By Michael Barrier and Bill Spicer
Reprinted from Funnyworld No. 13 (1971)
Chuck Jones in a late-sixties MGM publicity photo, as he appeared at the time of the interview for Funnyworld.
[An introductory note: I interviewed Chuck Jones on my first trip to Los Angeles, in 1969, and the results were published in Funnyworld No. 13. Rereading the Jones interview, I'm struck by the cogency of much of what he says, more than thirty years later. It's particularly striking that the interview opens with a discussion of computer animation, today's dominant form (I wish I remembered something about that Canadian film, but I don't). Although Jones had been interviewed for publication before Bill Spicer and I saw him, he had not yet been interviewed so often that the interviewers' questions, and thus his responses, had become predictable. This interview is therefore freshand I think reliablein ways that later interviews and even Jones's two autobiographical volumes may not be.
[In regard to the interview's reliability, two caveats are required.
[Jones speaks of Leon Schlesinger, his boss as the producer of the Warner Bros. Cartoons in the thirties and early forties, with amused contempt. What he said about Schlesinger in later interviews was even harsher. Jones's low opinion of Schlesinger has become the conventional wisdom, echoed in obituaries like the one in the Washington Post, but it was by no means shared by all or even most of his colleagues.
[Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, and Frank Tashlinall of them, like Jones, directors under Schlesingerspoke favorably of their old boss. "Schlesinger laughed at everything," Avery said. "He was the best boss I guess I ever had in the animation business. I could sell him anything I wanted to do." Clampett, in whose cartoons Daffy Duck acquired a lisp, said the lisp was not intended to resemble any impediment of Schlesinger's, but rather to suggest that Daffy's voice was passing through a duck's bill.
[In the interview, Jones speaks of staying with the Warner Bros. cartoon studio until it closed in 1962. Jones himself left the studio in 1962, but it did not close until 1963. As I explain in Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, Jones was forced out of his job, after almost thirty years with the cartoon studio, in a dispute with Warners' management over whether he had violated his contract by co-writing the script for the UPA feature Gay Purr-ee. I don't fault Jones for his misstatement; I'm sure that he had no desire to revisit what must have been a painful episode. MB]
Charles Martin Jones is probably the most famous living cartoon director, and arguably the greatest. For nearly a quarter of a century, he was a director for the Warner Brothers cartoon department, bringing to the screen such characters as the Road Runner, the Coyote and Pepe le Pew, and refining and developing established "stars" like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. His best cartoons are models of subtlety, precision and carefully expended energy, with none of the "mindlessness" and "sadism" that ignorant critics sometimes impute to the Warner cartoons.
Bill Spicer and I interviewed Chuck Jones in two one-hour sessions on June 4 and 5, 1969, in his office at what was then the MGM cartoon department. Before the start of the first session, we joined Jones in viewing an unfinished National Film Board of Canada film on computer animation. When the interview began, our conversation turned first to that subject.
Spicer: With computerized animation, would it eventually be possible to, say, program two extremesof someone walking, for exampleand have the computer do all the fill-in work?
Jones: It would, I think, in a rigid sense. But great animation depends as much on the character and placement of the in-betweens as on the primary drawings. For example, take a draggy, slow walk by a tired man. If you have one extreme of the legs crossing, and being pulled along the ground, and the other extreme with the foot way back, and the following extreme with the foot forward, the in-between position is not in-between. Because the foot is heavy, it tends to stay on the ground. So you'll have several drawings with the foot very close to the back extreme, and then, in release, the foot will drag through quite quickly, to the center position, and so on.
Spicer: But could this be programmed with a few in-between drawings?
Jones: It could, but what you'd have to do then is make a programmer out of your animator. I'm not saying it can't be done, and I'm not saying it wouldn't be desirable to do it under certain conditions, but I am saying that the true animator makes different decisions on practically every movement. I think it would take him longer to do the programming than it would to do the actual drawings.
Unquestionably, computer animation is going to be a very valuable thing. I was startled to see that they could take what seemed to me to be two-dimensional information and turn it into three-dimensional perspective drawings of an airplane. That's pretty sophisticated.
Spicer: It would require an awfully sophisticated computer to actually do all those hundreds of in-between drawings, using reference points along the way ...
Jones: I can envisage several areas where I'm sure it would be useful, just as Xerox is. For example, in One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), they had a hundred and one dogs, and in a couple of shots there were acres and aces of puppies. There the Xerox helped them tremendously, because they animated eight or nine cycles of action, of dogs running in different ways, then made them larger or smaller, using Xerox, knowing that if there are a hundred and one dogs, and if there are eight or nine distinct cycles, and they're placed at random in this rabble of dogs, no one will know that they all haven't been animated individually. You might say that this could be carried further. Say we're animating the classic walk of Bugs Bunny. We could simply refer back to that, if we wanted to use that walk another time, and call on the computer to print that same cycle of drawings, smaller or larger.
Spicer: Do you ever see the day when a computer might replace everyone connected with animation besides the animator, the director, and the background artist?
Jones: That may be the ultimate goal, but it would take a pretty far-reaching version of the computer. Right now, computer animation costs more than the traditional method.
Barrier: How much has Xerox helped in bringing down costs?
Jones: I would say it helped Disney tremendously. They were able to bring in One Hundred and One Dalmatians for about half of what it would have cost if they'd had to animate all those dogs and all those spots.
Of course, only the Disney studio would think of doing a hundred and one spotted dogs. We have trouble doing one spotted dog.
Barrier: I've noticed that there seem to be a lot more characters in the average Disney cartoon than in the average Warner cartoon.
Jones: Right. As you know, we used a very austere kind of cutting. Our pictures, by and large, involved two characters in some kind of conflict, and there was a great deal of inter-cutting, so that on the screen at any given time, there was seldom more than one. Mark Twain, in Huckleberry Finn, was talking about this sleepy little country town on the Mississippi River, and there were posts along the covered sidewalk, and he said, "There was as many as one loafer leaning against each post." So I think we used as many as one character in most of our scenes. In The Phantom Tollbooth, however, we have some pretty elegant crowd scenes, and I'd say that was [a] two-or-more character picture.
Barrier: Computer animation has been advocated for doing things in cartoons like rolling boulders, which I've heard are pretty difficult to do.
Jones: We don't roll many boulders except in Road Runner cartoons, but we use a great deal of perspective, and we employ what we call the "telephone pole theory," both in graphic work and in animation. That is, say you have two telephone poles, one in the distance and one in the foreground, and if you draw a line from the top of one to the bottom of the other, and vice versa, a line drawn perpendicular at the intersection is at the halfway point. This is a very striking and startling thing, and I don't think many animators know this, because that intersection is so much closer to the pole in the background than it is to the pole in the foreground. The tendency is to put the line exactly in between, and that's one of the problems I think you would run into with the computer. But I suppose it would be very simple for the computer to understand these matters, and be so programmed. However, to me it was always fun to do them a little differently, a little more in comic dramatization. Since I'm in business to enjoy myself, I wouldn't call on a computer to animate my boulder.
Barrier: I'd like to go back to your beginnings. You started with Ub Iwerks, didn't you? How long were you there, a couple of years?
Jones: The first time I was there was probably for not more than a year. I really don't remember. I started out as a painter, as everybody else did. Then I graduated to cel-washing, and inking, and then, eventually, to in-betweening. Then I went to Walter Lantz for a short time; these periods were all very brief, the whole time period that embraced my tenure at Ub's and then Universal and Oswald with Bill Nolan and Walter Lantz was less than two years. Then I worked for Charlie Mintz [Screen Gems] for a short time. I really wasn't sure I wanted to be an animator. I didn't see much future in it. So I went down to Olvera Street and had what you might call my hippie periodalthough then it was called a "Bohemian period." I worked on Olvera Street, this little Mexican street in downtown Los Angeles, doing sketches of people for a dollar apiece. Eventually I came to Warner's. I suppose that whole period covered a year and a half or two years. In 1933, I went to Warner's as an assistant, and spent the next twenty-eight years there.
Barrier: What kind of man was Leon Schlesinger? Did he exercise any artistic control at all over the cartoons?
Jones: No. We had two kinds of producers. I won't go into who the other one was, you can figure it out for yourself, but he was a sort of prototype of Mister Magoo.(1) But Schlesinger was absolutely out for money and he didn't care how he got it. He was very lazy, in the sense that he never bothered us. He didn't want to have to make artistic decisions, he wanted the pictures to go out and play and make money. That was fine with me, I was very happy to have it that way. The only time he'd look at a picture was when it was finished, and if he didn't like it he might get around to saying, "Four more pictures like that, boy, and you're out." One time he bought a yacht from Richard Arlen and named it the Merry Melody. We asked when he was going to take us for a ride on his boat, and he said, "I don't want any poor people on my boat." Of course, he was the reason we were poor. We were grossly underpaid, but we still did what we wanted to do. Daffy's voice and Sylvester's voice, which are the same voice, really, except that Daffy's is speeded up a little, are really very similar to Leon Schlesinger's voice, because Leon too lisped when he talked.
He was a darling; he was so pure. He had other interests; he owned Pacific Art and Title, which today is the biggest art and title company in the industry. He didn't do the titles himself, but the same thing happened there, he put the necessary money into it. He helped underwrite The Jazz Singer. He was related remotely to the Warner brothersa cousin or somethingand he had some money, and at the time of The Jazz Singer the Warners were so hard up they needed anything they could get. Of course, when The Jazz Singer hit, they became very close. He was the man who underwrote Harman and Ising; that's where Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies really all started.
Anyway, he exerted no artistic control at all. He had a man working for him named Ray Katz, who was the production manager and who gumshoed around trying to run the place, but who knew practically nothing about the business. He really didn't know what was going on there. He was a very nice man, as it turned out, but he tried to preserve this air of being mean. The building where we worked was very long, like a string of stables; it was where the first Vitagraph sound pictures had been made, and it hadn't been changed when we moved in. Ray was always catching people asleep or reading the newspaper. One animator had the worst kind of insomniahe couldn't sleep at work. He had an office with an open doorall the doors were open, and he could see Ray walking down the hall. One of the other animators was an electronic wizard, so he rigged up a whole electric light system throughout the building, and every animator, back under his desk, had a little red light. When Ray would start down the hall, this fellow would press a button, and all the lights would go on, and everybody would snap to attention. Everybody, that is, except writers and directors, who all worked in adjoining rooms. What they did when the lights went on was to stop working. For a year and a half, Ray never caught a director or a writer working. He'd walk into a room, and one would be polishing his shoes, another would be reading a newspaper, another would be sleeping, and there wouldn't be anything on the storyboards. Ray was embarrassed and didn't know what to do about these people, because they were kind of outside his little area. So, he'd walk back down the hall and the writers would go back to work and the animators would go back to sleep. He'd come back, and the directors and storymen were doing exactly what they had been doing before; the fellow who had been shining his shoes an hour earlier would still be shining his shoes. This was very puzzling. One time when he'd leave, the men would pull out all the work that had been done, and completely cover the storyboards with material they had hidden in their desks. So he'd come back, and they were doing what they'd been doing before, but now the whole damned place would be covered with story sketches. As I've said, he was too embarrassed to ask anybody what had happened.
The other (anonymous) producer's attitude toward animation was that laughter didn't play any part in it. He once came in on a bunch of us when we were just sitting around talking and laughing. When we looked up, there he was, standing in the doorway smoldering, and he said, "What the hell has all this laughter got to do with making animated cartoons?" That was one of his classic lines. The first time I met him, we were sitting in the theater looking at a cartoon, and he said, "There's something new take it out." One sentence, no comma. Also, he aggravated me in quite a different manner He said Pepe le Pew wasn't funny, no one would go for that bastardized French, or whatever he called it. Nevertheless, when For Scent-imental Reasons (1949) won the Academy Award, he went up and took the Oscar as producer. Our unit won two that yearthe other was for a documentary, So Much for So Littleand he took them both.
Barrier: Was there ever any thought while you were at Warner's of making feature cartoons?
Jones: No. When Schlesinger first saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), he saidthis was another of his favorite expressions"I need a feature like I need two belly buttons," or words to that effect.
Barrier: Even after all the money it made, he still felt that way?
Jones: Oh, yes, because by that time Fantasia (1940) had come out and fallen flat on its financial face. He said, "See, I was right all the time, fellas. We'll stick to shorts. Hit 'em on the run, I always say. Put a lot of jokes in it."
Barrier: I've heard that the Schlesinger studio back in the Thirties had pretty primitive facilities; for example, when the cameraman had instructions for a "camera shake," he'd hit the camera.
Jones: That's a new one on me; I'd never heard that. I would doubt that. Johnny Burton, a great talent who was in charge of production, never would have permitted such a thing, even if it would work, which it wouldn't. But it was primitive, there's no question about that. We had a wonderful cameraman by the name of Hank Garner, who shot the tests. He was a real primitive, from the swamps of Arkansaswe called him the "Swamp Rabbit." "Smokey" was also his nickname. He had what John Steinbeck called the "mechanic's thumb," and he could fix anything. The camera we used for tests was actually a 1904 camera, a wooden, box-like thing. But Smokey had this way, he could do more with a rubber band and a beer-can opener than most men can do with all the hardware in the world; a wonderful cameraman.
Barrier: Back in the Thirties, the Disney studio was dominant; how did people at other studios look at the Disney studio?
Jones: With absolute awe. We didn't really believe we were doing the same thing. From the time of The Three Little Pigs (1933), most of us felt that, there was Disney, and here were the rest of us, just hacking away at the edges. We didn't consider ourselves in the same league. And today, when you look at the animation of a cartoon like The Tortoise and the Hare (1934)I saw that just the other dayI really don't know how you could improve it. It's still a smashing picture. I think you'll find that everyone was affected by the marvelous speed that was achieved in The Tortoise and the Hare. That was really the breakthrough in speed. Up to that time, no character had moved the way Max Hare did. You see, the point about our films and the point about Disney's films was that our experimenting was never overt. We didn't sit down and say, "Look at us, we're experimenting." But think of the Toccata and Fugue in Fantasia; that was the first abstract film since Len Lye did his thing in the Thirties. It was the first of the abstractions to appear commercially. The "Baby Weems" sequence in The Reluctant Dragon (1941) was the first of the restricted-animation pictures, and it's probably the best ever made. You look at it today and you wonder why somebody didn't learn from it: when you use limited animation, use good drawing.
Walt represented something to this business that few of our people will acknowledge. There's a great deal of pontificating about what is happening in the European "Schools," and I think they're all very interesting, but the Europeans have been at it longer than we have, and they've never yet developed a School of animation of any kind. People talk about the "Zagreb School," but I just came back from Yugoslavia, and I know they're going off in all directions. The Disney studio did develop an identification, and as a result each studio, all of us, began to develop characteristics. Disney was to me what Harold Ross was to The New Yorker; he created an atmosphere where animators could flourish. In so doing, he pointed the way for everybody else to animate creatively. He still is the most important man in animation, and not necessarily for the reasons that most people think. What's startling is that so many animators overlook the fact that Disney not only created a great ground for them to work, but he also was probably the first motion-picture maker to break the international boundaries. The Three Little Pigs was accepted all over the world, and no motion picture previous to that time had been able to do that. In international cinematic communication, Disney was the first one to break through. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was certainly the first feature to be internationally accepted. Walt was probably a dreadful man in many ways, but he was the only man who had the daring to even think of doing Fantasia. When you consider the condition of the motion-picture industry at that time and of animation in particular ... I admire these young people who are doing experimenting today, but it's about like Stanley Kubrick or John Boorman saying D. W. Griffith didn't have any meaning. Practically every tool these men use was invented by D. W. Griffith, and practically every tool we use today was originated at the Disney studionot necessarily by Walt, but his men couldn't have originated them unless he had encouraged them to exist. I have a real quarrel with Richard Schickel over The Disney Version. Calling Walt Disney basically a businessman is a complete distortion. That is as wrong as you can get, I'll say that for Schickel. Roy was a good businessman. Till the day he died, when Walt went out to Disneyland, and wanted something new put in, he'd tear our anything else to do it, because he wanted it in, no matter how much money the other thing was making. He was one of the few men in the world who was lucky enough to be a child, a millionaire child, who could do anything he wanted. A businessman was exactly what he wasn't. If the war hadn't come along, he probably would have gone bankrupt.
Barrier: I've heard the reverse, that the war hurt him, by cutting the market for his features in half.
Jones: You're overlooking the fact that there were only three of his entertainment features in existence at that time. I think the films he did for the government during the war were actually what put him back in financial shape. Nobody can say for sure. But I don't think it makes any kind of sense to talk about him as a businessman. I don't adore the man, but I know what he meant to all of us, and it's poor history to ignore that. If it hadn't been Walt, maybe somebody else would have done it, but you can mention any UPA picture ever made to most of the people in the United States, and most of them will have been forgotten ... you can talk about John Hubley, and among the aficionados Hubley is very important. I think John is that important to many animators, but Disney was overwhelmingly important to the world. I repeat, he's the reason we're in existence, and won't even have to like him to acknowledge that.
Spicer: What else didn't you like about The Disney Version?
Jones: Schickel starts out with a non-scientific approach. I'm doing a book now on the diversity of living things with a professor at the University of California at Davis and another at Stanford, just because it interests me, and I've discovered that the scientific method is that you start out with a premise and then you try to disprove it. Schickel starts out with a premiseand a prejudiceand then spends the whole book trying to prove it correct. You can reach into that book and take pieces from it, out of context, and make at least a full chapter of nice things he says about Disney, but the overall effect is bad.
To me, the average book on animation today, Halas or Schickel or Stephenson, goes on the supposition that animation is only the modern European thing plus what you might call the palette animators in America, the fellows who do the little specialized films. I think they're doing very good cartoons, but from the public's viewpoint and even from an animator's viewpoint, most of these people simply do not have much influence. Does it take me to tell you that?
Barrier: How did you become a director? How was the choice made?
Jones: Well, a man named Henry Binder was Schlesinger's assistant, and for some reason he thought I'd make a director, I don't know why.
It's my supposition that nearly all of us fall into the line of work we do more by chance than by choice. It'd be nice if it happened the other way, through destiny, but when I think about it, nearly all the animators of my generation, at least, were born or raised or went to school in New York or Kansas City or Hollywood. So, if I'd been born in Butte, Montana, the chances are pretty good that I'd have ended up a cowhand. If an Eskimo wants to be a surfer, the chances are against him.
Barrier: Your first cartoon as a director was The Night Watchman, which was released in 1938; do you recall how you went about making that cartoon?
Jones: Well, I was pretty scared. The writers had come up with a rough idea for The Night Watchman, of a little cat who has to take his father's place as night watchman of the house. At that time, the Merrie Melodies were supposed to have a Warner Brothers song in each cartoon; that was their avowed purpose, to plug songs. Things changed later, but at that time they always had to include one complete chorus. We used this swinging versionwhich still sounds pretty goodof "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree."
Barrier: Something that intrigued me was that the little kitten in The Night Watchman is a ringer for your Sniffles, who I guess came along about a year later, in Little Brother Rat (1939).
Jones: Yes, that's true. Charlie Thorson, who was working for mehe was the one who made the first model sheet of Bugs Bunnyhad actually designed Hiawatha for Disney, so he was instrumental to a certain extent in forming the Disney style. He infected our style somewhat. I didn't draw terribly well at that time. Bob Givens had come over, and he drew beautifully; he was about nineteen years old, and he was fantastic. My style, whatever it is, developed over a period of many, many years. Don Graham of Chouinard Art Institute was very important to me; I spent maybe fifteen years going tonight classes with him. I was kind of a late bloomer as an artist, as a "serious" artist. By that, I don't mean that the work was serious, but that I was serious about it. I never made a dollar from drawings and paintings until I was past forty-five. So the whole thing was like discovering girls when you're forty. Most of the men had long since run through the whole idea of doing watercolors, but for me it was fun and it was new. I'd been to art school, but I didn't really have that much youthful talent. However, I found that whatever talent you have, if you keep at it long enough, then you acquire facility, and I think I have some graphic facility now.
But, anyway, at that time, I needed help, and so Givens and Thorson were helpful, and I suppose there was a sub-conscious development of a style of my own. Charlie did the drawings of both the Minah Bird and Inki, who was very similar to Hiawatha, although a non-stereotyped Negro. But I designed all my later characters, and I had some effect on the earlier ones.
Barrier: Something I've often wondered is how the characters were parceled out at Warner'sthat is, who decided who was to make so many Bugs Bunny cartoons, and Daffy Duck cartoons, and so on, and as a corollary to that, whether the directors tried to co-ordinate their versions of the same characters.
Jones: The characters tended to be different in different directors' cartoons, a little bit, but we also tended to learn from one another. Actually, there was a troika situation with the three directorsFriz Freleng, Bob McKimson and merunning parallel. We were called directors, but we were really producer-directors, because we had absolute control over our material. We had to do a certain number of cartoons with basic characters like Bugs Bunny, but we also had specialized characters that nobody else used. For example, Friz used Yosemite Sam and Sylvester; I occasionally used Sylvester with Porky Pig, but he wasn't really the same cat. He was a well-drawn cat, and I enjoyed working with him. I did all the Road Runners and Pepe le Pews until I left Warner's. So far as allocation was concerned, the distributing organization in New York would simply tell us how many Bugs Bunnys they wanted in a given year, usually six or eight, which would mean that each director would end up with two or three Bugs Bunnys a year. You had to keep an eye out for good Bugs Bunny ideas.
There were certain characters who evolved slowly, like Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. Tex Avery, I think, must be given the basic credit for the character of Bugs Bunny, although there were a few Bugs Bunnys made before Tex's first Bugs Bunny. But Tex was the first to have him say, "What's up, doc?" and give him what you might call controlled insanity, as opposed to wild insanity. Originally, Bugs was very much like Daffy.
Barrier: I've hard that you consider the rabbit in your Prest-O Change-O (1939) the ancestor of Bugs.
Jones: That was one of them. It was made before A Wild Hare (1940), Tex's first Bugs Bunny, but A Wild Hare really set Bugs' personality.
Barrier: You had a cartoon called Elmer's Pet Rabbit (1940), which was released several months after A Wild Hare. It seems to be the first cartoon in which Bugs is identified by name. The Bugs in that cartoon is like the rabbit in your Elmer's Candid Camera, which was released early in 1940, and Hardaway and Dalton's Hare-um Scare-um, which was released in 1939. Both came before A Wild Hare.
Jones: I'm not sure of the chronology, but the Bugs Bunny personality has to be started with A Wild Hare. That and two or three Tex Avery cartoons after that really made Bugs what he was.
Barrier: I've read in Bill's Graphic Story Magazine that you used stylized animation in one of your cartoons, The Dover Boys. Rudy Larriva said that it was done before the UPA cartoons, but along those lines.
Jones: Yes, it was made in 1941 and released in 1942.
Spicer: How was it accepted?
Jones: Not very well. New York was shocked. I don't think they would have released it at all except that they had to have a picture. Today it would go very nicely, and does, but it was considered then by many people to be a kind of breakthrough. I know John Hubley always considered it so. But the storyline itself went back to when I was a kid, when I used to read the Rover Boys book. So yes, that was an experiment, but probably my only overt experiment. I did a hell of a lot of experimenting. The Road Runner and Coyote cartoons are now used in many art schools to show objects working in space. Pure space. One of the goals in drawing is to achieve an object working in pure space.
Barrier: I want to get back to the Road Runner in a little while, but still on stylized animation, I've heard that your Aristo-cat (1943) with Hubie and Bertie the mice drew protests from theater owners who felt that they were being short-changed with an unfinished picture, because of its highly stylized backgrounds.
Jones: Really? I hadn't heard that. But the backgrounds were stylized, and we were trying for pretty dramatic stuff. John McGrew did the layouts on both The Aristo-cat and The Dover Boys, and he had very interesting ideas that I was willing to try. (But if it failed it was my neck, not his.) Fox Pop also had stylized backgrounds. But there was a consistency in The Dover Boys. The basic thing we did in The Dover Boys that was quite different was the restricted animation, which I felt was called for. I evolved a kind of movement, or pattern, from one extreme to the other. So I would say it was stylized, but not necessarily modern.
Barrier: You left Warner's for a while during World War II, didn't you? Were you in the service?
Jones: No, but I made films for the service. That's where I met Ted Geisel [Doctor Seuss]. He was over here at "Fort Western," as they called it. If you were an animator and you got drafted, instead of working for Warner's you were sent over to Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, dressed in a private's uniform. Some of the more prominent Disney people became officers, and so did Rudy Ising, who was about the least likely officer who ever lived. He became a major overnight. He was the head of "Fort Roach." All the animators worked at either "Fort Western" or "Fort Roach," or out at Long Island, where the Army motion picture unit still is. I made most of the Private Snafu pictures during the war; Ted Geisel and some of the other Army people did the storyboards and I produced them at Warner's.
Barrier: How many were there in the series?
Jones: There were about twenty of them; I did ten or more.
Barrier: I've heard that you were somehow involved in the early days of UPA, with Hell Bent for Election in 1944.
Jones: Yes, I directed that, on my own time.
Barrier: You never actually left Warner's, then?
Jones: Only once. When 3-D came in, we made a 3-D cartoon with Bugs Bunny, called Lumberjack Rabbit, which Johnny Burton worked out. Johnny was a very creative technical man, who could do a hell of a lot with a camera; way ahead of his time, actually. He's now with Pacific Art and Title. John figured out what you had to do to make three-dimensional cartoons. Technically, you can't make a 3-D cartoon in the usual sense. You can get characters working on different levels, but they'll remain flat. That was when Jack Warner made The Wax Museum, and he decided, I guess, that the entire world was going to wind up wearing Polaroid glasses. This was the whole future. He was a pretty brilliant man in many ways, omniscient, I guess. He decided that the animated-cartoon business was through, since it was too expensive to make three-dimensional animated cartoons, so he laid off everybody. He couldn't lay off a few of us, because we were under contract, but I didn't want to work there if none of my people were there. I called up Walt Disney and asked him if I could come over there for a while. He said, "Sure, come on over." I was there for four months.(2) I worked on Sleeping Beauty and the beginning of the television show. But I couldn't adjust to waiting for Walt ... the Disney people were raised that way, and used to it. You'd finish a sequence, and then you'd wait, maybe for weeks. Five or six men, just sitting around waiting for Walt to come around. When he did come around, he'd already been there the night before when the plant was dark and looked at the boards, and everybody knew he'd seen the sequence, but they still had to show it to him as though he hadn't. Eventually, I felt I just couldn't take it any more, so I went in and talked with Walt. He said, "Well, what do you want to do? We can work out something for you." I said, "Well, you have one job here that I want, and that's yours," because he was the only one there who could make a decision. He said, "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid it's filled." So we shook hands and I left. By that time, Warner's had decided to start up again, because 3-D hadn't completely revolutionized the world. That was the only time I left Warner's until they closed it down again in 1962.
Barrier: How much warning did you have that the Warner cartoon department would be closed down in 1962?
Jones: You could kind of smell it coming. Theaters were closing, and television was coming up, and Hanna-Barbera was doing all Saturday-morning programs. Friz and I had put together the Bugs Bunny television show for Warner's. We had produced, written and directed the thing together, the only time we really worked together. This method didn't work out too well, either, even though the product was good. It wasn't my fault or his fault, it's just that we were too independent, and had always been independent. It was obvious, with rising costs, that Warner's wasn't going to spend more than they'd been spending on shorts, and they wanted to spend less. They finally decided not to do any. They apparently weren't going to spend the money to go into new cartoons for television; in any event, they hadn't shown any evidence of wanting us to do that. So they said to hell with it and closed the place down. I guess you could feel it coming for maybe a year.
Barrier: In your interview in Psychology Today [April 1968 issue], you mentioned the disciplines you imposed on yourself, the very sparse leeway you allowed yourself on what the Road Runner and Coyote could do. Would you describe those disciplines?
Jones: The basic one, right away, was the Road Runner was a road runner, and therefore stayed on the road. You make up your own rules as you go along ... but having made them up, you must adhere to them. I think the same thing was true of Chaplin's movies, in that his costume did not vary. Marcel Marceau allows himself nothing on the stage except a couple of blocks. So, allowing it's a road runner, the first rule is that he only leaves the road when he's lured off, by the simple device of drawing a white line, or a detour, or something of this kind.
Second, the Coyote must never be injured by the Road Runner, he always injures himself. The Coyote is what all of us would like to be, a perfectionist in whatever we'd like to accomplish, and yet in the Coyote's case there's always a slight error; that's what usually happens. The Road Runner never enters into it, except perhaps coming up behind him and saying, "Beep, beep," which seems not too violent.
Third, the cartoons were set in the American Southwest desert, and although we used a lot of different styles in the pictures, in the backgrounds and such, it always had to be in that context. As we went along, the Coyote's primary enemy became not even explosions, but gravity. Since we were in an area where there are plateaus or mesas, we could give him all kinds of gravitational problems. Speed and gravity soon became basic factors in our series.
Fourth, the sympathy always had to be with the Coyote. The Coyote was never hurt or in pain, he was insulted, as most of us are when we suffer misfortune. I had my house broken into yesterday, and a couple of things were taken. I thought about it afterwards, and they didn't steal any of my drawings. Kind of a reverse insult. If they had stolen the drawings, I might have felt better ... although I had an artist friend once and his burglar carefully cut all the paintings out and stole the frames, which is even worse.
Of course, timing is very important, and I discovered that eleven gags seemed about right for a seven-minute Road Runner cartoon, except for what you might call a "cumulative" gag. I hoped when I left Warner's that I'd eventually be able to do a cartoon where you'd start at the beginning with just one gag and simply keep going, all the way.(3)
Barrier: A girl I know who's not too interested in animation referred to the Road Runner cartoons just recently as the "most sadistic" cartoons, and I've heard other criticism of the violence in cartoons. I wonder how you'd reply to such criticism?
Jones: There's no completely convincing way of replying. I think one question you might ask her is what she thinks of the James Thurber cartoon of the duelist lopping off another man's head and calling, "Touche!" Or what she thinks of the original story of the Three Little Pigs, in which the wolf, after eating the other two little pigs, actually, goes down the chimney and is boiled to death and eaten by the third little pig, which made the third pig a sort of second-degree cannibal. All the Hans Christian Andersen stories, the Laurel and Hardy comedies, early Chaplin, the very things that I think she probably would adore. I'm curious what she would think about such "violence." When I lecture at universities, I find that people usually talk about this when they're doing a term paper on motion pictures and pick out certain things that they feel are indicative of black-and-white values. Or else they're graduate students in teaching. From my viewpoint, I did what I thought was funny. Sometimes it was violent, sometimes it was not. But I can't think of any piece of human drama that isn't one of three things: it's violent, it's sexual or it's fantasy. It's pretty hard to think of anything else that's really interesting. The important point is the difference between meaningless violence and comic violence.
What I did, I always tried to do for my own sakeI never thought much about the audience, I never made pictures for audiencesbut for my own sake, I always tried to put a certain kind of logic to it. It's a natural situation for a member of the dog family to chase a member of the bird family. It's no less natural for that situation to exist than it is for this lady you refer to to eat a porterhouse steak. If she objects to violence, perhaps she'd better go to a slaughterhouse and see exactly how that steak came into being. One of the funny things on radio here is a commercial by an outfit called Farmer John's, which packages sausages and bacon. "Farmer John," they say, fattens his "porkers" (avoiding the term "pig") in the Middle West and then brings them out to the Coast alive, and then they're "processed" here. Now, "processed" means killing. Avoiding the use of the term "kill" doesn't really change the matter at all. We are carnivores, we exist on that kind of violence.
But I put down on film what seems to me to be funny, and guess that's just about the size of it. There's simply no way to justify it. I believe that childrenand many psychologists agree with thisfind this a kind of release, providing it's funny. I don't much care for the Superman things. I know kids have tried to imitate Superman, but I don't think anyone's going to try to imitate the Coyote. And they can't imitate the Road Runner.
Barrier: Do you see any line between the kind of violence you used in your cartoons and the kind of violence Hanna and Barbera used in their Tom and Jerry cartoons?
Jones: The distinction for me was that they would use a kind of personal damage. For example, Jerry might drive a golf ball right through Tom's teeth and all of Tom's teeth would break and fall out. To me, that's pretty painful. Now, the Coyote falling eight thousand feet and landing and getting up immediately, that seems to me to be a broad humor. Abraham Lincoln once told a story about an old dog who was steeping in a stump white they were dynamiting stumps to clear a field. They didn't know the dog was in there, so they blew up the stump. Lincoln said, "Poor Rover, his usefulness as a dog was about over." Translated into other terms, you could describe the bloody bits. My point is, I don't describe the bloody bits. I don't allow people to be hurt personally. But all this sounds like an apology. I don't apologize for it. I apologize when I'm not funny. Because I'm a particular kind of man, I try to do my stuff tastefully, if broadly. To me, a character like Woody Woodpecker sometimes is wrong because Woody Woodpecker is not always provoked to do mischief. Bugs Bunny is always provoked. The Road Runner is a natural road runner being chased by a natural enemy. With Tom and Jerry, it was natural for a cat to be chasing a mouse. Bugs Bunny is minding his own business, he's in a situation that's natural to a rabbit, then somebody comes along who tries to deprive him of his foot or send him off in a rocket, or take his hide away, or kill him, or do something like that, and then, "Of course, you realize this means war." I do believe in some kind of a logical, moral situation. Actually, Bugs was a counter-revolutionary, not a revolutionary at all. He didn't go out to bug people, people bugged him and then he fought back. And I think that counter- revolutionaries are a damned sight more intriguing than revolutionaries.
Barrier: The style of your cartoons that you've been describing developed rather slowly in the late Thirties and early forties. Did you make a conscious effort to develop a broader sort of humor than you had in your early cartoons, or did this just evolve naturally?
Jones: I'm not exactly sure. Certain cartoons are successful, and the results come back to you. I suppose that subconsciously you begin to apply those principles which seem to have been successful. The styles gradually evolve as you learn from one another. So I don't really know; I don't think that's really answerable. How does any artistic style evolve? I think that can better be determined by someone from the outside than by the person himself. I don't think that a Van Gogh, or a Gauguin, or a Thurber, or anyone else, could ever have identified his own style. Frankly, in my graphic works, in my drawings and paintings, people tell me I have an identifiable style, but I have no idea what it is. I think that my drawings vary tremendously, but people can identify the most diverse. After I began teaching, I began to think a good deal about style, and I believe that a person who has a style really is not aware of it. If he's aware of it, then he's imitating himself. The worst pictures at Disney's were made when they were trying to do them in the established Disney style, instead of how they felt at the time. I would say that you stop having a style when you prefer doing what's safe or what you're told to do. We quite frankly were out to make pictures that would make people laugh. My entire life has been involved with that particular idea. I never once in my life tried to make an art picture. I never tried desperately to make a picture that in itself was an advance of any kind. What I tried to do was make pictures that were funny within the certain limits of the field in which I was working. If you are making automobiles and you come up with a great idea for making a better bicycle, I don't think that you ought to stay in the automobile business. It's marvelous to make a bicycle, but I don't think you should make a bicycle and pretend you're making an automobile, and that's what's been happening out here. On the art side of the thing, the people who make these avant-garde films are not doing what is expected of them. The Saturday morning cartoons are not living up to the potential or needs of the audience.
There were two things that were essentially wrong with Saturday morning television when all that super junk was on. One of them was this super syndrome, a far worse thing for children than the violence. After all, what was Hitler? That's the super idea. This person who goes out on his never-ending fight against evil, is he some kind of god? Where does he get the right, outside the law, to protect other people? It implies that he knows what is right and wrong, and God knows, that's the worst thing a child could suppose, that right and wrong are implicit.
The other element is the eternal flat- ness and repetition, the same thing, the same actions, the same kind of stories. It's like the Chinese water torture. You can't torture a man by putting one drop of water on his forehead, you can't do it by putting ten, with a fairly normal person you can't do it with a thousand. But a million? No man can withstand it for a day, that continual drop-drop-drop. It's the sameness that kills you, and hurts children.
The thing is, it's not only that the studios are doing the same kind of work, it's the same people who are doing it. The same animator may show up at Filmation, then at Hanna-Barbera, then at DePatie-Freleng. The same man. They're going on a supposition that I believe to be completely erroneous: if you have a different drawing, you have a different character. This is ridiculous: it can't be true. Even in comic strips, it isn't true. A comic-strip artist eventually evolves certain physical characteristics for his characters, which indicate what a character is, not only by the way he's drawn but by what he does. In Peanuts there's the peculiar way Schulz draws that little curly mouth . . . his drawings look simple, but they're disarmingly simple. They're really very, very complicated, even his staging, within that little, simple area. He's kind of like Mondrian, who limited himself to parallel lines. Within that narrow area, he put a lifetime of experience. Schulz never shows a three-dimensional view of Snoopy's doghouse, for instance; you never see the front of it, you don't know what shape the door is. This was true starting with Mutt and Jeff. Mutt and Jeff always did certain things, they held up two fingers when they walked, they hit a particular pose. You can say, "A Mutt and Jeff pose," and every cartoonist knows what that is. The expressions and physical characteristics of characters like Maggie and Jiggs and the Katzenjammer Kids were what made them characters, and continue to do so. That's why many Saturday-morning cartoon characters don't translate well into comic strips, because they've never developed any physical characteristics. The Flintstones move exactly the same way Yogi Bear moves, and Yogi Bear moves exactly the same way something at Filmation moves, and so on. They have evolved a kind of shorthand, and that shorthand unfortunately can be read by anybody and can be learned by anybody in a short time.
Spicer: Isn't it the same thing with the Europeans? They have no real characters that I can see, and they all tend to look alike. They're not interested in personality.
Jones: No, usually they are not, and personality, after all, is just acting. Acting in animation is exactly the same as acting in live action, there's no difference at all. You know a Jack Benny by the way he folds his arms and looks around and says, "Well. . ." I don't have to look like Jack Benny in order to get that point across. I am Jack Benny by the very nature of my physical posture. The mimicry immediately identifies a comedian. In my opinion, a very simple rule about recognition of any character is that he can be imitated. But these characters on television, you can't imitate them. Why? Because they're all alike in action. You might be able to draw them, but you sure as hell can't imitate them. But you can imitate a Bugs Bunny, or Tom and Jerry, or Coyote, or Pepe le Pew, or Goofy, or Mickey Mouse, or Donald Duck, any of these characters, because they were identified by their body movements.
Barrier: Do you think cartoons as a medium are best suited to comedy? In recent years, they've moved away from stories and entertainment, to stating ideas. . . is that really suitable to the medium?
Jones: Sure, it's suitable. Anything is suitable for animation. I've done some science films, and some Bell Telephone sequences. I've worked in a lot of other areas of animation besides humor. Freleng and I won an Academy Award for a documentary; Friz and I wrote it and I directed it. I did many training films during the war. I've had a good bit of experience in non-humorous areas. Unfortunately, the humor tended to leak into what was intended to be serious. But it comes back to the same business, the erroneous supposition that you must destroy something in order to create something. It started with UPA; up to that time, everybody was willing to let everybody else live. You might think you made better pictures than anybody elseI never did, but other people didbut you sure as hell didn't deny the person the right to do their thing. When UPA started making pictures, their P.R. men surprisingly said, "This contradicts everything that has gone before. This does away with fuzzy little animals," as if Disney had only done fuzzy little animals. He never did fuzzy little animals, because there's no way you can make animals fuzzy in animation. His animals are cute, suresome of them are sticky. But that isn't what made Disney what he was.
Spicer: Walter Lantz has stated the theory that it's possible to have "movie stars" in animation of the realistically drawn type, accepted just like real movie stars. Do you believe that?
Jones: No, I believe animation is an extension of motion pictures, not an imitation. It should go where live action can't go. If I could train a real coyote to do what my Coyote used to do, I'd just as soon use a live coyote. But I have to go in areas where live action can't go. You have to make compromises in some cases. For instance, in The Phantom Tollbooth, we had to have a boy who looks like a boy, so we animated a boy in a kind of live-action style. . . but that s because the predominant characters could not be live.
I think realistic animation can be done, but I think it should be done the way they did it in One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The important thing about One Hundred and One Dalmatians from an animator's standpoint, and this is generally unrecognized, was the development of living characters who were not Rotoscoped. Roger was an impressive character, but he wasn't drawn like a real man, because his elbows were in the wrong place and his hands and his nose were too big and he was out of proportion. He looked more human than humans do. That's why the term "realistic" wouldn't apply to Roger, but "human" would. He was like a Peter Arno drawing of a man or a girl. He was stylized. If you'd take a Roger Price drawing or a Ralph Barton drawing or a Peter Arno drawing and animate them, I think they'd be bigger than life. Did you ever look carefully at a miniature of Michelangelo's "David"? It's an enormous statue. Big as it is, in miniature the head seems still far too big for the body; it seems all out of proportion. But when you see the real statue, it's on a pedestal, which is just about at eye level, and then you look up at the statue. From that perspective, the head diminishes to the proper proportion. Otherwise, the statue would look like a pinhead. Michelangelo was one of the most profound artists of all time, and he knew what he was doing, just as El Greco did. El Greco probably painted elongated people because his paintings were to be hung high on church walls. One of his most intricate paintings was for a niche where you could look at it only on the diagonal, on a bias, and he painted it so that at that angle of view, it seems to be in proper proportion.
I think there's absolutely no limit to what the animated cartoon should and can do. Again, because you can do one thing, that doesn't mean that you're not supposed to do another. I think that anything that anyone can conceive of for the animation medium is proper and possible. It's just as broad as that. But in any line of endeavor, when you start throwing in negativesI'm doing this, therefore something else is wrongyou're wasting your time, you're sweating over something you shouldn't even bother with. What do you care what the other man is doing? I am interested but I don't care. I'm perfectly willing for these people to do this Saturday-morning thing. However, I wouldn't want any children of mine to spend much time looking at it. As an animator, I don't think any animator should ever condemn another animator's way of making a living. But I can criticize it as an art form, and I can criticize what it does to my medium, without criticizing the man. I don't say he's wrong and I'm right; I'm saying that if I weren't an animator, in my opinion he'd still be wrong.
Spicer: What do you think is the most neglected aspect of animation today?
Jones: The most neglected aspect, and the saddest thing now, is that there are only two studios, this one and Disney's, that are utilizing the talents of full animators, journeyman animators, in the proudest sense of the term. There are some people, like Bill littlejohn, who are doing some marvelous stuff in commercials, but unfortunately, the best commercial you ever do, you don't get credit for it. The best commercial that's ever done is dead within a year of the time it's done. So it can't really become a part of the library, or the folklore, of great animation performances. It gets lost, and that's a pity.
The most dynamically tragic thing that can be said about animation today is that if you want to hire a journeyman animator today, you'll hire the same animator that you hired thirty years agonot .the same kind of animator, the same animator. The fine journeyman animators today, ninety-five per cent of them are over forty, and ninety per cent of them are over fifty. Ben Washam, next door, is fifty-two years old. Abe Levitow, my director, who was considered an enfant terrible at one time, is forty-seven or forty-eight years old. The guys at Disney's are all close to sixty. When those people go, there's not going to be anybody to replace them.
Spicer: What about the young guys who are coming along?
Jones: There are not many who are animators; they're practically everything else. Let me put it this way. If there's an acting craft, in films or on stage, there are people evolving who supply actors with the sort of material they must have in order to perform. The Albees and so on grew out of a renaissance of acting. It sort of became popular to have fine acting once again. There was a time when we were all concerned that the great actors were going to die off the way the animators are dying off. There was a corollary situation in the 1930s when everyone got preoccupied with stagecraft, and the actor was pushed into the background. It reached a kind of dramatic head when Norman Bel Geddes, I think it was, built a stage set so enormous that the people in the balcony couldn't see the players because they had run the stage out over the first thirty rows or so in this theater. There was a sudden revulsion against this sort of thing, with Orson Welles and the Mer- cury Theater, and they stripped the stages bare, and ran actors out in their street clothes to play Shakespeare. Acting came back into focus; that is, to evolve a mood simply by what the actor does and says. Well, obviously, he can't do that unless he has a vehicle to perform. So, getting laboriously back to the point whether there are young animators now, one reason there aren't young animators now is that all the animators are animating on this very thin Saturday-morning stuff. Very few of them know their own craft, just as I think that many television writers don't know their own craft. Anybody who has to turn out half-hour script every week to surviveor to survive the way he likes to survivecan't write a play of any quality in that time. Maybe you can write just one. That's what usually happens, these men will write a very good pilot, and on the basis of that pilot a series is sold, and then what happens? You have to bring in at least ten writers to finish the series, and you immediately lose control, and immediately you get off into shoddy, unimaginative performances. So, the sadness is not that my animators or the animators at Disney's are not doing what they're capable of doingthey are. The sadness is that many of the old-time animators are working only on these Saturday morning shows. It's like a violinist playing a triangle and getting paid three times what he used to make. It's a pity. I'm talking now not as an animation director, but as a person; I feel a personal loss in this.
When Hanna and Barbera were doing Tom and Jerrys, they were supposed to do ten cartoons a year, ten six- or seven- minute cartoons. They never did quite that, but let's say they did an hour in toto in a year. The two of them and a crew of seven or eight men did ten six-minute cartoons; that's what we did at Warner's. Right now, as I understand it, they have three hours of television that they have to produce every week. I don't even know how to multiply that in terms of percentages, but let's say they work forty weeks -that is one hundred and twenty hours a year, as compared to one hour before.
Spicer: But you can meet this rigorous schedule and still turn out something worthwhile, as Jay Ward did with Crusader Rabbit and Bullwinkle.
Jones: Those at least had witty dialogue. But you're not talking about animation, you're talking about illustrated radio. I agree that Jay proved that dialogue could be better, but you're talking about cartoons being better in terms of the way they sound. They also could be better visually with the same amount of money.
Barrier: You've been doing longer cartoons than you used to do; has this created new problems for you, of pacing and the like?
Jones: Yes, you do pace them a little more mildly. There's a tendency not to crowd as much material in. But even so, some people thought The Grinch was a little over-produced, although it was extremely successful. I think that was because, basically, television programs spread their material so thin. A half-hour show usually contains material enough for maybe ten minutes. It's like spreading your butter too thin, you get to the point where you almost can't taste it. I still feel that every frame has meaning. That doesn't mean you can't hold a frame for twelve exposures or more, but you must do it thoughtfully.
On The Phantom Tollbooth, fortunately, the nature of the story helped us a great deal in keeping the pace. It also saved us an enormous amount of concern in terms of the characters walking. Masterful artists, like the Disney animators in Winnie the Pooh, still have an enormous amount of trouble with walking human characters. It would seem that that would be something an animator would learn how to draw rapidly, but body mechanics are so intricate that the foreshortening of hands and arms and so on, and the techniques of getting some weight into the ground, are very difficult. It's practically impossible to do consistently well. Fortunately for us, during the entire story of The Phantom Tollbooth, the main characters ride in a small electric car. I didn't realize until we got into it how fortunate we were. Milo doesn't have to walk very much, and when he does he's usually running or falling or stumbling. But, as I say, because of the nature of the story itself, moving from place to place in an automobile, the stuff sort of naturally paces itself between sequences, growing and evolving, one into the other. The pacing isn't the same throughout; when we go into the broad comedy sequences, it becomes paced very much like an old cartoon.
Of course, I paced things like Pepe Ie Pew a great deal differently than I paced the Road Runner cartoons, not only because the material was different, but because the characters were different. Pepe, for instance, would never walk at an eight-beat (three steps to the second), he would walk at a twelve-beat (two to the second). He'd walk much more casually, and he'd stop and look at something and contemplate it, instead of going right to it. And, of course, he bounced along, to one of Carl Stalling's little themes, a sort of Sorcerer's Apprentice theme. He never increased that tempo at all, no matter what the cat was doing. Pepe would always be slower than the cat at the beginning and faster at the end; it was a tortoise-and-the-hare type of thing.
Barrier: Another of my favorite walks is the Minah Bird's, in the Inki cartoons, to the "Fingal's Cave" overture.
Jones: Those cartoons really baffled Walt Disney. They baffled me, for that matter; I just made them because I thought they were funny. I wasn't even sure I thought they were funny; they were kind of mysterious. The little Negro was probably the first one who was just a little kid; he was a Negro only because he was living in Africa, not for any other reason. He never acted like a stereotyped Negro.
But people would laugh at that damned bird, and I could never figure out why. Warner's hated it, but it went over very big in the theaters. Walt would run them for his staff, and say, "What the hell . . . why can't you guys do something like that? What is it? What's so goddamn funny about it?" If he'd brought me over, I couldn't have told him. I made five or six of them.(4) . . . they were really fourth-dimensional pictures, and I don't understand the fourth dimension.
Barrier: A great many of your cartoons, including the Inki cartoons, are in pantomime, and there seems to be less use of voices in your cartoons than in Freleng's or McKimson's. Did this give you a special kind of freedom? Was there any special reason you decided to do so many cartoons this way?
Jones: I think that I realized I was working in a graphic field, with drawing the basic tool. To me, drawing is animation, in a new sense, a consecutive sense. The individual drawing is not very important, it's the flurry of drawings that counts. It requires a whole new drawing style. That's why the best directors, the ones that have been most successful, have come out of animation, and the best layout men, and there are very few of them. I would say Hawley Pratt is one of the very best layout men, he was not an animator, but he's always worked with Friz, who was a good one. Because he was never an animator, some animators fight Hawley's fine drawings a lot more than they fight mine. Friz roughs his layouts and then Hawley works them over. Friz, as a former animator, tends to body positions that will work in animation. Joe Barbera was a fine animator, and he's a fine layout man and director, too. But for me, it is a little more than that, it is also the feeling that I am just lucky enough to be working in something that gives me the kind of expression that is not available to everybody else. I like to throw in a lot of drawings myself. I guess it is just like a person who paints because he enjoys painting, I feel that the best way to express myself in animation is to accomplish as much as I can without dialogue. Otherwise, I may tend to lean on dialogue.
Barrier: Do you feel a special kinship with the silent comedians, who worked in pantomime?
Jones: I owe an enormous debt to all of the great ones, and even to some who are not. great. As a matter of fact, I've seen some old Buster Keaton films recently that I hadn't seen before, and I've seen things which wereI think I've used this term beforeretroactive plagiarism. I stole from them without really knowing it. I obviously had seen the films when I was a kid, and used things I'd seenguys running away into the distance, then explosions in the distance; funny little hops. Some of them have been conscious; I used those hopping corner turns, those jumps up into the air, which the Keystone Kops used, and which to me are funny and well worth utilizing.
I was raised around those men. I lived in Ocean Park during the time when most of the Mack Sennett stuff was being shot, when I was a little boy, and I played in some of those pictures almost inadvertantly, because that's how they got crowd scenes, taking whoever was around. They didn't pay you, they'd just say, "You wanta be in the picture, kid? Don't look at the camera." So you'd walk into the mob and be part of it.
I know that those comedians did not think of themselves as profound. That's another thing that hits me about your lady friend, is that she probably adores these early comedians, and goes on the supposition that these filmmakers and actors were philosophers. They weren't, they were artists. The difference is so profound that you can hardly talk about them the same way. A philosopher postulates, and hopes that somebody will act according to his postulation, but the artist performs, and then somebody comes along and postulates about that. To me, the artist who postulates stops being an artist while he's postulating. He'd do better spending his time drawing. I get very tired of people who can draw and don't, who prefer to talk about it. Many of them are brilliant-they understand everything that's happening in the business. The only trouble is, they're not doing it.
Barrier: You don't use dialogue much, but you seem to place a lot of importance on music, especially in cartoons like Rabbit of Seville (1951) and What's Opera, Doc? (1957), in which you use classical music.
Jones: What's Opera, Doc? is one many Europeans adore. They call that my "masterpiece," which it may or may not be; I didn't think about it at the time. It was very difficult to do; one hundred and four cuts in six minutes. But there again, every frame counted.
Barrier: Since you've built cartoons around music, is there any particular approach you've employed in doing this?
Jones: No, I don't think so. I usually would go over the thing more or less for pace, with the musicians, before the picture started. In the Road Runner cartoons, I developed almost a concerto style; I don't know why, I'm not that much of a musician. It had a definite form to it, but I couldn't tell you exactly what that form was, except that it tended to have variables and it tended to grow . . . now I'm doing very much what I said the other people were doing, talking too much about it. I feel that no element of a cartoonor a stage play or motion picture, for that mattershould stand out as an individual element. If anybody says, "That's great cutting," it's bad cutting. You should never be aware of cutting; you should be aware of the effect of it. If someone's in a stairwell looking up, it's perfectly natural for the camera to look up, too. It's even natural for the camera to have an opinion, in the sense of emphasizing a story point. If you're waiting for a telephone to ring, and it rings, you immediately cut to the telephone.
Spicer: You satirized the angle shots, the High Noon sort of cutting, in a Western with Porky and Daffy [Drip-along Daffy (1951)].
Jones: That was on purpose, absolutely. I had a lot of fun with that. I wanted the audience to think I was kidding the Western, and I wanted every shot that could possibly be put in there. Actually, I would think it would be very tricky to shoot a great Western. The trick would be, you'd have to put the stock stuff in, but you mustn't do it in a way that will offend anybody by using exactly the same shots that they're so familiar with. That's why Stagecoach was so great. One of the things that made Stagecoach so interesting, and kept you from worrying about so many of the shots, was that John Wayne carried a rifle, he didn't carry a six-gun. You don't know what the hell is going to happen, because it's so contrary to everything you've seen before. In High Noon, an emotional situation had been set up, so that the angle shots and other things didn't bother you. Cooper's reactions were natural; it's the way I would have felt. And yet all the townspeople's reasons for not helping him were also natural. It was a hell of a fine picture.
Barrier: Color seems to be less important in the Warner cartoons than in the early Disneys and the MGMs . . . did you pay much attention to color, or was this secondary to you?
Jones: Well, What's Opera, Doc? was really a tour de force in color. . . a "tour de farce," if you prefer.
Barrier: Yes, color's important there, but it seems less important in a lot of earlier cartoons.
Jones: Some of that is a little disarming. We used it quite extensively but in a very, very narrow palette on the Road Runners. Because there we were working with space, and you couldn't have clutter. In my opinion, the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons were cluttered in background treatment, and kind of old hat, even then. It seemed to work all right with their pictures, but it sure as hell didn't add anything. I think every one of our picturesmy pictures, especially, because I had Maurice Noblewas experimental. But I wouldn't say there was anything distinctive about the backgrounds of my early pictures. We had a background department at that time, rather than a background man working with each unit. They painted everybody's backgrounds and so all the. pictures' backgrounds tended to look alike. They were all pretty bad; their basic color was something we used to call "diaper-brindle."
But Maurice always experimented. In an outer space thing [Hareway to the Stars (1958)] we just built a kind of little transparent city, suspended in space, rather than a planet. That was Maurice's idea, to use those hunks of what looked like transparent plastic. We always tried something new, but it always had to work relative to the business. I didn't want the audience to be conscious that we were doing any fancy experimenting.
[Posted May 2003; corrected version posted December 14, 2003]