is a strong creative leader at the head to guide the production. The Incredibles showed that CGI can be used to tell powerful, emotionally honest stories. It also helps when that person is willing to take chances. That is the ultimate problem. Nobody wants to take chances, because the risk may not pay off. That can be said for most of the film industry.
Mark Sonntag does have a point as well. Lasseter and his crew just used Walt's template and went from there. They add a few little tricks here and there, but it never added up to more than an imitation of some of the latter Walt-era features. I personally no longer pay attention to Pixar. I'm focused more on Sylvain Chomet and other independents, who are pioneering new ways for animation to tell a story. The Illusionist has inspired me on a level that Pixar hasn't for a LONG while.
From "Marie": I'm glad you wrote this post. I was confused by the Huffington Post article because it did seem to focus more on the author's interpretation of what you said and less on your actual words. Thanks for the clarification.
I, too, am not a huge fan of Pixar's films primarily due to the studio's choices of subject matter. My personal preference is for more adult material—similar to what the Japanese do—which is why The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc. are my favorite Pixar movies (although I did enjoy Toy Story 3.)
I was particularly struck by your comments about sentimentality and playing it safe. Those are exactly the same criticisms I have of Tyler Perry's movies. Perry is extremely successful at extreme and—in his case—amateurish manipulation of emotions wrapped in oversimplified storylines. So far, his success has not inspired him to work outside of his safety zone. When I point these things out to people, they attack similarly as you have been.
I fear, as you do, that the moviegoing public has become so accustomed to this type of entertainment that they've lost the ability to appreciate anything else.
From Don Benson: While I'm normally a sucker for movie-manufactured emotions, I have my limits. The "realistic" pound inmates in "Lady and the Tramp" force a response every time, but I forgive it because the film is solid and "sincere." Likewise those few moments of Belle mourning the Beast. I have less patience with the many fake death scenes scattered through the Disney canon—especially when they pop up in otherwise lightweight comedies. The aggressively cynical comedy Scrooged provokes an involuntary tear for its Tiny Tim, but there I resent it because the filmmakers are transparently trying to have their sentiment and mock it too. There are any number of "straight" versions of Dickens that also stir the same resentment, but for a slightly different reason: They're just badly done, using the sure-fire kid the way cheesy educational films used real crash footage. Oddly enough, I didn't feel manipulated or moved by the opening of Up—I thought it was just a good piece of visual storytelling. The fantasy aspects of the story generally kept serious emotions at arm's length, aside from an early moment when the old man realizes he's about to be "put away." That felt real.
From Mario N. Castro: Cartoon Brew is really strange, the worst of the worst of animation aficionados in a single place. But what I found truly startling, is the number of comments by CGI animators trying to defend computer animation. As Mark Sonntag mentioned in his comment, those arguments are only limited to technological advances: how realistic can fire, hair, or water be, but nothing related to personality animation or sense of design. It's like those animators are practically digging their own graves. I have nothing else to add to this pointless discussion. It serves nothing and only helped to worsen your reputation as a writer, I'm pretty sure those people calling you bitter and biased have never read one of your excellent books. It's mind-blowing to me that Toy Story 3 has been so well-received. I just don't get why people say that Pixar is "superior" to Disney, when it is so obvious that they are using the same storytelling techniques, only, as you stated, without the same "sincerity." In many ways, that wildly talked-about climax of Toy Story 3—where the toys are going to be melted—reminds me of the ending of The Jungle Book: it tries too hard to pull on the heartstrings of the audience. It's just too self-conscious (like telling a joke in a very serious, deadpan manner) to actually take it seriously. It is manipulative and superficial, to say the least, and it's a real shame that both The Illusionist and How to Train Your Dragon lost to that watered-down sentimentality.
From Galen Fott: I think the only safe definition of "sentimental" is when other people are crying and you aren't. I think the Dumbo/Up comparison is pretty apt. My problem with Up wasn't the first 10 minutes, during which I actually did shed tears, but with the remaining 80. And while I don't personally hold this opinion, I think one could certainly make the case that the song "Baby Mine" is treacly and manipulative. Would the sequence work without the music? Perhaps, but not as well, and we can never truly know because we'd hear it in our minds even with the sound turned off. The very use of music in any movie is purely manipulative. Why is there suddenly an orchestra there? I don't remember the music under the montage in Up, but I'm sure it was there, and pretty manipulative as well. For me, it worked. And I think that's the ultimate point. Do you feel moved, or manipulated? It's a personal thing. If I start feeling manipulated, I stop feeling moved.
From Quinton A. Klabon: I don't buy the concept of "selling out," especially not for feature-length animation, but I agree with all of your Pixar critiques on improper attention to accolades over art. On that note, I know your expertise is of Western, studio-driven animation and that you've expressed reservations about Japanese studio animation, based on smoothness, their method of facial expression, and attentiveness to backgrounds. I disagree and think Japan's the closest analogue to 1920s-1940s America there is, but I'm more invested in art shorts, anyway. TO GET TO THE POINT, Mamoru Hosoda is the new Isao Takahata. He delivers artful, character-driven drama to the masses and leavens it with humor. That's not usually my thing, but I adore his work. Summer Wars FINALLY got a Region 1 release, so you can go and watch an animated version of your latest Pixar critique. The movie uses the same plot as his earlier, pandering Digimon movie in order to critique, among other things, the way artists are enslaved to audiences, the way social networks obscure rather than connect, and the way people confuse their digital fictionalized life with the real one. He uses lots of Japanese animation, comic, and video game tropes that you may need a guide to point out, but it sort of works as a straightforward story, too. It's brilliant and timely, as the control OZ has over its creators from its audience was just reflected at the Academy Awards. Oh, it should go without saying, but use subtitles, not dubs. The voice acting in his movies is world-beating. Thanks again for all of the stellar writing. I hope I can read a review of Summer Wars soon.
From Mark Kausler: I loved your Huffington Post quotes, even though they misquoted you at times. I am not so against Pixar features as such, but to me, they are not animated cartoons. They interviewed a guy on Cartoon Brew who admitted as he manipulated some of the Cars characters, that it was puppetry. In Maya-based software, the main pivot points in the characters are called "IK Handles" for Inverse Kinematics. They really resemble marionette strings more than anything else. This was one of the things that disappointed me when I took a couple of classes in Maya, the performances of the characters are mostly imposed from outside the designs. When I animate a character with drawings, I don't feel like a puppeteer, I feel like I am putting my whole heart and soul into the character much more directly. Just about all contemporary so-called "animated" or "Toon" films are really very elaborate puppet shows. They have their place, audiences obviously love them, but that still doesn't make them animated cartoons. But you know all that.
[Posted March 2, 2011]
From Brian A. Greggs: While I largely agree with your and other commenters' feelings about Pixar films, regarding their lack of emotional sincerity and ham-handed animation in contrast to Disney's finest, I'm left wanting to reframe the debate somewhat.
Maybe the more prudent comparison between vintage Disney and Pixar is not the rate of development from early to mature work, but rather between the media of production—that is, between pencil put to paper and a computer program designed to simulate movement. Thinking in this way, it's clear that humans have been experimenting with the act of depiction, by drawing or painting, for thousands of years. In this medium the only obstacle between the human mind and a piece of art is the pencil itself.
By the same token, computers akin to what we use today are only about forty-five years old. It may take a very long time indeed before a computer animation program develops the ability to break its own rules, the way the best animation often does, in the service of a more real depiction. Computers today are, simply put, not near smart enough to allow for this; in a sense, they will have to become more "analog." I think that computers are capable of the kind of grace that Disney animation once displayed, but that for now, it could only be accomplished by brute force (i.e. composing each frame from scratch). Any attempt to break the computer's rules will fail, will crash the system. In this light I'm somewhat more accepting of Pixar's mediocrity.
[Posted March 17, 2011]
February 24, 2011:
When I was preparing my Robert McKimson interview for posting last week, McKimson's references to the political maneuvering at the Warner cartoon studio put me in mind of some of the photos I accumulated during my work on Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age and my sadly aborted art book on the Warner cartoons. Those photos show two or three of the Warner directors of the 1950s together, usually with someone else; in the photo above, for instance, John Burton, who succeeded Edward Selzer as the cartoons' producer, is at the left, with Chuck Jones, McKimson, and Friz Freleng. That photo was taken around 1958, after the Warner cartoons had been honored—an annual occurrence in those days, to judge from the wall behind the directors—by the exhibitors' magazine called Motion Picture Herald. In some such photos, the directors look a little more cheerful than in others, but the overall sense is usually something like this: why do I have to share the spotlight with these guys?
McKimson was exceptionally accurate and precise in most of what he said in the interview, but I've realized since posting it that some of his statements would benefit from clarification. To read what he said, and my gloss on it, click on these links to those parts of the interview dealing with Sylvester's origin and the Freleng cartoon Clean Pastures.
Bob McKimson's son, Robert Jr., has written in response to the interview—you can go directly to his comment by clicking here—and since I posted his comment he has written again to let me know that artwork by Bob McKimson and his brothers, Tom and Chuck, is on view at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, along with other drawings originating at the Warner cartoon studio. The museum's page about this show, which runs through May 15, is at this link. He has also sent me a list of artwork by the three McKimsons that is available for sale, and I've appended that list to his comment. If you're interested in those drawings, I'll be happy to forward your emails to him.
Almost invariably, when I'm posting something like the McKimson interview, it opens up new avenues of research that can lead to enjoyable discoveries. In this case, what I found online was the Scandia Journal, one of the weekly newspapers published and edited by Bob McKimson's father, C. E. McKimson. (Scandia is a town in north central Kansas, with a current population of less than 400.) Bob McKimson visited there occasionally, as the Journal reported; it also reported his promotion to be the Schlesinger studio's Chief Animator. Bob was named after an uncle, I gathered from the Journal's reports, and was nicknamed "Buddy," although I'm not clear on who called him that. Not his colleagues at the Schlesinger studio, surely; given how dismal that short-lived cartoon character was, to call someone "Buddy" would have been an invitation to a fistfight.
And, speaking of Robert McKimson, Jr., his grandfather reported in the Journal for April 13, 1939, that his second son, Bob, had sent him "a photograph of our only grandson, little Bobby McKimson ... and we think him to be about the finest looking boy in the world, yet, he has has to go some to be a better looking boy than his dad was at his age, which seems as only yesterday to us." That sounds like the sort of father and grandfather every boy should have.
From Eric Noble: Incredibly fascinating post. I love the amount of responses that your interview has gotten. Finding all of these little tidbits is why I love coming to your site. Hearing about the Warner Brothers art show in San Francisco is cool. I went to a similar show a few years back. It played at the Museum of History and Industry here in Seattle. It was so cool. They had the actual 1943 model sheet for Bugs Bunny, as well as many layout drawings, promotional material, and more. It was a lot of fun for me to go to.
[Posted February 25, 2011]
February 16, 2011:
Thanks to my newfound mastery of scanning software, I've whipped my 1971 interview with the Warner cartoon director Robert McKimson into publishable shape, and you can read it by clicking on this link. That's McKimson above, at the right, with Mel Blanc, in a photo taken early in 1945. Other photos taken around the same time, for the in-house publication Warner Club News, accompany the McKimson interview.
As a sidebar to the McKimson interview, I've reproduced seven early Bugs Bunny model sheets, with accompanying text (mostly from my book Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age) tracing the evolution of that character from 1939 to his apotheosis in Bob McKimson's definitive 1943 sheet. You can go directly to that piece, "Remodeling the Rabbit," by clicking on this link.
From Brandon Pierce: Thanks for posting the interview. McKimson wasn't interviewed much (I know it's mainly because he didn't seek interviews, and also he passed away long before Friz and Jones did), so it was good to hear his memories of working for Warner Bros. I still have a couple questions.
1. What were these "studio politics" that McKimson mentions? Did he ever elaborate on what that was?
2. Why is it on some of the model sheets, Bugs is drawn with these tips on the top of his ears (like the black tips he had in Jones' Elmer's Candid Camera), but was never drawn that way for any of the cartoons accompanying those models? I think there were some merchandise from the early and mid '40s that had those tips on his ears too.
MB replies: "Studio politics" is just another name for "office politics," the familiar game of buttering up the boss, denigrating or praising co-workers to advance one's own interests, and so on. McKimson felt he was a victim of such tactics, and I'm sure he wasn't skilled at them himself. As for the black tips on Bugs's ears, I don't have a definitive explanation for their absence, but I would put my money on "ink and paint time."
[Posted February 17, 2011]
From Thad Komorowski: Naturally, I loved the McKimson interview. It confirms and corroborates every anecdote I've ever heard about him. We've always known McKimson had the most questionable aesthetic sense of all the Warner directors (look at the cartoons), but it's great to have it confirmed by the man himself.
There's no doubt that he was the victim of studio politics; Freleng admits this in the interview I sent you, that he and Jones encouraged Selzer to let McKimson take over Tashlin's unit so they wouldn't have another firebrand in power. Milt Gray and others seem to think that this was to keep another Bob Clampett from raising the bar, but it likely had more to do with avoiding putting someone with Clampett's personality in the director's chair rather than someone who made cartoons like him—surely no one would have objected if, say, Avery returned.
But the fact remains that a lot of Jones's and Freleng's crew stayed with them for most of the studio's lifetime. There are no shake-ups in the credits for them, really, are there? (Other than the writers, but that was much later.) It's improbable someone like Abe Levitow or Art Davis was kept away, or "stolen" if you will, from McKimson, when he couldn't even keep his own very talented underlings' respect (including his own brother).
From Ricardo Cantoral: Thank you so much for posting this interview. I hope I don't cause any ruckus by saying what a relief it is that I finally read a documented quote from one of the Warner directors stating that things did tone down after Clampett left and Bugs's personality was whittled down to nothing.
From Eric Noble:Fascinating article. I am so incredibly happy that you were able to get an interview with him. Being able to hear from his point of view helps to add more dimension to the story of the Warner Brothers cartoons. I like to hear from all of the people who worked there. I still find that I am a McKimson fan. I admire his animation, and I love the cartoons he directed, from 1944 to the first shutdown in 1953. Although the animation there is more literal, it still is exaggerated enough to make it comedic, as opposed to the Tom and Jerry cartoons.
He seems to have very much enjoyed his time at Warners, but also seems very bitter about his treatment in the later years, particularly when it came to Oscar nods. Did he seem bitter at all about losing his unit after the 1953 shutdown when Chuck and Friz retained theirs?
MB replies: I don't think there was much for him to be bitter about, since the Jones unit was closed down just two months after McKimson's, and Freleng remained on staff with just a skeleton crew. The whole cartoon studio was close to extinction until it was clear that the 3-D craze of 1952-53 had passed. As Thad Komorowski says above, most members of the Jones and Freleng crews returned to work for those directors after the cartoon studio reopened—in some cases after long delays, as with Mike Maltese, but return they did. That was not true of McKimson's animators, in particular.
[Posted February 18, 2011]
From Robert McKimson, Jr.: Many thanks for posting the interview you did, so many years ago, with my father. By the way, you were standing before a painting, done by my father, when I was two years old. In addition, I am in the process of completing a book on my father and uncle's and their contributions to not only cartoons, but comic and coloring books in addition to movie titles and commercials. I have a publisher in place and we are looking for the end of this year or beginning of next for publication. Again thank you for putting together a great interview.
Also, should you run across anybody that desires original "McKimson" artwork, I have an inventory of works by all three brothers.
MB replies: Anyone who is interested in the McKimson artwork can write to me—firstname.lastname@example.org—and I'll forward your message to Robert McKimson.
[A February 24, 2011, update: Robert McKimson has sent me a list of the artwork he has in his inventory:
Robert/Tom: 1927-1928 original signed artwork featuring "Disney Like" characters created by them.
Robert: Unsigned original Looney Tunes pencil drawings, featuring various characters.
Tom: Pencil/Mixed Media original Looney Tunes drawings featuring various characters. Original Looney Tunes comic book artwork on onion skin paper.
Chuck: Pencil/Pen & Ink/Watercolor original drawings featuring various Looney Tunes characters.]
From Thad Komorowski: [Following up on Thad's earlier message, above,] I don't doubt the politicking, just the motive—it was wanting to have a more passive co-worker they could push around, rather than one who would make weaker films, though I'm sure there was a bit of that too; there's no doubt they took comfort that someone else was putting out the weakest stuff. If it was strictly the latter explanation, they absolutely failed for awhile, as Davis was certainly putting out films in the Clampettian vein with a more apathetic personality; Emery Hawkins's work in Two Gophers from Texas is the closest to Jim Tyer animation as West Coast animation got, Bowery Bugs is the cartoon Harvey Kurtzman would have did if he had access to Bugs Bunny, etc. Davis had a slant towards the crazy (in his own animation too), but he just didn't show it so overtly like Clampett would, so it's unlikely Jones and Freleng were trying to keep another Clampett or Tashlin rising through the ranks.
From Eamonn Lindeberg: I contacted you probably two years ago about the possibility of uploading this famed interview with Robert McKimson that you did. As I admired him the most out of all the Looney Tunes "Golden Age" directors, I am so grateful that you managed to do this. It has made my month.
Just on the Bugs Bunny definitive model sheet, is McKimson right to go against what Chuck Jones suggests, that Givens's [model sheet] was the one? I find it interesting that McKimson takes the credit for it. Not all that unusual though—he was treated by the studio as their top animator and as he said, acted as a supervisor to all the animation. So, of course, it stands to reason that he was asked to draw the definitive model sheet. Or, even asked himself to do it, as he came across in the interview as a very assertive person. In fact, thats how he alleges he got the Tashlin's directing position by going to Selzer and telling him that he wanted the position.
From Bradley Bethel: I'm glad we're finally learning more about Robert McKimson's side of the story. It would've helped if this interview was made available when the first animation history books came out in the 1980s, particularly Charles Solomon's book. If so, then McKimson could've gotten a more accurate account than just being the "forgotten" Warner Bros. director, as he was surely a lot more important than either Friz Freleng or Chuck Jones cared to admit.
From Anthony Kimball: Just wanted to say how much I appreciate your posting your 1971 interview transcript with Bob McKimson. These are really invaluable and priceless information sources and I dont think any animation fan can be grateful enough for the work you and Milt Gray did in tracking down and interviewing these people! I sincerely hope you will be able to find the time to upload more of the material originally published in Funnyworld, most especially-if you did in fact write one, which I am not sure you did—a contemporary review of Bakshi's Heavy Traffic. It would also be great, if the opportunity ever presents itself, to hear you do more DVD audio commentaries. I hope one of these days that we'll get a thorough multi-DVD set of Tex Avery's MGM work and that you could participate in it!
Good luck on your forthcoming book. Also, I'm sure you heard about the recent death of Bill Justice. How many Golden Age animators do we have left in 2011? Can't be very many, unfortunately, which is another reason your interviews are essential. [Posted February 23, 2011]
From Frank Forte: great interview with R McKimson. he was always one of my favorites. great to finally see inside his head. great to know how good of an artist/animator he really was--and how Clampett (who I love) wasn't that great! ha! too funny.
[Posted February 24, 2011]
From Francis Flood: It was a pleasure reading your Robert McKimson interview. I have read your books several times over and visit your blog frequently, and appreciate how you have given us the chance to hear the creators themselves discuss their own work. Have you ever considered publishing your interviews with some of the lesser known animation veterans? I am thinking about people such as the Pabians, Sid Marcus, Jerry Hathcock or Larry Silverman, to blindly pick a few names. Of course, I'm sure there is a lot of variation in the quality of different interviewees' memories and insights. I think there is an interesting story to be told about the animation shops other than Disney, Warner and post-1940 MGM, many were successful in terms of longevity if not thr quality of their films. I believe that most of the studios were based on a similar production model (for lack of a better term), at least at the beginning of the sound era, and they continued imitating successful methods and trends (primarily Walt Disney's) wherever possible. And, yet look how varied the results were. Would someone like Cal Howard or Rudy Zamora, who worked almost everywhere, have some insight on this? Then again, maybe I'm just an obscurist.
MB replies: I hope to publish a lot of my interviews with less-prominent people—some of whom did indeed have a lot of interesting things to say—although I can't make any promises as to how quickly I'll be able to do that. Stay tuned!
[Posted February 26, 2011]
From Steve Carras: I've always felt bad for McKimson as he didn't get the acclaim that a Freleng or a Chuck, or some of the others got, and thought he had the best battlng average by the 1950s. If it hadn't been for his coming late to the direction chair, he may have been honored more, I guess. Excellent article, and I've always liked his version of 1950s Daffy, by the way.
[Posted December 7, 2011]
I met Mark Kausler on my second visit to Los Angeles, in 1971—the same trip on which I interviewed Bob McKimson—and I met Tim Walker (or James Tim Walker, as he now prefers) on that trip or one soon after. Both have worked in animation most of their adult lives, and for both of them animation has been as much a passion as a vocation. Mark is the greatest student of animation I've ever known, with the keenest eye for different animators' styles, and Tim, as a collector of animation memorabilia, has an unmatched eye for the historically and artistically significant.
Mark and Tim have been in my thoughts recently, for different reasons. The Animation Guild's consistently valuable blog has been posting interviews with veteran members, including a two-part interview with Mark Kausler; you can go to the first part by clicking on this link. The interview reminds me, very pleasantly, of the many evenings I've spent with Mark, watching strange and sometimes wonderful cartoons and talking about them into the wee hours. Mark's enjoyment of cartoons, and of his own career in making them, is, to say the least, infectious, and I'm glad that others can share his company thanks to the TAG blog.
Tim Walker's story is different. Let me quote from Tim himself, in the introduction to his new book, Drawings from the Left:
In 2007 I started to notice a weakness in my right arm. I thought it was Carpal Tunnel Syndrome after 50+ years of writing and drawing. I went to see my doctor and he told me to go see a Neurologist to be checked out. After several tests he threw me a left hook that dropped me to my knees. I was diagnosed with Lateral Parkinsons Disease on my right side. Since I am right handed, I crawled out of that office figuring my career was going to disintegrate right in front of my eyes. My head was spinning out of control. After about 15 minutes of chaos I remembered what one of my close friends has pounded into my head for the last 10 years, "Problem - Solution, Problem - Solution." I went to the art store and bought myself a sketchbook, opened it up and wrote, "Drawings from the left." The date was June 11th,2007. Since then I have successfuly taught myself to write and draw left handed.
Drawings from the Left, a sketchbook filled with cartoons drawn in a fluid and unhampered style, is abundant proof of that. It's hard for me to imagine conquering such a disability more decisively than Tim has done, and it's wonderful to have his book as a record of his accomplishment. Certainly anyone who is suffering from a similar setback should find it encouraging and even inspirational.
February 9, 2011:
...was considerably different from the usual view. Six to eight inches of snow is a great rarity in my part of the world. At least the enforced immobility encouraged me to keep trying to scan some of my typewritten interviews into electronic form. To the extent that there's real interest in potential new material for this website, it's probably concentrated on the many, many interviews that Milt Gray and I recorded with the veterans of Hollywood animation. I transcribed some of those interviews on a computer, starting in the late 1980s, but I transcribed far more on my faithful IBM Selectric. So far, scanning those typescripts into usable computer files has been maddeningly difficult. A scan—like the one I made today of my 1971 interview with Bob McKimson—may seem to require relatively minor tweaking, but touch the supposedly editable file and suddenly it seizes up and the words crumble into a hopelessly corrupted heap (despite the $79 I paid for an OCR software upgrade). I'll keep trying to find a solution, not only to meet the demand, such as it is, for more interviews, but also because the interviews, once I figure out how to scan them, will allow me to keep the site fresh with a reasonable investment of time.
[A February 10, 2011, update: After considerable time spent tweaking scanner settings and working around problems, I've finally come up with satisfactory scans. The McKimson interview is now in my computer, and I expect to post it next week.]