Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Balmy Swami Anecdote - John Gentilella

Below is a clip from the 1949 Popeye cartoon ‘A Balmy Swami’ animated by maestro Popeye animator Johnny Gent. (John Gentilella) I love the amazing feeling of power Gent could get into his animation as illustrated by this clip. He knew the exact amount of displacement to put between each drawing to get the maximum effect of power and impact in the action.

When I met him back in the 80’s Johnny recalled working on this cartoon. He said that de facto director Tom Johnson gave him this construction elevator section (I may have cut it a bit short) of the cartoon to animation direct. The first thing he did before starting work was to meet with composer Winston Sharples and discuss the music and tempo for the animation. In hindsight I wish I had asked Johnny about the technique of choreographing animation and music. Today that method of timing animation is a lost art.

For those that have this cartoon and the ability to single frame, you can see that Gent has used a Jim Tyer technique in his animation. (Trivia moment – Tyer and Gentilella were close friends) As Popeye goes to punch out the building girder he pops off the screen for 1 frame. It's not a shooting error. It's done with purpose - the popping effect creates a feeling of shock on the screen and the flash effect animation further enhances the feeling of impact. Tyer used that technique in his animation in some of the Famous Studio cartoons that predate this one. Some modern animators hate this sort of thing - I say as long as it feels right it works for me. I’ve always thought it was a cool technique.

Too bad Cartoon Network had to poo in the corner of the screen.


J. J. Hunsecker said...

As Popeye goes to punch out the building girder he pops off the screen for 1 frame... Some modern animators hate this sort of thing...

Which modern animators hate those techniques? What are their reasons?

I feel the same way as you. If the technique works, then it's good. It seems like some modern animators want to give up all the things that once made Hollywood animation so good.

pspector said...

I never would have noticed the popping off the screen technique if you hadn't pointed it out -- and it really does add to the impact. I don't understand why some animators would have a problem with it, as it seems intrinsic to what animators would want to be doing all the time; that is, taking liberties with the medium for effect which would never occur in real world situations.

Bob Jaques said...

>>Which modern animators hate those techniques? What are their reasons?<<

I used the popping off technique years ago and I remember opinions were expressed that opposed its use. I think there's a stigma that popping off the character is a mistake and not planned therefore it cheapens the animation. It would be highly unlikely that anyone would notice the pop off in this particular scene unless studied frame by frame. In some cases though, as in 'Shape Ahoy', the technique is more obvious.

I should also clarify that when I say modern animators I am talking about those who did not work in the golden age of animation.

Weirdo said...

Great piece of animation. You can feel the weight and exaggeration. I love these things.

Whit said...

Johnny Gent really knew how to use the popping off for maximum effect. In that Famous Studio color gas station cartoon, Tyer's use of popping off gets a bit too noticeable. Was Tyer popping off the characters on twos or on ones? You barely notice it in the Gent piece, because his action is so dense and his spacing unique to him.

J Lee said...

The "contact" effect as the girder is impacted helps make this more subtile than Tyer's Popeye popping in "Shape Ahoy" or the Admiral's car in "Service With a Guile" because Gent quickly fills the space where we expect Popeye to be with an effects animation. In Tyer's pieces, what effects there are are much smaller and don't mask the spots, so it's far easier for the audience to recognize that there's nothing there.

(And just as an aside, I'm hoping Vol. 4 of the Popeye DVD does have at least one commentary on one of those two cartoons that mentions Tyer's popping experiment and how he really developed it when he moved to Terrytoons. What commentary there's been in the past on "Shape Ahoy" usually focuses on the likelihood that Mae Questel substituted for Jack Mercer in that cartoon, and "Service" has only been noted as being Bill Tytla's first effort with Popeye.)