Tuesday, September 28, 2010

They Drew the Flintstones

Since the Flintstones and the Rubbles turn 50 on Thursday, perhaps it’s fitting to look at some of the people who brought them to life.

Bill Hanna told the story about how story artist Dan Gordon was trying to come up with a gimmick for a half-hour sitcom cartoon with no luck when he was inspired to sketch two cavemen and a record player using a bird’s beak for a needle. Ed Benedict got involved to do some concept and character drawings, Bick Bickenbach fit in somewhere and then Gordon put together the first storyboard.

Remarkably, most of the first season shows for The Flintstones were churned out by only one animator. That first season still maintains a bit of individual style as each artist got used to the characters. Carlo Vinci and Ken Muse had been with Hanna and Barbera at MGM and came over when the studio opened in 1957. When it expanded in 1959 to be able to handle not only Huckleberry Hound, but the new Quick Draw McGraw Show, the Loopy DeLoop theatricals and a little commercial business, more animators were added to the staff. Don Patterson came over from Walter Lantz, George Nicholas arrived from Disney. Ed Love and Dick Lundy appeared in the credits as well. The following year, Bill Keil moved over from Disney.

It’s really hard to pick a favourite.

Carlo’s distinctive style is pretty easy to spot because you can see the same things in Yogi cartoons of the late ‘50s. Carlo loved to stretch characters horizontally before they dove out of a scene. With Fat Freddie, that ain’t easy. If you spot a row of thick teeth, with the tooth lines not going all the way down, that’s Carlo. His head movements are angular, almost jerking side-to-side in three quarters view. Carlo was big on angles with characters bending every which way (especially their fingers and arms). You can see below how Carlo has Fred’s butt in the air and angles aplenty.




Nicholas animated my favourite Flintstones cartoon, when Dino learns that television is a nothing but a sham land after he lands a part on his favourite show, ‘Sassie.’ Nicholas plants big floppy tongues and big mouths on Fred and Barney (and Yogi), and had teeny little pupils to register shock, sometimes with a thick, wavy mouth line.




Ed’s stuff is a little difficult to tell in single drawings, but he loved drawing two or three teeth taking up a mouth. The remarkable thing about Ed is his movement. He’ll draw a head in three-quarters view in seven different positions, from low to high. He may move an eyebrow in one drawing, and hold it in the next to move something else. His cycle animation isn’t always on twos; he’ll vary it so the timing isn’t the same.

Ed didn’t use teeth as often when drawing mouths on Fred and Barney as he did on Huck or Mr. Jinks. Instead, he had an odd wave-shape to the upper lip and the mouth had a dip to it. You can see what I mean below.



Patterson’s got a group of fans that laud him over all others. Many of the things he does reminds me of other artists. His characters bite their lip on the “f” sound. So do Ed Love’s but Patterson doesn’t move the head around or display teeth as much as Ed. Don will also draw a wavy line for a mouth like George Nicholas. Patterson also likes drawing the eyes together; Mike Lah occasionally did the same thing during his time at Hanna-Barbera. But Patterson always comes up with funny takes that no one else uses. Why Lantz kept Paul Smith over him, I’ll never know.

Something else Patterson did was draw closed eyes with the top and bottom lids almost like triangles, though they were a little more rounded on The Flintstones than in Yogi cartoons.





Lundy was one of Disney’s top guys in the mid ‘30s. He had the best-ever unit assembled at Lantz when he directed there in the mid to late ‘40s, then worked with tremendous animators at MGM a couple of years later (no less than Tex Avery’s unit). But I can’t find a lot that’s distinctive about his work at Hanna-Barbera. I’ve noticed on several H-B cartoons, including the Flintstones, his character’s pupils are bigger than others drew them.


Ken Muse’s stuff is easy to pick out as he has a thin half-row of teeth below the upper lip and a little tongue that moves up and down in the mouth. He drew Spike that way in the MGM cartoons and carried on that way for the first few years of the Hanna-Barbera studio. He seems to have been entrusted with the opening and closing animation of a bunch of series, including The Flintstones; see Fred’s teeth in the credits above. At least one other H-B animator drew characters with Muse teeth; you can see it starting in the shorts in the early ‘60s.


I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything about Bill Keil’s style. He didn’t work on the first two seasons of Huck or the first season of Quick Draw and those are the cartoons I’m most familiar with. Much like Hugh Fraser ended up working with Carlo Vinci, Keil was generally paired off during his work on the half-hour cartoons. Before arriving at H-B, he was responsible for ‘Barbecue For Two’ (1960), one of the King Features TV Popeyes that is fondly remembered by some.

Many other animators came later—La Verne Harding, Bob Carr, Don Williams, even Virgil Ross—but these are the men who carried the show through its baby season to eventual success and history.


Yowp note: my sincere thanks to everyone who added insight about the animators in the comments section. Your insight is of benefit to everybody reading here.

15 comments:

  1. A lot of New York animators went to the Coast in the 60's as a result of the downsizing at Paramount and Terrytoons, and some of them wound up drawing Fred and Barney: Hicks Lokey, George Germanetti, Lou Zukor and Chuck Harriton. Johnny Gent (one of the most highly regarded NY animators from Terrytoons and Famous) did a lot of fifth season episodes. One of the later animators on the show was Michael Webster, who eventually headed Disney's TV animation studio.

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  2. The animation credits shown in your screengrab are actually 'gang credits'. When the 'Rise and Shine' closing titles were discovered in 1994, Earl Kress redid the credits in the 'Chinese' style used by H-B until about 1961. The voice credits are also 'ganged'.

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  3. Very interesting analysis of each animator. From what I've seen, Bill Keil draws his characters squat and chubby, with rather wide heads. He was paired with George Nicholas in numerous JETSONS and Season 2 FLINTSTONES, and with Dick Lundy on some Season 4 FLINTSTONES.

    It seems that most comic-book and storybook drawings of the H-B characters are based on Lundy's template: very square and solidly drawn with very little exaggeration.

    There were two animators at H-B during the early 60s who somewhat recall Muse's style. John Boersma did a few Augies, Snoopers and Meeces, and all of one Season 2 FLINTSTONE, "This is Your Lifesaver". Emil Carle did one Meece, numerous Wally Gators and Lippy/Hardys, and many Season 2 and 3 FLINTSTONES. The crinkles under the eyes, jerky head movements and 'Muse teeth' are quite evident when either one animates Fred or Barney laughing.

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  4. The last two Season 1 episodes, "Rooms for Rent" and "Fred Flintstone: Before and After" used five or six different animators. Muse, Vinci, Nicholas, Patterson and Keil all work on both. Maybe this was after the production season on the shorts ended, and they were available.

    I'd love to see specific Season 2 animator credits, but they seem to be lost. Some episodes from that season- "The House Guest"; "Impractical Joker"; "The Beauty Contest"; The Picnic" feature animation not readily familiar to the semi-trained eye. During the 1961-62 studio seems to have hired a lot of animators who didn't hang around long such as Robert Bentley, Phil Duncan, Gil Turner, C.L. Hartman and Don Towsley. Irv Spence and Don Williams, who animated on the concurrent TOP CAT, may have contributed as well.

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  5. As a kid, I loved trying to figure out the artists' styles by matching up the visuals with the credits. And it wasn't always easy on the Flintstones, because sometimes they just spliced on the credits from another episode on the end; that's local syndication for you. (At least I had plenty of H-B shorts to fall back on for those animator IDs.) And I had nicknames for each of them: Carlo Vinci was "Twitchy"; George Nicholas was "Crazy Eyes"; Ed Love was "Purse Mouth"; Don Patterson was "Baggy Eyes"; and Ken Muse was ... uh ... "That Guy that Always Did that Shy Head Turning Towards the Shoulder and Turning You Upper Body Back and Forth." (Hey, they weren't all winners, but I knew who I meant.)

    I'm with you; "Sassie" is my favorite as well. Great sendup of the TV industry and absolutely the saddest scene in any Flintstones cartoon.

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  6. Bill Keil animated alot like Nick Nicholas, but with slightly smaller preportions, and a stronger attention to detail. He accentuated a character's neck, and liked to draw spikey hair, as well.

    Bill was lamost always put on episodes with George in the first few years.

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  7. Great post! I've learned over the years which style was which for most of the 1st season animators, but this makes it much clearer.

    I enjoy the unique aspects of each of them, but I've always been partial to George Nicholas' work. You even included a favorite moment in his section here with the maniaical Fred going into his Hollywood frenzy. He was great with the big mouths. He also had a very sharp and consistent overall style that stood out to me even as a tyke.

    The fact that each animator pretty much handled full episodes is still pretty impressive. I don't know if I've ever heard what the turnaround time was on average per episode, but these guys were certainly up to the challenge.

    I just happened to catch part of a "Flintstones Comedy Hour" show on Boomerang a couple days ago, and you could take any inbetween frame these guys did and it would beat all the key frames of that sad echo of a show.

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  8. To me, the most distinctive thing about Dick Lundy's animation was the way Fred and Barney walked: arms swinging, crooked at the elbows. And the head bob, which occasionally went side to side as well as up and down.

    Yes, George Nicholas excelled at the maniaical Fred. William Keil drew his Fred and Barney with almost no variation: stylized, pointy hair and very thick faces and bodies. The diference between Nicholas and Keil was a little jarring to me, even as a kid.

    Love the lumps of fat on Fred and Barney's necks by Ed Love.

    Don Patterson is my favorite. Love the head bobs and the way he animated dialogue; he not only animates "f's", but "v's" and "l's", too. His characters have the most expressive eyes and eyebrows, and great hands. It seems he always drew closest to Ed Benedict's model, with just the right proportions. The grab of Fred with his arms extended is perfection.

    And look at the Ken Muse Fred on the end-credits: his head is too big; his arm is too thin; his hands are too small; his body is shapeless; and his feet are facing the wrong direction. Other than that....

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  9. David, a cartoon with a bunch of styles is the one where Barney is Slate's nephew (season 3). It suddenly goes from what looks like Carlo Vinci's jerking head to Don Patterson's very different shaped Fred talking to Barney cutting a hedge. Ken Muse shows up later. And there's another guy who has the weirdest proportions; Wilma's head is huge in one scene and Barney is really large in another. I wonder how much the layouts dictated that (ie. Bick's style vs. Clinton's).

    I watched Sassie again tonight. About all I can guess is Good Expressions = Nicholas. Not So Good = Someone Else.

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  10. Just watched Sassy. The bcdb credits Nicholas, Keil, Hathcock, Lundy, and Holt as animators. Fred being dragged by Dino to the supermarket thru to the audition scene is Keil. Fred and Dino driving to the studio is perhaps Harry Holt; he draws his Fred much like Keil. The scene where the boy asks for close-ups is Jerry Hathcock. I always liked the way he drew Fred: rounded hair and features. His top-hair points are very close to the front, and he has three side-hair points. Then Dick lundy. Note while Fred is sitting next to the director, he has four side-hair points. More Lundy until Dino is told his tail will be chopped off, then we return to Nicholas. Thank goodness Nicholas did the big revelation scene, that's the kind of thing he did best.

    Keil's not a bad animator, just a bit stiff, although I do think Dino's audition scene is well done. Never cared for the way he drew Fred and Barney.

    It is a terrific episode.

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  11. Hey, i'm sure i'm not the only one to notice this; but does anyone know what happened to poor Wilma's mouth (when she's asleep in bed) during the "Rise & Shine" outros?

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  12. As far as I can tell, Anon, that was a stylistic choice. I've seen it in comics where someone has no mouth when they're sleeping.

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  13. Oh, ok- so much for the 'production oversight combined with an encroaching air-date hidden inside a "no time to fix it now" mystery/riddle/enigma'.

    thanks Yowp!

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  14. Regarding David Simmons' comment about Jerry Hathcock and the rounded forms of Fred's hair--I noticed that in the first-season episode "The Babysitters", Fred and Barney's hair has that "rounded" look (like an old string mop) through most if not all the episode. Was that Hathcock's work?

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  15. No, it loves like Ed Love's animation from Walt Clinton layouts.

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