I’ve talked about animation legend Robert McKimson before at this site.
McKimson was born in 1910 and passed away in 1977. He died from a massive heart attack while eating lunch with his friends Friz Freleng and David DePatie for whom he was working directing Pink Panther shorts among other things. Ironically, just days before the attack, he had visited the doctor for a complete physical and got a clean bill of health.
He was best known for his work on Warner Brothers cartoons where he created Foghorn Leghorn, Tasmanian Devil and Hippety Hopper the kangaroo among others.
He worked as an animator and as a director. His 1942 model sheet for Bugs Bunny (and his promotional drawing of Bugs Bunny leaning against a tree while eating a carrot for a local Los Angeles store) set the design for the character for many years.
His two brothers, Charles and Tom, also worked as animators at Warner Brothers and later as comic book artists for Dell.
For the November 28, 1972 issue of PUNCH magazine, writer Lloyd Chester interviewed Bob McKimson on the state of animation.
The interview took place in McKimson’s Beverly Hills home in his den on a rainy morning. I dug this lost treasure out of my archives to share one of the rare times that McKimson talked about his own animation work in print:“Bugs Bunny had only one meaning really—to make people happy, to get them to laugh at themselves.
“There were so many of them. Sylvester, Tweety, Roadrunner, Coyote, Foghorn Leghorn and of course, the box-office champ of them all, Bugs Bunny!
“He was a fantastic character. Tex Avery is the man who gets most of the credit for creating him back in 1938. He got his name from Charles Thorsen who worked under the direction of another animator, ‘Bugs’ Hardaway. Thorsen drew some preliminary sketches and at the bottom of his drawings, he wrote Bugs’ Bunny and the name stuck.
“I gave him his face, that mobile, pixie look. I drew him so he could react to any situation, do anything most people would love to do, if they had the nerve. It was his character to be prankish, to take great delight in going up against every rule of society. He was brash and hated pretension but he was never malicious.
“I don’t think any cartoon character had the same impact as Bugs. He’s known the world over. You can walk down any street in London or Tokyo or Mexico City and stop the first person you meet and ask them if they know Bugs Bunny and they smile and reply ‘Of course we do’.“During World War II, I personally drew over 150 Bugs Bunny insignias for different branches of the Armed Services and another time, during a Bond Rally, I drew a picture of Bugs for a lady for a donation of five thousand dollars.
“He was great, but so were the others, too. They were all wonderful—Daffy Ducky, Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig….
“Everyone could relate to our cartoons. People put themselves in the place of Bugs or Tweety, or Roadrunner doing all those crazy, zany things. It was great fun. I miss them all very much.
“We were a bunch of young guys in the middle of a Depression trying to bring a little happiness to a pretty sad world. We were looking for different things to do and as a result we experimented a lot. We had fun just walking up and down the halls at Warners wearing funny hats—all kinds: civil war caps, derbies, Stetsons, turbans—anything that we turn into a comedy situation.
“We thought funny. We were constantly telling ridiculous stories and jokes to each other and it paid off. Our mad-cap antics were reflected in our cartoons and when you look at ‘em today, hell, they’re still funny.
“Our story lines were carry-overs from the early days of Hollywood. Our cartoons were based on slapstick comedy…you know…the old pie-in-the-face, slap ‘em with a board, hit ‘em over the head schtick. We borrowed heavily from the masters—Chaplin, Turpin, Arbuckle, Laurel and Hardy. Whatever was good enough for them was certainly good enough for Bugs and Sylvester and the Coyote.
“Mickey Mouse was the beginning and Bugs Bunny the turning point. Walt was the training ground for most of us old-timers and we worked on a lot of funny cartoons. Goofy was one and Donald Duck was another. Everyone in the industry tried to come as close as possible to Disney’s technique of full animation.
“I recall one time Walt didn’t like the way the suspender buttons moved on Mickey’s trousers. I spent a full day working on those damn buttons until Walt was finally satisfied with their movement. He was a perfectionist and he taught most of us what we know about full animation. That was really our secret at Warners. None of our cartoon characters ever stood still.
“We live in a plastic age today. The new animators haven’t been trained in the art of full animation. They’ve been trained to do drawings and the drawings may look pretty but the action is stilted. They hold a character, move his mouth a little and then move him a little bit more. There is no action at all. They are mostly dialogue pictures and the more dialogue you have, the less action is needed. It’s cheaper to turn out. Cost is the big factor today. It’s expensive to make cartoons but then, all movie making is expensive today.
“I guess there will always be cartoons around, in one form or another. A friend of mine—he’s 72 years old—Ken Harris—he’s in England now teaching their young animators the technique of full animation. He’s one of the best around and originally I taught him, so I guess it does get passed on.
“But I don’t know…there’s only a handful of top animators left—they’re getting older or retiring or dying off…
“Say, did I ever tell you of the time I was in Japan and saw a Bugs Bunny cartoon? It was in Japanese and it sounded so funny to me but they love those characters over there and all over the world.”