Faster Than the Eye Can See!


One individual animation drawing goes by faster than the eye can register. Animators have an abundance of funny ideas.  Animators working in England frequently go to lunch in pubs and knock back a few, lubricating those funny ideas.

To what do these three facts add up? To that fact that 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, animated in England, is the single greatest animator in-joke movie ever made.

Most, if not all, animated films have hidden jokes planted by the artists somewhere.  They may be innocent, such as anachronistic character appearances (Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy can be spotted in The Little Mermaid, if you know where to look), or they may be down-and-dirty, such as the infamous nude in the window in The Rescuers, or the lesser-known shot of Geppetto’s arousal while in bed from Pinocchio, which is only discernable in extreme slo-mo.

One classic occurs in the 1942 Bugs Bunny short The Wabbit Who Came to Supper, in which Bugs gets out of a shower and drops the towel that covers him, momentarily revealing…well, something.  Some fifty years after the fact, I asked the cartoon’s director, Friz Freleng, for clarification regarding it, and the rather shocked Freleng professed:  “We wouldn’t have done it on purpose.  It if was a trick by an animator, I’m sure the [ink-and-paint] girls would have called attention to it.”  Yet there it is, visible even to the naked eye.

The crew of Roger Rabbit had no such qualms.  Among the hidden and less-hidden images are Baby Herman reaching up into a woman’s dress, Betty Boop and Jessica Rabbit flashing, and Bugs Bunny flipping Mickey Mouse the boid.  Animator Dave Spafford, a master of such hidden images, was responsible for the last one.  In 1996, he described to me the gags that made it into the film, and the one that got away:

In the Daffy Duck piano-playing scene, I’m animating Daffy, and I thought, ‘He’s moving so fast that I’m going to have him play the piano with different objects.’  So he starts playing the piano with dead chickens.  But while I was doing that I thought, ‘I’m going to do a joke inside it, a hidden thing inside a hidden thing.’  As he’s flailing these dead chickens around, I put in one in-between where he’s holding dead baby tied up with a rope.  It was pretty gross. “I’m sitting there, laughing to myself, and Zemeckis, Spielberg, Richard Williams, Robert Watts and Don Hahn are doing a tour around the studio.  All of a sudden, Richard Williams comes over and says, ‘Oh, so that’s what he’s been doing.’  I said, ‘Oh, that’s just a joke,’ and I took the [baby] drawing off.  But I said, ‘I thought I’d have him play with these two dead chickens,’ and they went for it, because no one will ever see it.  But I had to take out the baby.  That would have been a classic cel!

Oh, by the way…that shot of Baby Herman sticking his finger up the woman’s dress?  According to Spafford, that was animated by Richard Williams himself.

Acclaimed animation director Richard Williams at work

Acclaimed animation director Richard Williams at work

  • Juan V

    I never understood why some animators would do this. I don’t think it’s really funny at all. It’s more pathetic than anything else. I understand it’s supposed to be a joke, but most of these inside “jokes” are vulgar and perverted. And they are doing this on something kids are supposed to be watching. It’s really unprofessional and sad. If these perverted animators wanted to do that type of animation then do it for adults, not in children’s entertainment.

    • John Freeman

      I completely agree! I personally think the hidden stuff in animation cartoons shouldn’t be laughed at when it’s meant for kids to watch. If animators want to do more adult themed cartoons, that’s fine. But don’t put it were kids can see. I agree with Juan, it’s very pathetic

  • Scott Richards

    Oh give me a break. Stop being so uptight! If the animators want to liven up their work, which can be monotonous due to the repeatability of it, let them. The only way to see these is to really look for them at very slo-mo anyway. Your average kid won’t even think to look for these. Stop being such prudes!!! I, for one, appreciate the added spice these segments bring.

  • Jpox

    Animators have a raw sense of humor, what can you do? Inside joke animation has been around long before we had the function to watch animation frame by frame, which is why animators probably do it. These productions mentioned are in fact adult themed with maybe the exception of The Rescuerers, but I have seen other nude posters/art work in other cartoons. Adult themed like The Flintstones and classic Looney Tunes…

  • Tonymaticus

    Your title, ‘Faster than the eye can see’, reminded me of one amazing capability that Richard Williams displayed when I was working for him many years ago. Every morning we would go down into the studio’s basement theater to view the ‘dailes’ (first film print screenings of the previous day’s camera shoot). This could be a quite intimidating moment in those days as you got to see your own work for the very first time in the company of everyone else. (No sneak peaks in those days!) Anyway, we would often watch the final shoot material for a scene – usually thinking that everything looked OK. However, on occasions Dick would suddenly get angry and shout out “Dirt! Dirt!” We would often wonder what he meant by this and he would say that there was dirt on the film. We’d screen it again but couldn’t see it. So to prove his point he would often have the film played back – frame by frame – on the editor’s bench outside and sure enough, one frame of film (i.e. one frame in 24, per second) would have a speck of dust on it! He would insist that it be shot again as we didn’t have the luxury of Photoshop or After Effects in those days to fix any tiny blemishes like that! I remember that one particularly complicated scene, that had taken over 4 days to shoot at this point, suffered in this way! Tony. :^{)}=-

    • Brian

      I am also guilty of adding an inside joke to a animated piece. Once when I was an animation supervisor working For Disney TV Animation in Taiwan on the Rescue Rangers episodes there was a scene where the Rangers were in the sherif’s room running around on the sheriff’s desk and behind his desk was a bulletin board. I added a wanted poster with a funny picture of me and my name on it. the whole scene only lasted probably only 4 seconds which is not enough to really notice. Many animators I know have done similar things, some innocent and some not so innocent. Frankly using good sense these little touches add something interesting to these films. In my father’s day many animators planned carefully and added plenty of rude stuff to these films. The funniest bits are however situations like when Boris Baddenoff from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, would turn to Natasha and say things like, “well at least the writing on our show is funnier that what they are doing at the studio over the hill”. Obviously no one who was not in the animation industry would ever get that joke which was an inside joke poking fun at the Hanna and Barberra studio which was in the Valley vs. Jay Ward Productions which was in Hollywood. It is as Scott Richards has said that it is a way to liven up our job and add a little spice and fun.

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