Terrytoon Layouts

Art Babbitt in 1930

When Art Babbitt was a young man at Terrytoons in the Bronx, he worked his way up to the esteemed position of animator.  He was at the bottom of the totem pole, but at least he was animating.  This means that he’s actually deciding the way in which the characters hit their poses, and thus the way they move.  Here, at the start of his career, he’s not getting any scenes that are particularly note-worthy.  But it’s a start.

Below is a workdraft of a 1930 Terrytoon cartoon “Chop Suey.”  It’s basically a shot list.  The star animator, a middle-aged veteran named Frank Moser, has the majority of the scenes.  Art Babbitt, age 22, has a couple of his own.

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Frank Moser Terrytoons

Frank Moser in 1931

Babbitt has “Scene 30” all to himself.  In archaically racist terms, it reads, “Chinks and Boy run into dragon’s mouth.”  It was assigned to Art probably because it wasn’t considered a particularly meaty or challenging scene, and because it’s not carrying a major gag or plot point that would ruin the film if it were missed.  These films were produced at a rate of one every two weeks – an incredibly hectic schedule that left no room for trial and error.  You had one shot to do your scene so it better be good – or at least readable.

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Jerry Shields in 1930

Art would sit at his animated desk and be handed a folder with his scene.  The folder for a scene would usually contain anywhere from 1 to 5 layout drawings.  These are drawings done on animation paper (at the time it was 8 x 10” tracing paper with special peg holes); they were probably drawn by Frank Moser (super top animator) or Jerry Shields (mini top animator).  These layout drawings would show the placement of the characters within the setting so the animator would know where to place his Cat and where to move his Mouse.  It’s sort of like being a theater actor when the director tapes a couple white X’s on the stage floor to guide your walk from stage left to stage right.  Below are the total of 5 layout drawings that describe the placement of all moving elements in  “Scene 30” of the Terrytoon short Chop Suey.

 

And here are screenshots of the final animation, drawn and animated by Art Babbitt:

If you want to watch the whole cartoon, you can view it here.

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