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Thursday, May 7th, 2020

Discord Discussions

Animation Resources Discord

Since we launched our Discord server yesterday, the place has been packed with creative artists from all over the globe. They’re sharing their work and networking and meeting lots of new people. One of the most exciting things about our server are the two channels dedicated to in-depth discussion: animation-talk and theory-talk. Animation-talk is for discussing films, and theory-talk is for analysis of technique.

Right now in theory-talk, Animation Resources own David “Pez” Hofmann is taking one of the breakdown clips that volunteer Nicholas Pozega prepares for our daily social media posts and he’s analyzing it, figuring out what makes it tick. The scene is from an Art Davis Warner Bros. cartoon called "Bye Bye Bluebeard" and it has very fast action that still reads clearly. Pez asked me to post the clip here so the folks in Discord can access it and still frame through it.

Here is the clip…And here is a download link so you can open the clip in Quicktime and still frame through it… Bye Bye Bluebeard Breakdown Clip

Every day, we post a breakdown clip on social media and people just look at it and say, "Hmmm. Interesting." But that isn’t what these are for. They’re for you to analyze and puzzle out so you can apply these techniques to your own work.

Jump into the Animation Resources Discord Server and join the discussion! For information on how to access our Discord server, see… Yesterday’s Post on the Discord Launch. Make sure you mark Saturday, May 30th at 4:30pm PDT on your calendar. That is when we are having our Discord Launch Party and you’re invited. Tell your friends!

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Thursday, April 30th, 2020

RefPack033: Is It Possible To Learn From Even The Worst Cartoons?

Reference Pack

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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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Columbia Cartoons

Three Early Columbia Cartoons
"Scrappy’s Expedition" (1934) / "Railroad Rhythm" (1937) / "Happy Tots’ Expedition" (1940)

I want to make it clear from the outset that I don’t think these cartoons are very good from an entertainment standpoint. The gags aren’t particularly funny, the characters are devoid of personality, the stories don’t make a whole lot of sense, and they contain subject matter that ranges from completely obsolete to downright offensive. "Scrappy’s Expedition" features caricatures of radio stars that few people today will recognize. The Kate Smith caricature is accompanied by a song from 1917 that must have seemed out of date even in 1934 when the film was first released. There’s inappropriate sexual innuendo sprinkled in everywhere. A ship’s whistle behaves like a stereotypical gay man, and in "Happy Tots’ Expedition" the characters ride on a rocket in a blatantly phallic manner repeatedly sliding under other characters’ butts. "Railroad Rhythm" takes discomfort to a whole new level with stereotypical Eskimos rubbing noses and an incredibly insensitive caricature of character actor Steppin Fetchit as a chimpanzee… So why am I sharing these awful cartoons with our members?

Columbia Cartoons

Ancient pop culture trivia and long gone derogatory depictions of people from different races and cultures might be a subject for study by social scientists and historians, but they should hold no interest for film makers designing animation for modern audiences. The content of these old scratchy cartoons— specifically the gags, plots and characters— just don’t translate to our modern era. Creating cartoons like this today is a wrong-headed thing to do. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to learn from these films, and it doesn’t mean that breaking them down and studying them is wrong.

Columbia Cartoons

A film maker sees films differently than audiences do. The audience expects to be entertained. A film maker is looking for techniques he can learn from. Even though these three cartoons are about as entertaining as watching paint dry, they do have value. There are some scenes that are brilliantly animated, particularly when it comes to the animation of rain, water and smoke; as well as the rendering of the scale and perspective of large vehicles like ships and trains.

In "Railroad Rhythm" still frame through the scene where the train dives under the tracks at 2:58. Notice how the train digs down in front in to avoid hitting the characters, while the momentum of the cars behind causes them to bunch up. The force from the rear drives the front of the train down into the dirt. As soon as the engine and coal car clear the scene into the hole, the animator creates a repeating cycle of passenger cars to save on pencil mileage, and turns his attention to the locomotive bursting through the tracks on the other side. The engine flexes like rubber back onto the rails and off screen, while incredibly well tracked layers of steam, rubble and railroad ties fly in all directions. Throughout all this, the characters tied to the track strain at the ropes holding them until the train clears the scene leaving a hole and rubble behind. This animation is every bit as complex as anything in a Mickey Mouse cartoon, and it’s even more amazing when you realize that the density of nitrate cels meant that all of this animation had to be accomplished on just three layers. Any way you slice it, it’s a brilliantly organized bit of animation.

Columbia Cartoons

"Happy Tots’ Expedition" was clearly intended to emulate the style of animation Disney created for "Snow White", but it does it in a totally bizarre way. Instead of "Squash and Stretch" and "Overlapping Action", the Columbia animators employ "Drag and Droop" and overlap the overlap until the characters wiggle like jello. It’s completely unprincipled— solid forms defining bone structure stretch like taffy, just like the soft fleshy jowls and chin wattles. At one point the animator misinterprets the King’s jowls as a mustache, and the ink & paint department dutifully corrects it by painting the mustache flesh colored. The King’s robe swirls around in random S curves like a cobra. Head and eye proportions change from frame to frame. Hook ups between scenes are sometimes totally wrong. Still frame through the scene at 3:18 with the cyclops take; or even worse, check out the drawings in the mustache scene at 4:39. The topper gag really does top everything that came before with one of the most obscene sequences ever to get past the Hayes Office.

As you still frame through this cartoon you’ll find a million hilarious drawings. But it’s hard to know whether it was supposed to be funny in that way or not. It might be a devastatingly sharp parody of Disney animation with extreme overlap, rubbery squash and stretch and butt joke after butt joke… or perhaps it’s a crew of inexperienced animators making a high splat on the wall. Either way, it’s worth taking a close look at and puzzling out what the animators might have intended. It might give you ideas for weird and unexpected ways of animating movement.

I hope you won’t dismiss old films because they don’t live up to modern tastes. As a film maker, you shouldn’t be studying films for their content. You should focus on how they were made. If you do that, even bad films can make you think and inspire you to go on and make much better films yourself.

Many thanks to Steve Stanchfield and Thunderbean Animation for sharing these rare films with our members.

REFPACK033: Scrappy’s Expedition (1934)
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MP4 Video File / SD / 6:47 / 125 MB Download

REFPACK033: Railroad Rhythm (1937)
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MP4 Video File / SD / 6:35 / 124 MB Download

REFPACK033: Happy Tots’ Expedition (1940)
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MP4 Video File / SD / 6:21 / 112 MB Download

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Sample RefPack

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Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

Exhibit: Grim Natwick In The Modern Age


Grim Natwick

Studio gag drawing from UPA depicting an animator being laid off, replaced by children cutting out paper dolls.

It’s important to keep in mind Grim Natwick’s age when you look over his career. When he animated Snow White, he was one of the oldest artists at the Disney studio- 49 years of age. When his former assistant from Iwerks, Stephen Bosustow convinced him to join UPA in 1950, he was sixty. Most animators of his generation were thinking of retirement, or coasting on their past accomplishments until their pensions came through… but not Grim. He dove into the stylistic revolution of UPA with both feet. Grim animated on the early Magoo cartoons, as well as one-shots like "Rooty Toot Toot" and "Gerald McBoing Boing". In the early 50s, he was sent to New York as the keystone animator for UPA’s East coast office, where he animated many commercials and industrial films for the company, along with his assistant Tissa David.

Click to see Grim's  UPA model sheets

When UPA NY shut its doors, Grim worked at various New York commercial studios like Ray Favata and Robert Lawrence Productions. He animated on the first television cartoon series, Crusader Rabbit, and later took in work from Jay Ward and Bill Scott on the George of the Jungle program. He freelanced for Melendez and Duane Crowther’s Duck Soup Producktions, eventually settling in with director, Richard Williams. He animated on Raggedy Ann & Andy and travelled to the UK to teach while working on Cobbler & the Thief. He continued to draw into his early 90s, until his failing eyesight made it difficult.

Click to see Grim's post UPA commercialsClick to see Grim's post UPA commercialsOne afternoon, as I sat with Grim on his front porch, he casually mentioned that he had been told that there were machines that animated- computers. He wondered aloud "how they manage to get the machines to hold a pencil" and expressed an interest in finding out more about it. So I called my friend Charlie Gibson, who was a partner at Rhythm & Hues in Hollywood. I arranged for Grim to take a tour of their studio the following week.

50s TV Commercial50s TV CommercialWhen we arrived, we found the entire staff of R&H standing in the lobby waiting for us. Charlie showed Grim their machine room and demo reel, and sat him down at a workstation to see how wireframe characters are posed. After a few minutes working with the mouse, Grim leaned back in his chair and said, "I’ve seen some amazing things here today that I never would have imagined possible. I don’t pretend to understand everything I’ve seen, but I have a basic idea of what you do here. I have just one question to ask you… When I animated Snow White or Mickey Mouse, I had certain tricks to put the personality of the character across… a gesture, the raising of an eyebrow, a bit of acting… How do you do that sort of thing with your computer?"

50s TV Commercial50s TV CommercialThe room went silent. Charlie paused for a moment and replied, "Well, Grim, you just put your finger on the thing we struggle with every day… Computer animation is still very new. We’re constantly learning as we go. To answer your question, we study classic cartoons to learn those secrets from great animators like you."

In the space of an afternoon at nearly 100 years old, Grim had gone from "How do they get the machines to hold a pencil?" to putting his finger on the main issue facing CGI animators. His mind was always nimble and able to see the challenges facing animation in the future. He was truly a remarkable man.


Grim Natwick

Top Row: A Selection Of Natwick Animals (left to right) Chicken character designs from "Solid Ivory"* (Lantz/1947) / Lion doodle (after Jones’ "Inki & The Lion")* (ca. 1947) / Tiger studio gag drawing* (ca. 1944) / Character design for Lantz Wartime cartoon (ca.1943) / Concept for children’s book* (ca. 1947)

Middle Row: 1950s Commercials (left to right) Character design (ca.1959) / Self caricature of layout artist Art Heineman (UPA ca.1952) / Studio gag drawing depicting an animator being replaced by children cutting out paper dolls (UPA ca.1952) / Model drawing of Bert Piels (Piels Beer) by Tissa David from Grim Natwick animation (UPA ca. 1955) / Model drawings from unknown commercial by Tissa David from Grim Natwick animation (UPA ca.1955)

Bottom Row: Studio Gag Drawings Self caricature by Bill Melendez (ca. early 60s) / Studio gag drawing depicting Bill Scott explaining to a West coast animator how to dress like an East coast animator (UPA NY ca. 1952) / Three studio gag drawings by Bill Scott depicting the relationships between Grim Natwick, John Hubley and Scott (UPA NY ca. 1952)

* denotes a drawing by Grim Natwick

Next Chapter: THE GREATEST ANIMATOR WHO EVER LIVED (Studio Gag Drawings & Caricatures)

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


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
Animation Resources

TheoryGrim Natwick

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

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