Bill Nolan is one of the truly unsung heros of cartoons and character animation, and likely the most influential animator through the 20’s in terms of character animation and design/ drawing. So many of the innovators of character animation
were greatly influenced by Nolan- both people who worked with him as well as those who just saw his work. Animation by Nolan is ever moving, ever alive, with nearly every aspect of every character swimming into the arcs of any action, regardless of bones or structure, often spinning and dancing. Nolan was making cartoons, and he was well aware of the power of making them just that. There is absolutely no pretension in anything he animates.
I think that one of the reasons Nolan isn’t more heralded is that many of the films he animated on are harder to see, or that his name is often not associated as much with them. His redesign of Felix the Cat into a rounder, more appealing
and more flexible character had a huge impact on the direction of animation world-wide. I personally enjoy his animation in the silent Felix cartoons and the early Lantz Oswalds the most.
Here is My Pal Paul from 1930 – a good example of Nolan’s animation around this time. It should also be noted that Paul Whiteman actually isn’t much of a friend to Oswald in that he’s willing to kill him at the turn of a dime. Then again, Oswald is also perfectly willing to destroy Paul’s flivver without the slightest pause. To be fair, Oswald attempted to off himself early on in the cartoon, only to be saved by Paul.
Through 1933 and 1934, Nolan’s great, inventive and often bizarre animation started to tone down as the crazy happiness of the early 30’s cartoons led to a period of refined animation into the mid 30’s in line with the rest of the industry; to me it seems that the mid 30’s Lantz shorts seem to be looking for a solid direction.
The Pooch the Pup cartoons are a little harder to see, and they are some of my favorites, combining the elements of the early 30’s cartoons with some technical and visual refinements (including the camera now being able to truck in and out). This one and The Lumberchamp are my favorites, though a lot of people really love King Klunk too. I always think about Pooch as being the Cubby Bear or Buddy of Lantz’s characters. The poor little guy (and his ever present girlfriend) never really took much a foothold, but at least cartoons he left behind are a lot of fun.