Chuck Jones was the last surviving giant from the golden era of Warner Bros. animation, a period that lasted from roughly 1935 to 1959. Chuck Jones was a master at creating expressive characters, including Road Runner, Wile E Coyote and Daffy Duck. Among his many achievements, one masterpiece was 1957's "What’s Opera, Doc?" featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Chuck Jones, who died in 2002, once said an animator is "an actor with a pencil."
Chuck Jones was the son of a sometimes abusive father, who ran a paper company. Though his father was abusive, he supplied him with endless amounts of paper, which encouraged Jones to draw. Jones dropped out of high school and enrolled in the Chouinard Art Institute (later known as the California Institute of the Arts) in Los Angeles at age 15.
After a brief stint at a commercial art studio, he became a cartoon cel-washer (see cel animation
) at the Ub Iwerks Studio. He moved up the ranks, becoming a cartoon cel painter, inker and in-betweener (or assistant animator) before being fired, rehired and fired again by Iwerks. Finally he became an assistant animator with Leon Schlesinger Productions, the animation unit at Warner Bros., around 1933. Jones was promoted to animator in 1934 and worked on several cartoons helmed by Friz Freleng and others.
After a crippling animators strike in the 1940s, of which Jones was a fervent supporter, studios began cutting back on production costs for cartoons, which resulted in less lavish animation. The cutback, however, spurred Jones to some of his greatest achievements. He began experimenting with stylized, minimalist backgrounds, refining movement and paring animation to its essentials.
Chuck Jones directed the second and third appearances of the prototypical Bugs Bunny. Jones' best work was "What's Opera, Doc?" in 1957, which condensed Wagner's 14-hour Der Ring des Nibelungun into a six minute cartoon starring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. In 1992, the film was selected for the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Jones conceived Daffy Duck
as a coward who was continually undone by his own selfishness. Jones' cartoons starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd ("Rabbit Fire," "Rabbit Seasoning" and "Duck! Rabbit! Duck!") were subtle and strong examples of character animation. Jones also found success placing Daffy in wildly incongruous settings, such as "The Scarlet Pumpernickel," "Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century" and "Robin Hood Daffy." Jones broke the "fourth wall" with "Duck Amuck" in 1953, when Daffy is tormented by a mostly off-screen animator and actually talks directly into the "camera."
Chase Scenes and The WB Frog:
Chuck Jones won Warner Bros. an Oscar in 1949 with "For Scent-imental Reasons," which starred one of his most popular creations, the amorous French skunk, Pepe Le Pew. Jones also created the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote series, which represented the chase film boiled down to its essentials. In addition to working with an impressive stable of continuing characters, Jones shined at "one-shot" cartoons. The most celebrated example may be "One Froggy Evening" from 1955, an allegory about a singing frog, later named Michigan J. Frog
, who became the symbol of Warner Bros.' WB Network in the mid-'90s.
Tom, Jerry and the Grinch:
After Warner Bros. closed its animation studio in the early 1960s, Chuck Jones briefly joined MGM, where he produced and directed a series of Tom and Jerry
cartoons. He kept working through his own production company, Chuck Jones Enterprises, primarily on TV specials, the most famous of which was Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
, originally broadcast on CBS in 1966.
Awards in Retirement:
In 1993, he signed a deal with Warner Bros. to produce and direct new animated shorts featuring classic and new characters. At the age of 82, he produced and directed "Chariots of Fur," a new Road Runner and Wile E Coyote cartoon released with the feature Richie Rich. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame the following year. Chuck Jones was given an honorary Oscar at the 1996 ceremony for "the creation of classic cartoons and cartoon characters whose animated lives have brought joy to our real ones for more than half a century."