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Isadore "Friz" Freleng - b.1905/06, d. 1995

Friz Freleng was one of the central figures of classic American animation (as in 'cartoons') of the twentieth century. He worked for Disney, for MGM, and is best known for his work with studios he helped to found, Warner Brothers animation and Depatie-Freleng animation. The former produced the immortal Looney Tunes and associated shorts; the latter is best known for producing the Pink Panther animated series in the 1960s. Along the way, he influenced two of the other biggest names in American cartooning, Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera - who would later go on to found Hanna-Barbera and produce The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Laff-a-Lympics and zillions of other Saturday morning staples.

John Kricfalusi (creator of Ren and Stimpy among others) notes on his blog, where he offers tips to aspiring animators, that Freleng's visual style was not one of the standouts - rather, in the 1940s, his visuals contributed to the coalescence of 'standardization' in the visual appearance of Warner characters. He calls them 'generic' - but is quick to note that 'generic' definitely doesn't mean 'not funny.' He's talking about the specific drawing styles of the characters themselves - and his point dovetails with others who have commented on Friz, which is that his primary contribution to the genre was in direction, editing and character creation, not in the technical drawing aspects.

Although Freleng began his career as an animator, by the 1930s he had moved up to directing cartoons, which he continued to do through the remainder of his life. Although he would also draw, much of his genius shines through in character creation and in comic timing. Freleng was responsible for the creation of, among others, Yosemite Sam (some claimed based on himself, as he was rather short, had a bright red mustache, and was subject to irritable reactions to setbacks).

Associates of Freleng and knowledgeable commentators on the form of cartooning emphasize that what made him one of the greats was his sense of comedic timing and his ability to translate that into the animated form. Several of his routines have become standard comedic antics for animated or enhanced-reality film. One which the reader might recognize immediately is known as the 'Freleng Door Gag' in which a pursuer chases another character into and out of a series of doors in a single still frame, in quick succession, usually with the two changing places during the sequence. Other random bits (and random characters) typically show up during the chase as well. The Freleng Door Gag moved out of 'TV animation' entirely and can be seen in the animated feature Yellow Submarine to great effect. One sure way to recognize a classic 1940s Freleng Looney Tune is the comedy within it hinging entirely on a continued repetition of the same physical gag - which never stops being funny. The humor comes in how the repetition is produced (but why did Sam fall for Bugs' trick for the ninth time?) as well as in the timing of it.

He was honored by The Academy multiple times, and his work (along with that of his colleague Chuck Jones) was the subject of a 1985 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Some additional trivia - in various early Warner Brothers cartoons, there are numerous references to 'Friz' in backgrounds as well as in scripts. This reflects a policy of not allowing nicknames on film credits, and the animators' efforts to circumvent said policy.

Someday, when I have the disposable income, I will own one of the limited edition animation cels paying homage to Friz after his death. On it, the Warner cast (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, etc.) are standing around an empty animator's desk, on which rests an unfinished Warner cel in preparation. They are all downcast, and Bugs is laying a carrot reverentially on the desk. At the bottom, it is captioned only with Isadore "Friz" Freleng (1905-1995).

This will match the similar Mel Blanc Memorial Cel, entitled "Speechless."

Recesquat i pacem, Friz and Mel. We miss you.

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