Cartoon physics

Cartoon physics or animation physics are terms for a jocular system of laws of physics (and biology) that supersedes the normal laws, used in animation for humorous effect.

Many of the most famous American animated films, particularly those from Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, unconsciously developed a relatively consistent set of such "laws" which have become de rigueur in comic animation. They usually involve things behaving in accordance with how they appear to the cartoon characters, or what the characters expect, rather than how they objectively are. In one common example, when a cartoon character runs off a cliff, gravity has no effect until the character notices.[1]

In words attributed to Art Babbitt, an animator with the Walt Disney Studios: "Animation follows the laws of physics—unless it is funnier otherwise."


Cartoon physics WikiWorld

Specific reference to cartoon physics extends back at least to June 1980, when an article "O'Donnell's Laws of Cartoon Motion"[2] appeared in Esquire. A version printed in V.18 No. 7 p. 12, 1994 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in its journal helped spread the word among the technical crowd, which has expanded and refined the idea.[3] These laws are outlined on dozens of websites.

O'Donnell's examples include:

  • Any body suspended in space will remain suspended in space until made aware of its situation. A character steps off a cliff but remains in midair until looking down, then the familiar principle of 32 feet per second per second takes over.
  • A body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation conforming to its perimeter. Also called the silhouette of passage.
  • The time required for an object to fall 20 stories is greater than or equal to the time it takes for whoever knocked it off the ledge to spiral down 20 flights to attempt to capture it unbroken. Such an object is inevitably priceless; the attempt to capture it, inevitably unsuccessful.
  • All principles of gravity are negated by fear.
  • Psychic forces are sufficient in most bodies for a shock to propel them directly away from the surface. A spooky noise or an adversary's signature sound will introduce motion upward, usually to the cradle of a chandelier, a treetop or the crest of a flagpole. The feet of a running character or the wheels of a speeding auto need never touch the ground, ergo fleeing turns to flight.
  • As speed increases, objects can be in several places at once.
  • Certain bodies can pass through a solid wall painted to resemble tunnel entrances; others cannot. ... Whoever paints an entrance on a wall's surface to trick an opponent will be unable to pursue him into this theoretical space. The painter is flattened against the wall when he attempts to follow into the painting. This is ultimately a problem of art, not science.
  • Any violent rearrangement of feline matter is impermanent. Cartoon cats possess more deaths than even the traditional nine lives afford. They can be sliced, splayed, accordion-pleated, spindled or disassembled, but they cannot be destroyed. After a few moments of blinking self-pity, they reinflate, elongate, snap back or solidify.

History of the idea

The idea that cartoons behave differently from the real world, but not randomly, is virtually as old as animation. Walt Disney, for example, spoke of the plausible impossible in 1956 on an episode of the Disneyland television program.[4]

Warner Brothers Looney Tunes had numerous examples of their own cartoon physics (such as in the Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner cartoons) or even acknowledged they ignore real world physics. In High Diving Hare (1948), when Yosemite Sam cuts through a high diving board Bugs Bunny is standing on, the ladder and platform that Sam is on falls, leaving the cut plank suspended in mid-air. Bugs turns to the camera and cracks: "I know this defies the law of gravity, but, you see, I never studied law!"

More recently, it has been explicitly described by some cartoon characters, including Roger Rabbit, Bonkers D. Bobcat, and Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, who say that toons are allowed to bend or break natural laws for the purposes of comedy. Doing this is extremely tricky, so toons have a natural sense of comedic timing, giving them inherently funny properties.

In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, for example, Roger is unable to escape handcuffs for most of a sequence, doing so only to use both hands to hold the table still while Eddie Valiant attempts to saw the cuff off. When Eddie asks, exasperated, "Do you mean to tell me you could've taken your hand out of that cuff at any time?!" Roger responds: "Not at any time! Only when it was funny!"[5] Several aspects of cartoon physics were discussed in the film's dialogue, and the concept was a minor plot theme.

In 1993, Stephen R. Gould, then a financial training consultant, writing in New Scientist, said that "... these seemingly nonsensical phenomena can be described by logical laws similar to those in our world. Nonsensical events are by no means limited to the Looniverse. Laws that govern our own Universe often seem contrary to common sense."[6] This theme is described by Alan Cholodenko in his article, "The Nutty Universe of Animation".[7]

In a Garfield animated short entitled "Secrets of the Animated Cartoon", the characters Orson and Wade give demonstrations of different laws of the cartoons and show humorous examples of them.

In 2012 O'Donnell's Laws of Cartoon Motion were used as the basis for a presentation[8] and exhibition by Andy Holden at Kingston University in Great Britain. Titled 'Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape'[9] it explored ideas of cartoon physics in relation to art and the end of art history.


Cartoon physics is not limited to physics: For example, when a character recovers impossibly fast from a serious injury, the laws of biology rather than physics are being altered.

It is also not limited to cartoons. Live-action shows and movies can also be subject to the laws of cartoon physics explaining why, for example, The Three Stooges did not go blind from all the eye-poking, or the burglars in the Home Alone series survive life-threatening booby traps. In a review of one of the Home Alone films, film critic Roger Ebert noted that in the case of live-action productions, cartoon physics are not as effective at producing a comic effect, as the effects seem more realistic:

Most of the live-action attempts to duplicate animation have failed, because when flesh-and-blood figures hit the pavement, we can almost hear the bones crunch, and it isn't funny.[10]

Printed cartoons have their own family of cartoon physics "laws" and conventions.

See also


  1. ^ In a neologism contest held by New Scientist, a winning entry coined the term "coyotus interruptus" for this phenomenon—a pun on coitus interruptus and Wile E. Coyote, who fell to his doom this way many times.
  2. ^ O'Donnell's Laws of Cartoon Motion", Esquire, 6/80, reprinted in IEEE Institute, 10/94; V.18 #7 p.12. Copy on Web
  3. ^ [1] Archived December 10, 2012, at
  4. ^ "Cartoon physics" on IMDb
  5. ^ IMDB quotes from "Roger Rabbit"
  6. ^ Stephen R. Gould, Looney Tuniverse: There is a crazy kind of physics at work in the world of cartoons (1993) New Scientist
  7. ^ Alan Cholodenko, "The Nutty Universe of Animation, The “Discipline” of All “Disciplines”, And That’s Not All, Folks! Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine" International Journal of Baudrillard Studies Volume 3, Number 1 (January 2006)
  8. ^ Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape on Vimeo
  9. ^ Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape | Stanley Picker Gallery
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (1992-11-20). "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York". Retrieved October 8, 2011.

External links



Andy Holden (artist)

Andy Holden (born 1982 in Blunham, Bedfordshire, England) is an artist who works in a variety of mediums.

Exhibitions of his work have included 'Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time' (2011) at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge and 'Art Now: Andy Holden' (2010) at TATE Britain exhibiting ‘Pyramid Piece’, an enormous knitted boulder based on piece of pyramid stolen from the great pyramid of Giza which he later returned.

Other works include an adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s ‘Brief Interviews with Hideous Men’ for stage, performed at the ICA, London (2012) and Arnolfini, Bristol, performance lectures with his father, ornithologist Peter Holden including 'Lecture on Birdsong' at TATE Britain, a lecture on cartoon physics titled, 'Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape' and the 'Dan Cox Library for the Unfinished Concept of Thingly Time' in memory of his friend Dan Cox.

Holden has also released several records with his band Grubby Mitts and co-runs the label Lost Toys Records. In 2010 he curated a festival of Artists' Music at Wysing Arts Centre called Be Glad for the Song Has No End.He was a founding member of a small, Bedford-based art movement MI!MS Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity, which was the subject of his exhibition at London's Zabludowicz Collection in 2013.

Baseball Bugs

Baseball Bugs is a 1946 Warner Bros. Looney Tunes theatrical animated cartoon starring Bugs Bunny which was originally released on February 2, 1946. In the short, Bugs Bunny singlehandedly defeats the "Gas-House Gorillas", a baseball team of hulking, cigar-chomping bullies. The cartoon has been called Bugs "at his best" and is still referenced by baseball fans and observers.

Cartoon violence (disambiguation)

Cartoon violence is the representation of violent actions involving animated characters and situations.

Cartoon violence may also refer to:

Cartoon Violence (album), a 2012 album by the indie rock band Herzog

a dimension of Cartoon physics

a content descriptor used by the Entertainment Software Rating Board

a rating category of The Independent Game Rating System

a reaction to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy

Game physics

Computer animation physics or game physics involves the introduction of the laws of physics into a simulation or game engine, particularly in 3D computer graphics, for the purpose of making the effects appear more realistic to the observer. Typically, simulation physics is only a close approximation to actual physics, and computation is performed using discrete values.

There are several elements that form components of simulation physics including the physics engine, program code that is used to simulate Newtonian physics within the environment, and collision detection, used to solve the problem of determining when any two or more physical objects in the environment cross each other's path.

Gerald McBoing-Boing

Gerald McBoing-Boing is an animated short film about a little boy who speaks through sound effects instead of spoken words. It was

produced by United Productions of America (UPA) and given wide release by Columbia Pictures on November 2, 1950. It was adapted by Phil Eastman and Bill Scott from a story by Dr. Seuss, directed by Robert Cannon, and produced by John Hubley.

Gerald McBoing-Boing won the 1950 Oscar for Best Animated Short, Gerald McBoing-Boing is

In 1994, it was voted #9 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field, making it the highest ranked UPA cartoon on the list. In 1995, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Hammerspace (also known as malletspace) is a fan-envisioned extradimensional, instantly accessible storage area in fiction, which is used to explain how animated, comic, and game characters can produce objects out of thin air. Typically, when multiple items are available, the desired item is available on the first try or within a handful of tries.

This phenomenon dates back to early Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies animated cartoons during the Golden Age of American animation.

Magic satchel

In role-playing video games, a magic satchel is a character's inventory in the game. The magic satchel can often contain more (or larger) items than should be physically possible for the character to carry.

The concept is so common in fantasy fiction that it is parodied by the character The Luggage in the Discworld series.

Mark O'Donnell

Mark O’Donnell (July 19, 1954 – August 6, 2012) was an American writer and humorist.

Physical comedy

Physical comedy is a form of comedy focused on manipulation of the body for a humorous effect. It can include slapstick, clowning, mime, physical stunts, or making funny faces.Physical comedy originated as part of the Commedia dell'arte. It is now sometimes incorporated into sitcoms; for example, in the sitcom Three's Company, actor John Ritter frequently performed pratfalls (landing on the buttocks). Cartoons, particularly film shorts, also commonly depict an exaggerated form of physical comedy (incorporating cartoon physics), such as in Tom and Jerry and Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner.Slapstick elements include the trip, the slip, the double take, the collide, the fall (or faint), and the roar.

Portable hole

In various works of fiction, a portable hole is a device that can be used to contravene the laws of physics. It generally resembles a circular cloth which is placed on a surface to create a hole. If placed on a wall, the user could crawl through the hole and come out on the other side of the surface. Placed on the ground, the user might be able to insert objects into it or allow others to fall in, as if he or she had dug a hole. The exact method in which the device works is dependent on the work of fiction.

Prest-O Change-O

Prest-O Change-O is a 1939 Merrie Melodies cartoon directed by Chuck Jones, and first released on March 25, 1939 by Warner Bros. It is the second and final appearance of the manic white hare from Porky's Hare Hunt, and the character's only appearance in a color film; the next hare-based short film, Hare-um Scare-um, would introduce a larger gray hare more closely resembling the character it would become in later shorts, Bugs Bunny.

Procedural animation

A procedural animation is a type of computer animation, used to automatically generate animation in real-time to allow for a more diverse series of actions than could otherwise be created using predefined animations.

Procedural animation is used to simulate particle systems (smoke, fire, water), cloth and clothing, rigid body dynamics, and hair and fur dynamics, as well as character animation.

In video games, it is often used for simple things like turning a character's head when a player looks around (as in Quake III Arena) and more complex things, like ragdoll physics, which is usually used for the death of a character in which the ragdoll will realistically fall to the floor. A ragdoll usually consists of a series of connected rigid bodies that are programmed to have Newtonian physics acting upon them; therefore, very realistic effects can be generated that would very hardly be possible with traditional animation. For example, a character can die slumped over a cliff and the weight of its upper-body can drag the rest of it over the edge.

Even more complex examples of procedural animation can be found in the game Spore wherein user-created creatures will automatically be animated to all actions needed in the game from walking, to driving, to picking things up. In the game Unreal Tournament 3, bodies who have gone into ragdoll mode to fake death can arise from any position into which they have fallen and get back on their feet. The canceled Indiana Jones game from LucasArts shown at E3 2006 featured character motions that were animated entirely in real-time, with characters dodging, punching, and reacting to the environment based on an engine called Euphoria by NaturalMotion which has since been used in games such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Backbreaker.

Ragdoll physics

Ragdoll physics is a type of physics engine procedural animation which is often used as a replacement for traditional static death animations in video games and animated films.

Space Jam

Space Jam is a 1996 American live-action/animated family sports comedy film directed by Joe Pytka. Starring basketball player Michael Jordan, the film depicts a fictionalized account of what happened between Jordan's initial retirement from the NBA in 1993 and his comeback in 1995, in which he is enlisted by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Looney Tunes characters to help them win a basketball match against a group of aliens who want to enslave them for their amusement park.

Released theatrically by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment on November 15, 1996, Space Jam received mixed reviews from critics for its merits of combining Jordan and his profession with the Looney Tunes characters, while the live-action and animated mix especially the animated basketball scenes, Jordan's performance and faithful interpretations of the Looney Tunes were praised. The film was a box office success, opening at No. 1 in the North American box office and grossing over $230 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing basketball film of all time. A sequel, titled Space Jam 2 and starring LeBron James, is scheduled for release on July 16, 2021.

Steal Wool

Steal Wool is a 1957 American Looney Tunes cartoon directed by Chuck Jones and released by Warner Bros. Pictures featuring Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. Mel Blanc provided for the voices of all the characters in this cartoon; however, like all Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog shorts, this short is mostly composed of visual gags.

This is the fourth short featuring Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. The title is a play on steel wool.

Super-Sargasso Sea

The Super-Sargasso Sea is a fictional dimension into which lost things go. Its existence was proposed by the writer Charles Fort, who, in the vein of the ancient Greek skeptics, did not actually believe that it existed but wished to present a theory that was just as plausible as those in the mainstream. The name alludes to the Sargasso Sea of the Atlantic Ocean, which lies next to the Bermuda Triangle.

It may be thought of as the spontaneous, anomalous teleportation of an object into another dimension.

The Crooked World

The Crooked World is a BBC Books original novel written by Steve Lyons and based on the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It features the Eighth Doctor, Fitz and Anji.

The Lexicon of Comicana

The Lexicon of Comicana is a 1980 book by the American cartoonist Mort Walker. It was intended as a tongue-in-cheek look at the devices used by cartoonists. In it, Walker invented an international set of symbols called symbolia after researching cartoons around the world. In 1964, Walker had written an article called "Let's Get Down to Grawlixes", a satirical piece for the National Cartoonists Society. He used terms such as grawlixes for his own amusement, but they soon began to catch on and acquired an unexpected validity. The Lexicon was written in response to this.

The names he invented for them sometimes appear in dictionaries, and serve as convenient terminology occasionally used by cartoonists and critics. A 2001 gallery showing of comic- and street-influenced art in San Francisco, for example, was called "Plewds! Squeans! and Spurls!"

Toon (role-playing game)

Toon is a role-playing game in which the players take the roles of cartoon characters. It is subtitled The Cartoon Roleplaying Game. Toon was designed by Greg Costikyan and developed by Warren Spector, and first published in 1984 by Steve Jackson Games.

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