Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Rabbit Transit Smears

“Ptoo!” I say to people who don’t like the three Bugs Bunny-Cecil Turtle cartoons because there’s supposedly some kind of “rule” that “Bugs has to win all the time.” Given the context of the story, people shouldn’t expect Bugs to win because the hare didn’t in the fable the cartoons use as a starting point.

All three have much to enjoy. The final one, “Rabbit Transit” (released in 1947), has some wonderful acting by animator Virgil Ross in the opening scene; watch how he moves Bugs’ body and fingers. And Virgil tosses in some of his smear animation. Here are three frames from later in the cartoon.

Who better to comment on this kind of effect than animator Greg Duffell? He wrote on Facebook:
Virgil Ross (who animated the scene displayed) did similar transition effects in this general period. I gather they are based on examples starting in THE DOVER BOYS. There is a formula to how Virgil did these. The effect usually takes 3 frames. Frame 1 is a slight stretching out of the first key, frame 2 is much like the example provided here which is basically a full stretching from between the start and destination pose, and frame 3 is a slight stretching out of the destination frame 4. Each drawing is photographed for one frame each. This technique was largely abandoned by all units by 1950. LONG HAIRED HARE uses this technique for the conducting sequence, to particularly good effect.
Here are a few more smear frames.

The scene toward the end when the angry Bugs is trying to get at the turtle has some great poses, too. I’ll get to that in a future post.


  1. These sort of smears were often used by the brilliant Mike Kazaleh when animating our Pebbles cereal spots. Not only do they add an almost-imperceptible touch of wildly abstract hilarity, we had so little room for all of the gags and selling in those 30-second spots, we needed every cheats we could use.

  2. I am remiss for not having seen this third Bugs-Cecil cartoon! I'm as shocked as when I discovered the third Beaky Buzzard cartoon 'Hold the Lion Please'.

    I'm also with you about sticklers for the 'Bugs has to win' rule. Claiming a cartoon HAS to follow certain story points every outing, is a guarantee of staleness.

    Oh and thanks for the smears!

  3. Way, way back in the early days of the TTTP, I did a list of cartoons where Bugs loses. It's far longer than most people think -- and in fact for the first year after Avery's seminal Bugs cartoon, he loses more times than he wins at the iris out, because the staff still couldn't believe they could get away with such a cocky character coming out on top at the finish.

    It took a while to figure out the various formulas where the rabbit could suffer in-cartoon defeats or have strong enough opponents which would justify him winning at the finish, and even then, having Bugs lose some way or another at the finish remained part of the studio's options from 1941 ("Tortoise Beats Hare") to 1964 ("Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare").

    As for "Rabbit Transit" it normally gets less love than the earlier Avery and Clampett cartoons, but to me, the Maltese-Pierce story here is the one that features the fully fleshed-out Bugs who gives almost as much as he gets in this short, as opposed to the perpetually perplexed bunny in the first two Cecil Turtle run-ins. The shock/frustration/elation takes aren't as extreme, but you'd figure by the third time around, Bugs would come into the race a little more self-aware.

    1. It's true Bugs loses a lot more than people think. Heck, he technically loses in his most famous short, "What's Opera Doc?" But in "Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare", nobody really won. Both Taz and Bugs got beaten up by the Frankenstein monster (did I really just type that?)

  4. I'm glad to see SOMEONE who also likes "Rabbit Transit"! I find it to be a heck of a lot more funny than most people give it credit for.
    As for the others, I'm not too fond of "Tortoise Beats Hare" (neither are a lot of historians), and while I do feel sorry for Bugs in "Tortoise Wins By a Hare", it still remains another Clampett masterpiece, especially the famous Scribner scene ("I've got ath-a-lete's physique! I've even got ath-a-lete's FOOT!")