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Monday, August 06, 2007

That Warner Brothers Mob

My old friend Didier Ghez has published a number of interviews with Disney artists in five books called WALT'S PEOPLE.

Each book boasts black and white cover caricatures of the interviewees by Peter Emslie.

Didier asked me to work up some caricatures of some of the Warner directors for the cover of his newest book, BUGS' BUDDIES, which will be published in 2008.

Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and Friz Freleng's work is well known to everyone; but their faces are not. They are far less well known than most of the Disney people--although to most people outside the animation world, Disney artists also have no faces.

To make matters even more difficult for myself I decided I wanted to draw each of these men in their prime, as young men.

I'd known Chuck Jones pretty well, when he was already rather old, and met each of the other three only once.

The first thing I decided to do was use characters associated with each director as his 'shadow'. I also had the quaint conceit that the characters would be in color, and the men's faces would be black and white artwork. The characters came to life through their imaginations, and have survived them. That was sort of the idea, at any rate. Maybe I really did it because it sort of looked cool.

Didier was enthusiastic about the idea. Now came the fun part. Where did I find pictures of some of these guys as young men?

Some were in the Warner books, but the difficulty of working from photos is: the face can look different from different angles, and at different ages in a person's life. Chuck Jones looked about seven years old in one picture that Greg Ford kindly sent to me.

Caricatures the guys did of themselves were no help at all. The WArner crew was vicious--toward themselves--. Bob Clampett drew himself as a turkey necked longfaced geek with a beaky nose, receding chin, and a huge head of hair. Photos reveal him to have resembled a young Elvis--classic features, small nose, dark eyes, strong chin, square jaw and face. If he'd been born twenty years later he could have been a matinee idol. At least the dark pompadour was accurate in his caricatures.

Chuck Jones was even less kind to himself. He's frequently caricatured in the Warner cartoons as an overweight, blubberlipped straw-haired pinhead. And Chuck designed all of his own characters!

I could not believe it, but Little John in the hilarious RABBIT HOOD ("Da-a-a-a-a-h, Don't you worry, never fear! Robin Hood will soon be here!") was a caricature of Chuck, by Chuck.

Friz Freleng was usually drawn as a sort of chameleon lizard, with a tremendous snozz and receding forehead.

Tex Avery looked elfin; his caricatures came closest to suggesting what he actually looked like. Some good shots of him appear at the top of this post.

So what to do?

Well, some of the photos of the fellows had better angles than others. I was lucky enough to find a shot of Chuck and Friz in a turnover session, together. Chuck is revealed to have had a strong chin, a round face, and fine straight hair. He also had remarkable eyebrows that were shaped like upside down V's. You can see everything but the 'eyebrows' in the pasteup at the head of this post. They were too light to photograph.
Friz wasn't lizardlike at all, though he does appear to have a slightly sloping forehead. The receding hairline is probably his most prominent feature. He does not have a large nose. (he was always drawn with one!)
Part Two of this article continues above: the finished illustration is shown below. You'll figure it out, which is more than I did when publishing this stuff.

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