Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bob Clampett: Heighten The Impact

The easiest way to heighten the impact of a punch is adding a stronger sound effect to it. In silent comedies editors often cut out a few frames before the impact or substituted the frame that shows the actual contact by a white frame (or left it out altogether). These techniques are still quite common in character animation these days (see Preston Blair or Richard Williams on the elongated inbetween).

However, playful film makers have been experimenting with more campy (or obvious) effects, especially in cartoons or trash action movies. In the opening sequence of MACHETE (2010), for example, Robert Rodriguez heightened the many blows delivered by Machete (Danny Trejo) by either adding fake projector issues (the scene in question is too gory to present here) or shaking the whole frame (adding to zoomed in frames) when the door hits the bad guy as you can see in the animated gif below:

In Clampett's films extreme distortions and inflating body parts in the moment of impact are fairly common. In BABY BOTTLENECK (1945/46) the rubbery transformations are supported by written letters and color changes. This cartoon is a prime example of how Clampett incorporated so many characteristics of silent rubber hose cartoons that have been lost during Disney's quest for realism.
The warning letters above are jumping out of the panel.

Below, Clampett has added the word "BOOM" which is completely redundant in a sound film but reminds the audience of the cartoon's origins in comic strips.

In his Danny Kaye parody BOOK REVUE (1945/46), Clampett has already been messing around with color changes to heighten the impact of an accent. On the word "Cucaracha" the whole background behind Daffy is exchanged for a flamboyantly red color card. This momentary dive into fantasy sets is a staple of musical comedies. Once again, Clampett uses the lower frame edge as an imaginary floor. But in contrast to what we have seen in KITTY KORNERED, perspective is strongly indicated by the animation alone.

In BABY BOTTLENECK the backgrounds are as sparse as can be, often just gradients without any other detail than grain. Expressionistic color changes are not part of a musical parody but emphasize the impact of a hammer blow. But the colors do not cease to change. Instead they seem to reflect Daffy's mental state after being hit. The following panel of screenshots illustrates the succession of colors:
In this slowed down animated GIF one can see that each color is held for a different amount of frames.


Veikko Suvanto said...

Again, an excellent post on an often overlooked aspect of Clampett's work. Many of Clampett's color cartoons for WB are full of throwbacks to cartoons of the '30s that you simply don't find in cartoons of other directors of that time (I'm thinking notably of the cute song sequence in RUSSIAN RHAPSODY, many of the gags and the twitchy Fleischer-like motions in COAL BLACK, the putty-nosed cats in Clampett's cat cartoons, etc.) and that clearly reflect his love for that era in cartooning.

One correction, though: I suppose the cartoon title in the second-to-last paragraph should be BABY BOTTLENECK instead of BOOK REVUE?

Oswald Iten said...

Oops, thanks for your correction, I have been putting it together more hastily than usually. It should be fixed by now.