In this videographic criticism, Tony Zhou walks us through the animation of Chuck Jones, the director of the infamous Looney Tunes and an acclaimed “master of visual comedy.” By taking apart his cartoons we can begin to understand the structures that are signature to Jones’ style of comedy, and likewise, we can be exposed to the process of developing animated characters.
As someone who enjoys comedy immensely but doesn’t fully know the ins and outs of its design, I found this video to be wonderfully effective in it’s approach. We learn about how we laugh, by laughing. Zhou uses a collection of clips in conjunction to his voiceover to show patterns in how jokes and with that, how comedic characters, can be designed. I was really intrigued by how systematic Jones’ approach is. As Zhou outlines, there are two steps to how the gags in Looney Tunes are designed: we are first given a situation that inspires a particular assumption, then secondly, that assumption is proven wrong. Zhou proves the prevalence of this formula through a series of clips that time and time again give us an assumption that turns out to be incorrect.
I was struck by how aware Jones was of how the restrictions of a formula can provide opportunities for artistic freedom. Instead of seeing a routine or a pattern as something that can be a trap, we can instead read it as a form of discipline. Zhou comments on how Jones’ understanding of the term “Disciplines,” that being the challenges and restrictions you set on yourself, helped them develop characters with more depth and potential for comedy. By setting the restriction that Bugs Bunny never starts a fight, he only fights back, for example, viewers can begin to read into a character, a plot, or a gag to and anticipate certain assumptions that can then be broken.
Learning the creative process of other filmmakers and creators helps me think about my own. To have characters broken down to What they Want and How they Move helps me look for the same patterns in the stories I create or the stories I take apart. To have humor broken down into the categories of human behavior and logic, helps me understand why we behave the way we do, what triggers emotions, and how we function as social beings.
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