Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Robert McKimson: The quiet Looney Tooner

Robert McKimson was born this day in 1910, he would have been 99 years old.

Robert and his brothers Charles and Tom came to Warner Bros. in the mid 1930's and all worked as animators there. Robert became a director by happenstance as other directors left the fold and even dropped back to animation at least once before being forced back to directing. A quiet personality, he just loved drawing.

He was able to draw in very clean lines. His pencil work never had the drawn-over, sketchy feel that others had...it came out of his hand full born...a consummate draftsman. He was also one of (if not the) fastest. In fact, in the 1940's he was in an automobile accident and suffered a concussion and when he recovered was even faster. He said he had gained the ability to envision the cartoon and then just draw it...exactly as he saw it play out in his head.

As the 1940's came to a close, Warner's had stabilized to just 3 animation units. The dynamic Chuck Jones and straightforward/experienced Friz Freleng headed two and Bob McKimson was the third. Kind of looked at as the utility player on the lot.

I disagree though. Robert McKimson did some of the funniest time tested and proven cartoons to come out of the lot.

He created some of Warner's best characters too.

The Tasmanian Devil:

Robert created the devil and then was forced by the head office to not use him much. Told he just wasn't very appealing, Robert soon dropped him. Believe it or not gentle readers, as steeped in your consciousness as the Tasmanian Devil is, he only appeared in 5 cartoons.

Hippety Hopper and Sylvester Jr:

Sheer genius that the simple premise of the baby kangaroo mistaken as a giant mouse by Sylvester and his son could go through as many variations. And all from McKimson wanting a new dynamic to place Sylvester in.

Speedy Gonzales:

Was created by McKimson for the cartoon "Cat-Tails for Two" and soon spun off to a series with Sylvester helmed by freleng. As you can see, the mouse looked a little different under McKimson's hands.

Barnyard Dawg and Foghorn Leghorn:

Easily my favorite McKimson comedy team. Whether Foghorn is dealing with Henery Hawk, Miss Prissy, Eggbert, a boxing bandy rooster or whatever in the forefront of any particular cartoon...there's always this unexplained sub-plot. Whatever the action, everything stops while Foghorn and the Dawg stop to "F" with each other...then back to the main plot...then back to "F"ing with each other. Why? I don't know. But it's "F"ing funny every time!
Here's some examples of Robert's work.

Foghorn Leghorn and Barnyard Dawg:

Sylvester and Hippety Hopper:

And finally a classic that is creeping in your subconscious. In 1955 there was a strike at Warner's and Bob sat home for a month or so. In that time he wrote and nearly single-handedly drew and animated this cartoon. Creating an icon of the cartoon world while at it.

Thanks Robert!

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