Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Layout Lance and Hanna-Barbera Perfection

You may be wondering what the drawing to the left has to do with Hanna-Barbera cartoons. It was published in 1930 in the New York Herald Tribune. At that time, while Bill Hanna was sweeping up the Harman-Ising studio and Joe Barbera was trying to break out of a banking career and into magazine cartooning, their future layout artist Lance Nolley was gainfully employed as a newspaper cartoonist.

Nolley wasn’t one of the original layout men when Hanna-Barbera Enterprises formed in July 1957. He arrived at the studio several years later. By that time, Nolley had plenty of experience (and screen credit) at the Walt Disney studio, starting just after Snow White debuted. He and a number of Disney-ites left for Hanna-Barbera after completing Sleeping Beauty at the end of the 1950s.

I don’t need to tell you there’s a huge difference between cartoon acting in a Disney cartoon and a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. At their new place of employment, the ex-Disney animators weren’t—and couldn’t due to time and budgets—able to use their full skills to make careful and intricate movement to add to a character’s personality. In layout, H-B wasn’t big on overhead or moving perspective scenes. The camera shoots toward “the stage,” and variation is effected by the shot being either long, medium, or close (or a combination, say medium-close).

How frustrating was it for Disney people to go from full animation to the just-the-basics style at Hanna-Barbera? Nolley was asked that question once. We’ll get to it in just a minute.

Nolley must have made an impression on his co-workers at Hanna-Barbera. At least, when Jerry Eisenberg and Tony Benedict talk about people they worked with at the old cinder block bunker studio on Cahuenga (not the lovely building fans associate with H-B), Nolley’s name comes up early in the conversation. They both instantly refer to the fact he was from Texas.

Census information about Nolley is elusive before 1940. Who knows why. Lansing Ballard Nolley was born March 30, 1902. Census data about his early years is elusive; his mother died when he was 4. However, at the time he was employed by the News Herald, Nolley landed a gig at the Associated Press drawing political cartoons. The Salamanca Republican-Press was one the papers that picked up his daily panel. It wrote on March 14, 1930:

Nolley possesses a rich background of experience for his task. As a staff cartoonist for metropolitan newspapers, he has become known to newspaper readers in many sections of the country.
An inherited urge to draw led Nolley to seek education and training in this field immediately upon completing schooling in Dallas, Texas, where he was born. He studied at the Chicago Art Institute for several years and supplemented this training with work under specialist instructors in cartooning.
Drawing Was Father’s Hobby
Returning to Dallas, he joined the art department of the News and later became staff cartoonist of the Austin (Texas) American. Seeking added experience in larger cities, he again went to Chicago and worked for several newspapers. From Chicago he went to New York, and for the past year has been drawing illustrative cartons for the New York Herald-Tribune.
Nolley is the son of N. W. Nolley, who was for many years secretary of the Dallas Cotton Exchange and a well-known figure in the South. Nolley, Sr., was intensely interested in cartooning, which was his prime hobby. When the son displayed the same tendencies, they were encouraged to the exclusion of any other profession.
The Depression dried up his AP and Herald Tribune work, so he hightailed it back to Dallas where he received an offer to work for Disney in 1937.

For years and years and years, Disney got pretty much all the attention when it comes to theatrical animation. There’s no end of it. Books are still being written about the studio. We’re fortunate that among them are verbal reminiscences compiled by people like Didier Ghez. Don Peri is another one who talked to retired Disney employees, and among the people he interviewed for his book “Working With Disney” was Lance Nolley. He talked to Nolley about his days at Hanna-Barbera, and the difference between working with fully-animated cartoons and the pose/gag style H-B developed for TV. Interestingly, his World War Two enlistment card in 1942 stated he was working for Walter Lantz, but he doesn’t mention that below.

LN: I worked with them [Disney] up to I think about 1960 and went over to Hanna-Barbera on The Flintstones. I stayed there about ten years, and then I retired. I’d had enough. But you know, I went back there last December [1977] and worked for six months at Hanna-Barbera. They don’t do The Flintstones there any more. It was all sent overseas to Australia. I worked on those, what we’d call adventure pictures, like Godzilla, Captain Caveman and the Teenager [sic], Scooby Doo. I worked on those sorts of things. And finally I’ll tell you, that’s such doggone hard work. It was really hard and tedious. It took a lot of concentration, I just had to give it up and go back to playing golf.

DP: When you went from Disney to Hanna-Barbera, was that quite a contrast?
LN: Yes, it was. Every studio works a little differently, but basically, it all has to go through the same—more or less—process of story to layout to animation. I worked in layout with a chap named Richard Bickenbach. That’s quite a name, but he was a fine man and a great artist. He’s retired now. So I had good training. If you can draw, basically you can handle it.

DP: But as far as say the attitude towards the films or degree or perfectionism, was there a big difference between Disney and Hanna-Barbera?
LN: Yes, some, but Joe Barbera was a perfectionist. You had to please Joe in your layout. Bill Hanna handled all of the animation, the whole bit, and Joe handled story and layout. But if we had a particular question in layout concerning the design say of a prehistoric automobile, we’d go to Joe, and he’d work very closely with us. He was a very fine designer himself, and he had a great story mind. No question about it.

DP: The reason I ask about Hanna-Barbera is that they are often regarded as somewhat of a factory-type operation, or at least not of the same quality as Disney. I was wondering if you found it to be that way.
LN: No, they try for perfection, as close as they can, but they have a tremendous program, a tremendous program. It is an insatiable appetite, this animation at H and B. You simply can’t fill it up. There is always a demand for more artists, and frankly, all of the key artists, key animators at Hanna-Barbera, were Disney-trained men. All of them. There’s Volus Jones, Bill Kyle [Keil], and a number of other fellows who were Disney-trained and they grew up in that thing. So actually, pressure will bother anybody, but it will bother a Disney man less, because he’s been through it all those years. It was a transition, I’ll tell you.

DP: It wasn’t necessarily going from good to bad or anything like that?
LN: No, no, because, you see, actually Hanna and Barbera are the two men who kept us all in the cartoon business by cutting down costs. Now on Sleeping Beauty, there is some animation in that picture that costs as high as two hundred dollars a foot, and that’s prohibitive with the average studio. Walt Disney, the Disney people, always had enough money that they could experiment and get perfection. No other studio had that kind of money that they could spend months or years perfecting a character or perfecting a story.

DP: I guess Hanna-Barbera was under more pressure with television schedules—
LN: Yes. After the animation and the in-betweens are done, then it reverts back to the same system as any other studio—Disney and all the rest of them—of ink and paint, background painting. Background painters at Hanna-Barbera develop their own style, and of course, on The Flintstones it was a prehistoric approach. Actually it was fun to work on. It was a lot of fun to draw that stuff.

DP: I think The Flintstones was pretty clever.
LN: Yes. There was one man besides Joe Barbera, a fellow named Dan Gordon, who designed The Flintstones characters and a lot of the backgrounds, the different props, and so forth. He was a very clever man.
Nolley died February 28, 1991 in Woodland Hills, California. Variety didn’t mention any children or his marriages, but revealed he was survived by a sister. Interestingly, the same edition of the paper has an obit for Vance Colvig, the voice of Chopper, who died March 4th. The two of them “worked” together on four Yakky Doodle cartoons.

As you can see in the interview, some may have turned up their noses at “illustrated radio,” but there was at least one ex-Disney artist who worked with limited animation that did not. And, as best as I can tell, that echoes the feelings of many, many former Hanna-Barbera employees who were proud to work at the studio.


  1. great article ! i think the point that the HB criticizers miss entirely-is it's a matter of money. HB did "tom & jerry". hardly illustrated radio huh ? like the wonderful mr. nolley says-bill & joe kept artists working. but the combination of the great early HB characters-with daws butler & don messick & all those veterans would've easily blown disney out of the water on the "cool hip" front. i think the output would be closer to warners. and i always wondered who did "chopper's" voice too-thanks.

  2. At HB in '78 and '79, I worked as an assistant for ex-Disney animator Volus Jones, who stayed with Hanna-Barbera for many years. Volus was a class act and taught me a great deal about how to animate. Tom Sito, Mauro Maressa, Rich Coleman, Bronnie Barry, Charlie Howell and many others assisted Volus and master animators including Rudy Cataldi, Maury Redden and Dave Tendlar (who started animating Popeye cartoons in 1934).