Even as a little kid, cartoon creator and producer Chuck Jones grabbed opportunities.
Jones credits his career to his father’s string of business failures. Every time the old man launched a business, he’d print nice stationery and buy promotional pencils. Using those cast-off tools, Jones drew and drew.
Eventually, he went on to create Daffy Duck, Road Runner, Pepe Le Pew and Wile E. Coyote. He also breathed new life into Bugs Bunny.
Some secrets to his success:
He perceived each character individually. It started with the family cat, Johnson, whose favorite food was grapefruit and who enjoyed swimming in the Pacific Ocean.
Johnson was “different than other cats. … That laid the groundwork, so when I got to doing Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny or Coyote, [I understood] that’s it’s not all coyotes, that it’s the particular coyote. Wile E. Coyote, genius. That’s what he calls himself. He’s different.”
He leveraged his freedom. Luckily for Jones, a lack of constant supervision early on gave him the freedom to be subversive. "The author O. Henry taught me about the value of the unexpected. He once wrote about the noise of flowers and the smell of birds—the birds were chickens and the flowers dried sunflowers rattling against a wall."
He identified with his creations. It was a child who pinpointed this thought. When told that Jones was the man who drew Bugs Bunny, the child said, “He doesn’t draw Bugs Bunny. He draws pictures of Bugs Bunny.”
Jones realized that viewers considered his characters real. When he got to the middle of a story and didn’t know how to continue, he considered what Bugs or Daffy would do. Ultimately, Jones so identified with his characters that he gave interviews on their behalf.
He didn’t patronize customers. “How are you going to build children up by writing down to them?” he asked. "The rules are simple. Take your work, but never yourself, seriously. Pour in the love and whatever skill you have, and it will come out."
He fussed. Jones paid strict attention to detail. “Fog and smog should not be confused,” he once said, “and are easily separated by color.”
He was a critical thinker. “There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is the willingness to think.” But he disliked criticism void of suggestions for improvement, noting "Anyone can negatively criticize — it is the cheapest of all comment because it requires not a modicum of the effort that suggestion requires."
His career spanned over 60 years, he made more than 300 animated films, winning three Oscars as director and an honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. He died in 2002 at the age of 89.
— Adapted from “Daffy Duck’s Dad Drew On Life,” Curt Schleier, Investor’s Business Daily and www.chuckjones.com. Photo taken by Alan Light, in Chuck Jones' office, 1976.
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