Friday, March 3, 2017

Chuck Jones on Creative Discipline

Warner Bros. animation director Chuck Jones codified Nine Unbreakable Rules for the encounters between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.

Rule 1: The Road Runner cannot harm the coyote except by going “beep-beep.”

Rule 2: No outside force can harm the coyote—only his own ineptitude or the failure of the Acme products.

Rule 3: The Coyote could stop anytime—if he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: “a fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.” – George Santayana)

Rule 4: No dialogue ever, except “beep-beep.”

Rule 5: The Road Runner must stay on the road—otherwise logically, he would not be called a road runner.

Rule 6: All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters—the Southwest American desert.

Rule 7: All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme corporation.

Rule 8: Whenever possible, make gravity the coyote’s greatest enemy.

Rule 9: The coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

Chuck Jones grew up in Los Angeles watching live action film shoots of the early silent-era comedians. 

He was always a believer in how strict limitations, or "disciplines" as he called them, foster creativity. "Everyone I've ever respected always used restricted tools," he said. "The greatest comedians were the ones who wore the simplest costumes and worked in prescribed areas—like Chaplin."
Chuck Jones's book Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist is as much about creativity as it is about animation.
An excellent book on the art of Warner Bros. animation: That's All Folks: The Art of Warner Bros. Animation


Glenn Tait said...

Rule 4 got broken at least once. There was an episode where the coyote breaks the 4th wall and describes to the audience why he chases the road runner. This included an anatomical chart breaking down each part of the road runner into distinct and delicious tasting morsels.

James Gurney said...

Yes. Rule 4 was also broken in the first episode when Coyote talks at length about how smart he is— before Jones decided to make him a silent character. That first episode also has dimensionally painted backgrounds, rather than the flat graphic style of most of the episodes.

Glenn Tait said...

Interesting, didn't realize that was the first episode. Wile E. Always had a great voice! Loves his interactions with Bugs.

Tim said...

Most of the time, when the Coyote spoke, it was in an episode with Bugs Bunny rather than the Roadrunner.

James Gurney said...

Tim, you're right: that talking Coyote short was him vs. Bugs. It was neat to see Chuck Jones honing the haiku.

Jessica P said...


Steve said...

"Honing the haiku"....when I think of creating great work in a tight container, the haiku form is one of the first things that comes to mind.

My Pen Name said...

I remember finding it so weird that the coyote also had the talking 'role' of the wolf trying to capture sheep ( the sheep dog and him 'punch in' the time clock' the sheep dog beats him every time, at the end of the day they both punch out and 'say good night sam, good night ralph'

Virginia Rinkel said...

I love these characters and yes, simplicity is the hardest thing to do.

Andrew Daniel said...

Thank you for posting this! I have been working on a series of 100 pigeon paintings, all in casein and colored inks. By repeating the same subject matter, I'm able to let the subject become the paint technique instead as I experiment with new ways of using the medium.

Just purchased your Casein video. Looking forward watching!!