Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chuck Jones Experience, PART 2

Linda opens the Festivities
Neil receives his just deserts
The next day was Thursday, the official Press Opening and it was attended by hundreds of eager fans that had driven or flown from as far away as Florida to be here. Linda approached the mic and began, "I was seriously considering going to the rest room before coming up  here." the audience muffled giggles." Now that I'm up here, I'm not sure I made the right decision." Everyone there cracked up and I mean howled for 5 minutes. Like father, like daughter, eh?

Linda then read a beautiful heartfelt letter written by Chuck to a then 1 year old Grandson named Craig that had many an eye welling up including Craig himself.  Craig then commanderred the mic  as he smiled, "Don't break the dam mother, don't break the dam." fighting the tears back with a smile.  Craig then took time out to thank some of the hard working people responsible for this unique exhibit including Neil Cantor, Robert Patrick and John Ramirez.

The son Mel never knew
He eventually relinguished the mic to the talented Eric Goldberg and after a sutable number of hrrummphs and clearings of his throat, gave us an incredible dead on rendition of Bugs Bunny singing a section from Chuck's 1950 classic "Barber of Seville" finishing with a quick retort from Daffy Duck that Mel Blanc himself would have relished. I would be willing to bet that Eric must be a hoot at Karaoke.

We were also entertained to Chuck's lovely wife Marian Jones who offered her personal recollections of Chuck with such memorable quotes as, "The rules are simple, take your work, but never yourself seriously." Neil Cantor was honored by a hefty and heavy statue of the Coyote for his tremendous work in making this show a reality. I also had the chance to meet and spend a little time with the brilliant John Rameriz who was one of the artistic geniuses behinfd the nuts and bolts of asembling this exhibit.

Before we knew what was going on some of us were then ushered to stand against a wall. I wondered aloud why they hadn't at least given us blindfolds. Suddenly a battery of flash bulbs exploded looking like a fotographic-firing squad.  I was relieved they were only wielding cameras as our retinas slowly sizzled away to tiny red dots in the solar flare of flashes. You know as I look at this photo I can't help but reflect on the physical differences between Animation artists and other artists. The 3 fellows on the left (Jeff DeGrandis, Eric Goldberg and Mike Peraza) are all Disney Animators and obviously haven't skipped too many of the free meals offered by Disney when in final production. Also when you compare their rather pale complexions to those radiating healthy tans on the right one wonders how often they escape from their desks to venture outside into the sunlight. Hey, it's just a personal observation and I could be mistaken in my conclusions. What's that waiter? Another Créme Bulée for me? Ahhh, the things one must endure for the sake of one's art.

Pepe LePhew for a lady from Texas
Can't turn down a chance to draw
Speaking of one's art, one of my favorite parts of the experience hands down (pun intended) was what we call the "Big Draw" on Friday morning.  The Warner library of toons under Chuck's guidance are just plain fun to draw. Although most of the artists had left by then, Jim and Bob and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people. I did my best at sketching out request drawings for the folks with characters from Bugs BunnyDaffy Duck, and Wile E. Coyote to a Valentine for a lady from Texas with her favorite-Pepe LePhew and his gal Friday.

I would explain how I was constructing the characters while sketching and at the same time regaling the assembled guests with some some stories of my own that got em' laughing. Of course it's questionable whether they were laughing with me or at me. In the end of course all the credit goes to Chuck for having a strong hand in creating all these lovable characters we know today.

A Cartoon Culinary Delight
I was interviewed by another of the jovial Jones grandchildren, Tod Kausen when I was leaving and one of the questions  he asked was what I liked about the exhibit. It would have been easier to ask what I didn't like. Chuck's career spanned over 60 years, more than 300 animated films garnering tons of awards including 3 Oscars! To be able to study Chuck's original drawings, see his paintings, both original and reproductions, watch his cartoons, tour a full life size fantasy world of his creations, enjoy a gallery of Animation Fine Art, lean over his personal desk and walk through his workspace and so much more. Well, I turned the tables and asked Tod to try to hurry the interview through, so I could take the tour again.

During this trip I also reflected that the first cartoons I had experienced were the Merry Melodies including some of the ones screening right there in the theater. They would be on when I went to school in the morning and back on to greet me when I got home in the afternoon.Of course back then we only had a black and white Television set (Thufferring thuckatash! ) but eventually I also enjoyed most of them again in full color in series like the "Bugs Bunny Show". Next to Walt DisneyChuck Jones had definitely been one of the biggest influences in my life.

Bidib-bidid-bidib...That's All Folks!
If you are in Las Vegas, seen the shows, tried your luck but didn't drive away with the new Ferrari, you owe it to yourself to zip down to CIRCUS CIRCUS and see the newly opened "Chuck Jones Experience".
You'll be happily swallowed into the creative world of legendary animator Chuck Jones. You may even be fortunate enough to go home with your very own piece of Chuck Jones artwork, like I did. Besides the very collectable art, you can also pick up themed clothing, toys and my favorite obsession-books! Among the tomes I bought was a gem entitles, "The 100 Greatest LOONEY TUNES Cartoons" by animation historian Jerry Beck. Patty and I actually made the first purchase at the newly open exhibit but after enjoying the place we realized it was just the first of many more to come.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chuck Jones Experience, PART 1

A great reason to visit Las Vegas!
This last week my wife and I were invited as guests of the Chuck Jones family to attend the opening of the "Chuck Jones Experience" located at Circus Circus In Las Vegas. It was an amazing event attended by a who's who of Disney and Warner animation  artists and a crowd of fantastic fans honoring one of the undisputed pioneers of animation, Chuck Jones

Like my wife, the rooms were beautiful.
Patty and I flew out to the event arriving early Wednesday morning and checked into our spacious rooms at Circus Circus. Realizing that wabbit season was long over but the Chuck Jones Experience was about to begin, this pair of bunnies quickly burrowed downstairs.  We popped up at the event in time to see the Jones family gathering in front of the as yet sealed exhibit for a sneak preview of the event that would officially open the next day to the press and public. Chuck's gracious daughter, Linda Jones Clough, received the crowd in her usual warm fashion and shared family tales as well as insight into her dad's philosophy, "Of course Chuck made it very clear to us the he definitely did not want any sort of monument or legacy to be created about him after he was gone, " and added with a twinkle, "we of course completely ignored that." gesturing to the huge exhibit behind her. The crowd erupted into laughs and applause, then Craig Kausen, her son and a major force behind this exhibit and the "Big Draw" joined in with more tales along with moving anecdotes of his legendary Grandfather. 

Linda Jones Clough at the Preview
for the Chuck Jones Experience
One of the Classroom wall murals
With Linda and Craig leading the way, we were then treated to a private tour of the new facilities by first entering a classroom topped with video screens running non-stop Chuck Jones classics. Among the artistic equipment furnished for the budding artists, this room is filled with drawing tables, easels, rolls of paper and boxes upon boxes of chalk and markers. You pass a billboard sized blowup of one of Chuck's paintings on the far wall that the assembled animators and other artists were asked to sign and doodle which of course was an honor for us. From there we  viewed a top rate gallery showcasing some sparkling animation artwork.

There are works of other artists, (including yours truly ) that were created as a tribute to Chuck and are for sale in the Gallery. For me the main draw just has to be the works of Chuck's inspiring originals and limited edition works that you also have the unique opportunity to buy and own. These include original rough model suggestions of his famous creations such as Wile E. Coyote and Pepé Le Pew that are true collector's items. You can also pick up limited edition prints of his unique interpretation of the Warner tribe that were originally executed in oils. Hallways are adorned with fun and sometimes even thought provoking Chuck quotes such as, "I often dream that I am Bugs Bunny only to wake-up and discover I'm Daffy Duck." 

Craig and Linda invite you into a piece of Chuck's studio
One of the first stops is a movie theater that shows some of the most famous animated film from Chuck's mind. You quickly realize how much you miss these gems when compared to the slop that mascarades these days as cartoons. If you can tear yourself away from the fun, you'll turn a corner and find yourself in Chuck Jones's studio or at least a very accurate recreation of it including his animation desk and a few well stocked bookshelves he referred to frequently when creating his films. One thing I couln't understand, Chuck's desk is soooooo clean! I mean come on, mine is layered with erasure crumbs, push pin holes, broken pencil leads, paint splatters etc. I have a sneaky suspicion they cleaned it up for the masses because I seem to remember stacks of drawings, half used pencils, books etc when I knew and worked with him on a Bugs Bunny film in the late 70s.

Chuck Jones Experience Measures Up
Around yet another corner you will find one of the golden Academy Awards Chuck won while directing at Warner Brothers with amusing letters from friends ranging from Tex Avery to Walt Disney. You can also stand beside and take a picture with a lifesize Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck statues as they attempt to direct an off stage Merry Melody. If you ever wondered how you measure up to the original animaniacs, well here's your big chance. Linda took me to a stage where they blew up and cut out one of Chuck's comparative size model sheets and you can see how tall in the saddle or short in the stirrups you measure alongside these toon legends.

Colonel Blip model by Chuck
There is treasure seemingly around every corner and no matter how closely you look, you will nevertheless miss something. Also keep in mind that since this is a revolving exhibition, most likely there will be updates and new pieces the next time you visit the "Chuck Jones Experience."

Mike, Rob and Patty at the Steak House
That evening, after we had all enjoyed the marvelous sneak peek, we attended a suptous feast at the Steak House, rated as the number one steak resturant in Vegas and deservedly so. My wife Patty ordered the Prime Rib and being a lady, asked for the "petite cut". Not being a lady but rather a greedy slob, I went with the "Bone in cut" which the waiter said was a heartier serving. He wasn't kidding. When he brought around my serving, I thought the table would buckle under the Bedrock size slab which stretched across the plate.

Between gastronomic gags we were able to catch up with out dinner mates such as another of the key people responsible for putting this together and a wonderful friend Robert Patrick. We also broke bread and shared stories with artist Bob Elias, photographer Steven Russo, animator /director Rob Minkoff and his lovely wife Crystal Kung Minkoff. It's always a bit unusual but lots of fun to see animation folks in formal wear on the town instead of the usual jeans and t-shirts slumped over their animation desks. Rob and Patty look great as they get ready for desert but I'm definitely more comfortable on the other side of the camera. Now then where's my Créme Brulée?