Monday, November 1, 2010


Recently I've spent more time studying cartoon animation than color design. At work we talked about scenes that were worth showing frame-by-frame to animation newcomers/students. Naturally I thought of "smears" because they go unnoticed to most untrained viewers.

Then the other day I accidentally stumbled upon this Bugs Bunny scene from Hare Trigger (1945,  noteworthy mainly because it features Yosemite Sam's first appearance) that inspired my blogging about the subject of "smears":

Drawings 4 and 8 are the "smears", versions of elongated inbetweens that are usually only shown for one frame even if the rest of the animation is on 2s. 
Basically they compensate for the lack of motion blur in hand drawn animation.

Frankly, I was surprised to see such outrageous drawings in a Freleng cartoon, but to be honest, I've never looked too close at the animation in his films anyway. [UPDATE 2013: I should have given credit long ago: this shot was animated by the great Virgil Ross who - as Thad explains in the comments - was never given the recognition he deserved, neither by Clampett nor be Freleng.]

When I think of smears, Bob Clampett and Rod Scribner come to mind as well as Chuck Jones' famous Dover Boys (1942).

The character slides from pose 1 to pose 2 with the leading body parts consecutively being elongated which makes for overlapping drawings and prevents strobing (first left leg, then head, then right leg).

 Smears often go unnoticed because they are immediately followed 
by normally timed or even slow animation like reaching inside the coat (above).

Here's an extreme smear. The key element is that 
volumes are not kept consistent.

As a sidenote: in case you thought this rather odd combination of complimentary colors was only used for bad guys, look at these frames from Clampett's Book Revue (1946):

The following framegrabs from To Duck Or Not To Duck (1943) demonstrate how Jones and his animators used this technique in a Daffy Duck cartoon as well. It's early Jones, so Daffy is still loony and playful.
The concept here is basically horizontal elongation.

The Dover Boys style pose-to-pose-inbetweening following an imaginary arc is visible in the frames below:

The following scene contains three different concepts: 
1. Elongation: we see not only elongation but also multiplication (eyes), which has become a staple of Jones cartoons:
The hand (the visual focus) is already "normal" while the face 
is still smeared. The ears provide nice overlap.

2. But not all fast movements are done in smears. Some motion blur is simulated with good old dry brush strokes following the arc of the movement in the character's colors:

 There's some nice anticipation on Daffy and 
counteraction on the legs in frames 5 and 6.

3. Finally there's elongation of a different kind: the dogs' materiality changes for a split second into a rubbery carpet without any strength.

For comparison: Bob Clampett didn't hide these "off-model" drawings only during fast motions, he made a style of using them for the acting as can be seen in Book Revue (1946):

NTSC-pull-down issues prevented me from capturing all frames, but the remaining ones surely show Clampett's attempt of exaggerating almost every motion. Just look at Daffy's arms and hands.

Chuck Jones on the other hand took his pose-to-pose style even further and got more or less rid of real smears as his style evolved. The poses are held longer while the transitional inbetweens are practically non-existent any more (The Scarlet Pumpernickel, 1950):
There's only a bit of dry brushing left.

A motion that would have been smeared earlier is now not even really inbetweened (Drip-Along Daffy, 1951)
The arms just go down from frame 6 to 7 with only the overlapping secondary motion 
on the pants giving a sense of movement.

Daffy is not seen zipping off to the left. It's just the secondary action 
and a bit of dry brushing that implies his sudden exit.

This is practically the same exit action like the famous one by the witch Hazel. Only that her hair pins are replaced by bullets here. It's noteworthy that all the animation in these later Jones cartoons indeed seems to be on 2s, like Ken Harris told Richard Williams. Noteworthy, because this is clearly not the case in earlier Looney Tunes. Here the effects (the vanishing smoke) are on 1s, by the way.

Finally, the multiplication smear is used for strong expression changes rather than transitions of far away poses:
Daffy in My Little Duckaroo (1954).


Daniel said...

Great analysis as always Oswald, thanks! :)

B. Smith said...

Very interesting. The evolution of Chuck Jones' style was a revelation to me. I'll have to go back and watch those again to get the full effect. Thanks.

guriguriblog said...

I found your site through a random blogroll and I must say, your writings have some of the most analytical insights into animation. You delve into REAL technicalities and finer points of animation, and although I am not animator (just lot of interest in japanese animation in particular), I really think animators can learn a lot from a site like yours. I only had enough time to give your site a cursory look but I'll be sure to read more!

David Nethery said...

The animation , layout, color styling analysis you are providing on this blog is so very valuable. Thank you, thank you, thank you !


Marc said...

I found this blog by searching for more motion-blur/smear examples in hand-drawn animation. And it's more than helpful, what you posted here. Your blog is really something worth bookmarking. Thank you.

Julian Brogden said...

Thanks for this great post. Very academic but interesting and well explained with great images.

Liimlsan said...

Wonderful analysis!

But Virgil Ross (who animated the scene for Freleng) was probably the only person Freleng would have trusted to do a smear. See, Ross was a conservative animator very much in tune with Freleng; but he had spent a lot of time under Bob Clampett. He had developed a talent for smears in order to cohere with Scribner's animation - witness the mother swan in "A Corny Concerto" frantically searching for the ducklings, that's his animation, with simple smears and rounded shapes.

Amazing analysis of Jones' use of this work! It's finally hitting me in the face how little motion he got away with.

Oswald Iten said...

@Liimlsan: you're right, of course. I should have credited Virgil Ross, but back then I wasn't really sure, although it is indeed obvious when I think of his work in Clampett's FALLING HARE!
But as I said, I haven't looked at Freleng's cartoons very closely even though I enjoy his musical timing.

Thad Komorowski said...

Different artists came into different grooves at different times. You need to look at the prime Freleng cartoons, mainly the ones made between 1944-55 (released through '57), when he had a consistent collaborator in Hawley Pratt, God's gift to layout men. It's easy to overlook how skilled and well-acted the animation is because Freleng wasn't as vain as Jones or Clampett were in making sure Bugs and Daffy were reflections of their own personalities - rather than go on directorial tangents, he made sure everything was in service to the story and gag. (The other directors did this too, but camera stares and wonky spasms can be lethal.) Any given Bugs or Sylvester short he made in the late 40s or early 50s will showcase compelling methods of not only timing but convincing characterization and really funny movement/drawings.

The Virgil scene in HARE TRIGGER of Yosemite Sam attempting to draw a gun is amazingly intricate in the handling of the acting... Sam is actually seriously trying his damnedest and genuinely seeking Bugs's approval. Almost a self-portrait of Virgil himself, trying to please his various directors. Clampett chided Ross because he couldn't draw an 'aggressive' Bugs the way Scribner of McKimson could (at best, 'wascally'), and Freleng was "a shit" to his whole crew (in the words of the late Jim Davis). Only Tex Avery ever paid Ross a compliment, wanting to bring him to MGM with him, so if he was good enough for Tex that should suffice.

Excellent analysis, Oswald, I hope you continue to do them, because I'm enjoying them. Thanks for the breakdowns of Clampett rubberiness, but for the record, BACALL TO ARMS was mostly directed by Art Davis. His trying to figure out what to do with Clampett's crew and scattershot groundwork laid for the picture accounts for most of its sloppiness.

Oswald Iten said...

Hi Thad, I should have credited Virgil Ross (and certainly Art Davis in the other post) all along and have now corrected these omissions. I usually shy away from animator ID if I'm not a 100% sure.

I realize that I may have overlooked a lot in Freleng's cartoons reducing them only to the great musical timing. Maybe it came from the fact that I didn't like Sylvester and Yosemite Sam when I was a kid.

Anyway, one of these days I should focus on Freleng cartoons if only to analyze the layout/backgrounds by Hawley Pratt who as you mentioned was really one of the best.

Greg Duffell said...

In relation to what Thad said about Virgil: In the mid-40's period (Corny Concerto to Rabbit Transit for instance), Virgil employed the "smear" technique quite liberally. Did he copy THE DOVER BOYS experiment, come up with his own technique, or was he told to do it? I had the opportunity to work with Virgil later in his life, and directed him in a commercial in which I called for the occasional smear. He avoided the opportunity to do them and lightly complained that I was directing things to happen too fast. I had an opportunity to talk to Friz Freleng about this perplexing situation. Friz made out that Virgil had to be forced to do such things in his day. But then again, no one ELSE in the Freleng unit used the technique to the degree Ross did. It's also possible that, as you intimate in your article, that smears were abandoned in part because by necessity they had to be done on 1's. Notice the smears begin during the Schlesinger era and die out in the early years of Selzer's time as producer. There is a noticeable drop in production values in many of the cartoons after Schlesinger exits. One of Jones' final uses of the technique is in LONG HAIRED HARE for the conducting scenes (animator: Lloyd Vaughan), but anyone who has been to a concert and seen a highly lit conductor can see how accurately this smear technique conforms with reality. In closing, your articles are fascinating for me to read. Thank you.

Oswald Iten said...

Thanks for your comment! It's great to hear from someone who actually worked with Virgil Ross.
A careful study of the rise and fall of smears in WB cartoons would indeed be an interesting subject.
Now that access (including frame by frame analysis) to these films is so much easier there are so many questions one would want to ask the artists who did them.