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JONES, in his own words
Continues here on page four
CHUCK JONES, in his own words, page three
the director and the art conservator's cut
© 1996, 1999 / revised 2015 Ron Barbagallo
Was Bobe Cannon [who would go on to direct UPA’s Academy Award® winning short Gerald McBoing Boing] directing when you started?
Oh, heavens, no. Bobe, Bob Clampett and I were just in-betweeners. The term, animation assistant wasn’t used then. There were animators and in-betweeners, and that was it. They may have been called assistants at Disney, but not at Schlesinger’s studio. There were also no clean-up artists. Each animator did his own clean up. In fact, there were several animators who didn’t have to clean up their drawings at all because they animated clean. Bill Nolan. Ub Iwerks and Benny Washam were like that. Their finished extremes were always finished.
Another filmmaker who put humanistic qualities and mannerisms in his performances was Charlie Chaplin. When you were younger, you lived near where Chaplin worked?
His studio was two blocks from us, at La Brea Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Because there was no sound, they shot the films outside. As kids, we could go there and look through the fence and watch him work. He was kind of a hero to us, and we loved his films.
When we watched them in the theaters, it never occurred to us that anything was done over and over. When we watched them shoot, we discovered how difficult it was to get it just right.
My father saw Chaplin do one scene 62 times before he got it the way he wanted it. Well, I don’t have to pretend to do anything like that. On many occasions, I have drawn over 50 drawings to get one right.
Let's talk about some of your colleagues from the early days. A good place to start would be when you left high school at 15 and went to the Chouinard Art Institute. You graduated during the depression. What type of work were you able to find?
I tried to get work at a commercial studio, but couldn’t letter professionally. Unless you could letter professionally, you might as well forget it. Fred Kopietz, who had been in art school with me, called and said he was working at Ub Iwerks’ studio on Western Avenue and wondered if I wanted to come to work there.
I couldn’t believe I might get paid to draw. I was right. They didn’t want to pay me to draw. In 1931, they hired me as a cel washer and then as a cel painter, a cel inker, and eventually, an in-betweener. I wasn’t a particularly good in-betweener.
That was the time when Shamus Culhane and Bernie Wolf and Grim Natwick were working there. They had all come out from New York, where they had been working.
When I was hired, it seemed to me that Ub was an old man. However, he was an old man in the animation business. I was about 18 then, and he was 38. He was ten years older than Walt Disney and Carl Stalling. It’s hard to imagine how young everybody was.
At that early age, what films were you and Grim Natwick working on for Ub Iwerks? Flip The Frog?
Yes, and on Willie Whopper and a couple of other horrible things. Ub was a brilliant animator, but didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor. Walt Disney, on the other hand, probably had the most acute knowledge of humor around in animation. He knew when it was good and when it wasn’t. He was the one who made the whole thing work. Ub was a technician in terms of being a great animator. So, Ub's studio didn’t go very far.
How did you go from working for Ub Iwerks to working at Warner Bros., where you helped redefine the way characters behaved and the way comedy was portrayed in cartoons?
I don’t know if I can take credit for that, but I can say I needed a job. I had tried working at Charles Mintz’s studio, where they were doing Oswald, The Lucky Rabbit, then gone back to Iwerks.
About that time, Leon decided to start his own studio and he hired a couple of directors from Disney.
Characters © Warner Bros.
© Turner Entertainment Co.
Chuck Jones reunites Bugs, Sylvester, the Roadrunner, Elmer Fudd, the Coyote, Porky and Petunia Pig, Daffy, Pepe and Yosemite Sam in adept shades of oil paint. This 1999 canvas entitled The Grande Saloon measures 3 by 4 feet and recently sold for $200,000.00.
Jones’ understated sense of humor added charm to the 1967 television adaptation of Dr. Seuss,’ sometimes dark, children’s story How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The Grinch is revisited here by Jones in a recent oil painting.
© Warner Bros.
© Warner Bros.
Pictured in front of numerous storyboard drawings, Chuck Jones (left) and Michael Maltese (right) are seen holding classical soundtrack recordings which may have served as inspiration for the 1957 Warner Bros. short subject What’s Opera, Doc? This short, which Chuck Jones directed, is one of two animated Warner Bros. short subjects included in the National Film Registry.