Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Charles Martin "Chuck" Jones (September 21, 1912–February 22, 2002) was an American animator, artist, screenwriter, producer, and director of animated films, most memorably of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts for the Warner Brothers cartoon studio. He directed many of the classic short cartoons starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote, Pepe Le Pew, and the other Warners characters, including the memorable What's Opera, Doc? (1957) and Duck Amuck (1952) (both later inducted into the National Film Registry), establishing himself as an important innovator and storyteller.
Jones was born in Spokane, Washington, and later moved with his parents and three siblings to the Los Angeles, California area. In his autobiography, Chuck Amuck, Jones credits his artistic bent to circumstances surrounding his father, who was an unsuccessful businessman in California in the 1920s. His father, Jones recounts, would start every new business venture by purchasing new stationery and new pencils with the company name on them. When the business failed, his father would turn the useless stationery and pencils over to his children. Armed with an endless supply of high-quality paper and pencils, the children drew constantly. Jones and several of his siblings went on to artistic careers. After graduating from Chouinard Art Institute, Jones held a number of low-ranking jobs in the animation industry, including washing cels at the Ub Iwerks studio and assistant animating at the Walter Lantz studio. While at Iwerks, he met a cel painter named Dorothy Webster, who would later become his wife.
Beginnings in Animation
Jones joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, the independent studio that produced Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Bros., in 1933 as an assistant animator. During the late 1930s, he worked under directors Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, becoming a director (or "supervisor", the original title for an animation director in the studio) himself in 1938 when Frank Tashlin left the studio. Jones' first cartoon was The Night Watchman , which featured a cute kitten who would later evolve into Sniffles the mouse.
Many of Jones' cartoons of the 1930s and early 1940s were lavishly animated, but audiences and fellow Termite Terrace staff members found them lacking in genuine humor. Often slow-moving and overbearing with "cuteness", Jones' early cartoons were an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Walt Disney's shorts (especially with such cartoons as Tom Thumb in Trouble and the Sniffles cartoons). Jones finally broke away from both his traditional cuteness, and traditional animation conventions as well, with the cartoon The Dover Boys in 1942. Jones credits this cartoon as the film where he "learned how to be funny." The Dover Boys is also one of the first uses of Stylized animation in American film, breaking away from the more realistic animation styles influenced by the Disney Studio. This was also the period where Jones created many of his lesser-known characters, including Charlie Dog, Hubie and Bertie, and The Three Bears. Despite their relative obscurity today, the shorts starring these characters represent some of Jones' earliest work that was strictly intended to be funny.
During the World War II years, Jones worked closely with Theodore Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss) to create the Private Snafu series of Army educational cartoons. Private Snafu comically educated soldiers on topics like spies and laziness in a more risque way than general audiences would have been used to at the time. Jones would later collaborate with Seuss on a number of adaptations of Seuss' books to animated form, most importantly How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 1966.
Jones hit his stride in the late 1940s, and continued to make his best-regarded works through the 1950s. Jones-created characters from this period includes Claude Cat, Marc Antony and Pussyfoot, Charlie Dog, Michigan J. Frog and his three most popular creations, Pepe LePew, and the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. The Road Runner cartoons, in addition to the cartoons that are considered his masterpieces, Duck Amuck, One Froggy Evening, and What's Opera, Doc? are today hailed by critics as some of the best cartoons ever made.
The staff of the Jones unit was as important to the success of these cartoons as Jones himself. Key members included layout artist/background designer/co-director Maurice Noble, writer Michael Maltese, animator and co-director Abe Levitow , and animator Ken Harris .
Jones remained at Warners throughout the 1950s, except for a brief period in 1953 when Warners closed the animation studio. During this interim, Jones found employment at the Walt Disney studio , where he did four months of uncredited work on Sleeping Beauty (1959).
In the early 1960s, Jones and his wife Dorothy wrote the screenplay for the animated feature Gay Purr-ee . the finished film would feature the voices of Judy Garland, Robert Goulet and Red Buttons as cats in Paris, France. The feature was produced by UPA, and Jones moonlit to work on the film, since he had an exclusive contract with Warner Bros. UPA completed the film and made it available for distribution in 1962; it was picked up by Warner Bros, who found out Jones had violated his contract and fired him from the company.
Jones on His Own
With business partner Les Goldman , Jones started an independent animation studio, Sib Tower 12 Productions, bringing on most of his unit from Warner Bros, including Maurice Noble and Michael Maltese. In 1963, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contracted with Sib Tower 12 to have Jones and his staff produce new Tom and Jerry cartoons. His animated short film The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Higher Mathematics won the 1965 Oscar for Best Animated Short.
As the Tom and Jerry series wound down (it would be discontinued in 1967), Jones moved on to television. In 1966, produced and directed the TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas, featuring the voice (and facial features) of Boris Karloff. In 1967, Sib Tower 12 was absorbed by MGM and was renamed MGM Animation Visual Arts. Jones continued to work on TV specials such as Horton Hears A Who! (1970), but his main focus during this time was the feature film The Phantom Tollbooth, which did lukewarm business when MGM released it in 1970.
In the 1970s, Jones left MGM started a new production company, Chuck Jones Productions. His most notable work during this period was three animated TV adaptations of short stories from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Brothers, The White Seal and Rikki Tiki Tavi .
Like many modern cartoon legends, Chuck Jones never retired: he was an active artist and cartoonist up until his last weeks. Through the 1980s and 1990s (and until 2002) Jones was painting cartoon and parody art, sold through animation galleries by his daughter's company, Linda Jones Enterprises. He was also creating new cartoons for the Internet based on his new character, "Thomas Timberwolf". Jones was not a fan of much contemporary animation, terming most of it, especially television cartoons such as those of Hanna-Barbera, "illustrated radio."
Jones' intellectualism, writing ability, and capacity for self-analysis made him an historical authority as well as a major contributor to the development of the animation genre throughout the 20th century.
Influence and critical perception
Jones is considered by many to be a master of characterization and timing. His best works are noted for depicting a refinment of character to the point that a single eyebrow wiggle could be a major gag as opposed to the wild, frentic style ususally associated with cartoons, and those of Warner Bros. in particular. Like Walt Disney, Jones wanted animation to gain respect from the film and art communities, and often undertook special animation projects reflecting such, including What's Opera Doc, The Dot and the Line, and the 1944 political film Hell-Bent for Re-Election, a campaign film for Franklin Roosevelt that he directed for UPA.
In his later years, Jones became the most vocal alumnus of the Termite Terrace studio, frequently giving lectures, seminars, and working to educate newcomers in the animation field. Many of his principles, therefore, found their way back into the mainstream animation conciousness, and can be seen in films such as Cats Don't Dance, The Emperor's New Groove, and Lilo & Stitch.
Jones had a penchant for cuteness in his earliest days as is visible in his cartoons featuring Sniffles the Mouse. Other Warners directors, particularly Tex Avery and Robert Clampett, considered "cute" to be a four letter word. By request of producer Leon Schlesinger, Jones changed his style, and began making zanier pictures such as Wakiki Wabbit and Hare Conditioned. After Avery, Clampett, and Schlesinger left the studio, Jones gradually reincorporated elements of the slow pace, sentimentality and cuteness of his previous work with characters like Marc Anthony & Pussyfoot and the young Ralph Phillips . His versions of the characters he worked with often showcased a more infantile look than other interpretations, with larger eyes and eyelashes. This is especially apparent in his Tom and Jerry films, some of which are considered the weakest in the canon.
Jones, like the rest of his Termite Terrace associates after the departure of Schlesinger, has been criticized for using repetitive plots, most obvious in the Pepe Le Pew and Road Runner cartoons. It must be noted, however, that many of these films were originally issued to theatres years apart, and the repetitious factor was often done at the request of the producers, management, or theatre owners. Also, series like the Road Runner were set up as exercises in exploring the same situation in different ways. Jones had a set list of rules as to what could and could not occur in a Road Runner cartoon, and stated that it was not what happened that was important in the films, but how it happened.
Chuck Jones' reinvention of certain characters is also a controversial subject. He reimagined the wacky, Clampett-esque hero Daffy Duck as a greedy, sneaky antagonist with a slow-burning temper; and he relegated hapless star Porky Pig to being a sidekick or audience-aware observer of the action. Jones also created a series of films in which he used Friz Freleng's Sylvester in the context of a real cat. Like all the Warners directors, his Bugs Bunny characterization is unique to his films: Jones' Bugs never attacks unless attacked, unlike Avery's and Clampett's bombastic rabbits.
Notable Animated Films directed by Chuck Jones
- The Dover Boys (1942)
- Hell-Bent for Election (Franklin Roosevelt campaign film, 1944)
- The Rabbit of Seville (1950)
- Duck Amuck (1952)
- Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953)
- One Froggy Evening (1955)
- What's Opera, Doc? (1957)
- The Dot and the Line (1965)
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (TV special, 1966)
- The Phantom Tollbooth (feature film, 1970)
- Barrier, Michael (1999). Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019-516729-5.
- Jones, Chuck (1989). Chuck Amuck : The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux. ISBN 037-412348-9.
- Jones, Chuck (1996). Chuck Reducks : Drawing from the Fun Side of Life. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 044-651893-X.
- Chuck Jones web site
- Photo gallery, full biography and online video at Achievement.org
- Good Chuck Jones tribute
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