Monday, December 15, 2014
The evolution of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, part 2...
Many Disney fans are familiar with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit these days but not long ago he was an obscure trivia answer. The most recognizable version of Oswald the Rabbit was actually created by Ub Iwerks. His proportions, scale and size were standardized within a year.
What the current-generation of Disney fans might not realize was how much Oswald changed in the span of a few years. In the original poster art and designs for Oswald Ub had planned a taller, lankier character. His head was more egg-shaped and often featured whiskers on his face and claws on his feet.
Oswald was visualized as having suspenders in some early pieces. These elements were paired down and Oswald became shorter and rounder in the process. The whiskers eventually went away. By the end of 1927 and the start of 1928 the look that most fans are familiar with finally took shape. Yet it was also about then that Disney had lost the rights to the character. Lantz took over and spared no time in remaking the character.
The post-Disney Oswald cartoons were notable for the lack of consistency. The quality of the animation suffered greatly. Animator Bill Nolan had worked for Disney and was one of the artists that left. He was a very prolific artist as well and was capable of producing almost as many frames of art as Ub Iwerks. Yet the one thing he lacked was the visual consistency of Ub. The lines for Oswald were sloppy, his movement lacked fluidity. Nolan was nowhere near the draftsman that Ub was. Nolan worked with Walter Lantz and helped redesign Oswald over the years. The shape of the head and eyes changed again. The costume did as well. The runaway success of Mickey Mouse meant that all of the following characters had to poach many of Mickey's design elements. Oswald soon found himself wearing shoes and sporting a shirt and even buttons on his shorts.
Despite the visual makeover fans were not flocking to Oswald as they once were. The cartoons lacked the creative spark that Disney had. They also lacked the quality and consistency that Ub offered. Oswald spoke in the Universal films but his voice changed from picture to picture because different animators took turns recording the character. Even Pinto Colving (the eventual voice for Goofy) did some voice work for the character. Oswald was losing ground to Mickey Mouse and his friends. Lantz would continue changing the character to try and fit the times. All of the lessons that Ub discovered while creating a cartoon rabbit would have to be relearned by Waner Bros. a decade later when they created a character called Bugs Bunny.
Realistic animal shapes did not lend themselves easily to animation. The artists had to take a lot of liberties in order to make the characters work in the medium of film. Luckily for Warner Bros. some of the animators working on Bugs had first cut their teeth animating Oswald. These artists learned very quickly not get too used to one school of design. Lantz was not finished changing the look of Oswald. In the next blog we will look at how far the character had changed from his first appearance.