Random semiconscious musings

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Don Williams

In my last post I mentioned that I was going to focus my next few entries on one of my favourite animators from the Golden Age of animation: Don Williams.

In doing so, there is another bonus.... I get to present one of the most beautifully-animated, magnificent cartoons of all time, bar none.

OK, where to start- Mr. Williams had quite a history of roving between workplaces during the entire span of the Golden and Silver Ages of Animation. He has had a presence at pretty much every major studio in Hollywood- some accounts say he never stayed anywhere very long because he bored easily of animating characters with designs that were too simple and inexpressive. Other accounts say he had trouble holding a position anywhere due to his excessive drinking and nonconformist attitude. It's most likely a combination of the two, but the end result is that his career can be tracked by spotting his distinctive style on many famous characters in dozens of great cartoons.

In his early years Mr. Williams did what most young artists wanting to break into the business did, which was freelance on newspaper illustrations and advertisements. The earliest credit I've seen of his was at Warner Brothers Studios in 1933 on the Merrie Melodie cartoon, "Sittin' On A Backyard Fence"... so I have no idea if he actually animated anywhere else prior to that since his style was not yet discernible. It's quite likely that this was his break into the business because in the 30s when film and animation were exploding industries, almost anyone who could manipulate a pencil could get a job rather easily due to industry demands. He was apparently in his mid-teens.

Don's film credit at Warner's continues until 1936 in the film, "At Your Service Madam", when he suddenly disappears. There has been speculation and testimony by his grandson, Darrin Walter that he did a brief stint at Disney from 1937 - 1939, and has animation in several cartoons including Lonesome Ghosts and The Brave Little Tailor. I will watch these cartoons soon see if I can recognize his developing penmanship in either one of them, especially on the scenes he is attested on doing. (By these dates Don's animation must be a little more obvious because the 1941 MGM cartoon in today's entry, only two years after leaving Disney, showcases his inimitable style and timing which lasted for several years afterward, and it's very unlikely that his exceedingly distinctive talent suddenly developed in two years.
That would be like saying your own handwriting completely changes within a matter of a few months). In my previous post featuring the Buddy cartoon "Buddy The Detective", the scenes I am aware that Williams did still do not quite resemble that which we've come to recognize, although there are brief glimpses of his timing skill here and there.

Don Williams has screen credit and animation in a few MGM cartoons up to 1942. Today's focus is on the magnificent Hugh Harman cartoon, "The Field Mouse".

From the cue Sheets for this production, the other animators listed include Irv Spence, Ray Abrams, Paul Sommer, Leonard Sebring, and David Treffman. I've broken down this cartoon with the animators that I know did the specific marked scenes, keeping in mind that cue sheets are not always the last word on who contributed what.

Enjoy the cartoon. This is a prime example of what can be done WITHOUT sh!tty computer-generated graphics replacing raw artistic talent. The layout is superb, the action fast-paced, and the storytelling is A-1. Some of the best names in the industry worked on this production, and it is a first-class representation of a spectacular Hollywood animated cartoon.

Oh yeah, and enjoy Don's wonderfully quirky style... more on that in my next post.

BTW, that old guy moves pretty good for someone with the gout.