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Chuck Jones

…because even if you don’t know his name, you know his cartoons. As an animator at Warner Brothers Animation, Chuck Jones provided a cinematic flair to the adventures of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. He also created such memorable characters as Marvin the Martian, Pepe LePew, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. In addition to the classic shorts "What’s Opera, Doc?," "Duck Amuck" and "One Froggy Evening," Jones directed the feature length film "The Phantom Tollbooth" and animated (i.e. non-Jim Carrey starring) the adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."



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Whether in animation or live action, Jones brought more memorable characters to the screen than arguably anyone apart from Walt Disney (who was one of Jones’s biggest influences). While Tex Avery technically created Bugs and Daffy, Jones basically defined their characters. For starters, he drew them as more realistic creatures as opposed to distorted cartoon animals. More importantly, Jones also humanized their personalities: Bugs transformed from an arrogant pest to a defiant trickster hero, while Daffy went from an honest-to-god lunatic to a sympathetic buffoon who was more often the victim of circumstance. He also developed a rivalry between the two characters on screen, adding complexity to their relationship, as both were protagonists compared to the bumbling villain Elmer Fudd. Jones’s own creations demonstrate a similar depth of characterization. It’s difficult to imagine a more sympathetically inept villain than Marvin the Martian or a more brilliantly hopeless romantic than Pepe LePew. The silent characters of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote reflect his admiration for Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton – reportedly, a young Jones would watch both men filming scenes. In the end, Jones proved that two-dimensionally drawn characters don’t have to be flat and that even animals can be human too.

As a director, Jones took advantage of animation’s ability to play around with motion on screen. His characters constantly seem to be in a state of conflict between biology and physics. Think about Wile E. Coyote’s most famous moment: when he runs off a cliff after the Road Runner, he continues his swift pace on a straight track until he looks down and succumbs to the law of gravity again. Of course, there’s also the Road Runner’s famous running style, in which the bird’s legs essentially become wheels to depict the character’s lightning quick pace. Especially in these cartoons where neither character ever says a word, their movement often helps to convey aspects of the story. Jones also understood the importance of details in a scene, which is key for any filmed story, but particularly so in animation where there is less constraint on the amount of texture in every frame. The greatest example of this in Jones’s career – and arguably the history of animation – is "Duck Amuck," in which the constantly changing depiction of the scene drives the story (as well as Daffy Duck to a nervous breakdown). In every cartoon he made, Jones was constantly aware of the strengths of his medium, and used them to his advantage.

In his storytelling, Jones and his story collaborator Michael Maltese developed a unique approach to narrative structure. Every short broke into two acts, which were often opposed to each other in their functions. The first act relied on building the audience’s expectations, whereas the second act cleverly subverted the expected outcome. This manipulative technique is probably best reflected in the ‘meta-toon’ "Duck Amuck," where Daffy is essentially put into the position of the audience member objecting to the constantly changing scenery; yet in the cartoon’s ingenious twist, we “learn” that it’s not actually Jones tormenting Daffy with a paintbrush and pencil. Jones was also not afraid to challenge the conventions of content. "Duck Amuck" ventures into absurdist surrealism, "What’s Opera, Doc?" plays with genuine tragedy (not to mention “killing” the most important character), and "One Froggy Evening" becomes a dark human parable about greed and sanity. Jones’s contributions to storytelling stretch far beyond the realm of animation.

Resources

Article

Meet The Creative Genius Behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck And Wile E. Coyote

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Chuck Jones Experience

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Academy of Achievement – Chuck Jones

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Chuck Jones – Senses of Cinema

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Chuck Jones: American Animator (encyclopedia britannica)

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CHUCK JONES, in his own words

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Chuck Jones: Three Cartoons – Roger Ebert

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Book

Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist

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Chuck Jones: Conversations (Conversations with Comic Artists Series)

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