JC: Yes, I am a great admirer of The Cat Who Hated People. I like King Sized Canary too.
RW: That’s the best one! And Bad Luck Blackie, that’s the other good one. We had copies of all those as a reference for the movie.
JC: These films from this fertile period of American animation, the MGM, Warner, Fleischer and Popeye cartoons, cycle again and again on TV. Almost forty years later people still love them.
RW: Bob put this big sign up: “Celebrate the animation of the Forties,” and I added, “but celebrate it fast.”
The Rabbit draws on all the stuff that is re-run using it in a different way. Twisting it. We have a little Jap machine that can print six by four inch frames off videotape. It’s quite good quality. So if we wanted to study an Avery take, where the eyeballs leap out of the head, we’d print it off frame by frame and either copy it if we wanted to, or change it a certain way.
We had an MGM type dog, but we wanted him to walk like Pluto, sniffing the ground. We got the very best animation of Pluto in The Pointer and printed it off. And then the animator used this as the basis of his dog which he had to move much more in 3D than Pluto, but it gave him a start.
We had the Disney morgue at our disposal. We used things straight out of old Disney movies. As we got deeper and deeper into production we got more and more out of the morgue to help us. We did Dumbo ourselves. We had all sorts of model sheets and things. We can’t complain that we didn’t have enough to go on. We had everything we needed. It was great. So when somebody was animating Betty Boop, who’s also in the film, I had six full sheets of Betty Boops and would say, “Now, Sheet One’s got the best head on it, Sheet Two’s got the best body…”
JC: It sounds like a kind of Frankenstein Monster approach.
RW: It is. The Rabbit is a Frankenstein job. A bit from this, a bit from that. We finally got the basis of him from the mouse in King Size Canary. I was struggling away trying different formulas of the period. People don’t draw that way anymore. Bob said, “What about that mouse, that’s pretty funny.” I drew the Rabbit on the Avery mouse, which had that cashew nut shape that Avery used on the mouse or on any other character he did. He had a high forehead, like the top of a cashew nut. Warner characters were like that, and Disney characters were round.
That was what kicked it off. Then Bob said, “That’s great – now how do we get rid of the mouse?” Spielberg came in and said, “Do you know my favourite mouth in all cartoons is Thumper the Rabbit.” And I said, “But it’s very appealing,” to which he replied, “That’s why I love it.” “But,” I said, “we want this Avery like thing which has to be unappealing.” So he said, “Do you know how I did E.T.? I collected the faces of the people I admired. Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, John Doss Pasos the American writer, John Steinbeck. Finally E.T. ended up with Einstein’s eyes, cut out of a magazine, something from Hemingway, and so on. Why don’t we try making the Rabbit out of bits.” Anyway, gradually… gradually we got the Rabbit. The key thing was to make him different, yet he has to look like he was from that time.
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