Chuck Jones’ 9 Rules For Drawing Road Runner Cartoons, or How to Create a Minimalist Masterpiece

chuck jones rules

Google the key­words “art” and “lim­its” (or “bound­aries”) and you will find thou­sands of results with titles like “art with­out lim­its” or “art with­out bound­aries.” With­out dis­sect­ing any of them in par­tic­u­lar, the gen­er­al idea strikes me as a fan­ta­sy. Art can­not exist with­out lim­its: the lim­i­ta­tions of par­tic­u­lar media, the lim­i­ta­tions of the artist’s vision, the lim­i­ta­tions of space and time. We always work with­in lim­its, and often those cre­ators who are most delib­er­ate about set­ting lim­i­ta­tions for them­selves pro­duce some of the most pro­found and unusu­al works. One could name min­i­mal­ists like Samuel Beck­ett, or Lars Van Tri­er, or Erik Satie. Or Chuck Jones, Amer­i­can ani­ma­tor of such clas­sic Warn­er Brother’s char­ac­ters as Bugs Bun­ny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and, of course, the Road Run­ner and Wile E. Coy­ote. Hey, why not? He’s a genius.

Jones had a keen ear for wise­cracks, a satir­i­cal bent, and per­fect com­ic tim­ing; his ver­bal humor is as deft as his slap­stick; and per­haps most impor­tant­ly, he rec­og­nized the impor­tance of set­ting strict lim­its on his car­toon uni­verse, so as to make its rapid-fire jokes phys­i­cal­ly intel­li­gi­ble and wring from them the max­i­mum amount of ten­sion and irony. Take the list of rules above for the Road Runner/Wile E. Coy­ote car­toons. These have been cir­cu­lat­ing wide­ly on the inter­net, and I’d guess peo­ple find them intrigu­ing not only because they pull back the cur­tain on the inner work­ings of a fic­tive world as famil­iar as the back of our hands, but also because they reveal how Jones’ car­toon series func­tions as a min­i­mal­ist thought exper­i­ment. What hap­pens when you restrict two car­toon char­ac­ters to the barest of expres­sions, move­ments, and set­ting, and to the odd­ball con­sumer prod­ucts of one mega­cor­po­ra­tion?

Road Runner Rules

We all know the answer: A per­pet­u­al motion machine of phys­i­cal com­e­dy, with loads of near-myth­ic sub­text under­ly­ing Wile E.‘s tragi­com­ic fol­ly. The list of rules is on dis­play at New York’s Muse­um of the Mov­ing Image in an exhib­it called What’s Up Doc? The Ani­ma­tion Art of Chuck Jones. The sto­ry has a twist. Appar­ent­ly, writes Kottke—who shared a slight­ly dif­fer­ent ver­sion of the rules—“long-time Jones col­lab­o­ra­tor Michael Mal­tese said he’d nev­er heard of the rules.” Whether this means that Jones kept them secret and nev­er shared them with his team, or whether he for­mu­lat­ed them after the fact, we may nev­er know. In any case, I imag­ine that if we sat down and watched all of the Road Run­ner car­toons with a copy of the rules in front of us, we’d find that they apply in almost every case.

via Men­tal Floss/Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How to Draw Bugs Bun­ny: A Primer by Leg­endary Ani­ma­tor Chuck Jones

Pri­vate Sna­fu: The World War II Pro­pa­gan­da Car­toons Cre­at­ed by Dr. Seuss, Frank Capra & Mel Blanc

Oscar-Win­ning Ani­mat­ed Short, The Dot and the Line, Cel­e­brates Geom­e­try and Hard Work (1965)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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