The YouTube series Every Frame A Painting by Tony Zhou is chock full of brilliant insight on a great many aspects of filmmaking and in his latest episode, he turned his sights on one of the greatest filmmakers of all time: Chuck Jones.
“But Chuck Jones wasn’t a filmmaker! He just did Looney Tunes!” you inexplicably yell, having no way to communicate your very wrong opinion back to me since that’s not how computers work, you big dummy. Chuck Jones was an amazing filmmaker and his short films just happen cartoons and are absolutely some of the most memorable ever made.
Not only does Tony analyze the comedic aspects of Jones’ work explaining that the jokes of Michael Maltese and Tedd Pierce usually follow a formula of setting an expectation and turning that expectation on its ear. You could argue that most jokes at their core are just that, the misdirection of expectation but it was Jones’ cartoons that pretty much perfected it.
Delving further into things, Tony points out that one of the hurdles (which eventually became a strength) of Jones’ work was the fact that a cartoon character is completely built. It has no prior experience and is very much just a drawing one must give life and personality. Clips of interviews of Jones show just how cognizant he was of this saying “It’s hard for people to understand who watch actors to realize that, actors come with an ability. They’ve played other parts. When you bring in a drawing, all you have is a drawing and you have to put in the character.”
“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, then you’re not animating.” “The story should sell itself by the way it moves” – Chuck Jones
Jones was clearly a pioneer in character creation and even his evolved over time. The example of Daffy Duck is given who’s character progression over the years changed drastically from the insane mallard he was introduced as. This progression and growth of characters over time is important because the better we got to know the characters, the better we were able to anticipate their wants, needs and likely reactions. When we know the motivations of a character, their motivations become expected and therefore the jokes hold more impact, as in the example of Wile E. Coyote at about the 4:05 mark.
What’s also touched upon in the video is the discipline Jones had when creating his worlds. Setting rules for characters and the worlds around them – despite being quite literally cartoonish – Jones’ character traits for whomever was being animated largely remained constant. This constancy is important for moving stories along because if we know how a character acts, we have that data in our heads and can then apply their motivations to whatever situation the characters find themselves in.
The films of Chuck Jones are still relevant now and will probably be as long as they’re preserved. Jones was visionary in filmmaking, comedic timing and storytelling and Tony and his Every Frame A Painting, as always, gives us something new to think about and appreciate.
What’s your favorite short from Chuck Jones? If you answered “all of them” then you’re absolutely correct but let us know in the comments anyways.