Celling Peanuts. “We used to throw the cels away (from the Peanuts specials),” stated animator and director Bill Melendez in 1995 at the height of the market for buying animation cels. “Most of the cels and drawings from the first six Peanuts shows ended up in a dumpster. After the film was made, I didn’t think the cels were worth anything. The cels were only the bricks for the construction of the film.
“I didn’t think all the cels were drawn well. Today, when I’m in my studio and I’m given a stack of drawings to sign, I often go through them and yank out the ones I think are crummy. When I see the price of the art, I turn away in embarrassment. Sometimes I can’t help it. I’m embarrassed when a nice little kid comes up to me and he’s bought a teeny little cel of Woodstock (Snoopy’s bird companion) alone and there’s a huge background of a field. I say to the kid, ‘Why did you buy this one? Do you want me to draw something else on it?’”
Melendez at Warners. “Leaving Disney (after the 1941 strike) for Warner Brothers was like a breath of fresh air. At Disney, we were like a bunch of bankers. It was way too serious. Old Big Brother was always watching you,” said animator and director Bill Melendez in a 1995 interview. “At Warners, the whole attitude was different. The people were so full of life and as a group, we were a feisty funny bunch of guys. We received more money to boot.” Melendez left Warners in 1948 because after years of perfect attendance, Warners refused to pay him for the day he took off to attend his father-in-law’s funeral.
Defining Character by Expression. “That’s one of the things you have to look for in any character… his general expression. Not the way he is drawn,” stated animator and director Chuck Jones at an art gallery in 1995. “The question is what kind of expression does Bugs (Bunny) normally have? He’s alert, ambitious. Bugs is impish. He looks straight ahead while he rests his weight on one leg. He’s not afraid or worried that he has to move.
“That’s pretty different than Daffy (Duck). He has both legs bent because he feels he might have to run at any moment. And Pepe (Le Pew) is always at three quarters view, with a slight lift and that puckish look to his mouth. He’s always looking over his shoulder or at least three quarters view, but never facing directly at the camera.”
The Grinch In All of Us. “Villains are easy. Take the Grinch,” remarked animator and director Chuck Jones. “It was easy to understand someone who hates Christmas because we all hate something about Christmas a little bit. Some of us hate it a lot. Well, the Grinch hated it completely. The character was much easier to handle because he had that one object in life that was something we all had.”
“I know how to draw Bugs (Bunny), Daffy (Duck) and all of the others. It’s exactly like an actor approaching a role. The actor knows how to act, yet he must learn what the character has on his mind. And even though he’s doing the same character, the problems will be different for each new show.”
The Other Voices. How many voiceover actors never got on screen credit on Warner Brothers shorts because of Mel Blanc’s exclusive contract? Off the top of my head, I would list June Foray, Arthur Q. Bryan, Stan Freberg, Bea Benaderet, John T. Smith, Dave Barry, Kent Rogers, Danny Webb, Robert C. Bruce, Sara Berner, Dick Nelson, Pat Patrick, Jim Backus, Billy Bletcher and Nancy Wible.
Dancing Inspiration. Modern dancer Lotte Goslar worked with director Bobe Cannon on “Ballet Lesson” a UPA film done for “The Gerald McBoing-Boing Show” in which the rotund Twirlinger Twins do a series of exercises at the bar with what animation historian Charles Solomon once described as “more enthusiasm than grace”.Pranking Marc Davis. Animator and production designer Iwao Takamoto remembered a prank he and fellow animator Stan Green played on animation legend Marc Davis. Davis was sitting at his desk in deep concentration.
Takamoto and Green took up positions on opposite sides of Davis’ open doorway that led to a hall. Green began the prank by walking in place, slowly increasing the sound as if someone were walking toward the door. Davis heard the sound and waited to see who was walking down the hall.
Green stopped and Takamoto took up the same rhythm so it sounded like the footsteps were walking away. Davis was dumbfounded. He hadn’t seen anyone pass the open doorway. Eventually, he went to the door to look but Green and Takamoto had heard him get up from his chair so they hid. When Davis got to the doorway, he looked both ways but saw no one and puzzled over the “ghost” he had heard.
Another Disney Prank. In 1996 animator and production designer Iwao Takamoto shared a prank at the Disney Studio when someone brought in an attachment meant to make Christmas lights blink on and off. “Back then, we had to use a standard light bulb instead of a fluorescent tube under the light board of an animation desk,” recalled Takamoto. “As luck would have it, we had a new guy working on his light board that day so they hooked up the blinker attachment without him knowing. He pulled the switch and the light went on. He started to draw and the light went off. He just waited patiently. The light went back on and he continued to draw. The light went off and he stopped again. It got to the point where he actually timed the thing. Every time the light went on, he hurried like crazy and would draw as fast as he could, expecting that the light would go off…which it did. But he’d wait until it came back on, so he could go back to drawing. To watch him scamble like that…his reaction was great.”
EDITORS NOTE: Available as of today, Jim Korkis has compiled the best of his Animation Anecdotes into one convenient book that compacts years – decades – of cartoon history in a concise organized form that doesn’t require digging through internet archives. It’s available through Theme Park Press and on Amazon (via Kindle). I’ll be talking more about this remarkable volume in a future column here – but for now, I simply suggest you order the book! – Jerry Beck