When an art teacher pronounced that every artist has at least 100,000 bad pictures in them before getting good, the youthful Chuck Jones breathed a sigh of relief. He’d already drawn 200,000. The legendary animator behind the classic Looney Tunes cartoons drew his entire life, and it was that prolific output that fuelled his most creative ideas.
Born in 1912, Chuck’s father was a stationery salesman who would frequently pass on unused stock of pencils, crayons and paper to his children, encouraging them to draw as much as possible. By 1933 Chuck was working his way through the animation departments of Warner Brothers, beginning as cel-washer, through a rapid series of promotions to tracer, inbetweener and animator, before becoming director in 1938.
As studio director, one of Jones’ greatest gifts was to encourage unfettered creativity in his team. Churning out a series of brilliant shorts under tight budgets and impossible deadlines there was no time to procastinate. Therefore, he instigated a series of meetings where no-one was allowed to say no to any idea, no matter how insane, that was thrown onto the table. These yes meetings were the key to the hilarious imagination that poured forth from the studio under Chuck’s wild reign.
If there was a zenith in this period it is perhaps in the creation of the Roadrunner cartoons. These slices of animated excellence are the art in it’s purest form. Plot, characterisation and location are broken to their most basic elements, as a series of non-sequitur gags pile over one another. A desert coyote wants to stop a speeding bird. That’s it.
The debut short was Fast N’ Furry-ous in 1949, and features one of the greatest sight-gags in cinema, oft-copied, never bettered. Yes, that magic moment when Wile E Coyote paints a tunnel on a mountain face. The camera angle changes, and the roadrunner speeds through. Perplexed, Wile attempts to follow him down the faux-road, but the camera angle has changed back again, and he smashes himself on the rock wall. Pure comic gold.
The spirit of Jones lives on in creative animation everywhere. When Trey Parker and Matt Stone felt that South Park was in danger of diluting it’s vitriol, they decided to reduce the production schedule of each episode to just one week, including the writing. By the third day, without a finished script, you have to wonder how many times the word ‘no’ is allowed to be uttered in the writer’s room.
Chuck’s career is a perfect example of a prolific output fuelling a wild creativity, that should serve as an eternal inspiration to artists everywhere. Well, that and the priceless look on Wile E’s face before he plummets off that cliff face yet again.