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Volume 2175
Intro and Part I of II (Part II)
View a John Carter of Mars Animation Excerpt

The Story Behind the 1936 John Carter of Mars Animation Project
Created by Bob Clampett and John Coleman Burroughs

A special JC showing at the Burroughs Tarzana Ranch: Danton Burroughs, Bill Hillman, Ralph Herman
A special JC animation showing at the Burroughs Tarzana Ranch:
L-R: Bill Hillman ~ Danton Burroughs ~ Ralph Herman
JCB's model thoat
John Coleman Burroughs' hand-carved thoat
used as a model for his John Carter of Mars illustrations
A Milton Caniff sketch of Bob Clampett"Realizing the potential of a fantasy series of cartoons based around Burroughs' characters, I went out to Tarzana to see Burroughs himself and tried to convince him that I could film and sell a series of cartoons based on his JOHN CARTER OF MARS stories." Bob Clampett
Clampett was surprised to find Burroughs so receptive to the idea of animation. Burroughs wanted to see his characters receive further exposure, perhaps because his other creations were currently being overshadowed by the enormous success of Tarzan. Burroughs also realized that the medium of animation would allow for special effects and an outer space setting that might be cost prohibitive or poorly done if translated to existing live action film techniques.

At the same time, Burroughs' son, John Coleman Burroughs (sometimes known as "Jack") had recently graduated college. He became interested in Clampett's revolutionary animated series. John set about sculpting several articulated models so that Clampett could more easily see how the animals and other important objects might look and move. Several of those sculptures still exist today including the head of Tars Tarkas (the four-armed thark) who becomes the friend of John Carter and a sculpture almost five feet long of John Carter's sword.

Danton with his father's Martian swordThark Head Sculpture by John Coleman BurroughsJohn Coleman Burroughs in his studio

John also did a series of sketches with detailed notes. For example, his notes on the Martian creature known as the "thoat" are as follows:

'Thoat. Description. A green Martian horse. Ten feet high at the shoulder with four legs on either side; a broad flat tail, larger at the tip than at the root which it holds straight out behind while running. Devoid of hair, dark slate in color, and exceedingly smooth and glossy. White Belly; legs are shade from slate at shoulder to a vivid yellow at the feet. Feet are heavily padded and hairless.'
Clampett immediately got to work to put together a  test reel of footage and soon animation history would be made.

For the test reel of footage, Clampett realized he had to have a major conflict that got resolved, introduced the main characters, and established the world of Mars. The basic plotline that Clampett settled on concerned an exotic race of Martians who lived in the mouth of a volcano. Periodically, they would venture out from their hidden lair in rocket ships to attack and plunder the  cities of Mars. Of course, it was up to hero John Carter to stop them. Interestingly, Clampett would later adapt this plot of one of his BEANY AND CECIL puppet shows with the sea sick sea serpent taking the place of Burroughs' hero.

While it was Clampett's plan that the series would be composed of nine-minute long cartoons each of which featured a complete story, he decided that six minutes of test footage would be ample to convince any distributor of the viability of the series. Clampett was under pressure not only to make test footage that would satisfy Burroughs but also the more pragmatic accountants at MGM.

"I wanted to do something quite imaginative, with tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. Chuck (Jones) helped me animate and Bobe (Robert Cannon) inbetweened. In fact, I filmed Bobe in live-action as the hero; he was very heroically built, all shoulders and no hips. I filmed him in Griffith Park, and we rotoscoped part of it," said Clampett.
Because Clampett and the others were still working full-time at Warners, the JOHN CARTER work had to be squeezed in at night, on weekends and whenever a spare moment managed to pop up. Even John Coleman Burroughs and his fiancée Jane would sometimes help out by painting some of the cels for the cartoon themselves. Clampett wanted a different look for the animated series and was once again forced to experiment.
"We would oil paint the side shadowing frame-by-frame in an attempt to get away from the typical outlining that took place in normal animated films. In the running sequence, for example, there is a subtle blending of figure and line which eliminated the harsh outline. It is more like a human being in tone. We were working in untested territory at that time. There was no animated film to look at to see how it was done," Clampett explained.
In 1936, the test footage was completed. It featured John Carter running and leaping around the Martian surface, a Thark riding a thoat in full color, Carter involved in a swordfight and other vivid sequences which were quite unlike anything else being done in animation at the time. There was an opening title sequence of the planet Mars hurtling toward the screen with lettering proclaiming John Carter in the "Warlord of Mars" and title cards announcing future episodes. It was planned that these scenes would be in the first film if the series sold. Burroughs loved the final work and more importantly, so did MGM. Clampett gave notice to Warners that he was leaving and he started production work on the first episode.
"I had already given notice to Warners and was preparing to start on the JOHN CARTER series when MGM's change in decision came down. The studio said, 'No, we do not want the JOHN CARTER thing; we want TARZAN'. Aesthetically, Jack Burroughs and I were very inspired by the Mars project. And the idea, as much as I like Tarzan, to do the alternate series was simply not the same. Somehow, I just lost my enthusiasm for the new project," Clampett said.
Clampett was re-hired by Warners to direct cartoons and went on to turn out a multitude of legendary Warner Brothers animated characters: Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and many more. Clampett stored away the storyboard, notes, sketches, actual cels and completed footage of the JOHN CARTER project and for the most part, forgot about the aborted series as he worked on developing other projects.

Animation history would have been significantly different if the JOHN CARTER project had sold. Other studios might also have shifted some of their focus from funny animals to a more realistic approach or explored the realms of realistic fantasy. On the other hand, Clampett would never have helped develop the personalities of some of the best loved Warner cartoons either and probably Beany and Cecil might not have come into existence.

Excerpted from:
Lost Cartoons: The Animated "John Carter of Mars" By Jim Korkis
ERBzine 0934
To promote the animation project to prospective studios, John Coleman Burroughs created a large, one-of-a-kind portfolio that remains a treasured artifact in son Danton's Tarzana Archives. During one of my visits to Tarzana, Danton gave me access to this over-size ringed dossier. Time was limited, light was low, and I took flurry of hand-held still photos with my digital camcorder. Presented below is this companion booklet to the historic John Carter of Mars animation promotional footage.

From the Danton Burroughs Tarzana Archive
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
Tarzana, California

For twenty-five years we have been awaiting a medium that could properly depict on the screen the highly imaginative Martian creations of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In the recently greatly improved cartoon animation technique in color we see that medium, which, in connection with the increasing demand for motion picture shorts, suggests that this is the opportune time to offer the animated cartoon rights in our series of nine Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian novels recording the adventures on the Red Planet of


The following pages give a brief summary of a few of the reasons why such a series of animated cartoon shorts in color should produce outstanding results at the box office. 

In addition to the nine Martian novels and the magazine publication of these stories, there is now appearing in a cartoon magazine, with a circulation of 500,000 copies a month, a series of four pages of John Carter of Mars cartoons in colors, which is give this character still wider circulation and publicity. You will find several of these cartoons mounted elsewhere in this brochure.


.click for full-screen images

Early '70s photo courtesy of  Rob Clampett ~
Bob Clampett and John Coleman Burroughs with the promotional portfolio of their John Carter project

John Carter Film

Read the related ERBzine article:
Lost Cartoons: The Animated "John Carter of Mars"

View a John Carter of Mars Excerpt with Bob Clampett Commentary
Alternate John Carter of Mars Animation Excerpt

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