The Art of John Hubley
Ever since its humble beginnings in the 1880’s, animation has seen many different phases, the creation of numerous animation styles, multitudes of animation studios, and works of cinematography hailed as masterpieces across the globe. Some animations work at creating realistic and life-like movement or visuals, while other ones try to set animation apart from other forms of film and video, testing the limits and breaking the bounds of what we consider natural or realistic. On animator, John Hubley, sought to break away from conventional animation, such as the styles and rules that were practiced at Disney. Over his course of time in the animation industry he worked on and directed numerous influencal and memorable works, and created a well defined yet simplistic style befitting of his goals for animation.
One of the cofounders of the United Productions of America, or UPA, and founder of Storyboard Studios with his wife Faith Hubley, John Hubley was an American background artist, animator, and director for numerous works during his time. His career began in 1935 with work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and throughout his life he worked at places such as Disney, Screen Gems at Columbia Pictures, UPA, Storyboard Studios, and finally at the National Film Board of Canada. Over the course of his career John aimed to discover new styles of animation that fell away from the typical style used by companies such as Disney. He was a user of limited animation in his works, and worked with the cell animation technique.
John’s animation style is generally simple yet smooth and easy to read, and is easily defined and understood in all of his projects, most notably in animations such as Gerald McBoing–Boing and Rooty Toot Toot. These pieces contain a background generally made up of one color with a few objects or people drawn onto them, simply to help give a viewer an idea of the setting and surroundings. People or figures themselves are simplistic in design, and often times have the lines or coloration that make up their figures overlap. For example, in Rooty Toot Toot Frankie has the color of her hat simply overlaid on the lines making up her head. This limited animation style is also the reason for no characters being completely colored in, such as the bartender from Rooty Toot Toot, who has a simple circle of color to his entire body, or in Gerald McBoing Boing how only parts of many character’s figures are colored in and their skin tones and some clothing is filled in with the backgrounds across the scenes. However is pieces during his time at Storyboard Studios, his figures are more so made up of filled in figures of one or two colors such as in The Hole.
In many of John’s works there is evidence of elements such as limited animation, shown through the re-use of previous frames of animation or limiting the movement of a scene to a few simple parts. In The Hole there is a section of animation from 2:38 to 2:56 where the same frames of a worker shaking a rope is reused. In Rooty Toot Toot some frames display no motion of the character’s mouths with the lines they are speaking, an the section of people leaving the scene is played backwards to show them reentering the room. Throughout Gerald McBoing-Boing characters may only have parts of their bodies moved, such as the doctor’s legs or only the mouths and eyebrows on someone’s face. In Rooty Toot Toot the scene of Johnny being shot through the door is reused around three times, simply recolored and having a few elements at the end edited to fit the telling of the story. Other times entire scenes can go by with nearly no animation at all, such as in Moonbird, where the two characters are sitting in a hole and waiting, leaving us only with the dialogue of the two kids. This allows the animations to run on for longer, while cutting down on the work needed to produce the animation.
Moving away from the more realistic approaches used by Disney in their animation, many of John’s works have a more cartoonish and loose feel to their animation. In Rooty Toot Toot characters such as Nelly Bly showcase rubber hose, with her arms and legs twisting around each other wear a normal human body would be unable to do so. Characters have sporadic and bouncy movement to them, and they defy physics or logic, as seen with the bullets from the third telling of Johnny’s death in Rooty Toot Toot or the father’s reactions to noises in Gerald McBoing-Boing. The falling of the worker in The Hole is another example, with his sporadic movement of his limbs. These elements help gives the animations their own free flowing feel to them, and offset them from feeling entirely realistic or restrictive. It helps give the characters a sense of fluidity to them, as if they could move however one wanted them to.
John Hubley is noted for his involvement in companies such as UPA and Storyboard Studios, and the creation of characters such as Gerald McBoing-Boing and Mr. Magoo. He’s worked numerous jobs in the animation field, and constantly worked to press animation as a medium completely unique to itself. John’s use of limited animation had a certain charm to it, as did his simplistic yet memorable designs for characters and sceens in his works. While he did eventually move onto making more fully colored animations, the earlier works such as Moonbird and Rooty Toot Toot will stand out for their unique style and presentation. His looseness in his characters and animation keeps the animations feeling as if they are set in their own world, and helps define cartoonish traits or actions. A simple style, yet in that simplicity there is complexity and rules to be followed.