Tuesday 30 July 2013

Ron Dias

Word has come in from Mike Peraza at Disney that former Hanna-Barbera background artist Ron Dias died today. He had been living in Marina, California.

Ron was born in Honolulu in 1937 to Lino and Eve Dias; his father was a meter reader for an electrical company. After studying art, he began his career in animation at Disney as an in-betweener and clean-up artist on “Sleeping Beauty.” Disney laid off a number of staffers once the feature was completed and a few ended up at Hanna-Barbera. Ron didn’t get to H-B until 1964, where he worked on “Jonny Quest” (his credits are not on the DVD of the series) and the feature “Hey, There, It’s Yogi Bear.” You’ll find Ron’s credits on “Space Ghost,” “Secret Squirrel,” “Atom Ant” and a number of other H-B series through the latter part of the ‘60s.

Ron eventually returned to Disney to work on films and TV cartoons. A piece of his art that wasn’t in the final cut of “Beauty and the Beast” went for $44,000 at an auction in 1992.

I’m not competent enough to point out any of his art from Hanna-Barbera but you can see a couple of pieces if you click on his web site.

Our condolences to Ron’s family and his co-workers.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Snooper and Blabber — Ala-Kazoop!

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: none. Layout – Tony Rivera(?), Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre, Story – Mike Maltese, Story Direction – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snooper, Blabber, Inspector O’Lenihan – Daws Butler; Hypno – Don Messick.
Music: Phil Green, Jack Shaindlin, Clarence Wheeler?
First aired: week of March 20, 1961.
Episode: Quick Draw McGraw Show M-027, Production J-80.
Plot: Snooper and Hypno the Magician battle for control of Blabber and the Royal Bujang Ruby.

This cartoon may remind you a bit of “Transylvania 6-5000” when Bugs Bunny and Count Bloodcount use magic words to turn each other into different things. However, it was released a few years after this cartoon (actually, the Bugs-opponent-magic scenario was used by Tedd Pierce in the Warners cartoon “Knight-Mare Hare,” released in 1955).

Mike Maltese’s story is a little different, where Snooper and jewel thief Hypno both use hypnotic words to put Blabber in a trance. Actually, Snoop just uses them to make Blabber normal. Hypno’s words only put Blab in a trance part of the time; he’s an aggressive villain the rest of the time.

This was the first Snooper and Blabber cartoon put into production for the 1960-61 season. The takes drawn by Hanna-Barbera’s animators were rarely extreme to begin with. They were becoming positively tame by fall 1960. The versions of this cartoon I have seen have no credits so I can’t positively identify the animator. But here are the drawings used for the Blabber transformation. They’re not very outrageous. They’re accompanied by the Hanna-Barbera Rubber Band sound effects.

There are only two incidental characters, both with pipe-stem legs that Tony Rivera loved—Hypno, and the Irish cop with the usual Daws Butler brogue.

The simple backgrounds remind me of Monte’s later work (see the buildings in the Augie Doggie cartoon “Little Wonder”). There appear to be 12 backgrounds in this cartoon, including a long, repeating street that’s used for a good portion of the middle of the cartoon, though Rivera (if it’s him) breaks up the monotony a bit by cutting to a section of the street on an angle. The cartoon opens with 13 seconds of no animation. It’s merely a shot of the outside of Snooper’s office door. Unlike a number of openings, there’s no private eyeball on the door. Instead, it’s on the second background drawing on what I presume is a diploma.

The phone rings. Snoop answers like Archie on “Duffy’s Tavern” as usual. “Snooper Detective Agency. When others don’t give a hoot, give ‘em the boot. We’ll find the loot. So shoot.” No loot in this case. An unheard woman offers Snooper $37,000 for the “recoverance” of the Royal Bujang Ruby. Bujang, as best as I can tell, is in Malaysia. Maltese sets up a surprise. There’s a knock at the door. Snooper thinks it’s Blabber. It’s Inspector O’Lenihan. He’s looking for the ruby, too.

Inspector: You’re not foolin’ me a-tall, a-tall, a-tall.
Snooper: Not a-tall?
Inspector: Not a-tall.

The inspector knows Blab has stolen the ruby and when the “worthless assistant” arrives, shakes it out of him. When Blab protests he doesn’t know how he got it, the scene cuts to Hypno at the door. Hypno puts into a trace. Maltese evidently thought it’d be funny not to have Blab in a dreamy voiced, arms-held-in-front cliché the whole time he’s under Hypno’s spell, so he turns him into a bad guy who shoots at Snoop, grabs the ruby and makes off behind Hypno.

“Folly me. Just as I elementaried,” Snoop tells the inspector. “It’s all here in my Enemies Directory under ‘h’.” Snoop gives a succinct summary of the situation—that Hypno wants revenge on Snoop for sending him to jail and Hypno’s the only person who can hypnotise Blab with the word “Ala-Kazoop,” with Blab none the wiser that he’s under a spell.

Snooper: Give me 24 hours and 15 minutes and I’ll get the ruby back.
Inspector: What’s the 15 minutes for?
Snooper: I gotta have lunch, don’t I?

The next half of the cartoon starts with Snooper (in silhouette) in his car, a bullhorn on top. Snoop and Hypno spend the sequence battling for control of Blab’s mind (and the ruby), Snoop saying “A private eye is an honest guy” (The Private Eye Institute’s slogan) and Hypno countering with “Ala-kazoop!”

Snoop wins the battle, thanks to headphones over Blab’s ears blocking out any sound. Well, temporarily. Hypno pulls a gun and Maltese pulls an old dialogue gag. “What did he say, Snoop?” asks Blabber. “He said ‘give ‘em the ruby’,” replies Blab. “Oh. If you say so, Snoop,” and, with that, Blab hands Hypno the gem. Hypno doesn’t get away with it. Turnabout works in this cartoon. When Blab says “Ala-kazoop,” it puts Hypno under his spell. The bad guy is caught. Alas, Snoop doesn’t get a chance to use his “Stop in the name of the Private Eye (fill in the blank)” catchphrase in this cartoon.

The cartoon winds up with a variation on the “Big Shot Blab” premise. Blab tried ordering Snooper around, this time by trying to turn him into a slave by shouting “Ala-kazoop.” Snooper goes through the animated motions (the mouth reminds me of Don Patterson’s work) but then reveals he was only faking.

Blab accepts his lot in life and cheerfully follows the order to get Snooper a hot dog. “Let’s face it. Super Snooper is a super-duper Ala-kazooper,” Blab tells us. I’m afraid that’s the best Maltese could come up with.

The music cues should be familiar in this one. We get the full version of what I think is Clarence Wheeler’s “Woodwind Capers.”

0:00 - Snooper and Blabber Main Title theme (Curtin, Hanna, Barbera).
0:16 - PG-168J FAST MOVEMENT (Green) – Shot of office door, Snoop answers phone.
0:24 - GR-76 POPCORN SHORT BRIDGE No 2 (Green) – “Give ‘em the boot…” Snoop on phone.
0:33 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – “…reward for its recoverance?” O’Lenihan in office, shakes Blab, ruby falls to floor.
1:45 - GR-255 PUPPETRY COMEDY (Green) – Hypno at door, Blab steals ruby, leaves with Hypno.
2:35 - EXCITEMENT UNDER DIALOGUE (Shaindlin) – “Sure’n I’m hopin’…” Snoop and O’Lenihan look at book.
3:15 - LFU-117-1 MAD RUSH No 1 (Shaindlin) – Snoop in car, Blab snaps out of trace.
3:48 - C-C-F# Underscore (Wheeler?) – Snooper points, battle of the trances, “Blab can’t hear you.”
5:34 - tick tock/flute music (Shaindlin) “You mumbled something…” Hypno becomes slave, “Will do, Snoop.”
6:17 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – Snoop and Blab in office, Snoop fakes being hypnotised.
6:47 - GR-77 CUSTARD PIE CAPERS (Green) – Blab walks, cartoon fades out.
7:00 - Snooper and Blabber End Title theme (Curtin).

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Yowp Runs Wild

Those of you who have followed my career know that I, Yowp, co-starred in three Yogi cartoons, only to be banished to reruns starting in 1959 as new characters rose to fame at Hanna-Barbera. They wouldn’t even put me in “Yo, Yogi!” but I wouldn’t wish that on a dog.

Oh. Right.

Anyway, during the heyday of my career, I was drawn by some fine artists. Here I am by Mike Lah.

This is me by Lew Marshall. Eyes are well below the top of the body.

The great Carlo Vinci drew me, too.

And Gerard Baldwin, who spent time working for the Jay Ward studio where they made some ridiculously funny TV cartoons (evidently I gained a lot of weight before shooting this cartoon).

Now, you can add to the list: John K., the man you all know for “Ren and Stimpy.”

Hmm. Kind of abstract, isn’t it?

John has been enlarging and shrinking various body parts of old H-B characters in a bit of an exercise with the Toon Boom animation software. He’s testing out some walk cycles and dialogue movements and hopes to post some when he’s ready. You’ll recall John created a couple of shorts with Yogi and running-wild Boo Boo. Could John K. be bringing me out of retirement to star in a cartoon again? We’ll have to see.

I’m using this post to not only thank John (who I’ve never met) for the doodling shout out, but to do the same to all readers and contributors. Last year, I mentioned the blog was going to come to an end due to a lack of time. Unexpected time off for surgery last December gave me a chance to bang off months of posts. They’re banked until Labour Day. We’ll see what happens after that.

Oh, yes, I was also drawn by Dick Bickenbach. He came up with a model sheet which was sent to me by one of the most generous people you can meet, Mark Kausler. I’ve posted it before but I’ll post it again.

I appreciate Mark’s willingness to share his time and knowledge about animation. And I appreciate those of you who pop by and read what’s here. Next week, we’ll post another interview with the Voice of Yowp, Don Messick.

Saturday 20 July 2013

Huckleberry Hound — Huck and Ladder

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Hicks Lokey; Layout – Tony Rivera; Backgrounds – Dick Thomas; Written by Warren Foster; Story Direction – Alex Lovy; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Huckleberry Hound, Colonel Cornball, Lion, People in background – Daws Butler; TV Newscaster, Cicero, Gorilla, People in Background – Don Messick.
Music: Jack Shaindlin, Bill Loose-John Seely, Spencer Moore, Hoyt Curtin.
Production: Huckleberry Hound K-050.
First Aired: week of March 6, 1961.
Plot: Fireman Huck is hired to capture a circus gorilla.

There’s a clever little con game going on at the beginning of “Huck and Ladder.” An escaped gorilla is scaring away customers from Colonel Cornball’s circus. If the fire department will capture cats stuck in trees, why not an escaped gorilla? So the Colonel calls fireman Huck on the phone.

Huck: An animal in distress? Hmm. What kind? (pause) Well, I mean, let’s just call it my curiosity. (pause) No, sir, the fire department don’t make no extinctions. An animal is an animal, and if he’s in distress, we’ll help him.

What’s fun is you can’t hear Colonel Cornball but you know what he’s thinking. He knows the fire department won’t capture a gorilla so he tries to avoid saying what kind of animal it is. Then when he’s forced to, he sets up Huck with a “you’ll rescue any animal” question. I like how writer Warren Foster lets the viewer fill in the blanks on the other end of the phone.

There are a couple of neat dialogue bits in this cartoon. There’s a silly bit at the start when Cornball yells “Hey, Rube!” for his lackey. “Uh, comin’ Colonel,” shouts the slightly loopy assistant. Then he adds, “My name is Cicero, but the Colonel always calls me ‘Rube.’ I don’t know why.” It’s a shame Cicero keeps moving in a quick walk cycle and doesn’t look at the camera when he makes his aside, but it’s still a nice bit of dialogue out of nowhere. Then, when Huck questions Cornball, Foster’s cynicism comes through:

Cornball: Well, a gorilla’s in the tent and he won’t come out—which is okay—except with him in, the customers stay out.
Huck: I detect a slight hint of commercialism, Colonel.
Cornball: That’s right, son. It ain’t laughs we’re working for.

One might say that brief conversation sums up the difference between cartoonists and studio owners. Perhaps including owners who used to be creative people that animated cartoons.

Foster wrote for Yosemite Sam for so long, he occasionally tossed in Sam-like dialogue when he got to Hanna-Barbera. Cornball is so angered by a TV news report on his patrons deserting his circus, he puts his fist through the set. “And there’s more show biz for ya, ya mealy-mouth video varmint Yankee!” Foster even borrows a gag from Tex Avery. Huck’s fire truck isn’t some rattle-trap. It’s eight miles long, like a limo in one of Avery’s cartoons.

The human characters have pipe-stem legs. Not a surprise, considering Tony Rivera was the layout artist. Old Fleischer veteran Hicks Lokey animated the cartoon and is hamstrung a bit. H-B cartoons didn’t go in for really wild takes, so Huck’s wide eyes (for four frames) after he realises he’s been hired to corral a gorilla aren’t really too wide. And while Lokey scrunches the head and closes the eyes (on twos) in anticipation of the take, Huck is walking while it’s happening instead of coming to a stop, which would make the take register better. I like the look Lokey gives Huck while being shaken in the lion’s mouth.

Lokey has an odd bit of animation at the start of the cartoon when the news announcer tells how the gorilla is terrifying people inside the tent. There’s animation of an overhead view of the tent with dots (representing the people) going away from the tent. But the cels are reused so it looks like the people are running in and out of the tent. Either the people are completely panicked and confused, or Hanna-Barbera wanted to save some drawings.

Something else is really odd in the first shot. The background drawing appears to have part of the production number in the lower right hand corner. The Huck cartoons all had “E” production numbers.

The cartoon takes the fireman job Huck had in the first season’s “Fireman Huck” (where he inevitably failed to rescue a cat) and mixes it with the idea of Huck bringing in an escaped gorilla (“Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie”). The gorilla in this cartoon has no name. I haven’t seen the model sheets so I don’t know if Foster intended the gorilla to be Wee Willie. He doesn’t look like the Willie that Rivera designed for the Yogi Bear cartoon “Stranger Ranger,” but he has Willie’s voice and goes “Eek! Eek!” like Willie.

Let’s go through Huck’s failures.

● Huck checks to see if the gorilla’s in the tent. A fist to the face answers that question.
● “Ol’ Pal Huckleberry” goes into the tent “to win his confidence.” Lokey saved money by not animating the Huck-gorilla fight. There’s a ten-second shot of Dick Thomas’ drawing of the outside of the tent. It doesn’t even budge as the violence happens inside; it’s represented only by sound effects and Daws Butler yelling. Huck goes flying through the top of the tent and lands on the ground in front of Cornporn. “Imagine what would have happened if I wasn’t his ol’ pal Huckleberry,” he observes to the Colonel.

● Huck tries to douse the gorilla into submission with a fire hose. Again, we don’t actually see the fight inside the tent; we do get drawings of the hose moving around. The end result is the gorilla wraps Huck in the hose, which elevated him high in the air over the fire truck. Cartoon physics is at work here; there’s no logical reason Huck should be airborne because the water is shooting up, not down against the ground. The Colonel shuts off the hose and Huck thuds to earth. Tag line: “I should have said ‘Gradual-like’.”
● “Well, we’re makin’ progress, Colonel,” says Huck. “His thinkin’ process is emergin’. And his operational pattern is takin’ shape. In other words—that goriller smarter than us.” For about four seconds, all the Colonel does is blink. Add up the savings, Mr. Hanna! Huck’s solution is to act like a gorilla and lure the beast into his cage “K-A-J,” spells Huck. Lokey’s cycle animation of Huck walking on his feet and hands (eight drawings on twos) features one position where Huck is deformed and doesn’t have any hands. “Eek! Eek!” screeches Huck, adding a “y’all,” like Butler’s southern wolf in the Avery cartoons. The end result is Huck gets in the cage and the gorilla slams the gated door shut.

● The proceedings are interrupted by Cicero, who tells the Colonel the lion has escaped. Cicero has the same walk cycle he did earlier in the cartoon. You’d think Alex Lovy would have cut the cycle drawings from being exposed twice to once and have Cicero run but.. oh, well. “Well, if that ain’t a kick in the head,” says the Colonel, giving us our song title reference for the show. Cut to the lion roaring and running. The gorilla opens the cage door, shoves Huck out and closes it. Now Huck wants back in. After more lion-running cycle animation and Colonel-running cycle animation we cut to Huck in the lion’s mouth. Suddenly, there’s a fire bell off camera. Foster pulls a switch. Huck opens the lion’s mouth, apologises and says matter-of-factly he has to attend to a fire. It reminds me of the wolf and sheepdog cartoons at Warners where the violence suddenly stops because it’s time to stop and the wolf and sheepdog go their separate ways.

The cartoon ends with Huck in his fire truck singing “Clementine,” tossing in some “eek, eek” lyrics and a weak “saved by the bell” gag line before the iris closes. What happened with the rampaging lion? We’ll never know.

The sound-cutter wisely cuts the music when Huck is giving his two punch lines while on the ground. And he decided to use the tail end of the Huck main title theme as a stinger to end the cartoon.

0:00 - Huckleberry Hound Sub Main Title Theme (Curtin).
0:13 - rising scale music (Shaindlin) – newscaster on TV, fist through TV.
0:44 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Cornball in office, Cicero runs, decides to call fire department.
1:20 - LAF-10-7 GROTESQUE No 2 (Shaindlin) – Huck in fire hall.
2:09 - no music – Fire truck pulls out, skid sound.
2:18 - LAF-10-7 GROTESQUE No 2 (Shaindlin) – “Over here, sir,” Colonel and Huck talk, Huck punched, Huck talks to gorilla in tent.
3:18 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Fight sounds, Huck lands on ground.
3:28 - no music – Huck talks on ground.
3:34 - L-75 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck with hose, “Eeek! Eeek!”
3:53 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Fight sounds, Huck lands on ground.
4:11 - no music – Huck talks on ground.
4:15 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Huck says he’ll act and think like a gorilla.
4:37 - TC-437 SHOPPING DAY (Loose-Seely) – Luring scene, Huck in cage.
5:41 - TC-221A HEAVY AGITATO (Loose-Seely) – Cicero says lion is loose, Huck in lion’s mouth, fire bell rings.
6:32 - LAF-74-2 LICKETY SPLIT (Shaindlin) – Huck opens fireman’s mouth, Huck in fire truck.
6:51 - Clementine (Trad.) – Huck sings Clementine.

P.S.: Before anyone comments, I realise “Hey Rube” comes from the circus. Read about it HERE. It was also a non-sequitur greeting Sam Hearn’s hayseed from Calabasas used on the Jack Benny radio show of the early 1950s.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Mike Lah’s Yogi Bear

The Huckleberry Hound Show was set to beam out from TV sets starting September 29, 1958 and that meant artists at Hanna-Barbera had to get busy. On June 24th, columnist William Ewald reported that the Huck show had been bought by Kellogg’s, so enough cartoons to fill 26 half-hours had to be ready fast (All must have been finished by December 1st. That’s when Broadcasting magazine announced H-B writer Charlie Shows had been signed by Larry Harmon Productions to write Bozo the Clown cartoons).

Ken Muse, Lew Marshall and Carlo Vinci animated almost all of the entire first season (23 Hucks, 22 Yogis and 22 Pixie and Dixies) while working on a second season of “Ruff and Reddy.” So a fourth animator picked up some work. Mike Lah not only animated a few cartoons (including the first Yogi cartoon in production, “Pie Pirates”) but was called on to do uncredited scenes in others’ cartoons.

Mike always found a way to inject neat looking extremes and expressions into his work; if only the studio had carried on the same way instead of making its animation smoother and blander. He also found a way to save money. A lot of the time, Mike’s characters never had jaws. He’d animate dialogue by having a black space for an open mouth and change the shape of the space for vowel and consonant movements, sometimes with a line to indicate the upper lip. To the right you see an example from his scene in “Big Bad Bully.” Notice the oval google eyes; you’ll see that in his animation of Yogi in other cartoons.

Lah draws a really fun scene where Yogi ties the bull’s tail to a stake. Unknown to Yogi, the bull pulls it out. Yogi cracks a joke about a “tough steak” and yucks it up. Yogi develops teeth when needed in a Lah scene.

The bull goes from angry to fed up as Yogi yucks away, jerking his head and moving his mouth in different positions. It’s limited animation but you can easily feel the expressions. Here are some of the drawings. Lah doesn’t use them in a cycle; he varies them so the action isn’t robotic.

The bull clobbers Yogi with the stake. The bull’s expression changes to one of satisfaction. Lah employs what must be a visual trick. The stake doesn’t actually crown Yogi; it goes past him. But the effect on the screen is he’s smashed on the head. You see the same kind of thing by animators in other early H-B cartoons.

Isn’t that last pose great? And look what Lah does with Yogi’s legs. If only Yogi were as expressive a few years later.

Then Yogi vibrates. Again, Lah uses several different drawings and not in a cycle. Here are some of them.

Readers here probably know Lah’s background. He had been directing the second unit at MGM when the studio’s cartoon division closed in 1957. Lah went into business with Bill Hanna making Crusader Rabbit cartoons before legal threats by Shull Bonsall, who claimed to own the character, stopped it. Lah freelanced at Hanna-Barbera through about 1959; he had his own company, Cinema Ad. He joined Quartet Films, Inc. around March 1961 (along with Hanna Barbera’s Dan Gordon), rising to the company’s presidency. Among his clients was Kellogg’s. He died in Los Angeles on October 13, 1995, age 83.