Friday, June 30, 2006

Hanna-Barbera Glory Days

In 1979 Cartoonist Profiles magazine ran this little photo feature on Animation Production at Hanna-Barbera. If nothing else it drives home just how much the industry has changed in the past 27 years. Here longtime animation veteran Harry Love gives a lesson in timing to a room teaming with eager young students. (See anybody you know --or perhaps even yourself in this photo?) ...And you know the lesson must involve the Flintstones 'cause he's holding a Fred and Barney model sheet!
Wow, check out all the "That '70's Show" fashions and hair in this shot. (Looks like my High school annual actually...)

Now what character is this...and who's he designing? (Kinda looks like George Clooney on the right.)

"Animator" hell! Isn't that the great Carlo Vinci animatin' classic Flintstone here? (This shot obviously came from deeper in the archives --just look at the cars in the parking lot outside!)

Cartoon geniuses still in their prime.

Today's generation of animation student might well wonder what any of the equipment in this room is actually used for.

Joe, here apparently wearing John Travolta's suit from Saturday Night Fever, keeps 'em enthralled! (Yet another fine group of animation students on the road to wealth and fame!)

Ah, one of the lovely ink-and-paint girls! Anybody know who this is? (I'm guessing this is probably an older shot too, since the character on the cel she's holding up looks suspiciously like ol' Injun Joe from 1968's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.)
As much as I would've liked to have been, I wasn't around H-B back then...but I bet somebody reading this probably was. Any further insight or clarification concerning the folks and rooms presented in this photo essay would be greatly appreciated.
Otherwise, my thanks to Jud Hurd for the original article and photos, and Joe and Bill for the original inspiration.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Secret lives of Kaiju

I've long been amused by the not-so-subtle differences between American and Japanese culture. While each is undeniably quirky in it's own way, I'll vote the Japanese as culture-quirk kings, hands down. Here's a prime example why: back in 1989 when I was working with Dave Strandquest at Cinema Concepts, Batman was in theatres and the garage kit market was in full swing. Japanese garage kits of this era were the generally the nicest, not just because of the overindulgent sculpts, but also because of the hi-concept box graphics, and the uh... unpredictable nature of the instruction sheets. Well, in that catagory this one takes the cake! It came with the Inoue Arts '62 Godzilla release and...well, it's like no other model instructions I've ever seen before. Check out the page below and you may find yourself asking --as I did-- what in the Hell??!? Here I always thought them Gargantua twins were brothers for cryin' out loud --& had no clue about the other two!
...Ya think ya know people.

Seriously, If anybody has any instructions that rival this one for weirdness, let me know --I'd love to see 'em.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bizzarro Comic Tales #4

Wow! Vegans beware...It's still pretty amazing that this Popeye comic by the great SEGAR(!) from October 1933 actually saw print, but it did. While the list of comic strip don'ts back then was a long and curious one, (ie: female skin showing, snakes, dirty socks) there was no real provision against depictions of animal cruelty. Oddly enough though, this Wimpy episode reportedly received the most mail of any strip that featured him...and amazingly all of it was positive! (Segar, worried about a backlash, had already written a letter of apology --then didn't even have to use it) Times sure have changed. Today you couldn't get a strip like this by the censors in a million years...and you'd have to be crazy to try! (In fact I'll actually be kinda surprised if I don't hear something weird back from running it today...but here goes...)
Prepare to be stunned --and no peeking at the end!

King Features Syndicate. Thanks to Bud Sagendorf for the image!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Warner Club News-The Cartoon Studio in '45

About a decade ago I was at the local monthly Lakewood flea market when I spotted this little item.
It's an issue of the "Warner Club News", the official inter-departmental west-coast studio newsletter. I think I bought it for 6.50 if memory serves. This particular issue is from April 1945, the final days of WW2. What makes it special is that this time around the cover story is on "The Cartoon Studio", and the cover itself features over 25 photos of the cartoon staff at work cobbled together my longtime Warners story man Mike Maltese! Mike also wrote a funny yet very informative piece inside about how the actual cartoons would come together, and who's responsible for this phase of production and that. It was still the golden age at Tertmite Terrace... Despite the fact that Tex Avery had already been gone over 3 years and Bob Clampett wasn't going to be around much longer.

Here's the cover photos a little bigger so maybe you can tell who's who. A few of these shots I've seen before...But a lot of them I haven't. If you look close you can see lots of legendary animators, including Bob Clampett's entire animation unit--see if you can spot the ones that look like Gremlins from "Russian Rhapsody"--Enjoy!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Black & White in COLOR #2

Paul Blaisdell! One of my heroes to be sure...and one of Hollywood's great unsung craftsmen as well. Paul was a true creative --few and far between in his field. He was the guy in Hollywood you called when you had practically no money and needed a miracle...and over and over, Paul delivered. His most recognized work was featured in 1950's Sci-fi movies like It Conquered the World, The She-Creature, Invasion of the Saucer-Men, Day the world Ended, Beast with a Million Eyes, and It, The Terror from Beyond Space.
Since virtually all the films he worked on were shot in black & white, Here's some choice COLOR behind-the-scenes shots from a few of those films. First up and hopefully obvious, is Paul in the just-finished She-Creature costume. Paul played his creations himself more often than not, and this time around is no exception. Here he clowns around with Bob Burns' wife Kathy. (So where Bob at? --behind the camera, natch.)

The "lunch hooks" on the costume's abdomen actually could open and close, but the effect was never utilized in the film.

The above shot was taken on the 100 foot suspension bridge that led to Paul's Topanga Canyon home. (How cool is that?) The bridge provided several close by photo-ops --As demonstrated by Paul and Bob Burns here posing as Drac and Frank underneath the very same bridge on a fun-filled Saturday night.

Bob Burns was Paul's good friend, fx assistant and cohort for many years and together they worked on a long list of films. Here's the two pals in 1957 with some of the props Paul built for Invasion of the Saucermen. (The wooden construct spaceship in the foreground reportedly required Paul to apply 100 coats of paint to get the desired smooth look!)

This truly inspired and exceptional 50's monster design inspired about a billion rip-offs. Paul put these babies together for pennies of what any big budget beastie would cost...and they're still pretty damn creepy some 50 years later! Talk about showmanship!

This shot is of an unused prototype of the Saucerman head. It was never actually intended for use in the film production.
I think it's way scarier looking with the smaller, sunken eyeballs rather than the buggy-veiny. This head definitely has more of a Gene Colan thing goin' on....

Paul made this 18 inch hand puppet (nicknamed "Little Hercules") for the climax of Roger Corman's The Beast with a Million Eyes for DIRT CHEAP!!
How cheap you ask?...try $400, punk!

Paul designed The Tabonga the Living-Tree-spirit monster featured in From Hell It Came ...but he didn't build it the costume...and he was never paid for his work! So here's his designs in color, at least.

And bringin' up the rear, Pound for pound Blaisdell's best known work for sheer design insanity has to be BEULAH (As she was affectionately known) from 1956's It Conquered the World. Described as everything from a upside-down teepee to a 7-foot carrot monster, The image of Beulah has actually become pretty iconic. For years Creature Features in Burbank had a huge Beulah standee in their front window on Olive Ave. (I still can't believe I didn't bid on it when it sold it on eBay when they closed up a couple of years ago.) Here she is post-production, stored away in Paul's basement.

All of the blue on Beulah is bounce-back from the floor (The same goes for the Saucerman portrait above, too). If you look close you can see one of the coaster wheels that the round-frame hoop-design suit rolled around on. I still kinda doubt that that promoted anything resembling smooth movement on the Bronson Canyon cave floor.

Here, poor Paul appears to fall victim to him own creation. Imagine the irony.

Ah, I gotta tell this --So, Paul was in the costume in this go-round too. (He had to "duckwalk" around inside of the costume in order to get it to move at all.) The eyes were affixed to flashlights --because "It" originally was supposed to stay back in the darkness of the cave and they wanted the eyes to glow-- so he could make the eyes appear to move by pushing the flashlight handles around. Paul also built the pincers on the long arms to actually work using a mechanism similar to bicycle brakes. The arms themselves, though cumbersome, were still capable of 180-degree arcs of movement. The overall effect was said to be uncannily lifelike. In fact, when AIP partner Jim Nicholson came in look at the full-size Beulah for the first time, Paul ducked under the costume, started working the controls and demostrated enough costume dexterity to pluck a hankerchief out of Nicholson's breast pocket with one of the pincers. Nicholson loved it. "Paul you've done it again!" he laughed." I never thought you'd come up with something this far out!"

Okay, here's the part I'm getting to --once the crew got all assembled out at the Bronson Caves locale (located in the Hollywood Hills) somebody rolled a heavy equiptment-laden grip cart over Beulah's arms and totally wrecked the cable mechanisms! (And if you watch the movie close, it looks like that this little mishap just about tore the arms off as well!...they look really stressed in some scenes.) Sheez. Nowadays even a B-movie production would come to a halt until the title character could be repaired --but this was a Roger Corman production for the just-born AIP, dammit! The cave was rented for the day, they were already there, and by God, they had a picture to make! (That's why Beverly Garland has to sort of Beulah's claw grab her by the throat, though . Ah, well...)

Paul died in 1983 after a long and excruciating battle with cancer. A pity he never lived to see the outpouring of appreciation for his work that was yet to come, set off largely in 1990 by both a cover story on him by Cinefantastique magazine, and the release of several model kits based on his creations to America by Billiken U.S.A. Amongst the kit releases were "IT" (Beulah), The She-Creature, The Colossal Beast, and the Saucerman.
Since I have a few Paul and Bob tributes at my house ...Here's my own big Beulah kit in the upstairs corner display room. Hope you enjoyed this bit-o Hollywood history (and a wall of thanks to Bob Burns for all the behind-the-scenes photos).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

TV Week that wasn't

November 22 1963. It's the last Friday before Thanksgiving and BANG... The President of the United States is shot dead while riding in his motorcade in Dallas. The entire nation is in shock.
So what's on TV?
Probably just news reports and updates of the terrible tragedy for the near and foreseeable future... plus the live reports of national mourning, the presidential funeral and other sad but related events.
But what was supposed to be on?
My mom always made it a habit to squirrel away newspaper clippings from big-time historical events while I was growing up...though sometimes it seemed like she 'd just grab any ol' part of the paper and stick it in the savin' pile. This was one of those occasions. For reasons unknown she saved the TV section from the week directly following JFK's assasination. This section must've already been all finished and typeset 'cause there's no hint that the biggest story in the world has even taken place. Doubtless a lot of this programming never saw the airwaves (Just like after 911) so keep that in mind as you peruse this entry. If JFK had just been riding in a hardtop that Friday the world might've spun more like it does in print here --at least as far as Atlanta TV goes.

Wow, three big channels --but almost always something to watch! No indication of Ted Turner or even TBS yet (which was the UHF station WTCG when Ted first came on the TV scene --more about that later).
And in case you didn't remember --or maybe weren't born yet--virtually all TV sections in big-city newspapers were printed primarily in green in the 1960's. Who knows why? Actually though, Atlanta did have one UHF station in the form of Channel 30. (which ran a lot of PBS-type stuff) Their listings ran in only one place in the section like this:

Lastly, watch out for Channel 5 in '64...They've got this whole "clear-as-life" tape deal goin' on...
(Now, if they can find someone who can rub-on letraset type in a straight line...)

That's it for now. More kick-ass stuff later this week.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ken Hultgren on Cartooning

22 years or so ago I was reading the introduction to a book by that William Stout had written and he referenced the name Ken Hultgren. Ken Hultgren? Now, where the hell did I know that name from? I knew I had seen it a lot at some point in my life --But finding out who-did-what in the Hollywood arts was no mean feat in the dark days before the internet if you didn't work there ...and here I was looking for animation answers from the rural south. Still, with a couple of phone calls I was able to find out about his Bambi-era work for Disney, his work for some other Hollywood studios as an animator, layout man and story director, and that he had drawn a lot of old comic books. Was any of this work really what I knew his name from, though?
A year or so later when Dave Newton and I were sharing an apartment after art school, I was looking through a typical pile of Dave's guitar chord books, monster magazines, fanzines, and graphic novels when I pulled out this thin book titled The Know-How of Cartooning. It looked really dog-earred, but before I could even open it to investigate further my eye caught the name of the author --Ken Hultgren! Holy Crap! There it was! Dave said it must've been his dad's (who, like Dave, was also a commercial artist). I checked out the date inside --June 1946. I flipped through the 64 page book --and while I was impressed, I wasn't really blown away by the book's contents like I hoped I would be. Don't get me wrong--It's really nice work, but it struck me initially sorta like Preston Blair-lite (an' some of it seems pretty derivative of that material). Nevertheless, it's some good, solid 1940's cartooning that's considerably more obscure than what we're used to seeing. So, here's a 12 page sampling of, as it's subtitled "a manual of instructions and suggestions on the art of cartooning, including animation. For use of beginners as well as advanced students." Enjoy.

Here's my favorite to draw the feminine figure --60 years ago!

This next page is pretty interesting...just spellin' it out...

BTW --I finally did remember where I knew Ken's name from...It was from all those damn TV Popeyes he directed in the early '60's.
Arf, arf, arf!
(And if anybody's ever seen this stuff reprinted before please let me know.)