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Mel Blanc revealed the secrets of making a great cartoon

Blanc breaks down the production process.

The Everett Collection

Do we really want to know how the sausage is made? For lots of us, it's easy to take cartoon production for granted. Doesn't Bugs Bunny just show up for work, clock in, and get into some zany antics? The best cartoons make it seem like the characters are just there, and then hilarity ensues. We want to suspend our disbelief, and our favorite animations make it easy.

Part of growing up, though, is recognizing all the hard work that goes into making a Bugs Bunny cartoon. We have to acknowledge that there are humans behind the hare. It's an unfortunate truth, but it is interesting to learn about. So, how does that wascally wabbit get from sketch to screen?

There's no better person to document the process than Mel Blanc, who voiced plenty of our favorite Looney Tunes characters. In his book, That's Not All Folks, Blanc breaks down the production process that imbued these cartoons with such specific characterizations. 

"First the writer, or story man, cooked up a basic plot, which was shown to an artist whose job was to illustrate the writer's ideas," Blanc said. "Each rough drawing of a scene was cut up and thumbtacked in sequence on a large wall. This visual script is called a storyboard."

"Here is where even rabid cartoon buffs get confused," Blanc continued. "Rather than add audio to video, it was the other way around. Only in the earliest days of talking animated films was sound synchronized to film, an agonizingly exacting procedure. At Warner's, I consulted with the director and the storyman in a sort of brainstorming session: ad-libbing lines, deleting or changing others I felt were out of character. To illustrate how intertwined my identity became with those of the cast members, I'd say something like, 'Bugs Bunny wouldn't do that, he'd do this.' Who could argue?"

Art imitated life which, in turn, influenced the art again. Blanc spoke about how the drawings would inspire his performances and the way his line readings would then inform the finished animation.

"These creative meetings thrived on collective inspiration," Blanc said. "The visual rendering of a character enabled me to settle on an appropriate voice, which in turn helped the animators to refine physical characteristics. Together, writers, artists, and voice-men imbued a mere sketched animal with a distinct personality."

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