Saturday 23 May 2020

Disney Vs Warners

The famous Dean of Animation, Eddie Selzer, gave newspaper readers in 1952 an idea of how his staff put together a Warner Bros. cartoon.

OK, Eddie was not a dean, or even an artist. He was a company functionary handed the job of overseeing the cartoon studio after the Warners bought it from Leon Schlesinger in 1944. But he provides a pretty good description in this syndicated feature found in the Nashville Tennessean of February 24, 1952.

For good measure, the unidentified writer chatted with someone over at Disney to be able to point out the differences between the two operations.

Several comments by Selzer are interesting. One involves the “skunk” dialogue by Bugs Bunny. The closest I can think of this being said is in the 1953 short Duck! Rabbit! Duck! where Bugs calls Daffy “a dirty skunk.” The dialogue change he refers to later in the story is from the 1949 Bugs cartoon Rebel Rabbit, directed by Bob McKimson. I admit I am stumped about Foghorn Leghorn and the Brooklyn Bridge. And the comments about everyone keeping Bugs’ character were echoed elsewhere in interviews (this is off the top of my head) by both McKimson and Friz Freleng, as Chuck Jones tended to go off on flights of fancy.

These poorly photocopied publicity photos accompanied the story.

Stars That Make You Giggle and Roar Work Long, Tedious Hours Without Receiving a Cent
HOLLYWOOD—Some of the most popular stars hero are never paid a red cent.
They are, of course, the cartoon characters who have become so famous over the years. These pencil personalities—Snow White, Bugs Bunny, Cinderella and Donald Duck—have made movie audiences weep, giggle and roar as genuinely as do the flesh-and-blood stars of stage and screen.
Since they are mythical, Hollywood citizens never get to see them except on the screen, but a tour of Warner Bros. cartoon studio brought them to life as surely as if they breathed 16 lungfuls of California air every 60 seconds.
There are two representative companies here who produce cartoon movies. They are the Warner company in Hollywood and Walt Disney Productions in Burbank. Each has its own special family of characters and types of productions. Warner Bros. studio makes 30 animated cartoons of seven-minute length each year, and the Disney company, in addition to producing several short comedies, makes full-length features.
Both companies use the same basic method of production, and it requires only five words to describe the method: Hard work and good taste.
Cartoon production is the exact reverse of actual movie production—the cartoons are fitted to the sound effects.
The tour of Warner Bros. cartoon studio, with Edward Selzer, president, acting as guide explained how this is done.
Uses Jam Session
“I believe in jam sessions,” Selzer said. “If any man in this outfit gets a hot story idea, we let him draw up his idea and show it to us. We all pitch into it and decide where it can be improved and whether, as a whole, it has possibilities.”
It is on this story, or "premise" session, that the cartoon depends. The creator introduces his story with simple sketches in continuity. These, with caption text, are arranged on large boards, approximately five by eight feet, called the “story boards.”
After the story board has been approved, changed, improved and given the go-ahead, it is turned over to a director who guides each phase of the production. Then the musicians, layout men, background artists and animators are called in to integrate their various assignments.
In both the Disney and Warner studios, music and dialogue are recorded first. The animation directors study and analyze and break down the sound elements into the number of film frames that will be required pictorially.
For example, says Selzer, it takes about 48 drawings for Bugs Bunny to say: “You are a skunk.” In this particular statement, now under production in the studio, the artists let Bugs' body remain still, and provided animation in the 48 drawings for his mouth and jaws only. This saves a lot of work.
Music and dialogue and sound effects are run over and over on a small sound projector for timing and accent so that the picture and the music and the dialogue come out exactly synchronized. The animator has complete control of his drawings—his actors, as they are in the cartoon medium—at all times, frame by frame. The control is maintained by the cutting department, which prepares the work sheet or chart which shows in terms of film the length of words, the intervals between words, the vowel and consonant sounds, accents, inhalations and out-breathing. These work sheets look something like this:
Y—3 frames
O—3 frames
U—3 frames
(Pause here—3 frames)
A—7 frames
R—6 frames
E—4 flames
(Pause here—3 frames)
A—4 frames
(Pause here—3 frames)
S—3 frames
K—1 frame
U—1 frame
N—1 frame
K—3 frames
The many frames for “You Are” are required because Bugs is forming with words with precision and to make the statement sound nastier. The word “skunk” requires less frames because there is little mouth movement in it.
Same Pattern Applies
The same pattern applies to general sound effects, as, for instance, a clap of thunder or the song of the bird of the fall of a tree.
Key animators have assistants who work under and with them in completing any series of drawings. The animators draw the highspots of the action or character gestures. The assistants follow through along the course indicated by the top animators, and then the remaining drawings required for smooth progression are done by men and women called "in-betweeners" because they supply the drawings in between the key action drawings.

The animators work on an illuminated drawing board. This is done so that after one drawing has been completed, a second piece of transparent paper can be placed on top of it and the new drawing varied just enough to make the movement smooth and natural looking.
When the drawings have been tested for animation, they are sent to the inking and painting department, where trained girls transfer the drawings to sheets of transparent celluloid and outline the characters with pen and ink in such a skillful manner that they lose none of the charm of the original drawings. Other girls apply the chosen colors of paint to the reverse side of the celluloids so that the inked outlines will show.
After the celluloids are finished they are sent to the camera department, where each is placed over the correct background and photographed.
The backgrounds are another phase which requires much painstaking labor and thought. By way of simple exclamation, if Farmer Brown is supposed to chase Foghorn Leghorn across Brooklyn bridge, then the background man simply draws Brooklyn bridge, and slides it under brown and the rooster while the photographer takes animated pictures of them.
From here on out it is the same as movie production. The film is previewed and sometimes undergoes further editing.
At present the Disney studio, with its hundreds of artists and technicians, is concentrating its creative labors on the elaborate forthcoming production “Peter Pan.” This full-length feature needs no flowery description, since movie fans throughout the country have already recognized Disney’s excellent technique through other features—"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Cinderella," and "Alice in Wonderland."
"Peter Pan," adapted from Sir James M. Barrie’s famous fantasy of the boy who never grew up, and his astonishing adventures with the Darling family, moves swiftly in its various excitements and wonders. It will reach the screen in at least 200,000 separate drawings especially painted for the technicolor cameras. This is the amazing factor of animated cartoons. Often the number of drawings a key animator does in a week's time will zip through the theater projector in 10 to 15 seconds. "Peter Pan," when it is released in 1953, will have been in production three years.
Selzer likes to discuss his cartoon personalities, and speaks of Bugs Bunny as a veteran of the screen whose character is so well established that it requires many sessions of the story men and directors to see that this character does not go astray.
He recalls with a chuckle one cartoon in which Bugs visited Washington to see why the government offered many dollars in bounty for wolves, coyotes and foxes, but only a few cents for rabbits. Bugs was insulted.
“Bugs is a guy who is cheerful and resourceful and a menace to the "wittle hunter who hunts wabbits,” he declares, “but you’ll notice he only plays his dirty tricks in self-defense. In this particular story he was originally supposed to kick a Washington cop, and tell him to make a note that Bugs Bunny had been there. He was also to slap the secretary of the interior a couple of times, and throw ink in his face. We changed the cop to a chauffeur, and we toned it down so that he only flipped ink from a pen in the secretary's face.”
But there is one trick of Bugs that has become his stock in trade. It occurs when the cop grabs him by the leg, or the hunter pokes a gun in his face, or the bear raises a club over his head, and Bugs, needing time to think, looks up angelically and asks—
“What's up, Doc?”


  1. Nice to see a story from the early 50s that takes the Warners efforts seriously -- by '52 in the area of theatrical cartoon coverage, if Disney wasn't getting the attention for its latest animated feature, the focus was on UPA and it's groundbreaking design work, where Warners and the other studios were afterthoughts.

    (I think Mike Maltese may also have mentioned something about remaining aware of keeping the crazy in the characters, as part of trying to keep Chuck from getting too intellectual for his own good. "Rabbit's Feat", the last Bugs effort Mike apparently worked on with Jones before departing, is sort of like Friz's "Rabbit Every Monday" from a decade earlier in having Bugs do some crazy stuff outside of the required story narrative, so even Chuck's unit was likely aware of when they were 'losing' who Bugs was.)

  2. In that publicity drawing, Bugs looks to be bamboozling the Selz with his patented glad-handing fast-talking bum's-rush routine, and is about to lead him into a stove, cannon, or over a cliff.

  3. Warner and Disney were both in Burbank, by the way. I recall seeing the photo of Ken Harris drawing Bugs in "Of Mice and Magic."
    I probably asked this before: was Eddie Selzer related to the fashion designer/critic Mr. Blackwell (born Richard Selzer), who was a go-fer on the Warner lot in the '40s?

  4. Re one of the last paras, I think Bugs actually does do something to a cop -- bangs his shins with a nightstick, rather than kicking him. Might have been a Hays Office/Production Code thing, re respect for the law. And maybe they changed things from the Interior Secretary to the Game Commissioner ("Okay, I'm game!). Which might have been very interesting politics just a short time before, when Harold Ickes was still Secretary.

  5. Hans Christian Brando25 May 2020 at 18:26

    According to most animation books, the Warner Bros. cartoon staff would have loved to call Mr. Selzer a dirty skunk.