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JONES, in his own words
Continues here on page three
CHUCK JONES, in his own words, page two
the director and the art conservator's cut
© 1996, 1999 / revised 2015 Ron Barbagallo
In deliberate and at thought out intervals, a gamut of emotions - some subtle, some extreme - flow from Chuck Jones’ hands, and into each of the four pencil drawings pictured in sequence above and leading into the next page. Through line and posturing, each drawing conveys the personality of the Coyote as he progresses across the frame. An evolving, rounded sense of individual personality is communicated through facial expressions and body language, as each of the four poses moves Wile E. Coyote forward.
The All Purpose Cantor
The Intuitive Recognition Of Potential Danger
The Irresistible And All Out Gallup
The Dramatic Hesitation
What do you like most about Mark Twain’s work?
The way I found Mark Twain, well, I was just browsing around, I was probably about five or six years old, and I ran across this book, Tom Sawyer. I picked it up, flipped it open to the first page, and saw: “Tom. No answer. Tom. No answer.” I knew right away what was happening.
I proceeded to read everything he had written, with the exception of the two volumes he did on Christian Science. I loved it all. Not many people know that he did that. People don’t know that he wrote A Trap Abroad, one of the greatest books. They know Innocence Abroad, but they don’t know A Trap Abroad, which is the difference between a young man and a more mature man - with a great love of his craft.
I found the Coyote in the fourth chapter of Roughing It, which is a journal he wrote about traveling by stagecoach to Carson City, Nevada. During that period, he kept hold of the things he’d seen and among them were things like tarantulas, and so on. Twain opens that chapter with a description of the coyote, which is about as accurate as anybody has ever described one. He, also, humanized him. And that was kinda news to me. I hadn’t run into anything where I felt that a coyote was like a human being.
He described how the coyote dressed and so on. At the end of the paragraph, Twain wrote, “He may have to go 10 miles for his breakfast and 30 miles for his lunch and 50 miles for his dinner, and we ought to pay attention to that and give him his credit, because he does that instead of laying around home, being a burden on his parents.”
It was a new concept to my young mind, this way of humanizing the coyote’s traits. It’s a concept that stayed with me. Every year I re-read that book [Roughing It], including this year. Each time I re-read it, I find something I don’t expect. Obviously, I wasn’t looking for ideas when I was five or six years old, but I got them anyway. Mark Twain gave me the whole key to thinking that animated characters think the way we do.
Because you must understand, I was born in 1912, two years before Winsor McCay did Gertie The Dinosaur. There was a long dead period after that when animation was just moving comic strips, you might call them, until Steamboat Willie. And, then it came to life again.
By the way, I’d like to reiterate that the term, "animate" as defined by Noah Webster is “to evoke life.” “Evoke life.” And that’s what animation is all about. To some extent, that’s what’s missing in what is currently called animation.
What I am afraid of is, I’ve seen the birth of animation, the growth of animation, and in some way, the decline of animation. I am glad to see films like Toy Story 2. That is wonderful animation, true animation.
We were fortunate in the early days [1930s - 1950s] because nobody at Warner Bros. paid much attention to us. As long as we made the cartoons that could be sold, no one bothered us much. No one ordered us to make anything better, and I don’t think we were making much effort to make things better either. We were experimenting and looking for different ways to evoke like, if that’s not too presumptuous. When Bugs became popular, why they asked us to make some Bugs Bunny’s.
© Warner Bros.
I think people will continue to enjoy the Coyote cartoons we made because he makes the
same kind of errors we do.
We tried to inject character in them...
we were drawing -
Drawing is simply a way of getting
it on the screen.
Was there much instruction or involvement from Leon Schlesinger?
Nothing, zero. I’m certain that’s why we were as successful as we were. Leon Schlesinger owned Pacific Art And Title and created the titles for most of the feature films all over the country. He had a lot of money from that.
He would come back where we worked at Warner Bros. and look around with disdain and say, “This is dirty back here, but on the other hand, many a masterpiece has been made in a garret.” Schlesinger had a pretty pronounced lisp, by the way, and our director Tex Avery, came up with the idea of imitating his speech impediment for Daffy Duck.
Between 1938, when I started, to 1964 or ‘65, when Jack Warner shut the studio down, we made about 30 characters that are known internationally. In addition, we created 45 or 50 other characters known well enough here in the United States to support an enormous licensed product industry. And why was it possible to create so many successful characters? I think it’s because we didn’t have to answer to anybody. It wasn’t until some of the characters became especially popular that we were ordered, or encouraged, to make more pictures about them.
There were three units, each making ten pictures a year. If management wanted six more Bugs Bunny’s, we would just split them up and do two each. That was our decision, not anybody else’s.
You know, I believe the process of success involves stumbling. Winston Churchill once said: “Many people stumble over a good idea. But they get up and brush themselves off, and walk away as though nothing had happened.” We were fortunate. We didn’t do that. We stumbled over some good ideas and didn’t walk away. We were able to continue drawing for it’s own sake.
You know, most people are most comfortable and like Daffy Duck. Why? I think it’s because Daffy makes the same kind of mistakes we all make.
And, I think the Coyote is the same way. I think people will continue to enjoy the Coyote cartoons we made because he makes the same kind of errors we do. We tried to inject character in them, but we didn’t do it consciously.
All of us knew we were drawing - CHARACTER, not drawings. Drawing is simply a way of getting it on the screen.
I think it’s worth noting, that the seven dwarfs [from Disney’s 1937 feature film] were really seven attributes of a human being. They didn’t try to crowd them all into the same character. Yet, if you look carefully, you’ll see the idea of one character who sneezes, one who was sleepy, one who was happy and so on. It is simply an examination of a single person, who is everyone of those things. That’s why we all recognize them.
Recognizable, humanistic qualities inside the drawings?
Yes, it’s character we can recognize.