The Evolution of Chuck Jones, the Artist Behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck & Other Looney Tunes Legends: A Video Essay

Not­ed car­toon per­son­al­i­ty Bugs Bun­ny has war­bled his way through Wag­ner­ian opera, played every defen­sive posi­tion known to base­ball, styled a monster’s hair…is there any­thing that was­cal­ly wab­bit can­not do?

Yes, in fact. Accord­ing to his long time direc­tor, ani­ma­tor Chuck Jones, Bugs could nev­er pick a fight. Unlike his hair trig­ger Looney Tunes col­league, Daffy Duck, the bun­ny had to be pro­voked before enter­ing the fray. That applies whether he’s a box­er, a gang­ster, or imper­son­at­ing the biggest movie stars of his day.

Abid­ing by the strong rules he estab­lished for the char­ac­ters in the Looney Tunes sta­ble was crit­i­cal to his com­ic approach, as Jones explains in the above video essay, a bit of a depar­ture for Tony Zhou’s cel­e­brat­ed cin­e­ma series, Every Frame a Pic­ture. Rather than exam­ine the fram­ing and tim­ing of “one of the all-time mas­ters of visu­al com­e­dy,” this time Zhou delves into the evo­lu­tion of his subject’s artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ties.

Like all good direc­tors, Jones learned from his actors–in this case, ani­mat­ed, and not all of them his babies. Bugs and Daffy were the brain­chil­dren of the great Tex Avery. Friz Fre­leng cre­at­ed Yosemite Sam and everyone’s favorite stut­ter­ing pig, Porky.

Jones teased out the desires that became the pri­ma­ry engines for those char­ac­ters’ phys­i­cal­i­ty as well as their behav­ior. Daffy comes off as an unhinged lunatic in his ear­ly appear­ances. His com­ic poten­tial grew once Jones reframed him as a con­niv­er who’d do any­thing in pur­suit of wealth and glo­ry.

Once the char­ac­ters’ moti­va­tions were clear, Jones could mess around with the ol’ one-two punch. It’s a clas­sic com­ic struc­ture, where­in real­i­ty wreaks hav­oc on the audience’s expec­ta­tions about how things should unfold. Then again, a child can tell you what dri­ves Jones’ cre­ation, the pas­sion­ate French skunk, Pepé Le Pew, as well as how those amorous ambi­tions of his are like­ly to work out. Fun­ny! Depend­ably so!

Zhou also draws atten­tion to the evo­lu­tion of the char­ac­ters’ expres­sions, from the antic to the eco­nom­i­cal. John Belushi was not the only com­ic genius to under­stand the pow­er of a raised eye­brow.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

The Strange Day When Bugs Bun­ny Saved the Life of Mel Blanc

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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