Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Rod Scribner

Rod Scribner was born October 10, 1910 and lived until December 21, 1976. Fortunately, within many of the years in that time frame, he created some of the greatest pieces of animation the world has ever seen.

In animation school, I was taught that the line of action is the most important aspect of any drawing. No matter what the character is doing, that line of action, if done well, can make it seem more dynamic. Your eye can't help but follow that line all throughout the drawing. And, with approximately 12 of those drawings coming at you every second, well it's easy to see why cartoons, especially the ones done in the classic style, have the power to overwhelm an audience. Well, the line of action in Rod's drawings was so fast that it could not be registered by the human eye. So, just take the energy of a regular cartoon (and I mean a GOOD cartoon, none of this bland Psychological Realism nonsense from Chris Landreth or tracing live action footage like Richard Linklater or any horrible Saturday Morning factory product) and then multiply that by 1000 and you get something that's "off-the-charts" incredible. John Kricfalusi (creator of Ren & Stimpy) sites him as an influence and you can see that throughout his work.

Rod Scribner's greatest animation can be seen in Bob Clampett's work at Warner Bros. from Wabbit Twouble (c. 1941) to The Big Snooze (c. 1946). One great scene in particular is in Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves (c. 1943) when Prince Cawmin' is giving Coal Black his special "rosebud" kiss to revive her. You can see him trying to give her the best kiss ever and more importantly you can feel it. He's not just giving his lips a workout, he's putting his whole body into it. From his head all the way down to his toes, it looks like Princy is trying to smush his entire body onto her mouth. Truly breathtaking (literally for the Prince). Also check out his animation in Corny Concerto (c. 1943) when the mother swan first discovers that her sygnets are missing. Scibner did a fantastic job emphasizing the panic she feels as she looks everywhere for them in time to the music. After she faints, he even put some vibrant energy into the duck who tries to revive her with a bucket of water. His whereabouts from 1946 to 1950 is unknown (at least by me anyway), but he did resurface at Warners in Robert McKimson's unit. There he carried on with his own unique animation style. It can be scene in such cartoons as Pop'Im, Pop (c. 1950). Check out the scene where Sylvester tries to shove Hippety Hopper into a tool shed. With each thrust you can feel Sylvester using all his weight on Hippety. Another great example is in Little Boy Boo (c. 1954). Watch the scene where Foghorn Leghorn pitches a baseball to Eggbert Jr. Aaron Small should have such a pitching arm. Rod left Warner's during the brief shutdown period of the studio in 1954. His work later pops up in Jay Ward cartoons. One inparticular that stands out is the opening sequnce of George of the Jungle inwhich George is encased upsidedown in that giant flower while the stamen and the pistal spank his bottom. He would then work with other former WB animators on the groundbreaking Bakshi opus Fritz the Cat. His last work would be for his old WB companion J.C. Melendez on Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown. He died before that came out.

Well, that's quite a bit about his work. Now about the man himself. Some have called him an eccentric. Others called him completely insane. I wasn't sure what to think until I received an email about him approximately 2 years ago. Here's how it read:

Hi David

I met Rod in Malibu way back in 1968....just shortly after I moved there with my
parents. His son Ty I had befriended on the beach at Paradise Cove...Ty lived
with his mother
(they were divorced) in Glendale ...so he was only around on the weekends and
mostly thru the summer months. Rod lived alone so I hung out with him as often
as I could...cruised up and down the Pacific Coast Highway with him in his
Porsche and listened to stories about some of his work. Rod taught me how to
drive a stick shift, and was very attached to his silver 1967 Porsche 912. The
photo was
used by the dealership (I think it was Masterson Motors Pasadena) ...thats not
his Porsche in the photo..just one they
had for the photo with Rod endorsing their dealership.

His mobile home (Paradise Cove was a larger trailer park) was filled with boxes
of cells from his recent project, like Barrie he also had a studio set up,
at that time he had recently finished a commercial for American Motors (showed
large numbers of imported cars riding surfboard onto US beaches) and he was very
proud of it.
Rod Scribner, Barrie Nelson, and Bill Melendez were all neighbors ...Melendez
used the place as a weekend retreat
from his Peanuts work...Barrie had his studio in his mobile home and so it was
the usual thing to gather at Barries
with Rod and see what was going on.

Yes..Rod was taken away...once while I was there. Neighbors told me the Malibu
Sheriff's had taken him in ..I went to the old jail to try to see him but was
turned away they refused to
take his glasses I had brought said they were holding him because he was a
suicide risk...he ultimatly ended up at
Patton State Hospital (65 miles east of Los Angeles) shortly after he was sent
away..I was in a serious automobile accident
and even though Rod had his own personal problems to resolve..he wrote to me to
cheer me through my own lengthly
recovery process. Try to remember in this era...anyone displaying any unusal
behavior could be placed into a mental
hospital..often with only the say so of a police officer.

I never felt or thought that Rod was crazy...he was lonely
and missed his family and had been forced into post divorce seclusion at what
had been their summer residence. If you didn't know him I am sure he fit the
'profile' of an eccentric...and an artist to be sure.

By the time I was released from the hospital..and then some many months of
physical therapy to be able to get around on my own again, I had lost contact
with Rod. I graduated from
Santa Monica HS in 1970, married in 1972 and moved to North Hollywood. Rod
passed away in 1976 while I was living in Santa Barbara so I don't have any
other details of those last few years of his life.

Rod wasn't crazy..he was just marching to a different drummer
a devoted and talented (if not misunderstood) artist.

When Rod got word of my terrible accident he sent me this cartoon as a get well

Dave and Jeanette Berry

Here's that get well card they sent me. Dave Berry, wherever you are, thank you.

Well, what more can I say about that animator extraordinaire Rod Scribner? Well really, no more SHOULD be said. If a picture is worth a thousand words then one of Scribner's pictures is worth a thousand pictures. Check out any piece of animation with his name in the credits if you want to learn more about him. There's no better way to do that.


  1. Wonderful, incredibly cool post. Thanks a million for writing it--I love Scribner's work but knew zero about him. Priceless stuff.

  2. What a nice little blog you've got there.
    Yeah,Rod Scribner was awesome. Every single animation he did was amazing. It was all rubbery and stuff. And it's really fun to pause in the middle of a cartoon. Each scene can stand out by its self. Rod Scribner also helped animate "Rabbit's Kin" I bet it was when that little bunny was running around like crazy in the first scene.

  3. hey, Im from s'toon and I was wondering what school you went to... (I ask because I seen your post on john k's blog)

  4. Jdm, the place was called Scetch at the time. But now it's called Redhouse. (It's a long, sad, heartwrenching, nauseating story)

  5. I was looking into scetch, then it shut down.

    so I went into newmediacampus. for 3danimation.

    I hear good things about redhouse!

  6. Nice stuff! Stories about Scribner have persisted for years in the industry. I spoke with the late Don Selders, one of his assistants, who told me that Charlotte Huffine, Scribner's last assistant (now also departed), held the real info on what happened to him. Regardless of his tragic personal situation, the man was an incomperable animator. One can learn more from stop-framing his stuff than from reading tons of animation theories. Some of Scribner's contemporaries carped that Scribner's stuff was on ones because it would only work when exposed that way. They argued that Scribner put in way too much motion, too much work. But it wasn't work with Scribner, it was NEED. The man LOVED motion and found a unique way of making it work that nobody else ever touched! Keep on stop framing Rod's work and you won't be disappointed! Check out Book Revue and The Great Piggy Bank Robbery! That huge rat turning around in ONE FRAME shouldn't work, but, in Scribner's hands, it sings! He goes from sillo to structure, abstraction to concrete form and back again, registering on about a dozen psychic levels. No one else in Hollywood had the brain to do that in every shot they animated. They were all licked by footage, a 40 hour week or some other demons. Whatever it was that stopped Scribner, it was nothing mundane.

    Tom Minton

  7. Some of Scribner's contemporaries carped that Scribner's stuff was on ones because it would only work when exposed that way. They argued that Scribner put in way too much motion, too much work. But it wasn't work with Scribner, it was NEED. The man LOVED motion and found a unique way of making it work that nobody else ever touched.
    I have noticed that. Yes, his work is best when it is constantly moving. This is actually more evident in some of his later work in Bob McKimson's unit such as the first Tazmanian Devil cartoon Devil May Hare (c. 1954). Scribner actually incorporated holds in some of his Taz Boy scenes (probably under the instruction of McKimson) and it doesn't quite feel right.
    I have read that McKimson tried to tone down Scribner's style during their tenure togther. But really, that's like trying to force a clockwise tornado to turn counter-clockwise with your bare hands. ;)

  8. A few years ago when i was in school [RIT] Greg Duffel came to speak about timing in animation. One anecdote he told was about a snoopy animator, the only one who ever gave snoopy teeth, who had been taken to a mental hospital for whatever reason, and would escape to animate. i didn't take his name away from that seminar, but reading this, it was obviously scribner. check out the snoopy cartoons scribner was around for and look for those scenes when snoopy freaks out and has crazy sawblade teeth. i'm pretty sure now that's scribner. Greg Duffel might be a good person to ask about those mysterious last few years of scribner's life. if memory serves he was in and out of the mental hospital because he escaped to animate, i i believe may have even gone back when he was done.

    even without remembering who the story was about i thought "that guy is my hero!!!" and after reading this, and it making sense it would be scribner, it's the ultimate reaffirmation. thank you very very much!


  9. Hello everyone!
    Sorry to submit this so long after the original post;
    I just discovered this blog and have only recently become aware of Mr. Scribner through recent studies of Warner Bros. animation.
    I so enjoy and marvel at Mr. Scribner's work for the WB classic cartoons, viewing them frame by frame.
    In response to Mr. Barry's post stating:
    "Rod wasn't crazy..he was just marching to a different drummer
    a devoted and talented (if not misunderstood) artist."
    -- I say, yes, indeed! How many truly great artists are there who are NOT misunderstood?
    What an innovator he was! One could argue he was as accomplished and talented as any of Disney's best animators; and yet in some ways he was too good for Disney.
    I personally think more should be published about him (whether in print or other media) so that both the public and film scholars can be shown Mr. Scribner's contribution to animation was as significant as many others (like Disney's animators).
    There should be a whole book or documentary devoted to him! Or at least to all the classic WB animators!
    Well, that's my 2 cents. Thank you.

  10. (Slight correction to my last post:

    - sorry for the name misspelling when I quoted another's post-

    - it should be Mr. Dave BERRY (not Barry)

  11. It's a genius entry about a genius man.

    However, the scene of the Pen freaking out in 'Corny Concerto' was Virgil Ross. (Much better Scribner scenes in the cartoon include, say, the entire last chunk of 'Tales of the Vienna Woods' after the gunplay - and the shot in 'Blue Danube' of the sneezing Cygnet. He was a master of tortured poses, torque, hyper-physics. Ross, on the other hand, was completely soft. He threw in smears to make his work jibe well with Rod, but he's the source of all those dialogue scenes in Friz Freleng's cartoons where the characters stretch their arms out, palms outward, stiffly to accent their words. (Yes, he's the one that started it.)

    Scribner was just absolute genius, man. 0.e

  12. The scene of the Pen freaking out in 'Concerto' was actually Virgil Ross (inventor of the palms-out-stretch-arm school of dialogue accent). Scribner's scenes in that one included Daffy throwing water on the pen's head, the sneezing cygnet, the capture of the cygnets by Beaky, Elmer's monologues, all of 'Vienna Woods' before 'It Ain't Polite to Point' (when it turns Virgil Ross, then bob McKimson again), and after the squirrel fires the gun, everything until the end is Scribner. (And pure genius - Bug's arm stretches longer than his body when he clobbers the bra onto Porky's head.)

  13. Rod was my grandfather and I love hearing all the stories about him from all of you. I obviously knew him differently but I am proud to know that you all admire his work. I am putting together a collection of his work for my children so they can learn about him. Like many in our family, my grandfather "Papa" struggled with sleeping and took sleeping pills to help him get to sleep. If anything I think that was his biggest issue in life. He was so creative and had so much on his mind that it kept him up at night. I know lack of sleep can make anyone appear "crazy" but I don't really believe he was crazy. My mother said he was an incredible father and a true romantic to my grandmother Jane. Tyler Gerhart Wood