Friday, 23 March 2012

Beep Beep Backgrounds

Bob Gribbroek’s scenic layouts in the Roadrunner cartoons of the early ‘50s weren’t as abstract as Maurice Noble’s in the later part of the decade. They certainly weren’t landscape art of New Mexico, like he painted on the side, but were representational enough to be an effective stage for the cartoons.

Here are some examples from “Beep, Beep,” released by Warners in 1951.

The best-known background drawing in this cartoon isn’t of a desert. It a video-gamish tunnel system in an underground coal mine. The Roadrunner and Coyote are different coloured dots that race through the passages.

And, being a Warners cartoon, there has to be an inside reference. Animator Ken Harris is in the soup business.

The backgrounds were expertly painted by Phil DeGuard.


  1. Gribbroek crafted quality with every setting he touched ... city, desert, mountain forest, museum, Tasmanian jungle. Yet his discretion was such that characters seldom got lost against his designs (when someone did, as in "Aqua Duck," others intended the character to be lost).

  2. The other thing to note is how Jones used Gribbroek's natural bridge background as a key part of the penultimate gag in the cartoon. Later layouts by Maurice Noble and even Ernie Nordli would factor into some of the speed gags in redirecting the coyote, but the drawing here created a beautiful (and unexpected) loop and redirecting of Wile E. skyward that wouldn't have worked nearly as well if the backgrounds had been more abstract and less connected to a real desert setting.

  3. Jim-Yowp-Tralfaz ad infinitum ;)

    The REAL setting of the Coyote and Roadrunners is not New Mexico, it IS Arizona...

    Don't believe me?!? The top background painting is what this Turtle sees just outside out his glass door every morning... it's Squaw Peak in Phoenix!! The shape is too singular to be anything else (even though slightly stylized). However in 1950 when "Beep Beep" was made Squaw Peak was several miles outside the city limits, I'm not kidding.

    The actual position of Gribbroek's easel (or camera) would appear to be at the (then barely paved and narrow) 24th St. intersection at Camelback Rd. or possibly Missouri (which was a dirt road then). BUT Gribbroek has "streamlined" out the massive amount of farming (and handful of homes) just in front of him to the left, to the right was still desert then, and he's restored it to its look of 1881 (before the Arizona Canal made it all irrigatable and prime farm and ranch land). This shot is virtually and "in-gag" to anybody who ever came to Phoenix back then OR stayed at the ritzy Arizona Biltmore, which would be offscreen to the center of the painting!

    The fourth still is a version of Monument Valley on the Navajo reservation. The massive canyon looks like it is "inspired" by the Grand Canyon.

    Final clue... ANYTIME you see a Saguaro Cactus in a cartoon then you're looking at Arizona, as it's the ONLY U.S. state where they grow in abundance (yeah I know there's one TEENY part of California but that's miniscule in comparison). The signs are in English and there are Saguaros then it's Arizona!

    1. Laughing... Who put all those typos in my post? ;) Darned Turtles!

  4. The one with the "arch" in it is actually Rainbow Bridge National Monument on Lake Powell in AZ. I used to work there as a Park Ranger, I'd recognize it anywhere (even though he had a little bit of fun with the foreground).

  5. Noble's backgrounds may be abstract, but not arbitrary. H grew up in New Mexico and southern California. The desert backgrounds were exaggerations of what he saw. Each time, it would get ore exaggerated.