May 4th, 2016

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Animation: Fleischer’s Screen Song, "Mariutch"

Mariutch by NatwickMariutch by NatwickWe continue to digitize and master the Fleischer Bouncing Ball Screen Songs for inclusion in our database. These cartoons haven’t been seen since they were syndicated for television in the 1950s. Today’s cartoon is a real gem… "Mariutch" (1930).

Up to now, the history of animation has been told by studio, or by character. But the true history of animation is the story of the people who created these cartoons. "Mariutch" is important because it vividly illustrates the impact that one man had on the Fleischer Studios.

You might remember that we posted a 1929 Screen Song a few weeks ago… It was titled, "I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles"

I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles

"I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles" looks very much like the Screen Songs and Out of the Inkwell cartoons that preceded it… stark white backgrounds with heavy black lines around the characters. This was the look of the "slash system", a technique using overlapping paper cutouts which predated painting the characters on celluloid. The sound synchronization in this cartoon is pretty clumsy, and charming as it is, some of the drawing and animation is primitive as well.

Mariutch

This style of animation was par for the course at the Fleischers in 1929. But when Grim Natwick joined the studio in early 1930, the look of the Fleischer films changed completely. A full range of gray tones was added to both characters and backgrounds. The animation became much more fluid and well-drawn, thanks in great part to Grim’s expert draftsmanship. Along with his crew of kids… Jimmie Culhane, Willard Bowsky and Rudy Zamora, Grim Natwick proceeded to animate things that had never been seen before on the cartoon screen.

Mariutch

Mariutch

"Mariutch" appears to have been animated almost singlehandedly by Grim. It includes many examples of his experimental movement and timing, which you can see in abundance in another cartoon we posted a few months back, "Swing, You Sinners". Most of all, this cartoon is notable for the early examples of "Grim girls".

Mariutch

Throughout his career, Grim Natwick excelled at animating girls. He created Betty Boop for the Fleischers, refined and expanded upon his girls at Iwerks, and ended up at Disney animating the ultimate Disney heroine, Snow White. In later years, he would recharge himself between scenes by drawing all types of girls, lettering in a suitable name for them alongside the sketch. Here are a couple of animation drawings by Grim from "Mariutch"…

Mariutch
Mariutch

The narration and singing in this cartoon features the first recording star, Billy Murray. He was famous for his dialect songs and made hundreds of records of songs like this for Victor, Edison and Columbia. I hope you enjoy "Mariutch". We’ll have another Screen Song for you soon.

Mariutch

Mariutch (Fleischer/1930)
(Quicktime 7 / 15 megs)

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryGrim Natwick

This posting is part of an online exhibit entitled Grim Natwick’s Scrapbook.
Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Animation.

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 1:42 pm

May 3rd, 2016

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Exhibit: Grim Natwick On Animation Design

Les Clark Hands

Mickey Mouse Hand Model Sheet by Les Clark ca. 1932

Grim Natwick was a remarkable artist. His career as an animator spanned the entire history of animation, from silent Mutt & Jeff cartoons all the way through Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler. I don’t know of anyone more qualified to answer the age-old question…

Who invented the three fingered hand?

Grim studied art in Vienna under Gustav Klimt soon after the end of World War I. Included with this article are scans of Grim’s anatomy studies from a little after his studies there. Some of you may see a similarity with Bridgeman’s wonderful books on constructive anatomy. Grim was in New York when Bridgeman was teaching there, so it’s entirely possible that these drawings were done studying under Bridgeman himself.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

DESIGN FOR ANIMATION
By Grim Natwick

Who invented the three-fingered hand? Someone way back in the dark ages of animation got tired of drawing hands with four fingers and simply left one off, and cartoon hands have been much easier to animate ever since. It was a stroke of genius. The four fingered hand disappeared from animation until "Snow White" (1937). Somehow a pretty girl didn’t look right with only three fingers. But the Seven Dwarfs still had three fingered hands.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

Characters and drawing styles changed as animation became a popular form of entertainment. Straight lines were changed to curved lines- square shapes became round shapes. Curved figures moved better on the screen and eliminated what we used to call "strobe".

Natwick Anatomy Studies

Mickey Mouse was a good example of a character designed to eliminate the early problems of animation. His head was a ball with a rounded lump for a nose, a few circles for eyes, and two frisbees for ears. His body was shaped like a pear or gourd. Four pieces of garden hose were used for arms and legs. His hands were just two bunches of peeled bananas. Four old-fashioned donuts served as cuffs and anklets. He had a hair snake for a tail, and his shoes were two boxing gloves with the thumbs cut off. He animated perfectly. Mickey has changed through the years, but the formula is still the same.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

By 1930, special artists were assigned the job of designing characters for animation. Cartoon stories had become more sophisticated and so had the viewing audience. The characters became individuals- stars- a part of Hollywood. A whole galaxy of heros and heroines have become famous in distant corners of the globe. At a recent animation festival in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, several Chinese animators appeared wearing Betty Boop buttons. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker and the Flintstones are as well known in Paris, London and even Gnosjo, Sweden, as they are in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. They have become world classics, and good design and good drawing have made them so.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

The great animators were almost always good draughtsmen. Milt Kahl, Marc Davis, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, Ward Kimball– These men drew exceptionally well. Among the animators who preceded them, those who could stay in the saddle when the wind was blowing were talents like Dick Huemer, Bill Tytla and the enigmatic Art Babbitt. Babbitt always said that he hated to draw, yet he animated the "most beautiful of all Queens" in Disney’s "Snow White". He drew the complicated Mushroom Dance in Fantasia, an animation masterpiece that required the mind of a ballet dancer and the patience of a Saint, which Babbitt is not. One could name a host of beautifully drawn characters that Art Babbitt "hated to draw".

Natwick Anatomy Studies

How vital a part does drawing play in animation? Is it more important than a dramatic sense, a delicate feeling for humor, spacing and timing?

While an animator may borrow craftsmanship from an actor, he is faced every day with playing a new role, acting out a new scene, breathing life into a new character. His tools are ordinary sheets of paper, and an ordinary lead pencil. If his drawings lack magic, a scene will be a failure.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

Can one compare animation with the more dignified art of easel painting? Is a Ward Kimball any less talented than Seurat? Or is Bill Tytla less gifted than Raol Dufy? If we transpose the question to a more familiar area of the culinary arts- the Art of Cookery- one could say that one chef prepares a meal of barbecued spare ribs with Spanish sauce and chilled beer; while the other serves wild pheasant under glass with Rhone River wine and truffles. Either meal could taste best at a chosen time and a chosen place.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

If Claude Monet had tried to draw a Mickey Mouse, the result would probably have been a real gnocchi- a dodo! On the other hand, if you had asked a Les Clark or a Freddie Moore to paint purple haystacks or pointillistic water-lillies, the result might have been equally disappointing. They are two different art forms.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of an online exhibit entitled Grim Natwick’s Scrapbook.
Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Animation.

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 12:20 pm

May 2nd, 2016

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Exhibit: Grim Natwick In New York

PART ONE: GRIM NATWICK’S EARLY YEARS

Grim Natwick

Grim Natwick’s career in animation began in 1917 at International Film Service Productions, managed by Gregory LaCava. The studio was owned by William Randolph Hearst, who wanted to exploit his comic strip characters in the new medium of the animated cartoon. LaCava had been lured away from Raoul Barre’s studio where he had been working as an animator. His organizational skills were put to good use setting the studio on the right track, but he was having trouble finding experienced animators. He did however, know of a great draftsman who was working as a sheet music illustrator- a classmate from art school…

Grim NatwickGrim NatwickLaCava enlisted Grim to help out for "for two weeks or so" until he could locate experienced animators. Grim’s first task was to animate a racehorse in a Happy Hooligan cartoon. He spent more than a week on the sequence experimenting and struggling, and at the end of the two weeks, he was ready to quit. But LaCava told him that Hearst would pay him the unheard of amount of $100 a week if he would stay on. Money talked, and ultimately, Grim took to animation like a duck to water. The two weeks ended up stretching into over seven decades.

Click to see Grim's anatomy studiesClick to see Grim's anatomy studiesAround 1920, Grim took a few years off to study art in Vienna- drawing from life, landscape painting, portraiture- a full classical art education. He returned to New York a much stronger artist than he had left. International Film Service no longer existed, but Bill Nolan had organized a studio to produce Krazy Kat cartoons. The series bore little resemblence to George Herriman’s classic comic strip. The animation was done using the "slash system" and animators were expected to not only assist their own scenes, but to ink them as well. The artists at the Krazy Kat Studio at this time included some of the best in New York, two of whom- Walter Lantz and Jimmie (Shamus) Culhane- would work with Grim again much later in his career.

Grim NatwickGrim NatwickIn 1929, Grim joined the Fleischer Studios. Fleischer had just made the transition from silent films to sound, and was abandoning the high contrast inked look of the Out of the Inkwell cartoons for a more rounded style with a full range of gray tones. Disney had just raided the studio for talent, taking several key animators, including Dick Huemer, back to California with him. A few months later Ted Sears headed West. Grim was left with a group of inexperienced, but enthusiastic and talented young artists. He quickly whipped the crew into shape and provided the Fleischers with some of the most imaginitive animation ever produced at the studio. We’ve featured two cartoons from this period here in the past… Swing, You Sinners and Mariutch, both from 1930.

Grim NatwickGrim NatwickOne day, Dave Fleischer handed Grim a photograph of singer, Helen Kane and asked him to design a caricature. Fleischer had found a sound-alike, and planned to use her in the upcoming Talkartoon, "Dizzy Dishes". Grim exaggerated Kane’s wide eyes and rosebud mouth, creating a slightly coarse, but strikingly original design. A few weeks later, Dave asked Grim to design a girlfriend for Bimbo to star as the "fair young maiden" in a cartoon adaptation of the popular song, "Barnacle Bill the Sailor". Grim streamlined and refined his caricature of Kane for the part. But Dave Fleischer objected, insisting that since Bimbo was a dog, his girlfriend should also be a dog. Grim quickly sketched Betty Boop’s head on a four legged canine body. He held up the drawing next to the pretty girl design, and asked, "Which would you rather have as your girlfriend? A girl? Or a dog?" Dave laughed and agreed that the pretty girl was the right choice.

Grim Natwick

EXHIBIT CATALOG: GRIM’S EARLY YEARS

Grim Natwick

Top Row: Animation From Hearst & The Krazy Kat Studio (left to right) Drawing from "Judge Rummy" cartoon* (ca. 1918) / Concept sketch for unproduced series based on Cliff Sterrett’s "Polly & her Pals"* (ca. 1926) / ibid* / ibid* / Self portrait of Grim Natwick* (ca. 1926)

Middle Row: Animation From Fleischer (left to right) Animation drawings from "Mariutch"* (1930) / Animation drawing from unknown film* – Animation drawing from "Mariutch"* / Animation drawings from "Swing, You Sinners"* (1930) bottom dwg- collection of Kent Butterworth / Character designs for Bimbo* (ca. 1930) / Character designs for Bimbo in "Barnacle Bill The Sailor"* (1930) / Caricature of Grim Natwick by Rudy Zamora – Self portrait of Grim Natwick* (ca. 1930)

Bottom Row: Anatomy Studies After Bridgeman* (ca. 1920)

* denotes a drawing by Grim Natwick

Next Chapter: GRIM NATWICK, GOLDEN AGE ANIMATOR (Iwerks, Disney, Lantz)


Grim Natwick Exhibit
Assistant Archivist, Joseph Baptista views the exhibit.

GRIM NATWICK’S SCRAPBOOK

This travelling exhibit has appeared at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive in Burbank, CA and at the South Wood Historical Society Museum in Wisconsin Rapids, WI, birthplace of Grim Natwick.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryGrim Natwick

This posting is part of an online exhibit entitled Grim Natwick’s Scrapbook.

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 12:30 pm