Most six-year-olds addicted to Saturday morning cartoons don’t know much about the man behind beloved characters like Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner, or about the painstaking work that went into making Bugs Bunny chomp carrots and say “What’s Up, Doc?” For three decades, animation director and artist Charles Martin “Chuck” Jones was the mastermind behind these mania-filled classic cartoons. The Animation Art of Chuck Jones, a new exhibit at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, celebrates his creative genius. It features 23 of the 300 animated films he directed, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as well as 125 original sketches, storyboards, animation cels, and photographs. Here, four things you probably didn’t know about Jones, who died in 2002:
“He had a lot in common with all the characters he created,” Barbara Miller, the exhibition’s curator, tells Co.Design. “He was concerned with bringing out their relatable aspects. He wasn’t just looking for laughs or a quick joke–he brought the characters to life not just mechanically, but with a humanistic approach. It makes his work stand out.” Animation was one of the more tedious, labor-intensive art forms–a seven-minute cartoon required 300 layout drawings, in pencil on paper, then hand-painted. It required a specific kind of vision to turn this jumble of still images into living, breathing characters.
Jones was, like most animators of his time, influenced by Disney–but his work also reacted against Disney in many ways, rejecting its cutesiness. “In a way, Chuck’s cartoons were more hardboiled, their humor had more of an edge to it,” Miller says. “Characters lost their cuteness early on for Chuck. They became more relatable.” While he didn’t invent Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck–they’d been featured by Warner Bros. before his tenure–he perfected their styling and personalities.
His influences also came from outside the world of animation–he was inspired by everything from Mark Twain novels to physical comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton to opera. The latter led to shorts like What’s Opera, Doc?
Jones deeply influenced today’s animators: Pixar cofounder John Lasseter, who directed Cars, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc., cites Jones as an enormous inspiration. Despite more sophisticated 3-D animation replacing the flatter graphics of Jones’s era, “His work does not feel dated even one iota,” Miller says. “The cartoons are really timeless. They’re as funny today as they were back then. I don’t think Bugs Bunny is going anywhere.”