First look at Looney Tunes characters

Cartoon fans are in for a treat: Bugs Bunny is in town for the holidays.

The famously cheeky rabbit and his friends are the subject of  “Overture: Looney Tunes Behind the Scenes” at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco.

Porky Pig and Tweety look blissfully content. Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn look ready for mischief. It’s hard to view the drawings without hearing the voice of Mel Blanc in your head.

“These really are living, breathing people and they have such great personalities,” says Andrew Farago, the museum’s curator. “You know how Bugs or Daffy are going to react in any given situation and you know it’s going to be funny.”

The exhibition, which includes more than 60 character designs, animation pencil art and other drawings, honors a pre-computer era when animators worked at a furious pace to turn out cartoon shorts in just six weeks.

While Disney impressed audiences with technological advancements and was the first to use full color, Warner Bros. concentrated on characters and humor, Farago says.

The Looney Tunes first appeared in the 1930s in the theaters before a Warner Bros. film. By the 1960s, Bugs Bunny had his own TV show.

Farago got the idea for the exhibit while writing “The Looney Tunes Treasury,” which was published in October. The children of some of Warner Bros.’ best animators loaned him pieces from their personal collections.

“This is the sort of thing you don’t see anywhere else,” Farago says.

What’s most interesting about the show is that it offers a behind-the-scenes look at how the animators worked. The preliminary sketches are done in pencil; the color, if there is any, is soft and muted. Without the inky black lines and vibrancy of a finished animation cell, it’s all about personality.

A drawing of Porky Pig by animator Robert McKimson includes notes on what colors to use. On a different wall is a sketch of Wile E. Coyote’s hand pouring out a box of bird seed.

 The drawings are quick, energetic and confident.

“They hired the best people and they put them to work,” Farago says. If you weren’t really skilled, you weren’t going to last.”

The show includes a drawing of Bugs Bunny posing as an animator sketching Daffy Duck — a gift to the museum from animator and director Chuck Jones. There’s also wonderful set of caricatures the artists drew of each other as well as of Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra and other celebrities of the day.


Overture: Looney Tunes Behind the Scenes

Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission St., San Francisco

11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closed Christmas and New Year’s Day; show closes May 15

$7 general, $5 seniors and students, $3 for children 6 to 12,  free for children 5 and under

(415) 227-8666,