Animation Techniques: The Smear

Claude Harrington 03.23.2016

In 1942, Warner Bros. released an animated short called The Dover Boys at Pimento University (or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall). Produced by Leon Schlesinger Productions and directed by Chuck Jones, this Merrie Melodies cartoon is significant for a couple of reasons. One, because The Dover Boys at Pimento University was one of the first animated shorts to break away from the so-called “Disney look.” And two, because it was one of the first animations to utilize an animation technique called the smear. A technique which will be the focus of today’s post.


Unlike traditional movement in animation, which uses key frames (to plot beginning/ending points) and in-between-frames (to create the illusion of movement), smearing depicts one quick “blur” of motion in a single frame. As a result, it creates the sensation of a sudden burst of speed. And also as a result, back in the early 1940’s, it was frowned upon as being a lazy way to depict movement. This did not bode well, at least not at first, for The Dover Boys animator Chuck Jones.


According to Jones, producer Leon Schlesinger and the executives at Warner Bros. were so displeased with the animator’s technique in The Dover Boys that they went through the process of trying to fire. Unable to find a replacement, however, they wound up keeping him on board. This turned out to be rather fortuitous, as Jones would go on to write, direct and collaborate on several famous Warner Bros. cartoons including One Froggy Evening and What’s Opera, Doc?


…and Jones would also go on to create four iconic characters in the Looney Tunes universe. These guys look familiar, right?


smear7 smear8

But back to smearing…

While Jones was a pioneer of the technique, the technique soon caught on as a speedy and stylish way to create quick transitions between key frames. And, to this day, it’s used by all sorts of animation professionals.

There’s a great website called Smears, Multiples and Other Animation Gimmicks that collects great examples of this animation technique. Below are some of favorites from over the years…


Canned Fued (1951)


Operation: Rabbit (1952)


Bedeviled Rabbit (1957)


Pink Panther – “Pinkfinger” (1965)


Odd Ant Out (1970)


Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! – “The Diabolical Disc Demon” (1978)


Soup or Sonic (1980)


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)


The Simpsons – “Some Enchanted Evening” (1990)


The Ren & Stimpy Show – “Stimpy’s Invention” (1992)


SpongeBob SquarePants – “No Weenies Allowed” (2002)


Teen Titans – “Bunny Raven or How to Make A Titananimal Disappear” (2004)


Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)


Wabbit – “St. Bugs and the Dragon” (2015)

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