Friday, April 08, 2011

Bob Cannon, Animator vs. Bob Cannon, Director

I love Bob Cannon's animation, particularly the few cartoons he worked on with Tex Avery and the Fox and Crow UPA shorts. It's quite loose and energetic. His work under Chuck Jones is great, "The Dover Boys" being my favorite. Though it's interesting that as a director the animation is more conservative and organized. I suppose that the emphasis placed on design at UPA was in part to blame. I'm not knocking his UPA shorts, I'm quite fond of them. Well, most of them. "The Oompahs" is boring as hell. Here's a some clips to compare.

Bob Cannon Animator

Bob Cannon Director


Steven M. said...

I guess it's safe to say that Bob Cannon should of stayed as an animator.

Kevin Langley said...

From Thad - "I have nothing against what UPA tried to do, and I'm as big a fan of the few years Hubley ran the place as any studio. Rooty Toot Toot is better than whole studios' outputs, certain Magoos are absolutely sublime, and Wonder Gloves is just pure eye candy. But things like Madeline and Christopher Crumpet are crimes against humanity and entertainment, plain and simple. The Tell-Tale Heart is also quite possibly one of the most baffling disasters ever caught on film. How can you take four absolutely great elements (the design work of Paul Julian, the animation of Pat Matthews, James Mason, and Poe) and turn out something so horrifyingly boring?

This is truly where the emphasis on design over everything else began that's plagued the industry forever, and UPA certainly deserves the blame for that. When I voiced this opinion years ago, I was told to blame the imitators rather than the originators, but as the clips show, the original was pretty bad in its own right."

Kevin Langley said...

Sorry Thad, I accidentally hit the delete link in the notification email. I'm a bit of a spaz sometimes.

I absolutely love the first few years of UPA's output. Cannon's cartoons included. "Fuddy Duddy Buddy" is probably my favorite Magoo. Even if he's not quite as cranky as in the prior ones. I would say Hubley's cartoons are the strongest. There's still strong animation to go with the stylized designs, where as later shorts rely almost exclusively on design.

"The Coal Miner's Daughter" featured some nice animation but again the story wasn't centered around children so there wasn't as much a need to make everything so cutesy.

Mike Pelensky said...

Hey Kevin! What was the name of the Fox and Crow cartoon where they play as "Lips Fox and His Hot One"?

Cool article, by the way. Bob's animation could be pretty wild, and he came up with clever ways to get from pose A to pose B, but even the scenes in "Wags to Riches" has a graphic quality to them. I figure he was pushing himself in a more conservative direction even when he was doing wacky stuff.

Kevin Langley said...

Mike, the cartoon is "The Magic Fluke". It's a good cartoon and predates Tex Avery's "Magical Maestro" by a few years.

Magic Fluke

You're right, Cannon did have interesting ways of getting to poses. He does some crazy shit with feet.

Yowp said...

Kevin, did Cannon come down with some kind of McKimson disease which manifested itself in "calming" everything down? Or did he get caught up in artistic pretention? Everyone lauds his work at Warners and MGM but he seems to be completely dismissing it as his tenure wore on as a director at UPA.

Fernando Ferreira Garróz said...

Hi Kevin! I live in Brazil and I'm a big fan of your blog, especially because of the UPA's cartoons that sometimes you post. I'm a graphic designer and a researcher of the relations between cinema and graphic design. Because of that, of course I'm an UPA fan. I think that are some misunderstandings about the work of the studio. UPA's aim was to update animation's graphic language, following the modern look (inspired in the cubism, futurism, surrealism and on) that was present in graphic design at that time (end of 1940s and through 1950s). To truly appreciate UPA shorts, we have to see then as design in movement. The aim of Madeline was to move the drawings of the book, creating movements that are integrated with (or are extensions of) the design. From the animator's point of view, it could be seen as too simple, but seen as a crossover between cinema and graphic design, it's perfect. The same could be said about "The tell tale heart". For me it's the best adaptation from Poe's work, but it have to be seen as an audiovisual work, not as an animation piece. Animation is only a part of this film, along with voice, music, design. It's an impressionist film, with suggestions to the senses. I can understand your point of view, because it came from the animator’s side. By the way, I’m a great admirer of Bobe Cannon’s work in animation, in all fields – as a director and animator – and the clips you posted are great! But please, post “Little boy with a big horn” and “The oompahs” entirely, and let’s discuss about them! And if you have, post “Fudget Budget” and others from UPA on your blog. What about “Emperor’s new clothes”? They will be very welcomed by UPA’s buffs!

J Lee said...

If you look at the path Canon's assignments as an animator took in 1939-41 at Warner Brothers -- from the Clampett unit to the Avery unit to the Jones unit -- it appears that even then Bob preferred to work in the service of a director who was less gag-oriented an more interested in a more Disneyesque "cuter" type of personality animation. So Jones' gradual development into more and more of a gag-oriented direction in the early and mid-1940s may have been a great moment for most cartoon fans, but went against the sensibilities of Canon, whose story lines post-Gerald McBoing Boing really moved towards the kind of stuff Jones was doing in the late 30s and early 40s (Canon's departure from the studio pretty much coincides with Michael Maltese's arrival as full-time writer for Jones, when his cartoons really started to pick up the pace).

As good as his animation was in his third go-around with the Avery unit, in the late 40s at MGM, his later UPA story choices showed kissing cows or blowing up bulldogs wasn't what Bob really wanted to do. And at the same time as his stories reverted back to the tone of Jones' gentle early cartoons, the growing emphasis on graphic design over personality animation meant what little touches there were in Canon's shorts had more to do with the layout and camera work than anything actually in the animation At least Chuck's stuff with Sniffles, Inki and or Conrad Cat that Bob worked on had that going for them.

Kevin Langley said...

Hi Fernando. I'll post some more UPA shorts in the future, some that I like and some that I'm not too fond of. I appreciate what UPA was doing with design, but for me some of the films just lose my interest. "The Oompahs" being the perfect example. At the same time I love some of the simplicity in the animation, like some of the walks in Christopher Crumpet.

Kevin Langley said...

@Yowp - It seems odd that someone that would use smears and distortion so regularly as an animator would be so neat and tidy as a director.

Will Finn said...

Hi Kevin, I've always wondered about the "two" Bobe Cannons. A checker I worked with at Filmation in the 80's had been at UPA and she said when Cannon was directing at UPA he was absolutely committed to limiting movement to a near minimum. Nil if possible. It's very odd for someone whose animation was so fluid...TO DUCK OR NOT TO DUCK has some of my favorite animation of that period.

Unknown said...

Hey Kevin.

Regarding your post, you bring up an interesting debate here. Bobe was certainly one of the best animators in the business. I'm particularly fond of his work from the Avery and early UPA years.

I'll also agree with you that Cannon's work on "The Dover Boys" was wonderful, wonderful stuff. I think he may have revolutionized the way cartoons were animated thanks to the smear technique. I'm not sure if he invented it, but he sure utilized the hell out of it in his Jones years.

His Avery works are really fun to watch and look at. Cannon's expressions and movements were loose, wild, energetic, and all around fun. Then again, this is coming from Tex Avery's unit, so what else would ya expect? Cannon was a perfect fit over there.

His UPA animation work seems to be similar to Avery's: it's still loose and fun, yet it's more stylized than what he did at Avery. It's kind of funny how he seemed to blend in at UPA as an animator. Didn't Pat Matthews also work there at that time or was he still at Lantz's? They seem to have a very similar, loose style of animation.

Like you, I'm staring to like his early directing efforts. I noticed that Cannon as a director had a little bit more conserved movements versus what he did a few years earlier prior. I did love the Gerald McBoing Boing shorts and I actually just saw MAdeline today. I never saw The Oompas, but I'm not sure I want to now.

This likely was because of UPA's influence and emphasis on having a defined style like Disney. It's kind of like if you compare Disney artists to the classical painters, then UPA would have been like Picasso. Now I'm just rambling! XD

Anyway, great post as always. I also would like to ask if you wouldn't mind posting the full cartoon "Robin Hoodlum" again in the future. I think it would coincide well with this one.