Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sam Clayberger — Huck Background Artist

When you think of the backgrounds in the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, several names come to mind—generally Fernando Montealegre, Art Lozzi or Bob Gentle, all of whom worked at M.G.M. before moving to television animation when the studio closed.

But the distinction of doing the backgrounds for the first Huckleberry Hound cartoon goes to someone else, a man who made his name elsewhere—Sam Clayberger.

A little biography in Keith Scott’s exhaustively-researched The Moose That Roared tells us that Sam was born in Pennsylvania, and went to the Chouinard Art Institute after a hitch in the U.S. Air Force during the war. He ended up at U.P.A. for six years, then Graphic Films, and then worked for Jay Ward on Rocky and Bullwinkle, then later on George of the Jungle, both amongst the funniest TV cartoons ever made. Teaching art appears to have been a love as Sam was an Associate Professor at the Otis Art Institute in the mid ‘60s. Oddly enough, Keith’s rather detailed book hasn’t a peep about Sam’s work at Hanna-Barbera. You can read more about his career at the Toon In Animation podcast site.

Sam is still with us and he was interviewed about his life and career. Listen to the podcast
here. It’s full of insight. Sam talks lucidly about his career but, oddly enough again, he makes no mention of his employment by Joe and Bill. Perhaps he was hired on a freelance basis.

Besides “Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie,” Clayberger’s name can be found in the credits of “Cock-a-Doodle Huck,” “Two Corny Crows,” “Hookey Days” and “Mark of the Mouse.” There may have been other cartoons, as most of the Yogi Bear segments on the DVD of the first season of Huckleberry Hound don’t have credits. But, above, you see two examples of establishing shots of his, the top one from “Cock-a-Doodle Huck” with intelligently-chosen tint variations, and up and to the left from “Two Corny Crows” featuring corn stalks with leaves of different shades of green to add depth.

Sam’s colour schemes are certainly eye-pleasing but don’t overpower the action in the foreground. What more can you ask for?

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