Saturday 2 May 2020

The Test of Leon Schlesinger

“I’ll try you on one cartoon,” Leon Schlesinger told Tex Avery, who was bumming around looking for a job after Walter Lantz let him go. And in 1936, that seems to have been Leon’s policy, confirmed by an article that appeared in various newspapers about that time. (Film Daily announced in January a new Avery unit had been formed, then reported in August that Schlesinger had signed Frank Tashlin after he directed Porky’s Poultry Plant).

There’s no byline attached to this story, so its source is unknown. This version appeared in the Hackensack Record of July 8, 1935. “J. Patton King” is a fancy way of saying “Jack King,” the former and later Disney man. Riley Thompson was an animator who received some ‘30s screen credits. Ralph Wolf wasn’t credited at Schlesinger’s but his name was later purloined by Chuck Jones at Warners in the 1950s for a Wile E. Coyote lookalike who failed to capture sheep. Considering Leon’s background was vaudeville promotions and theatre management, it’s not surprising he can’t explain some aspects of film production.

Read This And Decide To Do Something Else

When young men go West (West being Hollywood to ambitious youth), they do one of three things: Try to break into the movies as actors, peddle their stories from studio to studio or attempt to sell their talents as animators.
This is about the latter group—those young men who have graduated from art schools or newspaper art departments and who are confident that they can draw animals and insects for the movie cartoons.
Once it was the ambition of those possessed of artistic talent to head for New York and there sell a newspaper comic strip to a syndicate.
Now the story is reversed. J. Patton King, Ralph Wolf and Riley Thompson, to name but a few, gave up drawing comic strips for a New York syndicate to accept flattering offers of Leon Schlesinger, producer of "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies", cartoon films.
But how is one to get into the animated cartoon business? Cartoonists would like to know.
Schlesinger hired his 60 animators via a test route. Strange as it may seem, cartoons photograph as differently as movie stars. Not even Schlesinger can explain the reason, but such is the case.
Before hiring an artist, he demands a test cartoon. This is photographed on movie film, the same as those of the employed artist. Later it is projected on the screen. If the cartoon photographs "well", Schlesinger considers the artist as a prospective employee.
To be one of the pen and ink creators of "Merrie Melodies" and "Looney Tunes", the artist must be more than a cartoonist. He must know, first of all, animation. That is, he must be able to draw 16 or more cartoons for each movement—of a character. This means that the cartoonist must know anatomy—how the foot moves, how the knee bends, how the hands move and similar anatomical technicalities.
It is not to wonder at then why so many top notch cartoonists have failed to make the grade in Hollywood.
Adding another boulder in the path of the would-be movie cartoonist, music plays an important role in drawing cartoons for the movies. Before the animator is a large sheet, divided into musical beats, which, when translated into terms of music, represents the musical score of the picture. Keeping in mind the beats, the animator finds just what the figure in the film must do, and in what sequence.
The cartoonist must never vary from these orders because the music for the film already has been recorded. In other words, the animator must draw his characters to fit the music.
Those who would be movie cartoon animators should not attempt to enter the business if they have the least tendency of becoming bored. It takes between 10,000 and 12,000 individual cartoons for one film. It takes 12 weeks to make one cartoon.
The most that the cameraman can shoot a day is 50 feet of film—photographed frame by frame. A cartoon is from 650 to 690 feet long and runs on the screen for about six and a half minutes.
Figure it out for yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Leon's bad experience with Tom Palmer might explain why he wanted to test his new directors out in the 1935-36 period. No point in signing them and then having J.L. throw the shorts back in your face again.