What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones Exhibition

The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY is currently playing host to an exhibition called What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones (which will be there through January 19, 2015; check here for the exhibition’s itinerary).  The exhibition is dedicated to Chuck Jones, one of the most famous animation directors of all time (he is chiefly known for all of the Looney Tunes animated shorts he worked on).  Presented by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Chuck Jones Center For Creativity, and the Museum of the Moving Image, the exhibition promises to explore Jones’ creative genius, the influences he drew from fine art and pop culture, and his legacy in the field of animation.  Having finally gotten the opportunity to visit the Museum over a month ago, I must say that the exhibition surely delivers on these promises; it is quite extensive and very fun.

Here are the sections you can expect in the exhibition:

The Art of Animation Directing

This section explores Jones’ role as an animation director and looks at the development of his characteristic style, from early films like The Night Watchman (1938) to the emergence of a mature style in such films as The Dover Boys (1942).  It also looks at Warner Bros. animation studio, focusing on Chuck Jones’ relationship with members of his animation unit and the other key directors making Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons.  Character layout drawings, model sheets, and examples of work by Jones’ key collaborators are also included.

Creative Experiments

Jones’ more experimental works are explored, such as The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (1965), High Note (1960), and Now Hear This (1962).  It is also shown how Jones used color, simple shapes, background, and sound effects to communicate character and tell a story.

Situating the Story

The interaction between character and setting is explored, as well as Jones’ use of genre parody (westerns, sci-fi, operas, classic Hollywood films), particularly in films featuring Daffy Duck.  There is also a focus on Jones’ long collaboration with background artist Maurice Noble.

Road Runner and Coyote: The Art of the Gag

The development of the Road Runner and Coyote is detailed.  Jones’ mastery of comic timing is explored.  The influence of slapstick and vaudeville to Jones’ approach to “gags” are also shown.

Adapting Characters for the Screen

Jones’ longer-format work after leaving Warner Bros. is looked at, as well as his collaboration with Ted Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”) and how he brought Geisel’s characters to life through animation.  Drawings, model sheets, and production cels from Horton Hears a Who! (1970), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), The Cricket in Times Square (1973), and his feature film The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) are included.

Bringing Characters To Life

The connection between movement and character is explored, focusing on Jones’ unique approach to depicting Bugs Bunny.  There’s also an overview of Bugs Bunny’s development, crediting directors and artists whose work shaped Bugs’ character.  Drawings, painted backgrounds, and storyboards from the production of the animation masterpiece What’s Opera, Doc? (1957) are included.

Chuck Jones’ Legacy

A section focused on the animation process that offers a participatory look at Chuck Jones’ influence on contemporary animation, from comparisons of hand-drawn vs. computer generated animation to people he inspired.

I loved all of the sections, especially the little screening room where clips from several Jones cartoons, including Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, were shown.  The clips were accompanied by brief interview clips and commentary by Pixar head John Lasseter, who shared some wonderful insight on Jones and his influence on animators and filmmakers that came after him.  Overall, the exhibition was a fun experience and shouldn’t be missed out on.  And don’t forget to check out this video:

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