JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, remembering Chuck Jones, the master of movie animation. He died at age 89 of congestive heart disease Friday night at his California home. He worked on more than 300 animated films over a nearly 70-year career. In 1995 he received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. The characters he created, drew, or wrote became part of American culture. Here's a sampling:
ELMER FUDD(Band playing "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" ) : Wabbit tracks.
ELMER SINGING: Kill the wabbit kill the wabbit... kill the wabbit
BUGS BUNNY: Kill the wabbit?
BUGS BUNNY SINGING: Oh, mighty warrior of great fighting stock might I inquire to ask what's up, doc?
NARRATOR SINGING IN "The Grinch That Stole Christmas": You're a rotten one, Mr. Grinch you're the king of sinful thoughts! Your heart's a dead tomato squashed with moldy purple spots... Mr. Grinch you're a three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich... ...with arsenic sauce!
CHARACTER (Speaking French): Leaping lizards, le pew!
PEPPIE: Flattering, yes?
ROAD RUNNER: Beep, beep. Beep, beep. Beep, beep. (Crash)
JIM LEHRER: And joining us now is John Canemaker, director of the animation program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. His latest book is Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation. John Canemaker, welcome.
JOHN CANEMAKER: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
JIM LEHRER: What was there about Chuck Jones that made it possible for him to create the kinds of things we just saw?
JOHN CANEMAKER: Well, I don't know. There was a certain kind of childlike quality to Chuck in many ways. He grew up in Hollywood at a time when he could watch the silent movie comedians actually doing their work on the streets of Los Angeles. And I think he got that feeling of physical comedy from them that later went into his work. He also was an excellent draftsman. And he could draw anything that he wanted to. The drawing of his cartoons is very exact and perfected in terms of conveying the sort of psychological interior of the characters.
JIM LEHRER: So the number of skills that are involved in being a good animator are many. You have to have a story line to begin with.
JOHN CANEMAKER: You have to have a story, but you need to be an actor. You need to be able to convey the emotion of the actors. Chuck was able to do that with the minimal movements and the expressions of the characters. It was really a phenomenal job of acting, I would say.
JIM LEHRER: How did he get in this business?
JOHN CANEMAKER: Well, he actually kind of fell into it. He did study art. He went to the Chouinard Art Institute early on, and so he had a background in terms of draftsmanship ability that some of the other animators didn't have at that time. But he started by doing odd jobs around Hollywood. He was actually drawing caricatures at one point in downtown Hollywood for a dollar - a buck a throw. And he kind of fell into animation, began at the very lowest level, which was as a cell washer.
JIM LEHRER: What's that?
JOHN CANEMAKER: They used to paint the characters and paste them on to celluloid acetate and then place them over opaque backgrounds. Chuck's job was to take these cells and to wash off the drawings so they could be reused again. So he kind of worked his way up from there.
JIM LEHRER: He worked with Disney, did he not?
JOHN CANEMAKER: He worked very late in his career briefly with Disney. It was just when "Sleeping Beauty" was going on and there was a layoff at Warner Brothers. For most of his 30 years, he was a Warner Brothers director.
JIM LEHRER: In his... what is your favorite character that he created? What do you think was his greatest achievement?
JOHN CANEMAKER: Well, I think the psychological quality that he got into the characters. I like what he did with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and all of the famous characters, but some of the other characters that were less known were some of my favorites.
For example, the bulldog and the little kitten in "Feed the Kitty" -- today in my class at New York University, I was showing that to the students. It's just amazing how much information he gets across to you very succinctly. The poses are very strong in the characters. But there's a hierarchy in terms of the drawings that animators use.
JIM LEHRER: What do you mean?
JOHN CANEMAKER: Well, the most important drawing are the storytelling drawings. These are the drawings that really convey what the animator wants to say in a particular scene. And then the other drawings are like signposts along the way. They also tell you more about who the character is and what the story is. But the in-between drawings go in the middle there, and they kind of create that flurry of motion. But the most important ones are the extreme poses or the storytelling drawings, and Chuck was a master of that.
JIM LEHRER: You knew him very well. What was he like?
JOHN CANEMAKER: I knew him for about 30 years. He was an absolute delight as a person. As you can imagine, a great sense of humor; he loved wordplay. He always liked puns and double entendres. In fact I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago when I was in Los Angeles, and I said, "Are you ambulatory, Chuck?" He said, "Well, I'm spending most of my time in bed now." Then there was a slight pause-- you know, great timing that he always had-- and he said, "But some of the best moments of my life have been spent in bed."
JIM LEHRER: If you had to... and it's a very difficult question, but if you had to sum up what his legacy is, what... you're an animator yourself. You're a student of animation, you also do it yourself; you've done it for a living. What is his greatest contribution? How should we remember Chuck Jones?
JOHN CANEMAKER: I think as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, not just as an animator. But if you look at his films, I mean, they're extraordinarily funny, but if you really start to study his films, you'll see a great filmmaking director at work here. I mean, the way he stages things, the way he will cut, the way he will stay on a character and just have a minimal bit of movement... he was an extraordinarily intelligent man, a very gifted man and sensitive man, and all of that went into his work. And I think he extended the emotional parameters of animation.
JIM LEHRER: It wasn't just fun to him, then?
JOHN CANEMAKER: Oh, it was great fun to him. I think that's part of the secret of Chuck Jones' work, is that it was so much fun to him. He said he made those films for himself, not for other people. So I think that sense of fun and having a good time and being serious about the work as well was in there, in all of those films.
JIM LEHRER: Is animation hard? Is it hard work?
JOHN CANEMAKER: (Laughs) Yes, it's the hardest work in the world.
JIM LEHRER: I knew you were going to say that.
JOHN CANEMAKER: Actually it's not hard. People always say, "Gee, don't you have to make a lot of drawings, and isn't that tedious?" Well, no it isn't, because it's fascinating. And if you do try to create characters that can live on the screen, I think then it really becomes an obsession of sorts.
JIM LEHRER: An obsession. You're doing a series of drawings, and then they all have to fit together to make movement, right?
JOHN CANEMAKER: Right, right. Well, Chuck Jones was a master of a particular type of animation, which is indigenously American, actually. Personality animation, it's called. And it's where a character doesn't just move, but it expresses an intrinsic personality. It becomes a persona. It has a soul. It thinks. It appears to think. This is a very special American kind of art form. It's as indigenous to America as jazz.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
JOHN CANEMAKER: He was a great master of it.
JIM LEHRER: My favorite was the Roadrunner. I loved him.
JOHN CANEMAKER: Beep, beep.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you, John Canemaker.
JOHN CANEMAKER: My pleasure.