Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Growing and Selling a Cartoon Studio

It’s fascinating to see how the Hanna-Barbera studio tried to turn its disadvantages into selling points using public relations via the press.

To hear Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and PR whiz Arnie Carr tell it, there was no difference between the wonderful violence animation by Irv Spence in a Tom and Jerry cartoon and a shot of a background painting of Mr. Jinks’ living room while Frank Paiker shakes the camera.

I suppose in a way they were right. Both scenes got laughs. But I can think of plenty of occasions watching old H-B cartoons and thinking how much better something would have played in full animation. Especially as the 1960s wore on.

The term “planned animation” the studio insisted on using was more PR. All animation is planned. But “planned” sounds better than “limited.”

Here’s a studio profile published in the Christian Science Monitor’s “Hollywood Letter” column of October 18, 1960. The studio history was now including the “underdog” factor, how it tried and tried and tried and tried to get someone to get someone to look at its TV cartoons when the fact was George Sidney, head of the Directors Guild of America, hooked up Hanna and Barbera with Columbia Pictures. Sidney invested in H-B Enterprises at the very start and was an officer of the company until it was sold to Taft, but his name seems to have vanished from newspaper stories on the studio as time progressed.

200 characters? Well, including fine secondary characters like Yowp (and why shouldn’t you?) and everyone else who ever appeared, I guess the number is as good as any. And “less dialogue”? Hanna-Barbera cartoons practically became nothing but dialogue, dependent on the great voice work of Daws Butler, Don Messick and a number of others. You’ll find a lot more character chatter once Warren Foster and Mike Maltese arrived than when Barbera, Dan Gordon and Charlie Shows were putting together stories for Huck and Yogi in 1958 (admittedly, the studio’s first series, Ruff and Reddy, was pretty wordy). Fortunately, Maltese and Foster were more than adept at funny dialogue and they somehow coped with the insane amount of story work they were required to do. And the article is right. The early Hanna-Barbera characters “captured the imagination” and their cartoons still amuse people today.

You’ll notice the reference to “Hairbreath Hare.” Ol’ Hairy became two characters. First, he morphed into a turtle named Touché. But one of his proposed designs was pulled out of a file a few years later and used for Ricochet Rabbit. Whether the other prime-time show referred to in the article was Top Cat, I don’t know. The studio seemed to have a lot of concepts being batted around, a number of which never reached the screen.


Home-Screen Animation Keeps Artists Doodling
By John C. Waugh

Huckleberry Hound is more than just a television star and a lovable, maddeningly mild-mannered Tennessee hillbilly dog. He’s a minor revolution.
And so is Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw and Auggie Dog and Boo-Boo the bear cub. And so are the Flintstones, those stone-age suburbanites who live in Bedrock.
This cast of TV cartoon characters has triggered a revolution in animated cartooning such as the entertainment world hasn’t seen since Walt Disney.
In only three years’ time Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the originators of Huckleberry, Quick Draw, Yogi, and all the rest, have breathed new life into animation.
Three years ago no new animated cartoons at all were being made for television. It was considered too painstaking and costly. Major theatrical studios were laying off their cartoon staffs, and Walt Disney, the pioneer of the animated cartoon, was devoting nearly all his talents to real-life dramas, true-life dramas, and Disneyland.
Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who created and for 20 years produced the famous “Tom and Jerry” cartoon features for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, became casualties of the major studio layoffs.
Jobless, but armed with a raft of ideas and a precious cartoon technique developed out of two decades of experience, they headed for television. Producer after producer told them it couldn’t be done, that good animation is too expensive and anything less was too junky.
Mssrs. Hanna and Barbera finally sold Screen Gems on their ideas and overnight Hanna-Barbera Productions was formed, the first company ever to set up specifically to provide new cartoon material strictly for TV.
Now Huckleberry Hound leads a colorful parade of more than 200 cartoon characters weekly across the nation’s television screens. All spring from the deft pens and comic minds of Hanna-Barbera cartoonists. The company now employs over 50 per cent of the top cartoonists on the West Coast. And they produce more cartoons in two weeks than the major studios used to produce in a year.
They have fashioned their revolution in cartoonery with a new technique that is really as old as the art of animation itself. It is called “planned animation.” By caricature, by careful planning with more story, less dialogue, more close-ups, and less extraneous matter (sheaves of falling leaves, for instance), Hanna-Barbera cartoonists are able to eliminate 80 per cent of the drawing and still maintain high quality.
A tumble by Yogi Bear down the stairs, for example, is not shown, but merely mirrored on the face of a wincing Boo-Boo.
“We make 1,700 drawings instead of 17,000 for a sequence,” explains Mr. Barbera, “and we don’t lose a thing, not a thing.”
There’s no doubt they save time and money. A half-hour cartoon drawn the old way would have cost $200,000 at least. By planned animation, known what to cut and what not to cut, Hanna-Barbera produces the same thing at a third of the cost and in half the time. Even at that it still takes about seven months to whip up a half-hour cartoon such as “The Flintstones.”
Hanna-Barbera now produces three half-hour shows a week for television: “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw” during the daylight hours, and the family-oriented situation cartoon, “The Flintstones,” for prime nighttime viewing (Fridays from 8:30 to 9 p.m. on NBC-TV).
And others are coming. Yogi Bear, longtime second fiddle to Huck, will soon star in his own half-hour show. And Hanna-Barbera is mapping still another half-hour show for prime-time family viewing.
In 1961, two five-minute syndicated shows will take to the air. One is “Hardy-Har-Har,” all about a sad hyena, and the other is the adventures of “Hairbreath Hare,” a swashbuckling rabbit.
These cartoon characters, oblivious of the revolution they represent, go about weekly charming an estimated 40,000,000 viewers, young and old. Huck, Yogi, and Quick Draw have captured the American imagination in a manner that Disney characters did two decades ago.

8 comments:

  1. THanhks YUowp..Your story does prove the old sayings...
    "Make lemons outta Lemonade"
    "Where there's a cloud, there's a silver lining"(and at this time of year, there better soon be..)
    "There will be a blessing in disguise"
    "Necessity is the mother of invention"
    "Where there's a will, there's a way"!

    By the way, the top 1958 Yogi is, of course, from one of the very first, "Pie Pirates", but I wonder whose animation there..Steve C

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  2. "The studio history was now including the “underdog” factor, how it tried and tried and tried and tried to get someone to get someone to look at its TV cartoons when the fact was George Sidney, head of the Directors Guild of America, hooked up Hanna and Barbera with Columbia Pictures."

    I'm sure there is some truth to both the underdog/failed pitches and the Sidney connection aspects of the story. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. In life, things are rarely as simple as any narrative -- whether rosey or cynical -- makes them out to be.

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  3. H and B moved from MGM to Columbia nearly seamlessly, the only hitch in between being the cancelation of Hanna's Crusader Rabbit. Joe, in particular, had a gift for PR bullshit. The two stories don't HAVE to be mutually exclusive. But that doesn't mean both are true.

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  4. The studio seems to have reached its creative limit shortly after this story was published, in that there was only so much work they could do before (as many others have noted), the story material provided by Maltese, Foster, Tony Benedict and others started running dry (and as the final non-Maltese/Foster/Tedd Pierce years at Warner Bros. showed, even higher-quality animation couldn't do all that much to offset weak story material).

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  5. They certainly did move from MGM to Columbia fairly seamlessly. After all, according to Scott Shaw!, they started working on what would become “Ruff and Reddy” at MGM, after the announcement that that studio would be closing but before it had actually closed. And Joe certainly was a great bullshiter. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t throw some ill-fated pitches before Sidney hooked them up with Columbia.

    I find it impossible to believe that the announcement that MGM would be closing its animation studio did not cause them much anxiety and worry at the time. To the point that they mused about selling hamburgers, as Joe Barbera once said? Probably not. :) But it’s certainly not implausible that they tried and failed to find animation work elsewhere and that Sidney ultimately connected them with Columbia all before the last MGM cartoon had been produced.

    It’s easy for us now to say that their move from MGM to Columbia went without a hitch. After all, we know how it turned out. But at the time, there was nothing inevitable about their success in finding someone to bankroll their planned animation revolution.

    Did they embellish their success story? Absolutely. Did they exaggerate their difficulties in getting H-B Enterprises off the ground? Almost certainly. Does that mean they had no difficulties or setbacks (which, fortunately, in the grand scheme of things ultimately turned out to be minor)? If only life were so…

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    1. Ruff and Reddy date back to May 1956, months before MGM suddenly decided to shut down production. The characters were copyrighted by Shield Productions, a company owned by Bill Hanna, Mike Lah and background artist Don Driscoll.
      Dick Bickenbach told Mike Barrier they were working on Ruff and Reddy material on the final week of the MGM studio operation; I suspect that would have been in spring 1957.

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  6. I am glad they had a strict policy against unplanned animation at Hanna Barbera. Can you imagine how "The Great Grape Ape Show" would have turned out if they would have just sat down and started animating it without a plan!? It would have been utter CHAOS! I can see Bill and Joe having to stop the occasional rogue animator from breaking away from the plan. "THE GORILLA IS SUPPOSED TO BE ON TOP OF THE CAR! THE DOG IS SUPPOSED TO BE DRIVING IT!! THERE'S A PLAN HERE PEOPLE!! STICK TO THE PLAN!!"

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  7. The article is a bit off about "no new cartoons"..it should have mentioned "at this time", since Jay Ward and others made Crusader Rabbit in 1948-49, and if you include non-=hand drawn (ie.,stop motion) the clay antics of Gumby could be included. In trad.animation, around the time HB appeared, Clutch Cargo, Colonel Bleep (the cartoon that started a colorful revolution) came around just before), and some others.

    But Hanna-Barbera was the first MULTI-series TV carton studio back then,though, relative to the others (Cambria, the Clutch Cargo studio whose show debuted around the time of HB, wouldn't get another till the mid 1960s with "The New Three Stooges"), and the "Col.Bleep" one was a very small, definite one-show wonder.

    Therefore there is certain truth to the Christian Science Monitor's comment about Hanna-Barbera being the first specializing in new cartoons just for TV, but that didn't mean 100% for reasons I give above.:) SC

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