Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Mad Maestro

The 1930s was a time of economic depression, but it was also the decade when cartoon animation went through its greatest period of creative experimentation and audience enthusiasm.

(Link to video on YouTube) Today we read a lot about Disney and Warner Bros (Looney Tunes), but not as much about other studios, such as Fleischer, Screen Gems, Walter Lantz, Terry Toons, and MGM.

For example here's a short MGM film about a conductor trying to work with an uncooperative orchestra. Director Friz Freleng, started at Disney and Warner and left for a period to work at MGM, later returning to Warner Bros. He was always fond of tackling musical comedy, with unerring timing and an understanding of stage performance. His friend, animator Hugh Harman, gives the animation some fun character moments and over-the-top action.

The "rubber hose" style of animation makes the character feel fluid and dynamic. 

These drawings come from a 1941 book How to Make Animated Films by Nate Falk, which summarizes the state of the art and the business at the end of the decade. It's available as a free download on or as a physical book from Amazon.

Edit: The music is an overture written by Franz von Suppé (1819-1895) called "Ein Morgen, ein Mittag und ein Abend in Wien," (A morning, a noon and an evening in Vienna). Here's fiery version conducted by Zubin Mehta


Robert Michael Walsh said...

Great animation. I've been since a kid a fan of the Chuck Jones Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny music parodies, like "What's Opera, Doc," and "Rabbit of Seville."

Geoff said...

I enjoyed this a lot. I wish I could say I recognized the music! Anyone know what it was?

brine blank said...

That was great...Alway enjoyed the Merry Melodies, Warner Bro cartoons and the The Flintstones have been back on MeTV I typically just sit and watch all the 'errors' that occur in a single episode...Fred's nose changes shape 10 times, Barney's legs are shortened by half but his torso remains normal so he can fit in the car space as drawn, Wilma's elbow bends barely any distance from the wrist so that it fits around the character she is interacting with in the frame, features blink in and out between frames on clothing and their face. Definitely two different approaches to animation...I think JG posted something at one time about Hanna-Barbera and how they were a farm just pushing out animation as quickly as possible...and it shows.

James Gurney said...

Brine, I loved your detailed observations. I was surprised to discover that Hanna and Barbera started out doing theatrical shorts with excellent craftsmanship, but they were more famous after they developed the production line pipeline (repeated cycles, held cels, stock expressions, lower frame rates, simpler drawing) that made it possible to vastly increase their output for the footage-hungry demands of television.

James Gurney said...

Geoff, it's "Ein Morgen, ein Mittag und ein Abend in Wien," (A morning, a noon and an evening in Vienna) an overture written by Franz von Suppé (1819-1895). Here's version conducted by Zubin Mehta.

Meera Rao said...

Oh, this is so wonderful - what talent and sense of humor :) thank you for sharing 🙏🏼