Monday, November 09, 2009


Influences are a funny thing. They are rarely cohesive. I think it'd be very sad if one's influences all come from the same pot of fish. Sometimes a person finds themselves surprised by what influences them. And sometimes others are surprised, too. In some form or another- whether in large or small measure- influences tend to keep showing up in a person's work over time. Here are a few of mine, in no particular order....

The Muppet Show

Looney Toons

Woody Woodpecker

Benny Hill


Strange Brew (The McKenzie brothers film)


Snoopy Come Home

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Rowan & Martin's Laugh In

Monty Python

Richard Scarry's books.


This is the stuff that I saw as a kid or a young teen and it stuck with me for some reason. As you can see my slice of humor runs a bit off center from the usual animated fare served up by ol' Uncle Walt. I like verbal humor every bit as much as visual. However it has to be character driven and intelligent, not just self aware pop culture references that the viewer can congratulate themselves' for recognizing. Shows like the Muppet Show, M*A*S*H, and SCTV had a grown up flavor of humor without being needlessly obscene. Benny Hill was winkingly raunchy, but in a tamed down sense. Laugh In was an odd 1970's thing, but I loved the various character sketches. It too had a bit of a naughty streak, but it never crossed line into crass. It was what Saturday Night Live was, only not live, and nearly 10 years before SNL. I liked it better. The Peanuts shows & M*A*S*H greatly influenced my sense of what it means to have a story with some heart and humor at the same time. Woody Woodpecker was just energy exploding all over the screen, pure visual joy. Meanwhile the various Looney Toon shorts were burned into my cerebral cortex from infancy. They too had smart verbal humor at times, very sharp, not dumbed down or condescending. I remember being a 5 year old kid sitting and getting lost in Richard Scarry's books for what seemed like days at a time. The characters were so simple, but extremely appealing and expressive. His illustration was whimsical without being cloying. I never grew tired of looking at them and even today when I see one I'll take some moments and travel back and get lost in them again. For lack of a better word, they're just magical.

Oddly, I was never inspired by Disney films. As a kid they bored me. The only ones I remember liking were Song of the South and 101 Dalmations, and even those were hit and miss. It wasn't until I had become an adult and a professional animator that I looked at Disney films more closely. They still don't really influence or inspire me, even though I can appreciate the craftmanship involved. I can admire them for what they mean historically and technically, but they still don't do much for me. Go figure.


billburg said...

That was a great read. I think it's interesting to think about not only what influences us, but which influences we are able to identify as influences. Many of the shows and films you site had a profound impact on me, perhps so deeply that they seem almost invisible.

I have to say I'm with you in that the Disney films didn't feel like a huge influence on me as a youth-- perhaps because they were so much more inaccessable in the pre-VCR days, compared with the Muppets, Peanuts, or Looney Tunes.

And Richard Scarry, boy. My daugther looks a his books every night before drifting off to sleep. I think Mark Kennedy did a post about line-of-action in Scarry's characters some years ago. They never make that "S" shape animators in the Disney vein usually look for, but that is perhaps a big part of their appeal. I love Scarry's later, "ligne claire" style as well as his earlier, modeled look (as in some Little Golden books like "Good Night, Little Bear," and "I Am a Bunny.") I'm not sure exactly how it relates to CG, other than the appeal of getting lost in a totally created, miniature world. CG still gives me a shot of that, now and then. A student recently said to me, "You play with dolls for a living!" and I guess that's right. Looking at Scarry's books is often like looking into a dollhouse.

Mike B said...

Thanks Keith,
I just purchased some Richard Scarry books for my daughter and have been cracking up all morning watching (or mostly listening a@ work) SCTV on youtube.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you. Disney never did it for me.

I always felt like I was at an important artistic event (when I saw a Disney film) were I had to behave, clap and be impressed. A lot of character embellishment about boring people/ good character development but no interesting character. No sense of fun. On the other hand Looney Tunes and Muppets always feel like old friends I can't wait to see again.

Reminds me of Sullivan's Travels. I'm sure we've all seen it.

Andrew Lee said...

The Hardy Boys and Jack London

Ron said...

I was really surprised to see you list Benny Hill. I used to hoot watching him on HBO as a kid.
I didn't see many Disney films growing up. I remember seeing The Rescuers, but none of the classics. I just saw The Jungle Book all the way through for the first time this year. I think it allows me to see the real beauty of Disney films without any of the fanboyish adoration that some animators exhibit for the genre. If there was any animation that has influenced me, it was the Saturday morning Looney Tunes. And, of course, Fantastic Planet, which convinced me that the French are completely high.

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