Chuck Jones – The Evolution of an Artist


Hi my name is Tony
and this is Every Frame a Painting. If you grew up like I did, you
probably watched a lot of Looney Tunes. And if you paid attention to the credits then you recognize this name. -“My full name is
Charles Martin Jones.” -“This is not where I really belong.” -“I belong behind the camera.” Chuck Jones is one of the
all-time masters of visual comedy. Between 1938 and 1962
he directed more than 200 cartoons
for Warner Bros. Ten films a year,
six minutes per film. What’s astonishing is that they hold up
more than 50 years later. And among them are some of the
greatest short films ever made. But none of this happened overnight.
It was a long process. So today, let’s take a look… at how a good artist became a great one. -“All right.
Let’s get this picture started!” -“No! No!” The most famous aspect
of any Chuck Jones cartoon (and the parts you probably remember)
are the jokes written by
Michael Maltese and Tedd Pierce. Nearly every gag here follows
a classic two-part structure. The first part… leads you to make an assumption.
The second part… proves it wrong. That’s it. Assumption: Reality. And in the early cartoons,
the jokes are fantastic and they happen one after the other. But here’s the truth:
the gags are only the surface level. What really sets these films apart is the amount of work
that was put into character. And that process took a long time. -“All characters are
a process of learning.” -“It’s hard for people to
understand who watch actors… -“…to realize that, actors come with
an ability. They’ve played other parts.” -“Hello.” -“When you bring in a drawing,
all you have is a drawing.” -“And you have to put in the character.” Consider the case of Daffy Duck. When he first started out… Daffy was more or less insane. -“Gosh what a screwy duck.” But over the course of 15 years,
he changed from being the one who laughs
to being the butt of the joke. This Daffy is less crazy but
it’s easier to understand what he wants. He wants money. He wants to be a star. In short, he wants glory. -“This looks like a job for… -“…The Masked Avenger!” In fact, all of Chuck Jones’ characters
have very clearly defined wants. This one wants a home. This one wants to daydream. And this one just wants
somebody to love. -“Ah my little darling.
It is love at first sight, is it not?” Notice that every desire here
is very simple. And the simpler the desire,
the more vivid the character. Once you know
what the character wants you can figure out
the next question: How does this
particular individual move? -“Every action is dictated
by what goes on inside of you.” -“You have to be able to think
the way the character thinks.” -“If you can’t tell what’s happening
by the way the character moves…” -“…you’re not animating.” -“I am a snake and
you have charmed me, no?” -“It helps to have the dialogue…” -“…but the dialogue is not
the thing that makes it work.” -“The story should tell itself
by the way it moves.” So let’s say you know
what the character wants and you know how they move to get it. What about the jokes? What happens to the assumption… and the reality? Well, now the assumption includes
the personality of the character. For instance, we know that
Daffy will always pick a fight because it’s part of
his desire for glory. -“Take over.” Likewise, we know
the Coyote’s device will fail so Jones can play this gag offscreen which ends up making it funnier. But there is a danger to this approach. If you just focus on great jokes
with the same well-defined characters you can easily get trapped in a formula. -“Sometimes I feel
very sorry for the Coyote.” -“Sometimes I wish he’d catch him.” -“If he caught him
there wouldn’t be any more Road Runner.” -“You wouldn’t like that, would you?” So to avoid this problem,
Jones did something. This is one of the
defining aspects of his work. It’s a word that he uses and
that other people use about him. -“Beep Beep!” -“It also stands out as an example
of the kind of discipline…” -“…Chuck Jones liked
to set for himself.” -“This is the vital factor in
all comedy or all drama.” -“What are your disciplines?” Discipline. The challenges and
restrictions you set for yourself. Like designing a character
with no mouth. Or no face. Or using no dialogue except for this. -“Hello my baby, hello my honey,
hello my ragtime gal.” Because animation lets you do anything you have to think about
what you won’t do. And in Jones’ case,
there were lots of rules about the world, the characters
and their behavior. For instance, Bugs Bunny
never picked a fight. Somebody had to do this… -“Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!
Kill the wabbit!” …and only then would he fight back. -“Kill the wabbit?” -“Bugs Bunny is not just
an insane rabbit.” -“Somebody’s always trying to get him.
And he’s retaliating.” -“He has to be provoked.
And we learned that.” -“It was very important
that he be provoked.” -“Because otherwise,
he’d be a bully.” -“Of course you realize
this means war.” A similar restriction happened to
how the characters expressed themselves. Early on, they tended to go through
a quick barrage of facial expressions. But over time, these grew less and less. -“Particularly in the later films
Chuck became very fond…” -“…of using the smallest
possible gestures…” -“…facial gestures to get laughs.” -“Chuck’s facial expressions
were the best in the business…” -“…Because he was a minimalist.” -“All humor grows from two things.” -“All humor, I believe, comes from
human behavior and logic.” -“If it’s not logical
it’s not gonna be funny… -“…And if it doesn’t come from
human behavior…” -“…how the hell
do you know it’s funny?” Think of it this way:
this is human behavior. -“Ha ha! Now!” That was logic. And the logic is something
you improve at over time. But what about human behavior? How do you improve at
understanding that? The truth is, there’s only one way. And it’s not by watching films. -“When you talk to Chuck,
he is always encouraging you…” -…to go to the source:
to study real life, to study art…” -“…and apply that to your animation.
It’s not just drawing funny faces.” Jones believed it wasn’t enough
to just watch movies. You had to have interests
outside of film. You had to study real life. Most of all, he encouraged this: -“Reading. Read Everything.” -“It doesn’t do you
much good to draw…” -“…unless you have
something to draw…” -“…and the only place
you can get anything to draw…” -“…is from out of that head.” -“And the only way that
you can exercise the mind…” -“…is by bringing new ideas to it…” -“…So it’ll be surprised.” -“And say ‘God I didn’t know that.'” -“That’s the greatest thing
in the world…” -“…that ‘Gee I didn’t know that.’
And there you are, you know?” There you are.
It’s not just about gags. Not just about characters. Not just about discipline. It’s about studying the real world
and learning something new. Then putting that back into the work. In other words, inspiration. And the great thing about
this kind of inspiration? -“You can find it anyplace.
You can find it anyplace.”

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