Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Chicken Coop of Crushing Pain

Shake-takes fell out of favour at Hanna-Barbera fairly quickly, and I don’t know why. You find them sprinkled throughout the first season of The Huckleberry Hound Show and only rarely after that. Maybe it had to do with the arrival of Mike Maltese, Warren Foster and Alex Lovy at the studio; stories got an awful lot more talky after that. Or maybe the takes were deemed too old-fashioned or clichéd.

Carlo Vinci and Mike Lah were masters of these kinds of takes. Carlo wasn’t far removed from a 20-year career at Terrytoons and sometimes his artwork looks like it would fit in a Mighty Mouse cartoon with its thick ink-lines and unusual proportions. But he came up with some fun drawings.

Here’s a Carlo take from “Cock-a-Doodle Huck.” A fox reaches into a chicken coop to grab a chicken. Instead, farmer Huck bashes his hand (paw?) with a hammer. The fox reacts in pain.

Here are the anticipation drawings.

Then, the fox stretches in pain. Carlo re-uses some of the drawings, but they’re not in a cycle. They’re exposed on twos.

And then the take ends.

Within a couple of years, a take in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon consisted of barely stretching the eyes into a large oval and opening the mouth. It’s like the cartoons regressed back to the mid-‘30s. Imagine how much funnier the later H-B cartoons would have been if animal characters had similar types of takes as the one above.

Here’s a look at Carlo’s animation slowed down (though not all that well). Unfortunately, you have to put up with the jerky sound; I couldn’t mute it when making this clip.


  1. To me, it seemed as though Bill & Joe suffered from the same problem Seymour Knietel suffered from a decade earlier at Famous Studios, where he would tone down the wildness of Jim Tyer's animation. He wanted Famous to have smooth, good looking animation over Tyer's jerkier -- but funnier -- off-model style.

    Here, it looks as if being an unproven product in 1958, Hanna-Barbera allowed some creative animation shortcuts, which included shake-takes and sudden drastic head/body movements that also were used for sudden reactions. Come 1959-60, with the success of Season 1 of Huck's show and the expansion of cash inflow, the animation gets smoother, and the takes less wild (which, as you noted, might also be due in part to the studio having more confidence in the better writing from the Warners' vets being able to carry the story). In any case, by the time we get to 1961, any sort of visual humor from sudden reactions has been completely squeezed out of the animation, where -- like Famous by the end of the 1940s -- the humor has to come completely from the story and dialogue, with the drawings just tagging along for the ride.

  2. This fox is also notable for having two very separate and distinct voices in the SAME cartoon – both of which would become associated with better-known H-B characters!

    His first line is delivered in the “Fibber Fox voice” and, for the balance of the cartoon, he speaks as Hokey Wolf.

  3. Joe, I can't help but wonder if Joe Barbera wasn't happy with Daws' read (or the recording) and simply had him come back and re-cut the dialogue. I can't think of another reasonable explanation for the change in voice but I don't know the answer.
    J.L., it's tough to speculate on the reason or reasons behind the blanding of the studio's animation. I keep thinking of Jerry Eisenberg's comment that Alex Lovy came up with funny storyboard drawings for Wally Gator but they were toned down to match the model sheets.

  4. Yowp -- There are probably multiple little reasons for the change/decline -- staying as close to the model sheets as possible might also have been considered better in order to standardize marketing designs of the characters. But you also notice it in The Flintstones as well -- the first season's drawings are rough and sometimes off-model, but they squeeze a lot more comedy out of the limited animation. By the time we get to Season 3 in 1962, the 'look' of the characters is down pat, but the comedy we're getting out of the animation (as opposed to either funny dialogue or a clever plot line) is fading fast.