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Sunday, August 4, 2013

TEX AVERY THEMES: GENIUS DEFINED

Best known as the creator of Bugs Bunny, Tex Avery was a writer/director of many classic cartoons. Here are some approaches he used to create laughs:

1. The physicality of a character is the direct expression of his emotional state. For example, huge eyes for surprise or multiple heads popping with bulging eyes out for curiosity.

2. Avery ‘substance’ forms the characters’ bodies and the characters are hollow physically. This substance will bend, stretch, burn, shrink, crack, etc. and regenerate. Call it ‘cartoon stuff’ the stuff dreams are made of.

3. Explosions effect on characters:
a) Blackened face, hair straight back
b) Object obstructing character from the explosion leaves a hole in
character the size and shape of that object;
c) Leaves only outline of face

4. Catch phrase, “I’ve been sick” pops up in many cartoons.

5. Characters able to put on “breaks” with a rubber meets road screetch sound effect and smoke.

6. Exploitation of off screen contents (the pull back to reveal gag). This developed into ‘impossible’ pull backs or reveals. E.g. alligator with normal-sized head in water. It walks onto land to reveal a tiny body.

7. More innovative is the exploitation of 2-dimensional cartoon space. Avery lost an eye as a result of a practical joke gone wrong. This was actually used by him as an asset for cartoon perspective.

The viewer posits a filmic level of reality on the moving drawings. Avery breaks down this natural process resulting in a break between what is expected and what is given… and we laugh! E.g. the “Where are the girls?” scene.

8. The sudden stop in a quickly moving sequence, usually for a direct aside (Brechtian speaking to the audience). Or for a Coke break.

The natural extension is stoping what couldn’t be done in ‘reality’ – e.g. a horse in mid gallop.

9. The machinery of film is exposed. In one cartoon a hair on the screen is actually drawn into the film and commented on by the characters (this gag was used at least twice). Or the film will run off the frame, or fixing a skipping soundtrack. Characters, in another variation, see the beginning and end titles or the narrator can be heard by the characters.

10. Frank Sinatra lampooning. The teen idol of the day.

11. “Sucker” signs.

12. Extreme numbers with quick movements. Always fast movements. For example, ducks coming and going, large numbers, very fast. A group of people enter a plane in sped up fashion (200 people in a second). Speed overcomes logic in its motion.

13. The character is subordinate to the gag. Droopy is a great example of this. A slow moving character. However, at the end of several cartoons he spazzes out and acts entirely out of character. Laughs are gained at the expense and contradiction of the character. It’s achievement is through the direct violation of all of Droopy’s essence.

14. Sensuality. Red Hot Riding Hood, dancing doll, swooning sax. The ENERGY of it is more important than its sexuality. For example, The Wolf is going nuts over the dancer is the point, not the cause of, his arousal. Same thing with violence. This energy overcomes death in “Red Hot Riding Hood.”

15. Objects acting human. Body parts acting human (e.g. eyes knocking). All are transference of human characteristics to other objects.

16. Character putting something that would cushion the blow 2 ½ feet to the left of where the victim lands, or pulled away on purpose by the supposed helper at the last possible moment.

17. Characters possession of the knowledge they are in a cartoon, especially Screwy Squirrel. How sane is this Squirrel? If insanity is defining one’s worldview regardless of the actual world, then isn’t a character who lives in a world which can be self-defined (Cartoonland) the sanest one around?

18. A phone booth can be anywhere. Really, any object is the character’s desire way from being physically manifested.

19. Avery’s world is a world of images and sounds. Screwy Squirrel can make himself seasick looking at a picture of a sea he drew with the swaying sound effect. Whatever a character draws is as real as everything else in his cartoon reality. He can feel the swaying of a ship; the fact he’s on land doesn’t matter. He relates to his world through sights and sounds.

20. Objects have no weight.

21. A character once leaving the screen can reappear anywhere -- even if the object he disappeared into is still present.

22. Avery uses standard fairy tale stores as take off points. Why? Everyone knows the story, thus making it an easy mental reference. The story creates an expectation he can then spoof without having the audience worry about the actual story events or completion.

23. The “modern” look – long cars. Art Deco.

24. Visual literalizing of clich├ęs – “Symphony in Slang” is an entire cartoon using these and the “Brainstorm” gag in “King Size Comedy.”

25. The character’s knowledge of its interdepedance on an adversary. They realize the opposition creates them. There can be no chase without a chaser. They often end as friends, their tasks complete.

26. Understatement dialogue. The entire Droopy character is based on this.

27. Overstated visuals. Looney bin’s building shaped “NUTZ.”

28. The use of magic wands. They make everything appear, like the cartoonists’ pen.

29. His “take” is the usually the character’s eyes getting large or popping out.

30. Drugs and potions have immediate effect, e.g. sleeping pill or quick grow pill.

31. Multiple paths make character or objects split into.

32. You can’t get rid of Droopy (as much as you may want to).

33. Rich coordination of visuals with soundtrack (see “Magical Maestro”).

34. A character who starts out as the chasee (one being chased) but later gains an edge and then becomes the tormentor will be punished for abusing this edge (see Bad Luck Blackie).

35. Mystery girls (obscured face) turn out to be dogs (usually).

36. A disguised bomb actually becomes the object its disguised as to the intended victim. That is, until the bomber picks it up again, then “Boom!”

37. Never ask for or take directions from the guy you’re chasing.

In one Screwy Squirrel cartoon, the dog chasing Screwy decides to play hide and go seek. Cut to close up on dog as he closes his eyes. Pull back to reveal the tree he leans against is now on a railroad track with train approaching.

Screwy sits nearby in a director’s chair. If you’ve ever had any doubts about who runs the show in a Tex Avery cartoon, they are now explained. In Avery’s cartoons, insanity reigns.

Now here's a video sampler:
















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