Freeze Frame Friday 2/5/10: The “Muse” Of Animation

5 Feb

First of a series of shots of Tom transforming in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouseby Rachel Newstead

Even in the most factory-like of animation studios, good animation will tell. In the better ones, it can soar.

In the mid-forties, other than the Disney studio, no animation house could boast a more talented roster of animators than MGM’s.   Then again, many of  them had, in fact, come from Disney: Preston Blair, Michael Lah, Ray Patterson, Ed Love, Grant Simmons. And that’s only a partial list.

Second shot of series of Tom transforming

Yet even among this distinguished group, one animator stood out–the subject of this week’s Freeze Frame Friday, Ken Muse.

There’s probably a bit of truth to the bad pun in my post title: the frames shown at left will no doubt inspire any young would-be

Third in the series: Tom transforms

animator.  In this series of stills from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse (1948),  Tom has just swallowed the home-brewed “super strength” potion Jerry had concocted for himself. Tom appears to swell to gargantuan size, and the evil emotions churning within seem to increase in proportion. Little does he know that it will all soon Fifth in the series of stills: Tom dissolving into colorbackfire, as he finds himself reduced to flyspeck size.

As the formula takes effect, Tom looks as if he’s being taken apart molecule by molecule, his form dissolving into an explosion of abstract color reminiscent of–appropriately enough–the “Pink Elephants On Parade” sequence of Sixth in the series of stills--Tom starts to come togetherDisney’s Dumbo.

Muse, if my less-than-perfect memory can be relied upon, was used for the more expressive scenes, and just why can be easily seen in these few frames.  Muse  exaggerates Tom’s malevolent grin, of course, but at the same time it’s frighteningly real, enough to rival any horror-movie Last in the series of stills--Tom re-formsmonster.

Muse would later join his MGM colleagues Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera at their newly-formed independent studio in 1959; he would animate most, if not all, of the debut Flintstones episode “The Swimming Pool.” His expressions, despite the much simpler drawing style, went a long way toward establishing the characters and their personality traits. The Flintstones was by necessity a dialogue-heavy series, but in “The Swimming Pool,” one didn’t need words to know in an instant what kind of person Fred Flintstone was. You knew just by looking at him.

I’ve often, when I sit and look at what passes for animation these days, felt something was missing; these few images remind me what that “something” is. In a word, expressiveness. The animators on Family Guy and The Simpsons make characters move. Muse made them think.

Now more than ever the animation industry could use a “muse” like him.

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