Animators and their Scenes
Copyright (c) 1991 Mark Mayerson
From Apatoons #44
Being an animator is a lot like being a musician in a jazz band. When the band plays as a whole, you have to blend with the group. When your turn comes to solo, you are encouraged to go your own way. The difference is that in music, the ensemble and solo passages are separate. In animation there really isn't an ensemble; the animators never all work on the same scene. Still, the restraints of working with an ensemble are there in that animator has to draw the character and make it act in a consistent fashion with everyone else's work.
Just as some musicians have a stronger point of view or a more distinctive sound than others, some animators are standouts. The animators I'm going to discuss are all strongly individual. Their animation by itself is interesting to look at, even if it exists in a mediocre film. Sometimes their animation is the most interesting thing about a cartoon.
Everyone who writes about Moore stresses how naturally drawing and animation came to him. Moore had a sense of design and proportion which few animators can match, and he continues to be an influence on the current generation of animators, including people like Dan Haskett and Chuck Gammage to name just two.
To understand Moore's work, it is necessary to talk about the nature of drawing. A drawing of Mickey Mouse is two things at once. It is a representation of Mickey, but it is also an abstraction. It is a collection of lines and shapes and their relative proportions. People react instinctively to these things in life. Every man has the same body parts, but we all have a sense of who is attractive and who is not. The difference between Cary Grant and Don Knotts is a difference caused by shape and proportion. Moore had a natural grasp of what was pleasing to look at, and was able to arrange the abstract elements of his drawings to maximize their attractiveness. This attractiveness was not limited to his still drawings but extended to how the characters moved. His drawings and animation were strongly rhythmic, where the lines themselves exuded grace and appeal.
There is also the question of Moore's own personality. His characters come across as very warm and likeable. However, they still can have a bit of the devil in them. While Moore is best known for doing Mickey, he also did Lampwick, Donald Duck and Woody Woodpecker. The caricatures of Moore and Ward Kimball in The Nifty Nineties strongly suggest a boisterous sense of humor. Again, like jazz musicians, an animator is more than just his abilities. A good animator can't help but put aspects of himself on the screen. As we'll see with John Gentilella, it is possible to use something similar to Moore's graphic approach with a totally different result.
A lot has been written about Fred Moore by Thomas and Johnston, and a lot of his Disney scenes have been identified by them. The scenes I'm going to identify are all in Lantz films from the late Forties.The scenes that I list are not necessarily the only scenes that Moore did in these films. They are just the ones I am confident enough about to mention. This is true for all the animators' work I'm going to describe.
Wacky Bye Baby (1948) - The scenes where Wally says "Ha, ha, ha. That's really cute. Really cute. Oh Junior...see the pretty ball? Here it comes." This sequence has to do with a ball that rolls back to the thrower. Moore also animated the scene at the end where Woody says to Wally "Here's your dinner, Papa. Spaghetti and Meatballs."
Dog Tax Dodgers (1948) - The scenes where Andy says "(Whistles) Hey Dizzy. C'mon Dizzy, snap out of it. If that dopey dog catcher shows up here, you just leave everything to little ole Andy. Yes sir, I can handle any old flat-footed dog catcher. Ah! It's him! The dogcatcher!"
Scrappy Birthday (1949) - Moore did the entire opening of this cartoon, from Andy's walk up to Miranda's door, through all the dialogue between Andy and Miranda until the huckster's cane comes into the scene and bangs Andy on the head.
Other Lantz cartoons that I know contain Moore animation are The Mad Hatter, Pixie Picnic (where the pixie designs are very similar in style to the seven dwarfs), and The Playful Pelican, all from 1948. There may be others.
Ken Muse and Irv Spence
I am not listing these two together because their animation is similar. Quite the contrary. They are very different in the cartoons I am going to talk about. Muse had been Preston Blair's assistant at Disney on The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and his draftsmanship was top notch. His version of Tom and Jerry is the most three dimensional. While Jerry is a small, light character, Muse still animates him so that you can feel his solidity and weight. When Muse has Jerry lift something and throw it, you get a great feeling of the effort expended to get the object moving. In this sense, Muse's training at Disney is very much in evidence. By contrast, Spence had come from Warners, where he had worked for Avery. His drawing and animation were pretty loose and very funny, and a far cry from Muse's slickness. It appears that Spence was far more interested in getting the laugh than he was in establishing the character's believability for the audience.
Spence's action scenes in the period 1944-46 tend to be furious. Arms and legs fly every which way. Muse's action scenes, while as funny, are more graceful and coordinated. More like a dancer or acrobat who is in control of his body going through a routine. Spence's characters know what they want to do but their bodies won't cooperate. They spend a lot of effort with flying limbs, trying to change direction, get away faster or reach something before it's too late.
Hanna and Barbera used these two animators in much the same way that Clampett used McKimson and Scribner. McKimson and Muse got the important personality scenes, where believability was necessary. Once that was established, Scribner and Spence could go wild. The contrast alone could be funny. However, both McKimson and Muse were both capable of great comic action themselves.
In the later Tom and Jerry's, the drawing is much more consistent, and I have trouble differentiating between animators' work. That may be due to the animators becoming more familiar with the characters, or it may just be due to assistant animators keeping the characters on model better. I never have figured out how to recognize work by Ed Barge and Ray Patterson. Mark Kausler did an article on the Tom and Jerry animators in the January 1975 issue of Film Comment. Kausler prefers Spence to Muse, though he is talking about the 1948-1954 period. For the period I'm discussing, 1944-46, I think that Muse is far and away the best animator on the series.
Mouse Trouble (1944) - This is a convenient film to look at because it breaks itself into chapters. Chapter 4 is all Ken Muse up to Jerry socking Tom in the eye. Chapter 7 is all Muse thru Jerry yelling in Tom's stethoscope and dashing back into his hole. Irv Spence picks up the animation from Tom entering with a gun through the end of the chapter. Chapter 9 is all Spence with the possible exception of the shot of Tom without the hair on his head. Chapter 12 is Muse thru the point that Tom tears up the book he's been taking instructions from.
Quiet Please (1945) - After the bulldog lectures Tom, he throws him offscreen. Spence picks up the animation with Tom flying through the air and continues it thru Jerry first threatening to wake the dog, Jerry tripping Tom with a lampcord, Jerry firing a shotgun which Tom plugs with his fingers, and Jerry pushing over a grandfather clock. Muse animates the scenes where Jerry throws a dozen lightbulbs off the fireplace and Tom catches them. Jerry plugs Tom into an electrical socket. Jerry scoops up Tom on a roller skate and pushes him into the dog.The dog wakes up and Tom sings him back to sleep. Tom drugs the dog. Jerry bangs a drum to wake the dog. Tom grabs the drum and beats on the dog as if he is a drum.
Later in the cartoon, Muse animates Jerry as he reads "out cold" in the bulldog's eye. Tom chases Jerry with a hammer. Jerry halts him and hands him a mallet. While Tom is winding up with the mallet, Jerry hits him on the foot with the hammer. Tom screams and does a take when he looks offscreen and sees what Jerry is doing next.
The Mouse Comes to Dinner (1945) - I can't tell about Mammy Two Shoes (is she ever named in any of the cartoons or was she just called that by the animators?), but Tom and Jerry are Muse in the opening scenes. Jerry scrambles up the tablecloth. Tom jumps out of a flowerpot and picks up the phone. He spots Jerry eating and bops him with a spoon. Tom goes back to the phone and calls his girl. She accepts his invitation for dinner. At the table, Tom makes Jerry work as a waiter. Jerry has to cool Tom's soup by blowing on it. He spits some in Tom's face and Tom holds him over a candle on a spoon. Jerry flies off the spoon and off screen.
Spence picks him up landing on the butter and melting into it. Jerry sticks Tom's tail in a sandwich and Tom bites it. Jerry puts a pineapple ring, whip cream and a cherry on Tom's tail. Tom bites it. Tom uses Jerry as a corkscrew. Tom pours drinks and tries to grab his girl, who avoids him. He grabs her.
Muse resumes the animation as she bops him with a wrench marked "wolf pacifier." Jerry laughs. Tom uses Jerry to bite the end of a cigar and them lights a match on Jerry's rear.
At the end of the cartoon, Muse animates Jerry and the girl scrambling to avoid Tom, who is falling from the ceiling. Tom lands on the extra table leaf, flipping it around and turning it into a ramp into the punchbowl. Jerry paints "S.S. Drip" on Tom with mustard and hands the girl a bottle of champagne. She christens Tom, and he goes down the ramp into the punchbowl.
While a lot of New York animators went to the west coast and made their reputations, not a lot of animators were able to establish their reputations based solely on work done in New York. The reason was not talent, it was environment. Bill Tytla, Art Babbit, Grim Natwick and Norm Ferguson were all talented New York animators, but it was when they got to L.A. that they were able to do their best work. Two of the animators who worked predominantly in New York who are worth studying are Johnny Gent (as he was known in the business) and Jim Tyer. Tyer staked out territory no one else was working. His animation was the most outrageous ever seen in American theatrical cartoons. Gentilella managed to master the art of Hollywood style animation without leaving New York.
I do not know a lot about Gent's career. He was at Van Beuren for some of the 1930's. He was animating at Terrytoons immediately prior to joining Famous Studios in 1943. He was animating there at least as early as the 1944 Popeye cartoon Moving Aweigh.
It is my opinion that from the mid-1940's through the early 1950's, Gent was the best animator in New York. His draftsmanship was far superior to the majority of Famous and Terry animators. His sense of timing, specifically his use of drawings on ones, was razor sharp. He had a sense of rhythm in his posing and animation that could rival Fred Moore's. However, while Moore used those things to emphasize appeal, Gent used them to emphasize power. It was as if Bill Tytla's sensibilities were expressed through Moore's talents. I think his fight scenes in Popeye cartoons are the best. The action of throwing and taking punches is far more complex than the other animators were able to muster. This complexity carried over into his dialogue scenes. They are very well done, and it seems that the directors would often give Gent the scenes that
required real acting. It's a shame that Gent never had the chance to work on cartoons that were more ambitious than those Famous produced.
I am indebted to Bob Jaques for introducing me to Gent's work when Jaques was my assistant animator at Nelvana. Jaques is probably the most knowledgeable person in the world on the animation at Fleischer/Famous and is a real admirer of Johnny Gent.
All of the following are Popeye cartoons.
Rodeo Romeo (1946)- Gent animated the first several scenes of Popeye and Olive in the viewing stand. Olive yells "Hooray for Bluto! Yippee!" Bluto comes over and says "Hi, my little cactus cutie...Watch this here next stunt, cutie." Olive leaps into the air and Popeye catches her by the nose. Bluto rolls a cigarette and uses Popeye's pipe to light it. Later, Olive yells "Hooray for Popeye! Yippee!"
Wotta Knight (1947)- Gent animated the cycle of Olive as Sleeping Beauty snoring. Later in the cartoon, Bluto steps into frame with an axe and is about to split Popeye down the middle. He succeeds in knocking Popeye's armor off. Bluto swings madly at Popeye, who vanishes. Bluto looks around for him, and Popeye turns out to be in Bluto's armor. Popeye starts to beat up Bluto to a Conga-like piece of music on the track. Popeye destroys Bluto's armor and knocks him out of the stadium. This whole sequence is beautifully timed.
Barking Dogs Don't Fite (1949)- This is a remake of the Fleischer cartoon Proteck the Weakerist. Gent animated the entire opening of the cartoon, with the possible exception of the shots of the poodle without Popeye or Olive. Olive is singing while washing. Popeye arrives. Olive reveals that she's washing a poodle and that Popeye has to take him for a walk. Popeye starts walking the dog, and a mutt cracks up at the sight. Popeye says "Get away from me dog, you bother me." at the end of this Gent sequence. Gent also gets the film's last shot, where Popeye sings his theme variation to the poodle.
How Green Is My Spinach (1950) -This cartoons opens with several shorts, to emphasize the formula nature of Bluto's encounters with Popeye. Gent animated the sequence entitled Popeye in Strictly from Spinach. His animation continues through Bluto getting knocked to the moon, and getting the idea to destroy spinach to defeat Popeye. Gent does a really nice job on Bluto's soliloquy.
Later in the cartoon, when the spinach has been destroyed, Gent animates Popeye in a supermarket, sampling broccoli and other vegetables. Popeye hits Bluto on the chin and his arm turns into an accordion. Bluto uses Popeye as a punching bag. He sweeps the floor with Popeye. He rains blows on Popeye. He starts jumping on him. The cartoon cuts to the audience where a live action kid throws Popeye a can of spinach. Gent picks up the animation through the end of the cartoon. Popeye splits into multiple Popeyes, hits Bluto and then uses him as a plowhorse to replant the world's spinach supply.