Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Making of Huck

Until Huckleberry Hound came around and started receiving universal raves, not an awful lot of attention was paid to TV cartoons by 1958. A notable exception was the “McBoing Boing Show” on CBS, but that’s because it was in prime time, producer UPA still had a cachet and incredible amounts of money were spent on it. Other than that, there were some syndicated cartoons buried in children’s shows that critics treated as TV filler, and “Ruff and Reddy” starting in late 1957 on Saturday mornings, when networks didn’t even provide full programming.

That’s why it’s a little odd to see Weekly Variety came out with a feature story on the Hanna-Barbera studio before the Huck show even aired. H-B was a pretty small operation then. But perhaps the idea of a nation-wide syndicated hook-up of a cartoon show piqued the interest of the trade paper, egged on by the Hanna-Barbera/Screen Gems publicity team looking for promo ink for their new show.

So here’s the story from the August 20, 1958 issue. It contains an early attempt by Joe Barbera to justify the aesthetics of the studio’s limited animation. Interestingly, one of the scenarios that Barbera calls “unnecessary” sounds like something out of the MGM cartoon “To Spring,” directed by one Bill Hanna. In a way, Barbera’s right. Good poses, much like you’d find in a comic strip, can put a gag across. Unfortunately, the studio came to rely on dialogue more and more.

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Cartoons a Pushbutton Pushover
Grinding Out More Footage in a Fortnight for TV Than Customary in a Year for Theatre Use

Hollywood, Aug. 19.
Sweeping refinements and streamlining techniques in animated film production have enabled cartoon producers to turn out more footage in two weeks for television than they did in an entire year for theatrical use and at half the cost.
Prime example is H-B Enterprises, the partnership run by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who pulled down seven Academy Awards during the 20 years they turned out the "Tom & Jerry" series for Metro and who are now operating strictly in the field of television cartoon production.
H-B is currently turning out two series, the group of 52 four-minute "Ruff & Reddy" cartoons for Screen Gems, now in its second year, and the new series of 26 half-hour cartoon shows, "Huckleberry Hound," which Screen Gems has sold to Kellogg for a fall bow.
Barbera recalls that at Metro, it would take eight weeks to turn out a six-minute cartoon, and the total output of the studio was eight such cartoons per year. Currently, H-B is turning out 30 minutes a week of animated footage, comprising three "Ruff & Reddy" segments a week, nearly two seven-minute cartoons a week for the new "Hound" series, plus bridges, billboards and intros connecting the "Hound" cartoons to form the half-hour.
No "Cheating"
All of this has been achieved, Barbera maintains, without "cheating," a term he applies to the herky-jerky money-saving techniques involved in so-called "limited animation." Savings have accrued through greater production which-cuts the overhead, and the major upbeat in production stems from what Barbera believes is a streamlined and intelligent approach to animation.
As an example of the streamlining he points out that the major studio animation departments used to run all kinds of tests, even to the extent of "color testing" a hat for a character before proceeding with final filming. H-B has eliminated these tests and operates from storyboard right to finished negative. Voice recording used to be done in one or two-line takes. H-B records an entire seven-minute, 10-page script in one sitting.
On the use of intelligence in approaching animation, Barbera points out that in the old days, studios would overdo their animation, to the point of using hundreds of separate drawings to show a sleeping man’s chest heaving up and down, for example. Or in a floral scene, many drawings would be made to show flowers swayed by the wind, or a leaf dropping. ‘Taint necessary, says Barbera, and it’s time-consuming and expensive.
Out Go the Frills
Idea is to use as few drawings as possible without loss of entertainment quality, he states, and it’s in the elimination of the frills that the increased production and savings have occurred. Moreover, in many cases he’s found that the elimination of needless drawings has made the animated action crisper and sharper, and often has served the purpose of humor.
Aside from the 52 four-minute "Ruff & Reddy" cartoons, H-B will do 70 seven-minute cartoons for "Hound" this year, along with "Hound" bridges, billboards and intros. Barbera hopes to expand into new series and may do the Kellogg commercials as well. All of which is upward of 900 minutes a year of animated product. At Metro, Hanna & Barbera did 48 minutes a year.

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Interestingly, the article deals with cost and technique. It didn’t try to predict the end result. “Crusader Rabbit” and “Ruff and Reddy” may have come first, but it was Huck’s critical and financial success which jump-started the entire TV animation industry. Soon, trade papers would be reporting on new studios and new cartoon series, as well as charting the growing dollar-figures and expansion at Hanna-Barbera.


  1. “Crusader Rabbit” was also built on poses, but in some cases -- mainly the first series of B&W episodes -- it was nothing but poses combined with stories that were a slightly more series version of "Rocky and His Friends". Bill and Joe used a similar formula for "Ruff and Reddy", but with better poses and more animation, while Huck was the first show to pair the more adult comedy sensibilities of the best of the theatrical cartoons with those better, funnier poses.

    The combination had just enough animation to make it pay off for the first four years. Most anything after that either was too formulistic or, once Hanna-Barbera started focusing on Saturday morning fare, too geared towards satisfying what the network executives thought kids should be watching.(and just as a call-back to the previous post, I'd say the first 10 or so episodes of "Magilla Gorilla" were the last burst of creativity on par at least with the final seasons of the Huck and Yogi shows. Once you get past that the pickings are sparse indeed).

    1. Or maybe Joseph Barbera, in addition to all of his other skills, was also one the best publicity men (who ''sorta'' worked in the publicity business).