Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies Title Cards: 1948-49

By Jason Haggstrom, February 2, 2011

I have a real fondness for the title cards that precede animated shorts, especially those found in Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. Such title cards tend to feature the characters and settings in painted form which gives them a distinctly different look than how they appear within the cartoons themselves. The artists who worked on Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies produced some of the most stylish and iconic title cards I’ve ever seen. Most of them are elegant works of art that feature terrific design work in composition, layout, and typography (which was lettered by hand!). They’re just plain fun to look at!

Scroll down a bit and you’ll find a gallery of the 39 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies title cards from the 1948-49 shorts that I own copies of (a total of 67 shorts were actually produced during that span). My favorite image in the set is the title card for High Diving Hare. Its image of Bugs’s feet—his head presumably embedded into the floor of a very shallow pool—is just a wonderful graphic in and of itself. The fact that it sets up audience expectations contrary to what actually occurs in the short (instead, it is Yosemite Sam who repeatedly plummets from the extremely high diving board) just makes it that much better.

The title card to Fast and Furry-ous (the first short to feature Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner) is another gem. The italicized type implies speed and forward movement while the sign’s angle—tilted so far back that the stems of the italicized letters are now vertical once again—stamps out the implied movement entirely. In Coyote terms, this is analogous to the sudden (and painful!) contrast between flying freely through the air and slamming into a mountain (or standing still before being bowled over by a speeding train, or…). Another extreme is found in the image’s depth cues. The canted roadway and sign are almost too close for comfort while the winding (and very flat) roadway behind tapers off miles into the distance. Notice how those two mountainous peaks not only define the extreme distance of the scene but also act as the perfect counter-balance to the road in the front plane that is weighing down the right half of the image.

If you look closely at the title cards for Back Alley Oproar and Kit for Kat you’ll see one of the most blatant examples of title card re-use in the series’ history. In most cases of title card similarity, the artist simply took some design inspiration from an existing title card. In this case, the title card for Kit for Kat just crops in on the existing background painting from the title card created for Back Alley Oproar. For a production company that created over 1,000 short films, it’s quite amazing that more title card designs (and specific title cards themselves) weren’t re-used in this fashion.

Ultimately, I think all of them are worth taking a peek at (click any one of them for a larger view). Whether you are into Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, graphic design, or even typography, there’s something interesting to be found in each one of these amazing title cards.

Click any image to enlarge

If you’d like to learn more about Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies title cards or see a larger (albeit lower quality) gallery of images, be sure to check out Dave Mackey’s excellent Warner Bros. Cartoons Filmography And Title Card Gallery.

Share |


By Eric Pruss on May 6, 2011 at 10:23 PM

I totally agree with you, Jason. I always loved the hand painted work of title cards, not just the Loonie Tunes and Merrie Melodies ones, but of all the title cards and hand panted signs that were the norm in the first half of the twentieth century.

When I was very young, back in the late 1960s, I used to go to hot rod and custom car shows and every car was accompanied by a hand painted sign, many of which were very elaborate pieces of art. Likewise, rock posters of the time, promoting gigs in local clubs and other venues, were hand drawn and painted before being mass reproduced.

I have now, as i write this, spent over six years studying animation and VFX at the Academy of Art University out of San Francisco, and as wondrous and liberating I do indeed find the computer and applications such as Autodesk Maya and The Foundry Nuke, to assist the artist in the creation of spectacular visuals in film, there is something nonetheless seriously lacking in the modern CG visuals compared to the traditional artists heart and soul that can best be found expressed through paint and brushes.

In addition to my studies (which I had to put on hold due to financial reasons), I currently work as a freelance web designer, which I truly enjoy (infinitely more than the sheer tedium of the bullshit drone culture and mindless pathos of corporate IT that i had little choice but to drag myself through for years on end to pay the bill), but when i really need to relax, grabbing a sketch book and drawing some sort of sign, with hand drawn lettering, then coloring and shading with some markers, or picking up the charcoals, or some brushes and putting some gouache and oils to canvas… These things – though they are done entirely for personal gratification – is what reminds me I truly am an artist firstly and a designer secondly. Design, including anything done on the computer, has to follow a lot of strict rules… For good reasons, but art is different. Art comes from the heart, where there are no rules… Only emotions. It’s for that reason, though I am a moderately capable JavaScript and PHP coder when I have to be – I must admit, I have a fascination with HTML markup and CSS, but probably more because it is so simple and easy to create fun visuals without having to deal with the sheer tedium of logic – that I utterly despise being called a web developer! I’m content being called a web designer and I subcontract web developers for advanced PHP when needed, but I wish I could paint websites with brush and canvas and create 3D models using clay and tools and get paid for it that way. Alas, I seem to be out of my time… A solid 60-100 years too late. ;)

Great website, my old friend. I look forward to reading more…


By Eric Pruss on May 6, 2011 at 11:04 PM

By the way, I thought I might mention that artists in the animation industry, including the background painters, had very little creative leeway. It was the directors who gave the artists specific instructions and as animation studios in the 30s through to the early 50s were actually immense operations with hundreds of animators, twiners, colorists, painters and so on, they were also immensely expensive undertakings. This necessitated a significant amount for various cost saving measures. As the animation industry evolved over time, these cost saving measures became increasingly evident, especially with shorts, thou feature length animation suffered the same fate…

Examples include the backgrounds becoming increasingly less detailed and more and more reuse of the same cells for the animation. The worst examples, which became the norm by the 60s, especially when animation hit the even lower budgeted television world, have the backgrounds repetitively scrolling with fewer key frames to the action in the foreground, if there even was any action at all… Close-up shots of character heads with only their mouths moving and so on.

My point is that to have actually painted title cards where, as you are telling it (I honestly don’t know. I’m not THAT old, nor have I even seen a vintage title card up close), they did not use cel overlays with the text on it, is pretty amazing.

I am curious, what scale are these title cards? I have seen vintage animation cels used in film and they were 16 field size (approx 14″x16″), though that was also Disney – I imagine other studios, which put animations as just something to keep people in the seats before and between features, and thus had lower budgets, might have used the 12 field size (approx. 10″x12″) which became standard for TV years later… I am just speculating and would find it interesting to know… Though, of course, the title cards might have been painted larger scale still, especially if they are actually painted on card stock as vintage signs were.

By Jason Haggstrom on June 3, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Looney Tunes suffered the same fate of lower quality standards you mention. DePatie-Freleng Enterprises is infamous for using limited animation in the Looney Tunes they produced in the 60s (WB closed up the toon shop, and then outsourced the toon production to DePatie-Freleng). But you can see they way they cut costs in the Looney Tunes from the 50s as well–they simplified the animation. You can see it in the way Bugs deals with situations, especially in the way Chuck Jones handled the character. Jones would have Bugs stand still, then do nothing more than twitch a whisker. The amazing thing is that the Looney Tunes crew was not only talented enough to make their cartoons really high quality during that time–even with the lowered production standard–but that they used it as an opportunity to try new things with their characters that may have otherwise gone stale.

The lowered production values impacts the title cards as well. When I post the title cards from the 60s, you’ll notice that they are almost entirely designed from lettering. It’s rare to see any sort of setting or character on them (though I still think that they are really cool looking for the most part).

Something similar happened with Batman The Animated Series back in the 90s. The first 85 episodes had really cool, painted title cards, but the final 24 episodes had no title card at all. Instead, they simply started placing the title as text over the first frames of the episode along with all the other opening credits.

I’ve never seen an actual Looney Tunes title card either (though I have seen some really great mini posters that were released to theaters to promote the shorts that also used fresh drawings rather than just an image from the toon). But I imagine that they must have used cel overlays on them for the lettering (the best evidence for that being the title cards for “Kit for Kat” and “Back Alley Uproar” because they have the same background). Still, these were images made specifically for the title card!

Something else you mention is the changes to detail in the backgrounds of the toons. This is actually one of my favorite things in Looney Tunes. In the 50s, we start to see those really abstract backgrounds in Looney Tunes, especially in the Chuck Jones shorts. They started doing things like drawing furniture as abstract lines on the walls (!) of the settings. Then, they’d render a lamp in three dimensions making the scene even more abstract. I once read that this style was a direct swipe from another, new (at the time) series of cartoons that featured that style of abstract backgrounds. I can’t recall what series, but I know it’s in a book I have at home somewhere… But again, they didn’t just cut costs, they cut them with style! I believe that it was only in the mid sixties that the production cost cuts really negatively impacted the Looney Tunes, and then they were just about done.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *