An element of nostalgia creeps into the conversation at this point as he recalls the commercials he made in South America in which he animated children, not because he is especially observant but in a latent desire to animate a completely believable boy. In one storyline a young lad’s parents could not afford to buy him the correct utensils and that, he complained, was the reason he could not do well at school. Inwardly he was seething, but kids cannot have a total rage, when they start parents quickly put a stop to it, so Oscar’s little boy was only a little enraged and he kicked the floor with the toe of his shoe. That one gesture told the whole story, personifying all the aggressive feelings filling his mind.
Wile E. Coyote taught him a lesson he has never forgotten. All credit must go to Chuck Jones, his character was not ‘on the go’ all the time. When he scratched his head he spent a few seconds ‘thinking’, an action seldom depicted in cartoon character work. In short cartoons the emphasis is placed on dynamics, and that is a great pity. ‘Thinking’ time immediately introduces subtlety into the action.
“When I made the Frank Sinatra ‘Golden Greats’ commercial, it gave me the most personal satisfaction. In this film, a number of animal characters sang stupidly romantic songs with the voice of Sinatra, their actions and appearances counter pointing the words. We keep it in our show reel because it has become our good luck charm by making people laugh.”
It is a classic of its kind. A marvellously skilful example of anthropomorphic characterisation, humorously exaggerated lip-synch and, more importantly, quite obviously pencil drawings on sheets of paper, at least that was the impression given. Later, at Klacto, he made another few seconds of classic memorable entertainment which should be included in any demonstration reel for aspiring animators. It was an advertisement for Skol lager.
Their studio has been responsible for the Skol advertisements starring Hagar the Horrible and, although he has often had differences of opinion with the agency men, in Hagar’s originator he has found a kindred spirit who is happy with the studio’s handling of his dream-child. When asked to describe Hagar’s hair under his helmet, he replied, “Oscar, do it any way you wish. You can’t go wrong.” Even while recounting the tale, Oscar is obviously staggered by the immensity of the man’s trust in their efforts.
They have an excellent scriptwriter who came up with an idea which enlarged both the character of Hagar and that of his wife. The scenes encapsulated the meaning of ‘character/personality animation’, transforming simple outline figures into thinking, breathing, living entities; it was an object lesson in 30 seconds flat. The storyline called for Hagar’s wife to suggest an evening at home with invited friends. The separate visions of their concept of the evening’s entertainment appear in balloons above their heads; Hagar’s wife has in mind a reserved ladylike cocktail hour, while Hagar drowns his uncouth crowd in pint mugs of lager – a typical stag night with the boys! The punch line to the action shows them passing each other centre screen carrying the appropriate glasses and then realising their diverse implications. As Oscar remarked, “The lack of understanding separating the two characters is, itself, quite touching.”
Yet another storyline in the series featured the devotion of Hagar’s dog as it battled through the elements, dodging adversity, arriving home exhausted with his master’s lager. It was a marvellously eloquent illustration of a canine’s love for its master, made more poignant by Hagar’s insensitive pay- off line, “What, no crisps?”
Both examples exploited emotions and feelings, relying heavily on strong ‘acting’ to impart these sensitivities to their audiences. The end result is the conscious belief that we are watching pencilled creations imbued with the gift of logical, reasoning thought and, in the case of Hagar’s rebuke to his dog, even unconscious ingratitude and lack of appreciation. Animation of the kind that was once the sole prerogative of Disney’s ‘9 Old Men’ is still around, more or less alive and well.
“When you want to express emotions and ideas in animated form you must find your own language. I do not always do it myself, and when I do, I do not always succeed, but I know in my heart that this is the right approach.”
Commissions you know are not ‘good’ jobs cannot be avoided in the commercial world. He sometimes thinks that agencies are more critical of their commercials for the branding, the presentation and the sales pitch than for the drawing, the clever animation or the pretty backgrounds. The latter, no matter how good, cannot by themselves help a bad script. Ironically, some of the worst may have been a joy in the making.
“I was once asked to animate the Dandy comic’s ‘Desperate Dan’ character, and I had a ‘ball’ doing it even though it never reached the screens. Occasionally you can achieve an empathy with a character and that is the way it was with Dan – the tests made me die with laughter, but that was the end of it.
It is great when you can achieve that degree of sympathy with a figure and his actions, it enables you to project through it all the inventiveness of your imagination. I like a degree of vulgarity and brutality in animation, so to some extent I identified with Dan.” People have said there are no animators today to match the talents of Disney’s Old Men. Oscar vehemently dismisses the charge to the extent he is prepared to name those he feels can match and even beat the masters at their own game. However, he mourns the death of fine layout artists and brilliant sequence directors. Disney animation never fails to impress because of its apparent simplicity, they know how to cut the film to a nicety. Oscar used to time sequences and found the characters connected to an astonishing degree, especially dialogue sequences which are notoriously difficult to do successfully. The tendency is to cut on the pauses, at the commas or full stops. Disney editors would cut on a word with absolute awareness of the degree of emphasis.
Have no fear Art Babbitt, the old traditions are in safe hands. Disney films are still available for analysis. Imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, it serves as a spur to further imaginative development. Not so long ago it was fashionable to knock the Disney style but it is not enough to move from one pose to another smoothly, it should be done with the panache and depth of feeling of a live performer. Mechanical or arithmetical movement has no place in a feature-length dramatised screenplay. It requires subtlety of timing, nuances of expression and emotional staging. Therein lies some of the limitations of the medium. You are not always aware of the feelings or how best to express them.
Part of the answer may be found in the individual’s ability to remain receptive to outside influences. Animators should visit museums and draw, paint, sketch all the time. This is the finest way to develop a rapport with shapes and forms. Specialising is dangerous and confining. One should forever be eager to extend the barriers which only serve to restrict the outpourings of the imagination; to introduce an interplay of harmonic and sometimes discordant harmonies; to be keenly aware of the primary and secondary actions, and to time holds on poses to perfection. The primary objective is to discover the best method of punching home the message to emphasise a concept, to broaden and embellish an emotion.