Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tyer-less Tyer

Fan art only. Character is copywritten property of Disney. No wagering please.

Lately I have wondered what it would have been like if Jim Tyer had ever drawn Disney characters.

I have been on a Tyer kick lately and it only got more intense when Kevin Langley posted THIS quintessential Tyer epic, one of the last (if not THE last) theatrical MIGHTY MOUSE shorts.

I loved Terrytoons as a kid, they were in heavy rotation on Saturday morning TV in the early 1960's but then they kind of disappeared until Turner revived them in the mid-1980's. By then I was already a working animator and when I saw them as an adult I was mesmerized by Tyer. I still am. There was nobody like him, before or since in a century of animation (Emery Hawkins is probably the closest cousin). I don't think Tyer could have achieved his ultimate signature style in any other studio, probably because no other studio was so cheap, so driven by deadlines and cost cutting measures, and so beleaguered by hackneyed gags and characters. And all of that inverted discipline of making the bottom line work at all costs allowed Tyer's nutty character to evolve to unparalleled heights.

Which remains a funny comment on the nature of creativity.  The subjects of the shorts were so weak that he had considerable liberty to be so funny in his execution. We can't really know for sure, but if the characterizations or situations had required something more crisp and specific from a conceptual standpoint, he might not have been able to be as loose and spontaneous. Fortunately, the gags are almost always routine, tame, lame, derivative and stupid, but Tyer takes this as an excuse to let his animation chops run wild. When his scenes come on, it's almost as if the cartoon suddenly gets drunk; everything from the lip sync to the locomotion goes completely haywire, and yet somehow makes its own strange sense. It is almost as if he spent his formative years learning the basics of the craft and then just said "Ah the hell with it" and just allowed the muse to guide his errant pencil wherever it wanted to go. It is savant-like animation, almost completely devoid of technique (he has some trademarks but he rarely does anything the same way twice) and more vividly expressionistic than any other mainstream artist has ever achieved. Add to this that his work has an effortless, off-handedness and you have one of the most unique careers in animation. I doubt he ever expected to have his name whispered in reverence by so many ardent fans so long after his passing, but happily his cult continues to grow.

Like I said, he probably would have been fired at any studio where discipline and "artistry" were held in any esteem, which says something wonderful about a schlock-house like Terry and the oddball atmosphere that permitted his diamond-rare style to flower. It also says something about the youth of the medium even back then (the late 1940's thru to the 60's) : today the mainstream studios have gotten so systematized that it is hard to picture someone as individual as him being allowed to so wantonly violate norms of the trade...


Mike said...

Wow. Just watched "The Reformed Wolf" and I might become a member of the Tyer cult. Some friends of mine view Tyer with detached amusement and a pinch of cynicism, but I have to flat-out admire him because he seems to speak to the kid in me. Unassuming, flamboyantly "off," funny without having any plausible explanation.

I'ma thank Kevin Langley right now for sharing that, and thank you for doing a spotlight article.

RooniMan said...

I agree fully. There will never be anybody like Tyer ever again. He truly was a one-of-a-kind animator.

Roberto Severino said...

I'm in full agreement, Will. I just wish I had grown up with Terrytoons on television so I could have seen such amazing Jim Tyer and Carlo Vinci animation earlier on. I was sadly born in 1994, so I'm guessing they stopped airing those cartoons by then.

Mick said...

just as the gods of cartoon intended

ZODCORE said...

Well said Mike. I'm not the biggest fan of Tyer but I diffidently heard of his work.

Brubaker said...

Tyer was the best. Even the limited animation he did for television in the sixties (Felix the Cat, Batfink, Snuffy Smith) shows that he can do funny stuff under tight budgets.

Tyer did work for Disney in the mid-1930s, but as an effects animator.

Thad said...

The fun thing about this cartoon is that Mighty Mouse is dealing with his foes in a very comical, Popeye-like fashion that's unlike any other MM short. The 'seriousness' to most of the fighting scenes in the MM shorts, especially when it isn't warranted, kind of sours on me.

One correction - Tyer WAS at Disney's, very briefly in the 30s. I can only imagine Walt's reaction to Donald or Goofy animated in the MM/H&J fashion being projected in the screening room... I think he could have found a friend in Clampett or Avery or at UPA, but that may be it.

People have told me Tyer was very secretive about his animation style and that he would often hide his work if someone came into his room at Famous or Terry while he was working on a scene. So he was really the only one who knew how to do what he did - and wanted to keep it that way!!

Dave Mackey said...

Agreed on every point except one: in the 1980's, Terry cartoons appeared on USA Network, not Turner.

Will Finn said...

Thanks for the cable franchise corrections, I remember working a few feelance stretches during this time and I was at home to check the TV during the day, but I was also sweating a lot of deadlines and driving around to drop stuff off...so I must have run it all together.

The cartoon I always thought THE REFORMED WOLF was somewhat influenced by is WB's DUCK AMUCK, especially when the wolf bellows plaintively "WHO'S DOING THIS TO ME!" His broken fourth wall frustration is very reminiscent of Daffy Duck's rants in DUCK AMUCK and in general, the central gag character is being bedeviled by the unseen hand of a nemesis, but in the case of Mighty Mouse, only unseen by kind of convenient (from a story point of view), narrow-misses of the wolf's timing that is not only repetitive but kind of clumsy. Later when Mighty tips the screen to reverse the boulder's trajectory it feels very much like the sort of crap Daffy goes thru... Chuck Jones' cartoon obviously is much more cerebral and superior in every way. But Tyer's animation makes the lesser short so much fun to watch.

As for having the advantage to see tons of Terrytoons thru the slats of my playpen as a tiny tot, I have to confess I didn't notice anything unusual about Tyer's animation at the time. The motion was just fluid and I liked the constant kinetics and the predictable hijinx of the characters that all the animators did. There was a kind of philosophy of constant frenetic movement that was a hallmark of Terry output. It was an economy move too, because in constant motion characters don't have to be as carefully drawn. And heaven knows they weren't.

elephantmarchblog said...

just discoverred your blog, impressive stuff, my friend. Very inspiring loose sketches

vitalik shu said...

thanks for post Will!!! )))

David Nethery said...

Hey, Will,

Did you see the Tyer storyboard just posted (Oct. 5) over on the ASIFA Archive site ?

“Blood is Thicker Than Water” , Terry-Toon Storyboard by Jim Tyer

I wanted to point that out to you in case you hadn't seen it.

I've never actually seen a stack of Tyer's rough animation drawings , but I imagine they looked like some of these Storyboard panels: