The Animated Hair. In the cartoon “Magical Maestro” (1952), an annoying hair pops up at the bottom of the frame which was common when films were projected. However, this was not a real hair but an animated hair that a character plucks out after the audience wonders when the projectionist will notice and take care of the problem.
The gag was from animation legend Tex Avery who remembered in a 1980 phone interview, “I was always looking for ways to interact with the audience. Hairs would pop into a film and you’d wait for the projectionist to notice it and take it out. I thought it would be funny if one popped into one of mine and I had a character pluck it out. It was incredible. We got letters from every projectionist in the country saying they’d blown themselves purple trying to get that thing out. MGM had to label the cartoon box warning them that the hair was animated.”
Avery first used the “hair gag” in Warner Bros. Aviation Vacation (1941). The gag appears at 3:15 in the video below.
Deja on Jafar. In 1994, animator Andreas Deja talked about his work on the villain Jafar in Disney’s animated feature “Aladdin” (1992): “(Jafar) is not based on any particular actor or person. Sometimes you model the character after the appearance of the voice actor, but not in this case. I just used the voice and tried to get a certain type. When I listened to the voice, I heard a certain arrogance, an attitude, that I tried to get into the design.
“I also thought it would be fun to give him a non-realistic face that looks like a mask. I gave him elegant clothes, using fashion drawings for inspiration and decided that I wouldn’t move him as much as the other characters, which move all over the place all the time. I thought I’d do the opposite with Jafar and tried to play his animation down, to make him contrast the other characters. Throughout the film, I moved him as little as possible, just so that the thinking process came through. He doesn’t have a bouncy walk at all, it’s more as if he’s on roller skates.”
Friz Freleng and Elmer Fudd. Animation legend Friz Freleng was the model for the fiery Yosemite Sam who constantly battled Bugs Bunny. In a 1990 interview, Freleng revealed he never cared for Bugs’ previous antagonist, Elmer Fudd: “Elmer was just too dumb. He was naïve and childish and Bugs outwitted him. It didn’t take much brains to outwit Elmer. Sometimes you felt sorry for Elmer. He’d break down and cry. But that’s why I didn’t quite feel that Elmer filled the bill. He wasn’t really a villain. He was a pitiful character. He had a duty to perform as a hunter. He had to go shoot a rabbit. But there wasn’t a mean streak. He didn’t really like to shoot the rabbit. You wondered why you didn’t hate Bugs for doing what he did to him. It took a little more sharpness to outsmart Yosemite Sam than a chicken-brained Elmer Fudd.”
Ollie Johnston’s Secret. In 1994, Andreas Deja said, “When I started, (animation legend) Ollie Johnston told me, ‘You don’t move drawings; you move ideas!’ What the hell did that mean when I had just started out in the medium? I had no idea. It sounded good so I filed it away until years later when BANG. I realized it meant feelings and abstract things. Once those things motivate everything you do, the drawing and the technical aspects will fall into place, but it will do a different thing. When you are animating, you can’t think about the model sheet, how the character is put together or how he moves, the technicality of it. It must come secondary. First thing is always the emotion. That’s the old Disney, that’s why these things are so emotional, because that is what drove them.”
Dick Huemer and Humor. In 1974, animation legend Dick Huemer who began his career animating on the Mutt and Jeff silent cartoons talked to animation historian Joe Adamson about the humor in these early cartoons. “As we used to say in those days, as funny as a crutch. They weren’t funny actually. They really weren’t. We used to look at our own work and laugh like hell. We thought it was great. But in the theater, they didn’t. I can remember taking my family to see some bit of animation I was particularly proud of, and just as it went on, somebody behind me said, ‘Oh, I hate these things’. We actually didn’t consider the audiences as much as we should have.
“We did things more or less to please ourselves, doing what we liked. But the gags weren’t built up the way Disney subsequently learned to do. Our mistake was we weren’t establishing anything first. We were giving the payoff without the build up. One scene I remember was Jeff is blowing like hell on this big tuba. All of a sudden, a brick flies out of it and hits him on the head. Big laugh in the projection room. Later, he blows a flute and a snake comes out. Stuff like that.
“We were making one a week. It was part of a package deal with the feature. If the exhibitor hated cartoons, he didn’t run them.”
The Necessities of Animation. In 1974, Chuck Jones explained what he felt were the basics of animation: “If as a child you drew stick figures on the edge of a tablet or a school book, then flipped the pages to get a spastic and funny little dance, you were animating. Anything beyond that is only sophistication and embellishment.
“Occasionally, an artist should look at his tools and ask himself what he cannot do without—the essentials—what he must have to pursue his form of expression in animation. In animation, he must have only three things: a pencil, a number of sheets of paper and a light source. With these he can animate. Without them, he cannot. All other additions are conveniences and embellishments. He does not even need a motion picture camera. The first valid animation was made without such cameras. Do you remember the card flipping machine at penny arcades?”