Hey, it's been a while - actually years - since the last post.
A quick note to let anyone who actually comes here anymore know that I've partnered with ace animation historian Thad Komorowski and we've started a podcast talking about classic cartoons called CARTOON LOGIC.
For you Popeye fans, we've done reviews of Popeye the Sailor 1940s volumes 2 and 3 bluray releases. If you like what we've done, please check out and consider supporting the podcast on our Patreon site https://www.patreon.com/cartoonlogic
I have 3 Popeye commentaries currently on the Patreon site and plans for more to come...
It’s been quite a while since my last post (just over 3 years). I was cleaning out my computer and came upon the draft for this post and decided it was worth finishing. So without further ado -
Somehow, by divine providence, stars aligning, whatever, an animator is perfectly cast to animate a section of cartoon. In that regard, one of my favourite bits is the end of ‘She-Sick Sailors’ (released in 1944). It’s a prime example of superb animation by premier Popeye animator John Gentilella (AKA Johnny Gent). Everything works for me in this part of the cartoon, primarily because of his work.
Here’s that section -
The scene just prior to that - ‘It’s an eagle, it’s a rocket, it’s a meteor’ - sets up a rhythm to the chain of events that follow. Each successive shot of Popeye’s actions builds in intensity as do the objects flying through the air (eagle - parting trees, rocket - blowing boulder, meteor - punching the train). There’s a feeling of build and release throughout Gent’s section - and it took his animation to make it powerful and exciting to watch. In hands of another animator, the end of ’She-Sick Sailors' may have been mediocre.
This is a brilliant bit of staging - Popeye parts the trees as a performer would a curtain, revealing himself to Bluto and Olive as the spinach transformed super sailor.
Big anticipation building power.
Popeye releases the air/power from his body transferring it into the oncoming boulder.
The boulder spinning in place is a form of anticipation, building up power to bowl down Bluto. There’s a feeling of weight to it, setting up the sensation that the boulder can do some real damage.
Another big anticipation before a burst of power.
As Popeye rockets to rescue Olive he animates through the cut creating a flow from scene to scene in one big arc that we don’t see between the cut, but feel because the exit and entry points are relative to each other.
An average animator might anticipate a punch going straight into the action whereas Gent chose to animate Popeye’s fist winding up, giving it a feeling of increasing power as he moves into the pose.
The power in the pose. Johnny Gent composed many of his action poses within in a triangle shape - that shape being the most dynamic.
My only criticism here is that the anticipation of the train is too long
before it drops and telegraphs its collapse. The action might have been
funnier had the anticipation been shortened to a frame or two, or had
no anticipation at all preceding the action. Comedy timing was a big
problem with the Famous Studio cartoons - the anticipations for
reactions were typically too bloated. This is painfully evident in the
Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoons where the reactions were intended to
be funny and ruined by too much animation. But that’s a discussion for
Amendment to the above papagraph regarding Thad's comment below. By 'anticipation of the train', I don't mean the pause before the collapse. I'm referring to the action that happens just prior to the collapse - the train moving slightly upward.
Here’s the compete cartoon to see the above scenes in context -
I can't say that ‘Onion Pacific’ (1940 - de facto directed by Willard Bowsky) is one of the better Popeye cartoons ever produced - it’s definitely one of the more mediocre shorts of the series. I can say though, that the cartoon has a moment of inventive brilliance and great timing.
The following clip is a great example of Fleischer inventiveness - Popeye builds a super locomotive out of the wreckage of his rickety train and a water tower. The Fleischer animators could sell this fantastic type of action to the audience because of a simple bit of timing used to ground it in reality. I'll elaborate on that point later.
Popeye is pissed off among the wreckage of his train and the water tower.
He changes mood as he savours the thought of eating spinach - setting up the events to follow. I love this bit of character business that's absent from practically all of the other Popeye cartoons.
As a side note I’d like to point out that this more sophisticated stretch and squash chewing action was alien to the earlier Fleischer cartoons. Though I can't ID the animator, I suspect it was done by one of the west coast imports. Despite the above drawings looking strange, you can see how the animator took care to follow through with the shapes and construction of Popeye's head to make sure that the chewing action was well executed.
Popeye fuels up on spinach, mimicking the action of putting coal into the boiler furnace. He becomes a human engine, his arms caricaturing the action of a train’s drives shafts, building up internal stream and readying for a burst of energy.
Popeye builds his locomotive in super fast time…
… and finishes with something that can't possibly exist - a super locomotive cobbled together from wreckage. After he slaps on the nose of the train it reacts like a real piece of machinery and grounds it in reality - at least our perceived reality of what a real train would look and feel like rocking on its shock absorbers. That action puts a great finish to the super train construction, punctuating its completion and easing out of the building action. It sells the idea to the audience that Popeye's locomotive creation could actually exist.
I wonder if the super train is metaphor for penis size??
model sheet is from a Screen Song titled 'The Big Flame-up' - it was posted on the Fleischer/Famous/Paramount Cartoon Studios Dedication Page on Facebook. Note that the original production number in the lower screen
left corner of the model sheet has a strikethrough and it's been replaced with a Popeye
production number with a 1952 date stamp. (Big
Flame-up was released in 1949) Why?? - because the flame character was
re-used in 'Fireman's Brawl' released in 1953.
I recently read this post at the IAD forum. In both cartoons listed there - 'Nicky Nome Rides Again' (1938) and 'One Bad Knight', I found animation by Popeye animator/de facto director Jim Tyer. Not the style usually associated with him - but a subdued version of what would later become his trademark style. (The spacing to the first clip is unusually big - blogger wouldn't allow the clip to play with smaller spacing)
I have no idea when 'One Bad Knight' was produced and released - my guess is probably after 1939. This cartoon has drawing licks and animation closest to the style that is most recognizable to his work at the Famous Studio.
The king looks like a Tyer design.
More examples of expressions and timing typical of Tyer's animation.
Remember this post??
I received this message from a relative of Abner Knietel:
Hi. My name is Karen and Abner Matthews Kneitel was my great uncle. He was married to my grandmother's sister Virginia Kneitel (ne Hodge). My grandmother had always said the Abner went by Abner Matthews since Seymour Kneitel (his relative) was already credited and he didn't want to use the same last name. So Abner Matthews is Abner Kneitel. Another tidbit, Virginia used to help out with the cartoons for fun. She was never credited, but she did work on them as well. As his daughter Betty had indicated, Abner was quite a drinker from what I was told.
Virginia Hodge worked at the Fleischer Miami Studio in the ink and paint department.
It's been a while since my last post. Time to dust off the cobwebs and get back to some blogging. I have a lot of material to cover - just not the time to present it. Anyway - back to business...
Remember as you go forth reading that this is a speculative post so those of you like to add uncredited animators to sites like IMDB and Wikipedia please refrain from doing so.
I heard that Nick Tafuri did not like to talk about his career or animation so I have nothing to go on except deduction based on style and drawing earmarks - one in particular that was pretty much exclusive to what I speculate to be Tafuri's animation. This was a hard fought deduction since there are no drawings of Popeye I'm aware of that are attributed to Tafuri.
Instead of me pointing out the major earmark that tipped me off to Tafuri's style I would like you readers to take a shot a it. Look at the clips and let me know what you think.
One aspect of Popeye cartoons that's usually overlooked is the filmmaking - and by that I mean the choice of shots and composition. I noticed this one while assembling the clips for this post. Take a look at this scene from 'Pleased To Meetcha' -
This is a great composition. The window blind cord visually splits the scene in two. Popeye and Bluto are on each side of the split. Olive is split down the middle - half on Popeye's side of the screen and half of her on Bluto's side of the screen. The dynamics of the composition create a feeling of tension.
Attention Collectors and Owners of Fleischer and Famous Studio Art
If you have a piece of Fleischer or Famous Studios production art that comes from an unknown title and needs identification - contact me. I have Identified pieces in the past for animation historian Jerry Beck, Leslie Cabarga (The Fleischer Story book), miscellaneous dealers, collectors, and readers of this blog. The only thing I ask for in return is a high quality scan of the art.
Hardcore Popeye cartoon and Fleischer fanatic.
Animation producer, director, and co-owner of Carbunkle Cartoons. My partner Kelly Armstrong and I set the animation and timing style for The Ren and Stimpy Show.