Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Bitesized Biographies #1 - Chuck Jones


"If Walt Disney was the first animator who taught me how to fly in my dreams, Chuck Jones was the first animator who made me laugh at them."
—Steven Spielberg on Chuck Jones, in Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist

To kick off the new A113Animation focus on cartoons and on the lasting legacy and influence of old, classic short films; there seemed no better way and no more fitting figure to base the first 'Bitesized Biography' on, than the legendary Looney Tunes director, Chuck Jones.

Chuck Jones, who would go on to become, arguably, the face of Looney Tunes and Warner Bros. Animation, the director of its most famed and acclaimed cartoons and the creator of some of its most beloved characters, was born on September 21, 1912 in Spokane Washington.

Chuck would be enthused with a love for drawing and creating from an early age, due to, as it often seems to be in these cases, because of his parents; his father specifically. Chuck Jones would recall that his father, an unsuccessful businessman in California, would constantly be starting up some new business or another - which tended not to pan out - and would try to get the wheels moving by buying new, personalised stationary and pencils. When the business eventually folded, Mr. Jones would give the stacks and stacks of paper and pencils to his children; meaning, Chuck Jones drew constantly. This constant drawing and sketching would allow Jones to refine his art and decide on his future: he wanted to work in animation.

Jones would catch his first break in animation in some low, grunt level jobs, including cel washing for the company of Mickey Mouse co-creator, Ub Iwerks (it was at The Ub Iwerks Studio that Jones would meet his first wife, Dorothy Webster) and as an assistant animator at The Walter Lantz Studio - that would later become best known for Woody Woodpecker and Chilly Willy. However, the turning point in Jones's career, towards the great man and cartoonist that we now and revere today, came in 1933, when Chuck Jones was hired to work on the shorts that would make his name: Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, as an assistant animator.

Assigned to the legendary Tex Avery's animation department and working with other cartoon greats like Friz Freleng and Bob Clampett, Jones would soon move up the ladder, becoming a fully fledged animator in 1935. Chuck Jones would continue to shine and move further along the Warner Bros. Animation chain of command, getting the chance to direct his own cartoon, The Night Watchman, featuring the cute Sniffles the mouse, in 1938. Seeking to emulate Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies, Jones's early cartoons were accused of being too cutesy and were found to be lacking in any real comedy. However, this wouldn't last all too long, as things would soon turn around for the future face of Looney Tunes, and Jones credits his 1942 cartoon, The Dover Boys, as the time he "learned how to be funny".

Things would only improve from here, as throughout the late 40s and the 50s, Chuck Jones would produce his best regarded work and some of the greatest cartoons of all time. Jones, as well as conceiving the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote (amongst others) would (often working with writer Michael Maltese) direct some of the greatest Looney Tunes ever, including: One Froggy Evening, Duck Dodgers of the 24½th Century, What's Opera Doc and Duck Amuck, to name just a few.

When his work with Warner Bros. wound down, Jones would make more major contributions to one of the biggest names in animation, as, in 1963, MGM hired him work on the new Tom and Jerry cartoons. The critical consensus on Jones's Tom and Jerry works was positive, although opinion was split as to how it stacked up to the originals. In 1966, when his work on Tom and Jerry was coming to an end, Jones would go on to direct the critically acclaimed and widely beloved festive adaptation of Dr. Seuss's work, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! as well as producing the feature film, The Phantom Tollbooth.

Jones would later do some work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and on some of the Looney Tunes revival cartoons, like Chariots of Fur. However, Jones's career would be winding down now, with most of his noteworthy work having passed, after several decades of work in animation and cementing himself as a true animation god, a man whose efforts and influence in the field cannot be overstated. Directing over 300 animated films, winning 3 Academy Awards and more awards and recognitions that any normal man would care to count, Chuck Jones passed away on February 22, 2002, and his legacy will never be forgotten!

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