Monday, 26 October 2009

Nick and Bick and Model Sheets

There’s something attractive about model sheets and pencil tests, when you can look at cartoon characters and see how they’re created from geometric shapes, without backgrounds, sounds or anything else to distract you.

This is about as good a place as any to put in a plug for
Kevin Langley’s blog, which features model sheets and other fun cartoon stuff.

Someone awhile ago was selling model sheets that were billed as being from the George Nicholas collection. Nick’s obit from a Pennsylvania newspaper, likely the source of an L.A. Times story a couple of days later, may not be altogether accurate.

George Nicholas, 85.
Worked as an animator for Walt Disney.
George “Nick” Nicholas, 85, of Edinboro, formerly of Los Osos, Calif., died Saturday, Nov. 23, 1996, at his home.
He was born in Vermilion, Ohio, Dec. 14, 1910, son of the late Isaac William and Frances Hatch Nicholas. Mr. Nicholas’ family moved to Los Angeles when he was 10 years old. He was hired as an animator at the Walt Disney Studios in 1931. He was an animator for Hanna Barbera, Chuck Jones, and many others including Walt Disney. He was honored for 50 years of service to the cartoon industry at the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonist Guild Golden Awards banquet in 1986. Among his accomplishments are screen credit on the Disney features “Lady and the Tramp,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” Church [sic] Jones’ “Riki Tiki Tavi” and “The White Seal,” and also the 1971 Academy Award-winning animated version of “The Christmas Carol.” Mr. Nicholas was also a painter and wood sculptor.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 56 years, Dorothy McMannamy Nicholas; a sister, Mary; and three brothers, Fred, John and Bill. Survivors include his daughter, Donna, with whom he resided; two nieces, Lynn Nicholas of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Marjorie Jane Albin of Sacramento, Calif.; three nephews, Jack and Bill Nicholas of Los Angeles, and Fredrick M. Nicholas of San Francisco, Calif.; two brothers-in-law; and many friends.
Calling hours will not be observed. Funeral services will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Thompson-Smith Funeral Home, 345 Main St., Conneaut, with the Rev. Clyde A. McGee of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church officiating. Burial will be at Kelloggsville Cemetery. Memorials may be made to the Conneaut Station No. 3 Rescue Squad.

The factoid about “Disney in 1931” may be a trifle premature. Nick appeared on credits at the Lantz studios in the mid-30s, and he’s even in a staff picture circa 1933 found in Joe Adamson’s biography on “the other Walt.” He seems to have moved to Disney by 1939-40, then on to Hanna-Barbera in time to work on the first season of Quick Draw McGraw. So he wasn’t at H-B when the models of the studio’s first stars, Ruff and Reddy, were drawn.

I strongly suspect the sheets are by Dick Bickenbach, who drew these model sheets of Quick Draw and Baba Looey (they are signed “Bick”).

Richard Frederick Bickenbach was born in Indiana to Fred and Emma Bickenbach on August 9, 1907 but spent his boyhood in Freeport, Illinois, in an eight-room home at 124 North Green Avenue at Douglas. The family (Bick had a younger sister, Lois) moved to Glendale in October 1922 where he went to high school (graduated Class of ’25) before attending UCLA (Fred Kopietz of Disney was there at the same time), then studying art at Chouinard. In the 1930s, he found employment animating for Ub Iwerks (he was there by 1933) and then at Schlesinger/Warner Bros. under Friz Freleng, then in Frank Tashlin’s unit before moving over to MGM in 1946. He replaced Harvey Eisenberg doing layouts for Hanna and Barbera then moved with them to their studio 11 years later.
Animation wasn’t Dick’s sole interest. He was a baritone and sang on KTBI in Los Angeles while a teenager in 1926. It’s conceded he provided a Frank Sinatra-style singing voice in Tashlin’s Swooner Crooner (1944). To my not-exactly-trained ear (and I’ll stand corrected), it sounds like him again in Tex Avery’s Little ’Tinker (1948) when the two of them were at M.G.M. His wife Dorothy Mae Baker was a singer as well. They married in October 1933, likely due to their involvement in the Grandview Presbyterian Church in Glendale where they both worked with the children’s choir. He was a soloist at an installation ceremony of Tujunga Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star in 1949 (a co-ed group connected with the Masons) and sang at other Star functions; Dorothy was a member of the Star but Bick likely was not as the Grand Lodge of California reports he was not a Mason (men in the Eastern Star must have Masonic membership).
Newspaper clippings also show an interest in photography and he won a photo contest sponsored by the L.A. Times in 1938.
Bick is reported to have had a quote of Mark Twain on his wall at Hanna-Barbera: “Truth is such a precious article. Let us all economize in its use.”
During the ‘30s and ’40s, Bickenbach lived at 1161 Rosedale Avenue in Glendale. Perhaps coincidentally, that address (actually 1161B) was, in 2003, the home of an animation studio where The Toy Warrior was produced.
Bick retired to Palm Desert in 1975 where he and Dorothy continued to be active in church work, and then moved into a retirement home in Redlands in 1984. He died in San Bernardino on June 28, 1994.


  1. This is all really fun information.

    I never knew that Bick was the Sinatra sound-alike in Swooner Crooner! Amazing. What an all-round talent.

    Ed Benedict told me that he (Ed) designed Reddy and that Bick designed the cat. "He always designed the cutesey Tom and Jerry-ish characters" he would say.

    Ed would usually draw one or 2 poses of the characters, then Bick would make the more fully fleshed out model sheets and draw extra poses and angles of the characters like the sheets you have in this post.

    An exception would be The Flintstones, where Ed drew a lot of poses and redesigned the show a couple times before Joe B accepted them.

    I'm also a big fan of George Nicholas so this post is appreciated!

  2. John, thanks for the extra facts. I was never clear on how Ed and Bick divided the work at HB, and wondered who came up with all those football-shaped head designs like Ruff's got.

    Trying to find information on these guys while living on the other side of the 49th is like doing a jigsaw puzzle without having all the pieces. All I can do is put together random info and hope there's a bit of a picture.

    Bick was in some kind of musical club .. connected with the Glendale Symphony I gather .. so I suspect his singing ability would have been known by the people he worked with, and that's why he was called on for a couple of cartoons.

  3. George Nicholas is cool! His carreer spans accross several things I enjoy. I've noticed that when George is animating a Hanna Barbera short, everything is very congruent. The head outline naturally connects with the torso perfectly.

  4. Zartok, that must have been difficult to do, considering most of the animators seem to have drawn the head so it could be animated on another cell.

    I really have a horrible time trying to figure out who drew what so I don't know what Nick did differently in pre-Flintstone cartoons from other artists, say like Don Patterson or Art Davis, to name two guys who should have completely different styles.

  5. George Nicholas did some very funny animation for H-B over the years, including the hot-tempered southern bear character(voiced by Mel Blanc) who appeared in a couple of Loopy de Loop shorts.

  6. I drove Bill and Joe crazy asking them about their early days at H-B. They told me that RUFF AND REDDY was developed while they were still at MGM. Since they knew that their animation department was being shut down, they built their "parachute" on MGM's dime, including (I assume) those R&R model sheets.

  7. Thanks very much for posting this info. I love watching George Nicholas' work. His characters' mouths featured a prominent, forward tongue. Seems George and Bill Keil were often paired on The Flintstones. Two very different styles.

  8. Both Bill and George came from Disney, so I'm surprised they're so different. Mind you, even at Disney they animated very different things.

  9. I wonder if George Nicholas did most of the animation in the Flintstones's Season 2 (March 23, 1962) episode "The Mailman
    Cometh", like when Fred yells and the snooping mailman who spies
    on Fred and Barney later crawls on his knees after the local seargent (Herb Vigran as the cop and John Stephenson as the Seargent.This was the remake of the show's precursos "The Honeymooners's" actual episode where Ralph and Ed Norton are in the same predicament. A "Dennis the Menace" episode had this story as well.) Most of that episode's animation looks a lot like George Nicholas.

    Besides the impression of Sinatra, Dick Bickenback is also credited with imitating Bing Crosby as well!:)\


    1. Ok, Howard Fein told me elsewhere it'd Don Patterson. Herb and John really play off of each other there.

  10. :) BTW Howard Fein later, sicne then, told me Don Patterson did the WHOLE episode!