The YouTube video above, from the Every Frame a Painting channel, profiles the artist, storyteller, and animator Chuck Jones who was one of the primary forces behind the success of Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the gang.
The video is fantastic and is eight minutes very well spent.
If you’re short on time or want to relive the highlights, I’ve collected a handful of my favorite moments from the video. These lessons on creativity and storytelling have been hugely influential on me since I first heard them; I hope the same will be true for you.
1. Clearly define what your characters want
Every desire is simple. The more simple the desire, the more vivid the character.
– Chuck Jones
Wile E. Coyote wants to eat. Pepe Le Pew wants love. Daffy Duck wants glory. The same can be true of the stories we tell within blog posts and projects and campaigns. Who is our target audience and what do they desire?
2. The story should sell itself by the way it moves
In the world of Chuck Jones, this desire translates perfectly into the movement of his characters. Wile E. Coyote’s hunger results in a manic, scheming desperation. Daffy’s desire for fame results in a brash, boisterous personality.
“Every action is dictated by what goes on inside of you. You have to be able to think the way the character thinks. If you can’t tell what’s happening by the way the character moves, you’re not animating.”
Understanding what a character wants helps you tell a story with truth and perspective. It’s empathy of a sort. Think about one of the best blog posts you’ve read; chances are it was successful because the content resonated with you and flowed with the way you thought about it, too. The writer understood the way you move.
3. What are your disciplines?
Chuck Jones animated within a very specific, constrained world, a world filled with rules. Case in point: Chuck had a specific set of rules for how the coyote and roadrunner functioned:
This was especially useful in animation:
Since animation lets you do anything, you have to think about what you won’t do.
Likewise, if you translate this to marketing, there is a huge amount of tactics you could apply to your marketing strategy. Do you have an opinion on what you will and won’t do? We’ve tried something like this with our approach to marketing at Buffer, writing down (generally) what our marketing is all about. Super specific rules would be a great next step, too.
“Chuck’s facial expressions were the best in the business because he was a minimalist.”
– Steven Spielberg
It’s amazing to see the influence that minimalism can have with the impact of a message or an emotion. Think: tweets, headlines, minimalist ads.
5. How do you improve at understanding human behavior?
Human behavior was one of Chuck’s two keys to humor: 1) human behavior and 2) logic. So he was understandably quite intent on deepening his understanding of humans — a worthy cause for just about anyone in any profession, marketing included.
Go to the source, study real life. Study art and apply that to animation. It’s not just drawing funny faces. It wasn’t enough just to watch movies. You had to study things outside of film. You had to study real life.
In particular, Chuck recommended reading. Read everything. Reading exposes you to perspectives and behaviors that you might not see otherwise. And this exposure can lead to the ultimate best outcome, according to Chuck:
Surprise is the greatest thing in the world. “Gee, I didn’t know that” and then there you are.