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Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

RefPack041: Russian Animated Feature and More!

Reference Pack


REFPACK 041
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August-September 2021

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Every other month, members of Animation Resources are given access to an exclusive Members Only Reference Pack. These downloadable files are high resolution e-books on a variety of educational subjects and rare cartoons from the collection of Animation Resources in DVD quality. Our current Reference Pack has just been released. If you are a member, click through the link to access the MEMBERS ONLY DOWNLOAD PAGE. If you aren’t a member yet, please JOIN ANIMATION RESOURCES. It’s well worth it.

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The Humpbacked Horse

The Humpbacked Horse
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Ivan Ivanov-Vano / Soyuzmultfilm / 1947
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One of the unquestioned masterpieces of Russian animation is Ivan Ivanov-Vano’s The Humpbacked Horse. This lavish film was produced in the years immediately following World War II when Russia was isolating itself from Western influences. Ivanov-Vano mined Russian fables and fairy tales as subjects for animated films, and adapted them to suit the ideological demands of the Soviet authorities who oversaw the Soyuzmultfilm studio. The goal was to create animation that competed with Western studios like Disney, while developing a style that was distinctly Russian.

Based on a poem by Peter Erschov, the narration and dialogue is all spoken in rhyme. The colors and design emulate Russian folk art. It is ironic that as much as Ivanov-Vano struggled to establish his own identity, separate from American animation, the film was greatly admired by Walt Disney, who screened it for his animators as an example of a successful animated feature.

The Humpbacked Horse

At one point, The Humpbacked Horse was thought to be a lost film. The original film elements were poorly cared for, and by the early 1970s they had deteriorated to the point where they were deemed unsuitable for release. But demand for the film was sufficient that nearly three decades after the film’s original release, Ivanov-Vano put together a crew to remake the film. The remake was released in 1975 and a dubbed version was released in the United States titled The Magic Pony. It was not a shot for shot recreation, but followed the original film closely. In the early 2000s, film restoration technology had advanced to the point where a full restoration of the 1947 version was practical. This is the version we are sharing with our members in this Reference Pack.


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The Humpbacked Horse

Here is the synopsis of The Humpbacked Horse from Wikipedia:

An old man has three sons. The elder two are considered fairly smart, while the youngest, Ivan, is considered a fool. One day the father sends the three to find out who’s been stealing hay from their fields at night. The elder brothers decide to lie hidden in a haystack, where they promptly fall asleep. Ivan, meanwhile, sits beside a birch tree and plays on his recorder. Suddenly, he sees a magnificent horse come flying out of the sky. Ivan grabs her mane and holds on as the horse tries to shake him off. Finally, the horse begs him to let her go and in return gives him two beautiful black stallions and a little humpbacked horse (named Konyok-gorbunok) to be his companion.

The Humpbacked Horse

Ivan leads the two black horses to a stable and runs off with Konyok-gorbunok to fetch buckets of water for them. When he comes back, he finds that his brothers have taken his horses. Konyok-gorbunok tells the boy that he will carry him to the city to recover the horses. Ivan sits on its back and they go flying through the clouds. Along the way, Ivan finds the fiery feather of a firebird, which shines without giving off any heat. Konyok-gorbunok warns him that it will cause him difficulty later, but Ivan pays him no mind.

When they reach the city, Ivan outwits his brothers and sells his black horses to the Tsar. However nobody besides Ivan can control the horses, so he is put in charge of the Tsar’s stables. Spalnik, one of the Tsar’s courtiers, takes an instant dislike to Ivan and hides himself in the stables to watch him at work, so that he can find a way to remove him from the Tsar’s favor. Spalnik sees Ivan use the firebird’s feather for light and schemes to steal it from him. The next day, Spalnik shows the firebird’s feather to the Tsar, who decides that if one feather can be that beautiful, he needs an entire bird. With Spalnik’s urging, the Tsar commands Ivan to catch him a firebird or lose his post.


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The Humpbacked Horse

With Konyok-gorbunok’s help, Ivan catches a firebird and brings it back to the Tsar’s delight. Spalnik convinces the Tsar to order Ivan to fetch the Tsar a beautiful wife. Ivan is summoned and told that the consequences will be dire if he doesn’t bring back a beautiful wife for the Tsar within three weeks. Ivan again manages to do this.

The Tsar is overjoyed and begs the young maiden to marry him, but she refuses, telling him that she would only marry him if he were young and handsome. The girl tells him that for him to become young and handsome he would need to bathe first in boiling milk, then in boiling water, and finally in freezing water. Spalnik tells the Tsar to try this out on Ivan first, hoping at last to be rid of his nemesis. The Tsar agrees. Needless to say, Ivan protests, and the Tsar orders him to be thrown into prison until everything is ready the next morning. Konyok-gorbunok comes to Ivan and through the prison bars tells him not to worry. All he needs to do is simply whistle for him in the morning and let him put a magic spell on the milk and water so that it will not be harmful to him. Spalnik overhears this, and kidnaps Konyok-gorbunok just as he is leaving Ivan’s cell.

The Humpbacked Horse

In the morning, Ivan whistles for Konyok-gorbunok, who is tied in a bag. The little humpbacked horse manages to free himself eventually, knocking Spalnik out a window and into a well. He rushes to Ivan’s rescue and reaches him at the very last moment. Konyok-gorbunok puts a spell on the three cauldrons that have been prepared. Ivan jumps into the boiling milk, then the boiling water and then the freezing water, and emerges as a handsome young man instead of a boy. The young maiden instantly falls in love with him. The Tsar gets excited and decides that he also wants to be young and handsome. However, the spell is no longer working, so after he jumps into the boiling water he doesn’t come back out. Ivan, meanwhile, takes the maiden as his own wife and becomes the new Tsar, with Konyok-gorbunok continuing to follow him as his friend.

The Humpbacked Horse


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There is a lot to learn from this film… The animation of the horses is brilliant and the design and color are dazzling. But also look at the structure and pacing of the film. Events are accordioned out or cut short depending on the flow of the film. The set pieces have plenty of time to play out, but the film never slows down to play out the narrative aspects of the story. This is something that Disney must have admired. His films handle elaboration and exposition in exactly the same way. Disney features never dawdle over explaining a plot point. We will have more treasures of Russian animation in upcoming Reference Packs. We hope you find this useful.

REFPACK041: The Humpbacked Horse
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MP4 Video File / SD / 57:21 / 1.07 GB Download

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Van Beuren Tom And Jerry

Van Beuren’s Tom & Jerry
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"Barnyard Bunk" (1932) / "Jolly Fish" (1932)

Van Beuren cartoons are among the most misunderstood animated shorts from the golden age of animation. Armchair animation historians tend to have a certain set of criteria they judge by— either the polish and production values of Disney, or the carefully constructed gags of Tex Avery at Warner Bros and MGM. If you judge like that, Van Beuren cartoons fall far short, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to learn from these films.

Van Beuren Tom And Jerry


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Let’s start by looking at these two cartoons the way animation historians who aren’t cartoonists look at them… The style of drawing varies from shot to shot. A cow does a dance in one scene with one model and walks into the frame in the next shot with a completely different attitude and model. There’s no attempt to render perspective or depth except in the most basic way. Most of the action takes place in a flat plane from right to left. Scene cuts don’t build to a gag, most gags are completely contained within a single scene. The next scene sets up and plays out a totally new gag. The overall structure of the continuity is extremely basic. In fact, the story of the cartoon can be completely described in a single sentence… “A farmer’s farm is falling apart until Tom & Jerry play their saxophones and bring it back to life.” Or even more simply, “Tom & Jerry go fishing and are outwitted by fish and ducks.” All of these criticisms are true, and all of them completely miss the point.

Van Beuren Tom And Jerry

Cartoonists and animators can totally misunderstand the appeal of these cartoons too. It’s de rigueure nowadays for every TV cartoon show to do a "retro episode" where the characters are drawn in old timey 1930s rubber hose style. They use a soundtrack full of ukulele music, rinky-tink jazz and Raymond Scott’s Powerhouse, not for any particular purpose beyond simple nostalgia. They’ll paint backgrounds with farmyards or city streets from the depression and color the cartoon in shades of black and white. Yet the results are always the same… Even though the new old fashioned cartoons look and sound like the cartoons of the 1930s, they just don’t feel anything like them.

Van Beuren Tom And Jerry

Why is this? The answer is simple. Van Beuren cartoons aren’t good because they are carefully crafted and constructed like a Disney or Tex Avery cartoon. And they aren’t good because they are in black and white and have peppy jazz music. They are good because they were created by artists who were having FUN.

Van Beuren Tom And Jerry

In order to appreciate these cartoons, you have to look beneath the surface. Their appeal isn’t in their style, it’s in the creative freedom they express. The animation in these Tom & Jerry cartoons was handed out to the animators scene by scene. The artists were given a general idea of what was supposed to happen between the cuts, but if they thought of a way to make it funnier, they were free to go with that. They weren’t laying bricks to create a foundation for other people to build on, they were going all out to make their own fifty feet of film as funny as they possibly could.

When the time came to string all the animators’ work together, a cursory hookup was all that was needed to transition from one animator’s section to the next. They weren’t building a symphony, they were competing in a jam session. Every animator was encouraged to improvise, without worrying about continuity, consistency or production value. And this competition for laughs ended up producing films that were jam packed with funny surprises. It’s no wonder that a one-of-a-kind animator like Jim Tyer started out his career at Van Beuren, and it’s no wonder that Van Beuren was the only studio who fully recognized Tyer’s creative spark and allowed him to direct.

Van Beuren Tom And Jerry

So when you are looking at these films, look past the surface nostalgia and focus at what is going on behind the scenes. Think about applying this kind of freedom to your own films. Imagine how much fun it would be to work on a project where the only requirement is to produce approximately five minutes of animation on a simple theme… where the animators weren’t required to conform to a specific model, but instead were encouraged to create the funniest action possible in their own style. Who wouldn’t want to work like that?!


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Van Beuren wasn’t the "worst cartoon studio in the golden age" as some people have described it. It was one of the few studios that gave its artists absolute freedom. Many thanks to Animation Resources Advisory Board Member Steve Stanchfield for sharing these rare films with us.

REFPACK041: Barnyard Bunk
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MP4 Video File / SD / 05:30 / 109 MB Download

REFPACK041: Jolly Fish
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M4V Video File / SD / 05:25 / 132 MB Download


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Thursday, September 9th, 2021

RefPack041: 1960s Japanese TV Series

Reference Pack


REFPACK 041
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August-September 2021

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Every other month, members of Animation Resources are given access to an exclusive Members Only Reference Pack. These downloadable files are high resolution e-books on a variety of educational subjects and rare cartoons from the collection of Animation Resources in DVD quality. Our current Reference Pack has just been released. If you are a member, click through the link to access the MEMBERS ONLY DOWNLOAD PAGE. If you aren’t a member yet, please JOIN ANIMATION RESOURCES. It’s well worth it.

Early Anime

Lately, Animation Resources has been researching the early history of Japanese animation. We have been searching out video copies of 1960s anime to add to our Animation Archive, and we have accumulated dozens of complete series— hundreds of hours of rare television programs. We will be will be sharing some of them with you in our Reference Packs. Our members have asked us to share complete films and publications with them, not excerpts, so we will be sharing complete half hour episodes with you. We don’t claim that everything here is great. But there are great bits. You can sift through them and discover the gems for yourself.
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Sabu And Ichis Detective Stories

Early Anime Batch 01
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"Sabu & Ichi’s Detective Stories" / "Fight Da Pyuta" / "Space Ace"

Japanese animation blossomed on television in the mid-1960s. Many different kinds of series were produced. Some were serious and were aimed at an older audience, some were goofy to entertain kids, and some pioneered the concept of the animated superhero. In this and upcoming Reference Packs, we will be sharing a variety of different episodes from this seminal era.

Sabu And Ichis Detective Stories

Like many early Japanese animated shows, Sabu & Ichi’s Detective Stories was adapted from a manga series. Created by Shotaro Ishinomori and published in the Weekly Shonen Sunday beginning in 1966, the series focused on the adventures of Sabu, a young shogun and his partner, the blind master swordsman Ichi. Set sometime in the Edo period of Japan (the 17th through the 19th century) the duo travel across Japan helping the common people by solving mysteries and righting wrongs. Sabu is engaged to the daughter of his boss, a police officer in the Tokugawa shogunate.


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Sabu And Ichis Detective Stories

This series is animated in an animatic style with very sparse animation. It resembles the title sequence of the American TV show, Wild, Wild West. The show has the feeling of what we now call an "animated web comic". The drawings are rough, but extremely expressive, and the posing reveals great understanding of human anatomy. The layouts are well composed and the background paintings match the drawing style perfectly. But the really important aspect of this show is how it handles action scenes. With only a few drawings and careful spacing and timing, extremely complex movement is perfectly conveyed. Note for instance the fight scenes at 00:21:32 and 00:22:40. Creative use of blur effects occasionally enhances the animation as well, see 00:06:12. The limited animation is actually used here as a strength to convey the feeling of the original manga.

REFPACK041: Sabu & Ichi Ep35
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MP4 Video File / SD / 25:48 / 271 MB Download

Fight Da Pyuta

The next early Japanese TV animation we are sharing is called Fight da!! Pyuta. It was created by Tsunezo Murotani and directed by Tameo Kohanawa in 1968. The year is significant, because it puts the show two years after the debut of Ralph Bakshi’s Mighty Heroes. The debt to Bakshi’s series is obvious. The show had to have been influenced by it.

Fight Da Pyuta


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Instead of mining Japanese folklore, like Sabu & Ichi’s Detective Stories, Fight da!! Pyuta takes a Western approach, employing pop art and imagery from American comic books as well as an underscore that features surf guitar and jazzy latin bongos. The backgrounds are often psychedelic and the sound effects are expressed in bam-balloons with English lettering, like in a superhero comic. Astronauts from various countries are represented by caricatures of world leaders, a speech by Lyndon Johnson is even slipped into the soundtrack at one point. Cultural stereotypes and references to pop culture media are milked for humor as well.

Fight Da Pyuta

This series is very unique. We haven’t found any other Japanese shows that are remotely similar. In fact, it most closely resembles "wacky" cartoons from the early 90s, like "Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures" and "Animaniacs". There are some wild takes in this show, and the anthropomorphizing of inanimate objects to make them resemble the characters is very clever. I imagine this might have appeared to be a little too "American" for Japanese audiences, but it makes the show very accessible to we Americans.

REFPACK041: Fight! Da Pyuta Ep11
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MP4 Video File / SD / 25:35 / 386 MB Download

Space Ace

The last series we will be featuring this time is called Space Ace. Based on a manga series created in 1964 by Tatsuo Yoshida, the creator of Speed Racer, Space Ace hit the television airwaves very quickly the following year.

Wikipedia describes the show like this… Space Ace is the story of an alien young boy named Space Ace (or Ace for short), given to homesick stargazing with the faces of his loved ones ghosted across the heavens. His tool of preference is the galaxy ring, a flat white hoop he can produce from his fingers to be thrown or ridden upon. The supporting cast includes Dr. Tatsunoko, who is almost a father figure to Ace, and his daughter Asari, Ace’s love interest. Providing the show’s comedy relief is crusading investigative reporter Yadokari, who usually bursts on the scene riding his jet skycycle at the worst possible moment, screaming for Ace to give him interviews and so on. One of the show’s most important characters is "Ebo", Ace’s imagined projection into the night sky depicted as a humanoid robot.


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Space Ace

This particular episode is titled "Haunted Space Ship" and it is a great example of a bunch of totally different ideas being mixed together for maximum fun. The show starts out with skiing, then suddenly takes a turn towards science fiction when a space ship lands. The interior of the space ship turns out to be like a haunted mansion. The action becomes more and more surreal until an alien brain in a glass helmet is revealed. A flying dog shoots gum into Ace’s mouth like a Pez dispenser and the candy makes him powerful enough to destroy the alien brain. There’s wonderful James Bond style music and some truly amazing explosion effects. You really don’t need to speak Japanese to appreciate this show.

Space Ace

In the 1970s, the crush of production necessitated a more "assembly line" approach to production and design. Instead of every show having its own style, the designs began to consolidate— character design, background design and effects animation became standardized. This made it easier for artists to move from show to show, because they didn’t have to learn a new style for every job they worked on. Formulas of how facial features, hair or proportions should be rendered saved time and streamlined the whole Japanese animation industry. While this allowed for the production of many more hours of animation to feed the demand, it took away some of the spontaneity and originality that had flourished in earlier years. Anime from the 80s and 90s is well known in the United States and it has been widely available here for many years, but the early shows from the 60s are very hard to find. These are the ones we will be focusing on in our Reference Packs.

REFPACK041: Space Ace Ep39
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MP4 Video File / SD / 26:05 / 474 MB Download


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Friday, August 20th, 2021

RefPack041: International Section

Reference Pack


REFPACK 041
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August-September 2021

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Every other month, members of Animation Resources are given access to an exclusive Members Only Reference Pack. These downloadable files are high resolution e-books on a variety of educational subjects and rare cartoons from the collection of Animation Resources in DVD quality. Our current Reference Pack has just been released. If you are a member, click through the link to access the MEMBERS ONLY DOWNLOAD PAGE. If you aren’t a member yet, please JOIN ANIMATION RESOURCES. It’s well worth it.

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Mowgli

Adventures of Mowgli – Ep 2: Kidnapping
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Roman Davydov / Soyuzmultfilm, Russia / 1967
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In this Reference Pack, we’re continuing Roman Davydov’s series of films based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The story was broken into five short films, which were produced by Soyuzmultfilm between 1967 and 1971. In 1973, the five films were trimmed and merged into a single feature film, and in 1998 it was released in America in a dubbed version narrated by Charleton Heston. Over the next several Reference Packs, we will continue to share the five shorts with their original soundtracks. Although the dialogue is in Russian, if you are familiar with the books or the Disney version, you’ll have no trouble following along.

Davydov’s first film was produced independently of Disney’s Jungle Book and was released the very same year. They make an interesting subject for comparison and contrast. Disney’s version relies heavily on the personalties of the voice actors, rather than the characters in the story itself. It’s funnier, tending towards being goofy at times, and takes a relatively light-hearted pass at the story. Davydov’s version couldn’t be more different. It follows the book more closely, seriously addressing the themes of death, duty and the meaning of being a human being.

Mowgli

This time we are presenting the second episode, titled "Kidnapping". Here is Wikipedia’s synopsis of the action:

Rakshura’s cubs, including Mowgli are being taught to hunt by Baloo. The bear scolds Mowgli for running like a man. They arrive at a watering hole full of crocodiles. Baloo teaches Mowgli the call of the jungle, “We are of one blood, you and I.” Bagheera arrives and teaches Mowgli to climb trees and jump from one to another. A group of monkeys in the trees see Mowgli free an elephant from a trap laid by the villagers. They decide that even without a tail, he could be useful to the pack of monkeys. While Mowgli sleeps, the monkeys kidnap him and sweep him off to the ruins of an abandoned city in the jungle.

Mowgli

Baloo and Bagheera run after them, but realize that they need more help to rescue Mowgli from the gang of monkeys. They enlist the help of the python, Kaa. An eagle flying above them tells them that he saw Mowgli being carried away by the monkeys. Mowgli had asked him for help invoking the call of the jungle. The eagle tells them about the abandoned city, and the three set off to find it. Baloo and Bagheera arrive first, but they are quickly overwhelmed by the monkeys. Kaa arrives and the monkeys form a circle around him. Kaa performs a hypnotizing dance, and the monkeys are tempted to come closer and closer. Bagheera and Baloo are nearly caught in the trap as well, but Mowgli takes the opportunity to drag them away and go back home.

We will have part three for you in the next Reference Pack.

REFPACK041: Mowgli Ep02
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MP4 Video File / HD / 20:03 / 1.2 GB Download



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Well Just You Wait

Well, Just You Wait Ep.02
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Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin / Soyuzmultfilm, Russia / 1970

We continue the Russian Wolf and Rabbit cartoons with episode 02, "Fairground At Night".

The premise of Nu, Pogodi! (which translates into English as Well, Just You Wait!) was pitched by a writing team of satirical humorists to many directors at Soyuzmultfilm, but was rejected every time. Finally in 1969, Gennady Sokolsky agreed to direct a 2 1/2 minute pilot for the series in an omnibus film called "Happy Merry Go Round". The general consensus at the studio was that the cartoon was "low class" and beneath the dignity of Soyuzmultfilm, but director Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin strongly believed in the concept, so the studio decided to take a chance and allow him to direct a few episodes… and then a few more… and then more.

Well Just You Wait

Kotyonochkin was proven correct. The cartoons were a huge success. Between 1969 and 2006, Soyuzmultfilm ended up making 22 episodes, and in a 2014 poll of audiences all over Russia, Well, Just You Wait! was voted the most popular cartoon series of all time by a landslide. Although the series resembles both Tom & Jerry and the Roadrunner and Coyote series, the director, Kotyonochkin claimed not to have ever seen any of these Hollywood cartoons until 1987 when his son got a video tape recorder and Western tapes began to be imported.

Well Just You Wait

In these Russian cartoons, there’s almost no dialogue, and the action almost always occurs on screen. Static tableaux are rare, as are detailed backgrounds and "on model" drawings. These cartoons focus on expressive poses and movement, and save time and expense by avoiding the careful cleanup required for character model details and overlapping action. The theory here is, if it moves funny, it’s funny… and they are right about that.

Shamus Culhane once lamented that television animation consisted of mostly lip-sync animation. He would have preferred to do away with lip-sync entirely and just have simple drawings that really move. Well, Just You Wait proves that he was correct.

We will have more Wolf and Rabbit cartoons in upcoming Reference Packs.

REFPACK041: Well Just You Wait Ep. 02
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MP4 Video File / SD / 09:32 / 139 MB Download



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SD VIDEO:
Pies Kot I

Dog, Cat And… Ep 2
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Zofia Oraczewska / Studio Miniatur Filmowych, Poland / 1972

In this Reference Pack, we are sharing another short cartoon from a series produced by Studio Miniatur Filmowych, Pies, Kot I… which translates to Dog, Cat And… This is a different sort of take on the Tom & Jerry model, with the opponents outsmarting each other instead of just chasing each other out of hate or hunger. There is more to the relationship between the characters than just rivalry. The relationship of the characters makes it easy to see how it relates to slapstick comedy teams like Laurel & Hardy and Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. The dog and cat are not just generic animals, but individual personalities with a dynamic relationship that is much more engaging than most “cat and mouse” or “dog and cat” cartoons.

Pies Kot I

These cartoons are almost devoid of dialogue with the focus on loose, funny animation. In fact, the drawings are often hilarious on their own, even removed from their context within the gag sequence. The facial expressions are well observed, and the poses employ clear silhouettes that form funny graphic shapes.

Well, Just You Wait!, and Dog, Cat And… both are very efficient at what they do. They could easily serve as a model for internet animation. The internet encourages repeat viewing more than television does. When you watch a dialogue driven cartoon on TV, once you’ve heard the jokes, you don’t need to watch it again. However, a short cartoon that looks and moves funny is entertaining no matter how many times you watch it. And for the animator who is making the cartoon, it’s a lot more fun to animate simple funny characters than it is to animated a lot of tedious lip-sync.

Pies Kot I

Dog, Cat And… looks like it was a lot of fun to make. The film makers at Studio Miniatur Filmowych didn’t feel constrained by the ordinary lives of animals. Their characters can drive cars, build their own houses and go to exotic places. That freedom allowed the animators to keep their series fresh, and gave them the opportunity to experiment within a 10 minute format. Simple drawings, funny movement and no rules… these are the kinds of series that would work well as episodic internet cartoons.

We will have more episodes from this series in upcoming Reference Packs.

REFPACK041: Dog Cat And… Ep02
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MP4 Video File / SD / 09:12 / 124 MB Download


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