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Bob Givens, key member of team that created Bugs Bunny, dies at 99

Bob Givens, key member of team that created Bugs Bunny, dies at 99
Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd appear in a 1940 cartoon that debuted the rabbit's trademark personality and look, which was sketched out by Bob Givens. (Warner Bros. Animation)

Bob Givens, a key member of the animation team that created Bugs Bunny, has died at 99.

One of the last surviving notable figures from animation's early golden age, Givens died Dec. 14 of acute respiratory failure at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, his daughter Mariana Givens confirmed.

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Givens was a rising young animator in the late 1930s, when he hired on with cartoon pioneers Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. They were building on a character that had evolved through a few animated shorts, one which seemed to have potential: a rabbit with an attitude.

The character was "too cute, so Tex asked me to do [another] one," Givens wrote in a letter to Michael Barrier, author of Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age.

Givens drew a model sheet — labeled "Tex's Rabbit" — that guided other animators.

"Bugs was no longer defined by [a] tangle of curves," Barrier wrote. "His head was now oval, rather than round."

Givens' design preserved whiskers and the idea of a "naturalistic" nose from an earlier version, but introduced elements such as cheek ruffs and less prominent teeth.

Robert Herman Givens was born on March 2, 1918, in Hanson, Ky., according to Mariana Givens. He was one of two twin boys. The family, which grew to include five sisters, moved to Southern California hoping the climate would improve the health of Givens' father, a horse breeder and rancher.

Givens, a precocious artist, began working in studio animation right out of Alhambra High School. His first big break was on the animation team for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" at the Walt Disney Studios.

He later joined a company that became the Warner Brothers animation unit, which sought to create a less treacly style than Disney was known for.

The re-imagined Bugs Bunny debuted in A Wild Hare (1940). For that short, Givens also prepared a model sheet that redesigned Elmer Fudd, the rabbit's co-star and witless nemesis. A third sheet sketched out a size comparison between Bugs and Elmer.

In a familiar scenario, Elmer Fudd consults with Bugs Bunny on Elmer's attempts to hunt Bugs.
In a familiar scenario, Elmer Fudd consults with Bugs Bunny on Elmer's attempts to hunt Bugs. (Warner Bros. Animation)

Along with this winning look, Bugs Bunny also benefited from sophisticated writers and the voice talent of Mel Blanc, who delivered Bugs' signature line: "What's up, Doc?"

Bugs Bunny became a cartoon superstar, his image and manner still recognized around the world.

Bob Givens during his military service.
Bob Givens during his military service. (Givens family)

During a World War II military stint, Givens collaborated with colleagues from the industry on training films. His work after the war, in a career that spanned more than 60 years, included shaping the look and scene layout of cartoons featuring Daffy Duck, Tom & Jerry, Popeye, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield and others, according to a release prepared by Warner Bros.

He also pioneered the use of animation in advertising, including an influential and long-running campaign for Raid's bug-killing products.

Givens in the year before his death at 99.
Givens in the year before his death at 99. (Givens family)

His longevity, vigor and detailed recollections made Givens a sought-after speaker and mentor in the last decades of his life.

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Givens married twice. In addition to his daughter, who lives in Santa Barbara, he is survived by a son, Christopher Givens of Walnut Creek, and two stepdaughters.

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