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Monday, January 14, 2008

Jaxon the Warrior

Børge Ring writes:

Wilfred was a warrior before he became an earl:

Young Wilfred Jaxon's idea in 1928 of linking animation to musical beats of half a second apiece rocketed Walt Disney's cartoons forward into gigantic success all over the world. Audiences laughed themselves silly because young Walt Disney (one of the best of "Walt's People") knew how to use synchronized sound for highly comical effects. For years on end his films rode heavily on this wave.
Walt was a king and a king creates earls out of select warriors so as to extend his detailed control while covering a lot of ground. During the two years before Wilfred was made a director he was animating on Mickey shorts.
What sort of an animator was he?
Excellent for the time. Actually in the forefront. Looking at three of the shorts he partook in, Jaxons animation comes out looking loose, at ease, meticulous and happy with what was put on his light box. His personal preferences in animation went out towards the abstract in the vein of Tyer and Scribner and Nolan but as he said "I make Disney films, not Jaxon films."

During "The Birthday Party" from 1931 Wilfred animated a musical number where Mickey and Minnie are playing dual pianos and sing "I can't give you anything but luuuve...Bebbee".
Their actions are joyful and in perfect sync, not just on the frame, nay in the middle of the frame, halfway between sprocket hole two and three, expertly on the dot like Ub Iwerk's skeleton dancers. Ub was Wilfred's old mentor.

In ">"The Firefighters" from 1930 he succeeds in making a ladder run down its own steps. Quite a feat. You try that one.
In the very same film he made the only disturbing Jaxon drawing I know of: Minnie is screaming for help out of a smoke filled window high up. She is the same cute little Dorothy Dandridge we met in Plane Crazy except for a few frames where she is momentarily an angry rat.

"Pioneer Days" from 1930 has Jaxon animating three folksy country musicians playing folksy dance music, reels and the like that the early pioneers had brought with them to Indian country from Old England.
Wilfred was likely entrusted with all musical "acts" for quite a time after "Steamboat Willie" until others caught up on the newfangled technique. Burt Gillett and Dick Lundy both felt naturally at home in a music situation. In "The Chain Gang" a spirited Mickey is playing a mouth organ. The action is very well observed from life and there is one stealthy "abstract" body distortion (for the heck of it as it seems).

Towards the end of "Pioneer Days" Jaxon animated a real fun scene. Minnie is being tied to a totem pole by an aggressive Indian. Mickey Mouse enters the scene with a popgun and shoots the Indian in the south pole. A remarkable wrestling scene follows, it is staged in extreme close up. Mickey is about to lose the fight but Minnie wriggles loose and puts the obligatory burning ember into the inside of the Indian's pants making him scream (slightly too early) and run away. That particular bit is animated by David Hand who, like Jaxon, was in time to become one of king Walt's earls. Dave became a Super Earl on Snow White.

Until Mark Meyerson (God bless him) sent me the draft I "knew" this scene to be one of Norman Ferguson's very best. The indian's timing and Mack Sennett styled signals of intelligence smelled strongly like Ferguson but it wasn't him. It was young Wilfred Jaxon.
What the scene did smell of was most probably Walt Disney's acting out the affair to the film's director Burt Gillett. Directors like Hand and Gillett "sold" their animators on the scene by acting out "things" the way Walt did. Guys like Sharpsteen, Gillett and Ferguson came to Walt Disney's small studio with years of animation experience behind them. Young Wilfred Jaxon was a Glendale born greenhorn with a natural talent and his animation stood up well next to theirs.
He must have animated on a lot more films than the three mentioned above but the drafts of those are not available. "Tant pis" as they say in Paris.

Wilfred Jaxon became, by general consensus, the most creative of Walt Disney's directors. Michael Barrier and David Johnson and Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston have told all about it.
Jaxon's simple device for "Steamboat Willie" of giving time a structure had consequences beyond aligning music and animation, (the so-called Mickey-Mousing.) Wilfred Jaxon aka Jackson gave animators a handle on time as such. A handle superior in many ways to thinking hard with your thumb on the button of a stopwatch.

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Anonymous Michael Sporn says...

Sounds like my kinda guy. I have some studying to do this weekend. I have to go through these films frame-by-frame. Something to look forward to. Thanks for the info.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 5:18:00 AM PST  
Anonymous David Nethery says...

I'm enjoying this blog all the more since Borge Ring has been "co-blogging" with you . These are wonderful observations.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 5:48:00 PM PST  
Anonymous rosscompose says...

Do you have any drafts or comments on Jaxon's work on Song of the South? IMHO some of his best.

Friday, October 23, 2015 at 8:22:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Hans Perk says...

Hi Ross, you can find the SotS drafts on Mike Barrier's blog.

Friday, October 23, 2015 at 9:34:00 AM PDT  

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