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If you like Chuck Jones's story, you might also like:
Michael Eisner,
George Lucas,
James Rosenquist,
Fritz Scholder,
Julie Taymor,
Wayne Thiebaud
and Robert Zemeckis

Chuck Jones's recommended reading: Roughing It

Chuck Jones also appears in the video:
Passion, Creativity and the Arts: Writing for Motion Pictures

Related Links:
Chuck Jones
Chuck Jones Center
Looney Tunes

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Chuck Jones
Chuck Jones
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Chuck Jones Interview (page: 5 / 5)

Animation Pioneer

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  Chuck Jones

You've said of your work directing animation, that there's a sense in which you're almost married to the character. Could you talk about that?

Chuck Jones: Yes. You depend on them. You have to trust one another. In a lot of marriages, people don't, and that results in bad pictures and bad marriages.

Often, when I'm halfway through a picture, I don't know how the hell I'm going to end it? And, then I have to think more carefully, "What would Bugs Bunny do in a situation like this?" In other words, I can't think of what I would do, or what I think Bugs Bunny should do. I have to think as Bugs Bunny, not of Bugs Bunny. And drawing them, as I say, is not difficult. Just like an actor dressed like Hamlet can walk across and look like Hamlet. But boy, when he gets into the action, he has to be thinking as Hamlet.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Tell us that little anecdote about the writer who wrote to his grandmother that he was writing scripts for Bugs Bunny.

Chuck Jones: Yeah.

Bill Scott, he later did most of the work on Rocky and Bullwinkle. He was the voice of the moose, and other voices. He was the lead writer. He was bright. After the war, he came to work for us as a writer. And he was very proud he was there and he wrote a letter to his grandmother in Denver and told her he was writing scripts for Bugs Bunny. And she wrote back a rather peckish letter that indicated she wasn't very happy about that. She said, "I don't see why you have to write scripts for Bugs Bunny. He's funny enough just the way he is." He was delighted with that, we were delighted with it, too. If you want to know what a triumph is, it's the feeling that people really believe these characters live, just like we do. But if we don't, there's no chance anybody else is going to.

Where do you see animation going now? How do you feel about the way it's going?

Chuck Jones: Animation is going very well right now. And to a great extent because these young people at Disney that are doing the films. We must understand this is a whole new generation that's starting with the Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver, and The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, and all done by people in their 30s and 20s. And that's where we started. We were all young like that.

When I went into animation I was like 17, and the old man of the business was Walt Disney, who was 29. Walt Disney was not 40 by the time he finished Fantasia, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Pinocchio. And the people that worked with him were younger than that. So it takes young people. And that's what I'm -- I think I've just about gotten to where I've finished to work out a deal with Warner Brothers to do some more films. But I want to be the old man that pulls together the young guys today. If I can, I want to be a magnet, pulling in creative young people from the art schools, and get them started again, doing some of the old characters, but in new stories, and so on. But new characters too, and hopefully a Warner Brothers feature. That's what I'd like to do. And I've written a couple of scripts that are not too bad, I think.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

What is directing animation?

Chuck Jones: Well, directing is doing the key drawings, not the key animation, mind you. If the coyote is falling, and he looks at the audience and holds up a sign saying, "Please end this picture before I hit." That's his way of expressing himself since he can't talk. He does a couple of pictures, but mostly he does not. But, I have to make that particular drawing to show the attitude I want on the drawing. Plus the action of getting in there, the action of running, if he's going to fly like Batman, or falling over the cliff. Also, I have timed the entire scene. It scares cameramen and anybody that works behind the camera to find out that in animation in Warner Brothers we weren't allowed to edit. You couldn't over-shoot, it was too expensive. So all of us as directors had to learn to time the entire picture on music, on bar sheets, just like you were writing a symphony. That's carrying it on a bit, but anyway -- so by the time it came out to 540 feet, that's six minutes. Leon Schlesinger wouldn't let us make them any longer than six minutes, and the exhibitor wouldn't let us make them any shorter than six minutes, so they had to be six minutes. So we had to learn to do that, and it drives people like George Lucas or Spielberg crazy. "How can you make a picture without editing?"

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Well, it is edited, but it's edited before it goes into work. There are a few live action directors, like Hitchcock that shot a meager amount, but not the way we did it. At Disney's, they always have enough money so they could over-shoot. They could do entire sequences and take them out.

Chuck Jones Interview Photo
It was heartbreaking, of course, for the animator. Because where an actor might have a 15-second, or 20-second scene, even if they did it three or four times, it would take less than 20 minutes. But with the animator, if he's animated a scene that runs 20 seconds, it might be two week's work that's been thrown out.

Music is such a key element in those Warner Brothers cartoons. You must have a musical bent.

Chuck Jones: I know something about it, but mainly through experience working with people like Carl Stalling and Milt Feindel. These were two incredible people with great memories. Stalling was particularly useful because he had been a silent-movie organist in Kansas City.

In the Road Runner, for instance, people think of that as just helter-skelter, but it wasn't. A big percentage of the music was Smetana's Bartered Bride music. And whenever I had undersea stuff or so on, I always used Mendelssohn's Overture to Fingal's Cave. Later, when we did How the Grinch Stole Christmas, we used original music, but curiously enough, the Christmas music was done to a square dance call. We used it, because the rhythm sounded right, it was very cheery.

Thanks for talking with us. And thanks for all the great cartoons.

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 14:36 EDT
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