June 30th, 2016

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Theory: Cartooning’s Cousin- Puppetry

Punch and Judy puppets

For the past few months, I’ve been researching the roots of cartooning, tracing the history back long before Gertie the Dinosaur and the Yellow Kid appeared on the scene. I’ve discovered some wonderful things which will be appearing here in the blog soon. But one of the most exciting things I’ve discovered in cartooning’s “family tree” is the existence of “kissing cousins”… related art forms that developed along with cartooning in roughly the same time and place. Chief among these related arts is puppetry, and in particular, the tradition of Punch and Judy.

We all know Punch and Judy, but few of us today have actually seen a show performed. But the tradition isn’t dead. It’s being carried on by a small group of dedicated puppeteers around the world. They continue to perform in pretty much the same manner as it’s been performed for the past three centuries.

Cartooning and Punch and Judy share a common ancestor, George Cruikshank

Punch and Judy puppets

Cruikshank was a British cartoonist who illustrated one of the earliest documented Punch and Judy scripts in 1828, The Comical Tragedy or Tragic Comedy of Punch and Judy. Based on the performance by Piccini, the puppeteer who created a sensation with the puppet play in Britain in the early 1820s, this same basic story outline has continued to form the plot of just about every Punch and Judy show to this day.

The traditional show is usually performed by a “Professor”, the puppeteer inside the booth, and a “Bottler”, an assistant outside the booth who corrals the audience, introduces the puppets and plays musical accents and sound effects on a drum or guitar. The audience is encouraged to participate, calling out to the characters on the stage to warn them of danger or clue them into what’s going on behind their back.

Punch and Judy puppets

The cast of characters has been passed down from Professor to Professor over the generations, with some falling away and some being added as time went by and tastes changed. This beautiful set of puppets was created for me by artist/puppeteer Christopher van der Craats in Melbourne, Australia.

Punch and Judy puppets

In the early days, a live trained dog named Toby sat on the edge of the stage and helped with the show. Later, the live dog was replaced by a puppet, and eventually faded out of common use. But some Professors still occasionally use the Toby character in their act to this day.

Punch and Judy puppets

The show begins with the audience calling out to wake Mr. Punch, a carefree “trickster” character with a buzzy voice created by means of a “swazzle” a kazoo like device hidden in the Professor’s mouth…

Punch and Judy puppets

Next, Punch’s wife Judy is introduced. She is a bossy personality who orders Mr. Punch around. She instructs Mr. Punch to mind the baby while she goes to the kitchen to make sausages…

Punch and Judy puppets

Punch begins to play with the baby, teaching him to walk. But the action turns rough and the baby starts crying. Punch begins to frantically fling the baby about trying to silence it, eventually tossing it out the window. Judy finds out and a fight breaks out between her and Punch. Judy is beaten to death by Punch’s slapstick.

Punch and Judy puppets

Judy comes back as a ghost to frighten Mr. Punch, who is terrified and cowers in fear, unable to speak.

Punch and Judy puppets

The Doctor arrives to treat the stricken Mr. Punch, but he is nothing but a quack. He asks where it hurts, then hits Mr. Punch to give him pain to help forget his fear. Punch quickly dispatches the Doctor with his slapstick.

Punch and Judy puppets

As the bodies of the puppets Mr. Punch has killed pile up on the edge of the stage, Punch’s friend Joey the Clown shows up and enters into a game with Punch trying to confuse him as he counts the bodies. In some older versions, Joey helps Mr. Punch turn the bodies into sausages! Punch gets frustrated with Joey’s friendly taunting and hits him over the head with his slapstick. Joey plays dead.

Punch and Judy puppets

Next, the law arrives… in the early days this character was represented by “The Beadle”. There weren’t civil governments at that time, so criminal disturbances were policed by the church. The Beadle was the officer of the church who acted as a policeman.

Punch and Judy puppets

Later on, the character was replaced by the traditional British “Constable”, with his trademark lines, “‘Ello! ‘Ello! ‘Ello! What’s all this then?” The bumbling constable investigates the murders and Punch promptly makes him a victim as well. The body count rises by one more.

Punch and Judy puppets

Jack Ketch, the hangman, whose name commemorates a real executioner from the early 19th century, arrives to punish Mr. Punch for being “very naughty”. Punch pretends not to know how to put his head through the noose, so the hangman demonstrates for him… Zip! The hangman is hung in his own noose, and Mr. Punch dances in triumph.

Punch and Judy puppets

Mr. Punch next faces off with a Crocodile, who eats his sausages and slapstick, effectively disarming him. The Croc bites Mr. Punch on the nose.

Punch and Judy puppets

The Devil himself arrives to escort Mr. Punch down to hell to pay for his misdeeds. But Punch outwits the Devil and he and Joey return to the stage to wave goodbye to the audience.

Punch and Judy puppets

Other characters include Hector the Hobby Horse, Punch’s neighbor Mr. Scaramouch (who gets his head knocked off), Pretty Polly the Chambermaid, and the Servant/Blind Begger.

As you can see, the basic plot is pretty threadbare, and Professors regularly elaborate on some sections and cut other ones. The fun isn’t in the story, it’s how it’s performed. Each Professor has his own way of putting across the continuity of action. Like cartoons, Punch and Judy has come under attack by censors who claim that the superficial level of violence depicted isn’t appropriate for children. This criticism goes all the way back to the origin of the show. Here is a great quote from a great writer on this topic…

In my opinion street Punch is one of those extravagant reliefs from the realties of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive. I regard it as quite harmless in its influence, and as an outrageous joke which no one in existence would think of regarding as an incentive to any kind of action or as a model for any kind of conduct.

It is possible, I think, that one secret source of pleasure very generally derived from this performance… is the satisfaction the spectator feels in the circumstances that likenesses of men and women can be so knocked about without any pain or suffering. -Charles Dickens

Punch and Judy puppets

That same defense could be applied to cartoon violence like Tom and Jerry and the Coyote and Roadrunner. That isn’t the only thing Punch and Judy have in common with animation. I asked a professional Punch and Judy Professor for advice for aspiring puppeteers to keep in mind when performing. He suggested the following…

Each movement should be clear and precise. Don’t move the puppet at random.

The movement should have a sense of weight.

If someone bumps the puppet, it must react.

Stop and hold a pose occasionally for dramatic effect.

Use the old rule of three. Repeat a gag twice to set up an expectation, then do something different and surprising on the third time.

Punch and Judy puppets

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that animation and puppetry are very closely related. At its most basic level, Punch and Judy is about a trickster outwitting authority figures out to get him. How different is that from Bugs Bunny popping out of his hole to find Elmer Fudd holding a shotgun up to his nose?

As you look at the following clip, analyze the action the way you would analyze an animated film. Look for rhythmic timing, strong expressive poses, clear silhouettes, well staged action and contrasts in pacing and mood. You’ll be amazed at how many parallels with animation you can find in puppetry.

Pulcinella by Salvatore Gatto

I don’t know about you, but that clip above made my jaw hit the floor. Punch and Judy is pure, raw entertainment, stripped of all of the superfluous details we tend to heap upon it when we create animation. With Punch and Judy, the story isn’t important. It’s the same story that has been told for three hundred years. The design isn’t important. It’s the same design too. Snappy dialogue isn’t necessary. The puppets were speaking Italian in that clip and I bet you didn’t even notice. Fancy backgrounds, snappy jokes, flying camera moves, rapid fire cutting… none of that matters at all.

What does matter? Personality, rhythm, movement, fun situations, contrasts, and surprises. Punch and Judy is the distilled essence of entertainment. The same show could be performed for young or old, Eskimos or Aborigines and the delight and laughter would be the same. This form of entertainment goes straight to the core of what entertainment is. It probably goes even deeper than that- to the universal idea of what it is to be human.

Punch and Judy puppets

Arguably, animation’s history can be viewed as a progression of complexity. We have added layer after layer of overlapping action and tons of inbetweens to make lots of fluid and smooth movement. We place the characters over elaborate backgrounds inspired by Monument Valley or epic scenes from Lawrence of Arabia. We spend millions of dollars on crews of Harvard educated writers coming up with reams of script pages. We assemble massive computing horsepower to simulate convincing water splashes and other kinds of particle effects. And we polish and refine timing over and over in passes until the characters move just like reality- and every character ends up moving the same.

…and none of that has anything to do with why people love to watch animated cartoons.

With the Pulcinella routine above, one man was able to take a lump of wood and some rags and bring them to life as a vivid character that moves, sounds and acts in a direct, grippingly expressive way. Not only that. He did it in real time with no retakes! We can learn a lot from puppetry. Instead of focusing on the surface details of entertainment, we should focus on the raw core of fun that lays at the heart of any great performance.

The following is a Punch and Judy show by Professor Whatsit (Christopher van der Craats)…

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I hope you find these posts useful. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 1:49 pm

June 29th, 2016

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Illustration: Felix Lorioux’s Fantastic Worlds

Felix Lorioux

Here’s another post about an artist you’ve never heard of before, but you’ll never forget once you look at his work! My pal Tony "Superslice" Mora gave me this book as a birthday gift. It’s a real treasure.

Felix LoriouxFelix LoriouxFelix Lorioux was one of France’s best loved artists, but he was a humble, quiet man who did little to promote himself beyond his home country. He was born in 1872 and began as a advertising designer. But his childlike sense of wonder led him to a career as a children’s book illustrator. Walt Disney met him in 1919 when Disney was an Red Cross ambulance driver and Lorioux’s wife ws a Red Cross nurse. Disney was impressed with his abilities and hired him to illustrate books for the French market based on Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies. A Lorioux illustration of a duck in a sailor suit may have even been the inspiration for Donald Duck! Around 1934, Lorioux resigned from illustrating for Disney, citing the language barrier and also because he didn’t want to relocate to California to join the studio.

Felix Lorioux

Felix LoriouxFelix LoriouxLorioux went on to illustrate definitive editions of Perrault’s Fairy Tales, Don Quixote, the Fables of La Fontaine and Robinson Crusoe. However, he was most at home painting delicate watercolors of the birds, flowers and insects in his garden. He imagined fantastic worlds populated by these little creatures. This book, "Le Buffon des Enfants: Les Insectes de Chez Nous" is one of his greatest works. Tony was fortunate enough to stumble across a deluxe edition from 1946 that was limited to only 2000 copies. The print quality is astounding. Lorioux’s books are rarely seen in the United States.

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I don’t have room on the blog to reproduce this entire book, but check out the way Lorioux incorporates his watercolors into the text of the book…

Felix Lorioux

Here’s another jaw-droppingly beautiful book by Lorioux, Fables De La Fontaine…

Felix Lorioux Aesop
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Felix Lorioux Aesop

Thanks to Michael Andrew Wilson for sharing some information in this article. If anyone reading this has more information about Lorioux or his work, feel free to post it in the comments.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

IllustrationIllustration

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit spotlighting Illustration.

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 12:37 pm

June 28th, 2016

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Illustration: Arthur Rackham’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Arthur Rackham

Arthur RackhamArthur RackhamArthur Rackham is probably the single most influential children’s book illustrator. His delicate watercolors define the image of fairy tales in many people’s minds.

If you aren’t familiar with his work, see Bud Plant’s great capsule biography.

These scans are from a rare first edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from 1909. This beautiful book is jam packed with fabulous color plates and ink sketches.

Rackham’s style merges an organic line and earthy color palette with fantastic imagery. He often slipped faces into trees and clouds, adding an extra layer of wonder to his images. His pastoral subjects often seem to be nostalgic for an earlier time, perfect for bringing fairy tales to life.

Arthur RackhamArthur RackhamWalt Disney admired Rackham’s watercolor and pen & ink style, and instructed Gustaf Tenggren to work with Claude Coates and Sam Armstrong to adapt it for use in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

In animation backgrounds however, the sinewy Rackham line was overly busy, distracting from the characters; so Tenggren evolved towards the more dimensional painting style in Pinocchio, which set the standard for Disney cartoons throughout the 1940s.

At Animation Resources one of our projects is to document the images that acted as inspiration to the artists who created the first animated features. No artist fits that bill better than Arthur Rackham. We’re very fortunate to be able to bring the illustrations from this great book to you. I hope you enjoy them.

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Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

IllustrationIllustration

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit spotlighting Illustration.

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 11:32 am