Saturday, 11 August 2018

Jinks Sees a Ghost

Some of my favourite drawings of Mr. Jinks came from the pencil of Mike Lah, who spelled off the regular animator in a number of cartoons in the early episodes of The Huckleberry Hound Show. You want fear or pain takes? Lah’s the guy you want.

I like his work in “Jinks’ Mice Device,” but he comes up with some funny poses in “The Ghost With the Most.” Lah takes over from Ken Muse after the iris fades out at the 2:30 and animates about the next two minutes and 15 seconds of footage. Pixie and Dixie try to convince Jinks there’s a ghost in their house. Pixie rolls up a window shade. Jinks is terrified. Lah alternates three drawings in a shake take.

Here’s the extended arm run that Lah liked using. Note that Jinks’ tail vanishes.

Lah was able to save Hanna-Barbera some money in many of his scenes by holding a character in position and changing the mouth shapes on the face. But in this scene, he actually re-draws Jinksie completely when the cat looks at the camera. Granted, there aren’t a flurry of drawings, but there’s more than one of Jinks’ body. Here are two of them.

This is an example of the body being held on a cel and a number of mouth shapes used (and re-used) in dialogue.

Did kids notice the lack of full animation? Likely not. There’s enough movement on the screen to match the dialogue. (On the other hand, I always noticed when characters ran past the same thing).

As a contrast, you see a version of Jinks, likely the work of Dick Bickenbach, who put together the model sheets for the characters that were designed by Ed Benedict.

Bick’s work is always very attractive but Lah’s takes are an awful lot funnier (Bick was certainly a capable animator, as he showed in his work at Warner Bros. before leaving for MGM in the mid-‘40s).

At the risk of repeating myself, it seems the studio abandoned fun poses like this fairly quickly as the workload increased. You’d never seen Wally Gator or the Hillbilly Bears drawn this way.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Inks and Jinks

There’s never enough praise for the ink and paint department at the major animation studios. While the animators, their assistants and in-betweeners draw great action on paper, someone must have a lot of talent to take those drawings and accurately reproduce them on cels.

The inker’s work is a little more noticeable when there are animation effects. Hanna-Barbera always seemed to have characters zipping out of a scene with some dry brush strokes left behind; the theatrical studios used dry-brush as well. I imagine the effect was indicated on the story panels that went to the layout artist and thence indicated on a drawing to ink and paint.

Here’s some interesting dry brush in the Pixie and Dixie cartoon “The Ghost With the Most” (1958). Jinksie is turning his head and plopping the “unconscious” Dixie in a flower pot before rushing off camera. What’s a little different here is there are extra eyes and noses indicated as Jinks turns his head. The animator of this cartoon was Ken Muse and I can’t think of when his artwork had additional eyes like this. (Carlo Vinci had nose smears in a few of his earliest cartoons).

The head of the ink and paint department at Hanna-Barbera was Roberta Greutert (Bill Hanna misspells her name in his autobiography). She arrived at MGM in 1938 and was eventually the assistant head of the department under Art Goble. The two went to Hanna-Barbera after MGM closed in 1957; Goble was put in charge of titles. Greutert’s husband was Henry Greutert, Jr., a sculptor who worked in art direction for live action films at Metro (I have been unable to ascertain her maiden name). Back Stage magazine reported in its September 24, 1971 edition upon her retirement that she trained 4,000 painters over 33 years. She died in 2007 at the age of 93, going by the name Roberta Marshall (as in Lew Marshall).

From what I understand, ink and paint was housed in a separate building when H-B Enterprises set up shop in the old Chaplin studio on La Brea. There was no room for ink and paint in the little cinder block bunker at 3501 Cahuenga, where H-B moved in 1960; some inkers and painters worked from home. Finally, when the brand new building was built down the street at 3400 in 1963, all the departments (initially) were under one roof.

We’ll have more on this cartoon in a post on Saturday morning.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Hokey Wolf — Tricks and Treats

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Don Patterson; Layout – Paul Sommer; Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre; Written by Warren Foster; Story Director – Alex Lovy; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Hokey Wolf, Farmer Smith, Humphrey – Daws Butler; Ding-a-Ling, Humane Society Woman – Doug Young.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Production No E-145.
First aired: week of March 13, 1961.
Plot: Hokey cons a farmer into giving him free grub by feigning a leg injury.
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.

The most interesting animation in the first Hokey Wolf cartoon is when our hero places his finger in the rifle of Farmer Smith, daring him to shoot. He does. Here are the individual drawings. The third drawing is shot on twos, the rest on ones. (P.S.: nice going on the DVNR on the DVD, Warner Home Video).

Hokey Wolf really doesn’t interest me and I’ve been working through my head about why that is. In this particular cartoon, Warren Foster has written a solid story, Daws Butler’s voices are tops as always and Monty has some interesting colour choices in his backgrounds, but I just can’t get into it. Maybe it’s because Hanna-Barbera wasn’t just borrowing from sitcoms—The Honeymooners or, in this case, Phil Silvers—it was now borrowing from itself. Tall schemer, short conscience? Sorry, I’d rather watch Yogi Bear and Boo Boo do the same thing (the praise Ding-a-Ling heaps on Hokey must be inspired by the 1954 Warners cartoon “Dr. Jerkyl’s Hide” written by Foster). And how many more times did H-B use that formula?

Don Patterson, a veteran of “Fantasia,” “Dumbo” and some crazy takes in “A Fine Feathered Frenzy” at the cost-conscious Walter Lantz studio, is pretty much reduced to walk cycles and characters standing around talking. He gives it a good try every once in a while. Here’s Hokey faking having his leg in a trap and howling in “pain.” The only thing that moves here is the head.

A good effect is a flash camera effect, where the screen turns white when a “photo” is taken. You can see the same thing in the Yogi Bear cartoon, Space Bear, which was also animated by Patterson.

Whether it came from Foster’s storyboard or Paul Sommer’s layouts, I don’t know, but there’s silhouette animation of Farmer Smith.

Sommer would have designed the incidental characters. I like Humphrey, the photographer.

I mentioned above that the backgrounds were painted by Fernando Montealegre, if the credits are correct (I’m not fully convinced they are). As you can see by the interior above, he abandoned the great, stylised flat designs which I really like in those 1958 Huck and Yogi cartoons. Here is his farmhouse. Note the pink clouds and the shades of green in the trees.

Foster gives Hokey some nice dialogue here: “Neat. Well-kept. You’ll notice around that wheat field a little border of dichondra. It makes it dressy. Gives every evidence of being stocked with good, whoooolesome food.”

Hokey, a la Phil Silvers’, keeps up a steady stream of disorienting patter. “Well, it’s lucky for you,” he says to the rifle-toting farmer,” I am a no-good, thieving, low-down, good-for-nothing wolf, or I’d sue you for slander. Ding-boy, snap this picture (click). Good boy. Now a close-up of the cruel trap. (click) And another one like this (Hokey pulls rifle up to his face). For protection, you know. It’s my best side (click). Now get one of the defendant. Smile. That’s it (click).” When the farmer asks what it’s all about, Hokey explains he needs evidence for court. “Cruelty?” says the farmer. Hokey moves his trapped leg. “This isn’t exactly a charm bracelet on my leg, you know.”

The farmer doesn’t have time to think that he never laid a trap. “You didn’t know (it was Be Kind to Animals Week)! But the whole world will know. I can see the headlines now: “Jury Convicts Farmer...” uh, come, come, the name. This must be spontaneous.” It’s the kind of finger-snapping line Silvers’ Bilko (or, later, Top Cat) might blurt out. Anyway, the farmer is conned into taking him into the home to feed him back to health, similar to the plot of the 1958 Yogi Bear cartoon Tally Ho Ho Ho (“Here it is, wolf,” says the farmer. “Some nice, hot barley water. Just the thing for your shocked condition.”). Like Yogi, Hokey isn’t satisfied and raids the fridge. And like the Yogi cartoon, the farmer discovers the fakery, in this case when he catches Hokey dancing.

Hokey, however, has hedged his bets. He calls the Humane Society to give it a scoop—Farmer Smith has befriended a crippled wolf and is nursing him back to health. And it works. The Humane Society people arrive just as the now-clued-in farmer is about to clobber Hokey. They take pictures of the fake-smiling farmer as he feeds the wolf. “That Hokey,” says Ding-a-Ling to the audience, “He’s the greatest wolf ever” as the cartoon ends. Ding, evidently, has never seen a Tex Avery cartoon.

Doug Young plays not only Ding-a-Ling, but lends his voice to the matronly Humane Society woman. I can’t think of another time he did a falsetto voice in a cartoon, but it’s as funny as Don Messick would have done.

Hoyt Curtin’s tracking library opens with his version of “Strolling Through the Park One Day.” The other cues will be familiar to you from Snagglepuss and Lippy the Lion cartoons.

Hokey (originally named “Wacko Wolf” until, perhaps, it was realised Larry Harmon had a cartoon character with that name) was supposed to replace Yogi Bear on the Huck show when Yogi got his own show at the end of January 1961. But the Hokey cartoons weren’t ready. Yogi reruns were featured on the Huck half-hour until the first Hokey short was ready in March; a rerun of Huck’s great Spud Dud accompanied it that week.

No, this is not going to be the first of a bunch of Hokey reviews. As I say, I’m not a big fan of the series and I frankly don’t have the time to blog, let alone attempt to mask TV cable network bugs on frame grabs for a series I’m not interested in. I will say it’s a shame that this series and the remainder of the Huckleberry Hound and Pixie and Dixie cartoons that don’t have music issues aren’t out on DVD.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Words of Willie Ito

Willie Ito is one of a handful of people still around who not only worked on the original Bugs Bunny cartoons at Warner Bros., but on the original Flintstones series. Willie’s career began and ended with Disney and included a stop at Bob Clampett’s short-lived Snowball, Inc.

There aren’t too many people left who received screen credit in the first half-dozen years of the Hanna-Barbera studio’s life, but Ito is one of them. I’ve never had the pleasure of chatting with him, but others have done it on the record. Most recently, webcaster Stu Shostak gathered Ito, fellow layout man Jerry Eisenberg (next to Willie in the 1964-ish photo to the right) and writer Tony Benedict on his show to reminisce and explain how the cartoons were made. The interview was excellent. Stu has given me permission to transcribe some of what Willie Ito had to say. The transcription is missing some repeat words and I have paraphrased Stu’s questions. (Some of the screen shots come from either Jerry’s or Tony’s home movies).

‘Snow White’ was the first movie you saw?
When the seven dwarfs marched on the big screen in Technicolor saying “Heigh ho, heigh ho,” I says “That’s what I wanna be.”

Talk about the internment during the war.
Then that infamous day happened. 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego, we were all sent to the middle of a desert. It was totally miserable. And because of the fact that it was too hot to go outside during the summer, and too cold to go outside, I stayed in and just drew and drew. And, of course, one of the things that I did was, we were given Sears-Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues to buy our dry goods from and so every three months they would send us new catalogues. So with the old one, I would draw on the margins. You know, walks and bouncing balls and all that.
Yeah [my parents noticed my artistic ability], because when I was in grammar school before being interned, my teacher on the report cards says “Willie likes to daydream and draw a lot.” That was the American school. After the American school, I would have to go to Japanese school and so it was very strict, so at 4 o’clock I would report to Japanese school and we would sit there with our hands folded and the teacher would come in and we would bow and very disciplined. But once in a while I’d get a little bored and start drawing and the teacher would come up from behind me with a ruler and whap me across the [hand]. But I survived that at American school.

What was your first animation job?
I started my career at Walt Disney studio and I was hired by Iwao Takamoto. Of course, we were working on ‘Lady and the Tramp’ at that time. I was an apprentice in-betweener, struggling to maintain the kind of work that Iwao was doing because I was following him.
The first scene I was assigned to was the iconic spaghetti kissing scene. Iwao was such a strickler [sic] for perfection that after about three weeks, I kept thinking “my father says ‘you know, you should get a barber’s license’—like, he was a barber—‘so you’ll have something to fall back on.’” I started seriously thinking about that.

You went from Disney to Warners.
Then I was in Chuck’s unit [at Warner Bros.] doing various, well, basically I was Ken Harris’ assistant but Chuck knew I wanted to eventually do character design or storyboards or whatever. So he would occasionally throw me a bone and say “Hey, have Willie design these incidental characters from one of the Bugs Bunny shows and all that,” which I did. Hawley Pratt, who was a layout man in Friz Freleng’s unit, Friz was going to move him up to directorship, so he needed to train a layout man, so Friz asked Chuck if I could be borrowed for one picture to see how I do. So I went over to Friz’s unit, laid out “Prince Violent,” which later was changed to “Prince Varmint” for television’s sake, they kind of softened it.
I finish my very first layout assignment and my very first Warner Bros. screen credit. And I was really ready for the next picture. Then I get a call from Bob Clampett’s studio saying “Hey, I understand you like to do character designs.” “Well, yeah, I sure do.” They said “Would you like to come over because ‘The Beany and Cecil Show,’ which were puppets, was now going to be done in animation.” And I thought ‘Wow, what an opportunity’ and while I was thinking about it, he said “And we’re going to double your salary.” Goodbye, Friz. Goodbye, Chuck.
Then Chuck calls me aside and said “You know, this is television that you’re going to be working in, it’s all fly-by-night. We’re a major studio and we’re going to be making short subjects forever.” Well, six months later, Warner Bros. started [closing the studio].

You were at Snowball for a year, Beany and Cecil wasn’t renewed, and Clampett tried other concepts but none of them were picked up.
In fact, the big show we worked on was the Edgar Bergan/Charlie McCarthy show. And so we did this beautiful presentation and I borrowed a lot of the artwork from Jerry’s father Harvey Eisenberg, a beautiful Charlie McCarthy comic book from Dell. And so I lifted a lot of the great shots and blew it up and we had a board, just a beautiful presentation. And Edgar Bergen, Frances Bergen, who’s Edgar’s wife and Candice Bergen, who was still like a little eight-year-old girl, they all came up to the studio and reviewed it. Edgar was very happy with what he saw. So we thought, “Wow, we got it locked in. ABC’s going to buy that show.” But, meanwhile, Hanna-Barbera also had an open time slot. And at that point, the studio was starting to vie for whatever time slot was open. Hanna-Barbera has already established a track record. Finally, when it was apparent that Bob wasn’t going to have another show, Alex Lovy called and said “Hey, kid, I hear you’re wrapping it up at Clampett’s. We’re looking for layout guys.” So I says, “Maybe I’d better take this.” So I went over and then that Monday morning I walk into the Hanna-Barbera layout department and there, sitting there, was Jerry, Iwao Takamoto and a few of my other acquaintances, and I says “Oh, my gosh, this is like home week.” I’m going to stay here.
Then after that one of my layout guys I was working with, Homer Jonas, came over and Tony Sgroi came over.
So suddenly Hanna-Barbera was really getting a lot of the [people from other places]. And, of course, Disney’s shorts department closed up. So all of a sudden—guys like Nick Nichols, and all that, they were from Disney’s shorts department.
Before I actually went over to Clampett, I just thought, “You know, I think I’ll kind of make the rounds of the studios. So I went to visit Joe at the old Charlie Chaplin studio on La Brea. I had an appointment to see Joe, I had never met Joe before, but walking into the Charlie Chaplin studio was rather intimidating. God, this was the master of comedy. And the studio had that nice, old-fashioned flair, but then you could see sound stages and all that, and I thought “Well this is a real movie studio.”
I go into see Joe and Joe says “Hi, how are you, kid? Sit down.” then I show him my portfolio, and he looks at my portfolio said “Oh, yeah, it’s nice but we don’t draw this way.” “Oh, okay, thank you, Joe,” and then in retrospect, years later, we’re all drawing that style.

What did a layout artist do at Hanna-Barbera in those days?
Basically, layout, we make the blueprint of the film, so taking the storyboards or whatever, then we plan the film. We indicate trucks and all of the camera things. We suggest it. Occasionally, there’ll be, like, on the storyboard, a character, and then you’ll see in red pencil, “See me, Joe.”
We would turn our stack of work in to the production coordinator, then they take out the background layouts, send them to the background department and then the timing director or, like, Nick Nichols will go over the storyboard and get the scenes and assign it to his respective animators. So now it was being divvied up throughout the studio.

Did layout artists design any characters?
We in layout, especially during presentation time, we would get assigned a bunch of characters, we make roughs, we do our own interpretation of it and whatever. But then you start to hone in and then maybe Jerry will make a rough of a character idea, myself, and all that. Then it gets run by Iwao Takamoto and then he would kind of put his touch to it and then Joe would look at us and, “Yeah, we like that character.” So even though it’s a compilation of a number of the layout men’s interpretation, at the end, Iwao does the final touch on there and it has that Iwao Takamoto look.

What about creating characters?
A lot of these storyboard guys like Lew Marshall and [Tony Benedict], they were veterans of the animation business so they are able to design characters that will work. So we would sometimes say “Hey, I like the way this character is designed on this story and we just kind of expand on the actual design that the story guys conceived of. Sometimes we would just start from scratch.

What about sitcom writers brought in to work on the half-hour shows?
With the original cartoon writers, like Tony and Mike Maltese and Warren Foster, they did stories and made little sketches and pinned them on the board, so they were writers. But then when scripts came in from live action writers they had to start a whole new department of story board artists, storyboard editors and all that. So they would read the script and then story-direct and all that. That later became a whole department throughout the industry.

Was there a runaway production back then?
This is where sourcing the work out of the country came up. No, not quite that far back [as the early ‘60s] but later as the studio grew they took on more shows and more shows. You know, Joe would go back to New York and then call Bill Sunday night and say “Hey Bill, you gotta staff up because I sold another show. And Bill will say (growling) “How the hell am I going to find all these people?” He had to get old animators from Fleischer and Terrytoons to freelance. And now these guys were what you call “rubber hose animators.” Like the old black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoons, no elbows, it was all just rubber hose. And now, so, Joe is selling shows like ‘Space Ghost’ and ‘Jonny Quest’ and all of this [adventure stuff]. And I was working on a show called ‘Mighty Mightors’ [sic] and that was kind of a lesser show so a lot of, you might say, B or C animators [were assigned]. Oh, it was embarrassing to watch. And then, of course, at that point, they say “Hey, you know, we got to get strong comic book people like Doug Wildey and Alex Toth.”
That’s where it required very strong poses, from one pose to the other, and it’s these comic book-trained artists that could get the superhero, that strong pose. So the rubber hose animators put in-between drawings to this pose, and then from that pose to the next.

What about practical jokes at the studio?
Willie: Well, herein lies that joke where someone asks Joe “Hey, how many people work at the studio?” He said “Half.” We always thought that Joe would roam around and see all these gag cartoons in the cubbyholes that we were working in and it’s like, well, that all takes time. That one drawing could have been one scene, you know, one layout.
Stu: Did Hanna say stuff that like?
Willie: Why, I’m sure Hanna thought it.
Stu: Did they do a lot of Asian humor at you and Iwao?
Willie: We never took offence. Well, you know, Jerry had a sword and we would take the sword and we around like samurai warriors.
One thing we never had back then was H.R. That’s like the death of all big companies.

You got mixed up with Iwao Takamoto.
If I did anything wrong, Joe always thought I was evil. I would take credit if it was good, and if he was criticizing “Iwao did it.” Joe would confuse it. He would be calling me “Iwao.” But I won’t correct him. (Mixing up pay cheques) That was always correct.
That’s like being mistaken for Iwao by Ralph Bakshi. I get a phone call at Hanna-Barbera. And it says, uh, “Willie Ito, this is Ralph Bakshi’s secretary. Ralph would like to meet with you.” I says “Oh, gee whiz, okay.” So we set a time and date and then I’m driving down Melrose Studios, it’s almost 12 o’clock, and I see Ralph and a couple of animators walking up Melrose and I said “That’s Ralph and we have an appointment.” But I continue, I get to the studio, I park, I go in and the secretary says “Well, Ralph’s out for lunch but he’ll be back around one. So if you’d like to wait...” So I sit there patiently waiting and then Ralph comes in and then he calls me into his office and sit down and then he proceeds to interview me, so I’m talking and then they realise this and Ralph says “You’re not Iwao! I don’t want you.”

Incidentally, the ‘B’ and ‘C’ animators on the credits of Mighty Mightor include MGM vets Ken Muse, Jerry Hathcock, Irv Spence, Ed Barge, Dick Lundy and Don Patterson, as well as ex-Disney-ites George Goepper, George Rowley and George Kreisl. That’s not bad for a “B” crew; Spence even supervised animation on Jonny Quest (a far cry from his work with Tex Avery in the ‘30s). Willie, Jerry and Iwao provided layouts along with Steve Nakagawa, Phil Lewis and future union business agent Lou Appet.

Mr. Ito said much more in the interview and Jerry Eisenberg provided a little more elaboration on some of the things he mentioned in an interview on this blog some time ago. You can click on this link to go to Stu’s site to see or hear it for a paltry sum. Scroll through the menu and see what else interests you. (I get no kickback for this).

By the way, Jerry mentioned in 2011 he wanted to do a second interview. Here is it more than seven years later and we still haven’t done it (my fault). We shall endeavour to rectify that. Jerry mentioned on Stu’s Show he had a story about Frank Paiker, the head of the Hanna-Barbera camera department whose career went back to the early 1920s. He never did tell it. Perhaps I can roust that out of him.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

The Jolly Pie Pirate (and the Dog)

Mike Lah was Yogi Bear’s first animator, and his style at Hanna-Barbera was deceptively simple. His Yogi doesn’t look quite like the Yogi you think of; it seems a little sketchier. But Lah was able to get solid expressions into his characters.

Here’s an example from Pie Pirates, Yogi’s first cartoon. These are good drawings of Yogi laughing, but you’d never see anyone else draw him like this.

Yogi realises something’s wrong (his barrel is about to fall apart). See what Lah does with his eyes. He really liked that small-mouthed stare you see in the first drawing, and he would draw eyes that were different sizes, with different sized pupils, for effect.

The earliest cartoons on the Huck show evidently had smaller budgets so Bill Hanna didn’t have time or money for such niceties as in-betweens if he could get away without them. These two drawings are consecutive. Yogi pops from one pose to the next (Lah liked the extended-arm run).

Yogi’s nemesis is a bulldog that is preventing him from grabbing a huckleberry pie cooling on a window sill. Lah drew him a fair amount of time with half an eye closed. Even with limited animation, Lah puts expressions into the angry dog. Does the bottom one remind you of Spike in a Tex Avery MGM cartoon that Lah would have worked on?

Lah pretty much eased out of his work at Hanna-Barbera by the first season of the Huckleberry Hound Show and carried on making commercials at Quartet Films, which he and his wife (Bill Hanna’s wife’s sister) eventually ran. He told Darryl Van Citters in 1977 he was supposed to be part of the ownership group of H-B Enterprises when it started in 1957 but it sounds like he couldn’t come up with investment cash. It’s a shame because I would have liked to have seen how Lah would have handled drawing the Flintstones and some of the later characters.