Slowish TV news day (particularly for those of us who are a bit Lost-ed out), so the article that caught my eye was this New York Times piece on one of my favourite topics, Warner Brothers’ attempts to re-introduce the Looney Tunes brand to a generation of children that has largely forgotten who the characters are. Because I’ve talked about this subject a lot, I don’t need to talk at length about the background; suffice it to say that the company benefited tremendously from all the years when their cartoons were available on network TV every Saturday morning, and has never figured out what to do once they weren’t.
The idea of 3-D Road Runner shorts is… well, it’s inevitable, and 3-D animation has made enough advances in its ability to do “cartoony” animation and movement (thanks more to Dreamworks than Pixar; Kung Fu Panda was probably a more important movie, in terms of advancing the art of computer animation, than most of the recent Pixars) that they can support this kind of storytelling. The Road Runner and Coyote concept seems fairly well suited to computer animation, since the gags rely on speed, timing, and the Coyote’s broad facial reactions to the stuff that’s about to fall on him. All of these things can be done effectively on a computer.
What is more of a problem is re-creating the kind of animation that relies on squash-and-stretch distortion of characters’ bodies, or uses exaggerated movements that bear no relationship to real-life movements. The basic solidity and lifelike-ness of computer animation makes it (still) poorly suited to squash-and-stretch, and the budgets of 2-D animation (especially on TV) aren’t enough to allow for that kind of animation. So some of the problem with making new Bugs n’ Daffy cartoons is just that it’s difficult, perhaps impossible, to make these characters appealing without first-class animation. They don’t have inherent lovability or appeal to kids; the animators have to add that.
Here are a few clips of animation by WB’s most famous exponent of the art of squash-n’-stretch body distortion, Rod Scribner.