Saturday, February 11, 2012

How To Make A Woody Woodpecker Cartoon

I'm a real sucker for classic how to material like this..Here's Walter Lantz explaining the traditional process of making an animated cartoon. In the old Woody Woodpecker show from the late 50's and early 60's, Walter Lantz would introduce the cartoons, much like Walt Disney did in his Wonderful World Of Color and Disneyland episodes; but Lantz would describe in short 4 minute sections like this, how a story was put together or how the backgrounds were made or how the pencil drawings got transferred to cels, etc. These real glimpses into the process fueled young people (like myself at the time) into learning more about the animation medium. Some would eventually be inspired enough to pursue a career into the cartoon arts! Material like this was pretty rare to see, especially at a time when there was no you tube or DVDs. If they aired a piece like this and you missed it, you'd have to watch the show on a steady basis to see the re-run of the episode. Fortunately, a bunch of these clips are available on The Woody Woodpecker DVD boxed set #2. In this bit, Lantz explains the job of an animation director. The Director I believe, is none other than Alex Lovy. Lovy was a key director for Lantz and later for Hanna-Barbera. Sometime in the early, early 90's, Alex was still working, directly across the aisle from me at Warner Bros. Animation. Don't know why, but I should have asked for an autograph at the time.....missed opportunities!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Disneyland Showtime 1970 Behind The Scenes At The Haunted Mansion

If you know me well or have been following the blog, I have a big love for Disneyland.
It's the only Disney park that Walt actually walked in.  In a sense, Disneyland is an extention of the animation work done for the Disney motion pictures, mainly because it was designed by the very people who created all those wonderful Disney animated films! It's pretty obvious in places like Fantasyland where the rides are based off the animated features. But classic attractions like The Jungle Cruise, Pirates Of The Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, it's not so apparent. In my animation classes, I told students to go to the Disney parks to study the art direction, composition of the scenes inside the attractions and the actual animation of posing of the animatronics. There's a tremendous amount of education to be had there!
In this clip from The Wonderful World Of Disney episode, Disneyland Showtime (1970), Kurt Russell takes us on a behind the scenes tour of Disneylands' Haunted Mansion. What's really great about this clip is that some of the imagineers who made this attraction a reality are in it. You'll see animator Bill Justice cutting discs to control the ghosts that shoot at each other continuously throughout the ride and then you'll see layout artist Yale Gracey setting up the haunted bust illusion featuring Thurl Ravenscrofts' projected image. Then it's off to a complete ride through of the then new Disneyland attraction. Missing from the clip are the key designers of the ride, background artist, Claude Coats, who was the main designer of the interiors, Master Animator, Marc Davis who designed a good amount of the scenes and characters, Blaine Gibson, who did a good amount of the sculpting of the figures and Rolly Crump who came up with a good portion of creepy ideas. Animator X. Atencio provided the script and probably one of the most important and memorable elements of the attraction, the lyrics of the song Grim Grinning Ghosts. Buddy Baker, also equally important to the mood of the attraction provided the creepy music. Believe it or not, I remember seeing this episode when it first aired in 1970, and being 8 yrs old and living in New York at the time, couldn't wait to get to California to see it first hand. It would be five years before I could see the Disney World version of the attraction and another eleven to see it it at Disneyland. The full version of Disneyland Showtime featuring the Osmond Brothers, Kurt Russell and E.J. Peaker can be viewed here...but beware!!!!!!!!It's slightly dated but still a fun look back at a more innocent time at Disneyland Park.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


The Muppets comes out this week, and it looks and feels very much like the Muppets that I grew up with; fresh, fun and humorous. I'm going to see it with my daughter around the holiday and it should be pretty entertaining. I'm glad in that respect, but it bothers me that Jim Henson's name is not in bold, above the title. It may be called Disney's The Muppets, but even though they own the property, it's still not Disney to me.
Jim Henson was the heart and soul of The Muppets.
Many moons ago when I was just about 11 or twelve, I was a big Muppet Fan and very much into puppets for that reason. Henson was involved with creating delightfully bizarre sketches for The Ed Sullivan Show, For Commercials, for Sesame Street and was creating hour long specials for CBS and for syndication. Each of these projects were a whole lot of fun and I got caught up into it. In fact, I was so bitten by it that I decided that when I grew up, I wanted to work for Jim Henson!
My father saw that interest and nurtured it by enrolling me in some puppetry classes at The Museum Of New York with a professional puppeteer named Rod Young. For a number of weeks, we built puppets, wrote a show, recorded it and then performed it on a beautiful stage at the Museum. I took the experience and ran with it by performing my own little shows on a giant stage that my father had built me. I even entered a puppetry competition and won three 2nd place prizes. Professional puppeteers attended this and made a point to tell my father that I was a natural for the medium.
For a time there, I would write to Jim Henson in NYC, and he would actually answer these little letters personally. These letters would be typed up on Henson Associates stationery and signed by Mr. Henson in green pen. To say I was thrilled when I received these would be a major understatement. I even got the number to Jim Hensons' workshop on East 67th Street in NYC, and called him a few times on the weekends...he always picked up the phone. I knew what I wanted to say to him, but sometimes the words were slow to come out. Somehow I managed to stumble through a question or two...and I'm sure it sounded like some stuttering dumbbell kid on the other side of the phone, but he never rushed me off. Sometimes, I wondered if it was really Mr Henson answering that phone on a Saturday morning. Years later, I did find out that he did go into the workshop on Saturdays, often always by himself.
The letters that I received from Jim Henson weren't very long; basically simple answers to simple questions but I cherished having them. Unfortunately somehow over time, due to my carelessness or whatever, they got misplaced and lost.
By the time, I had hit thirteen years old, the animation bug got me and I redirected myself toward a career in animated cartoons. My father had a problem with my new direction because he had felt that I was giving up something where I had a unique ability. He eventually saw why I wanted to go into animation and supported my efforts. While I gave up puppets as a career choice, I never lost my love for them. I've remained a Jim Henson fan ever since. Recently, I went to see The Jim Henson Exhibit at the Museum Of The Moving Image in Astoria, Queens (runs through January 2012). The show features Jim's original character sketches as well as original muppets from some of the early commercials and specials. It was a thrilling experience for me. I think I've been bitten by the Muppet bug yet again.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Ant and The Aardvark Part One

One of my favorite cartoons growing up was The Ant & The Aardvark, which was a part of the Depatie Freleng Pink Panther show that ran on NBC for something like a gazillion seasons. Actually the show started with a half hour in the late 60's, expanding to an hour and then an hour and a half in the early 70's!
The cartoons felt hipper than the older Looney Tunes stuff, even though the Depatie Freleng staff basically reused a whole lot of old Warner Bros gags. The thing about these cartoons though was the unique voice characterizations of John Byner doing impressions of Dean Martin (The Ant) and Jackie Mason (The Aardvark) in the guise of two odd ball cartoon stars. What really made these cartoons special was the great line reads by Byner. They're simply not your standard cartoony cartoon voices. It's really hard to believe that Byner did all these characters because you don't hear his vocal voice print (Even with some of the classic voice artists like Paul Frees, Mel Blanc and Daws Butler, you could tell who was doing those voices). To top off the uniqueness of these cartoons, the jazzy music by Doug Goodwin creates what I call a drunken type of music that really works. Everything adds to the fun! In Technology Phooey (The cel above is from that very cartoon) the Aardvark has to deal with the Ant and a computer (also voiced by Byner doing a pseudo Paul Lynde impression) who gives him very bad advice. It's one of my favorite Ant & The Aaardvark cartoons!  Even though it seemed like they produced a lot of these shorts, in reality only 17 were made between 1969 and 1971. Art Leonardi, who was a Warners guy back in the late years of that studio, moved to DFE and was a key guy there doing lots of different things. I later worked with him on Tiny Toon Adventures in the late 80's. He's credited as animator on this particular short and did all 17 of the cut out titles.  Take a look at the short below...
Somewhere over the last twenty years, I started collecting animation art from Depatie Freleng's early years and stumbled across a bunch of original cels from The Original Ant & Aardvark series (many from this short). Because I had never seen too many originals ever offered through the years, I decided to buy whatever I could. Fast forward to now and a lot of these cels are just sitting in a closet where they will probably never be displayed the way they should. So I decided to let a few go on ebay so that other people might enjoy them. I will post some of my other original Ant & The Aardvark art over the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I have a few of these Roy Williams drawings, so I'm letting this one go to auction on ebay. I consider myself a pretty fast artist, but Roy Williams was lighting quick. He probably effortlessly knocked this one out in under five seconds. It's not the best Mickey I've ever seen, as a matter of fact it's not even on model, but the drawing has charm....and it's probably the best drawing that you're going to get in under five seconds.
Waiting to get your own Roy Williams drawing was probably the shortest line ever at Disneyland just because Williams was so lightning quick!
Between drawing assignments at the Disney studio in the late 50's and early 60's, Walt would send some of his artists down to Disneyland to draw for the crowds. Sometimes this would be at the Art Corner in Tomorrowland or you could find them somewhere on Main Street, possibly somewhere near the castle. I know you could occassionally find Disney vet Bob Youngquist also drawing for the crowds.
The only thing I'm not sure of is if they ever charged for the drawings!
Regardless, it sure sounds like it was a great time to go to Disneyland.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Drawings Rescued From The Shredder....

Rescued From The Shredder: Blissful Guy

Rescued' Dog
I have a whole lot of sketches just lying around and every so often I go through them and start discarding; Frankly, If I didn't, my house would look like a trash heap and my wife would throw me out...or so I'm told. In this joyless process, I pull up the old trash can and begin to thumb through stacks of drawings, most of which are ok sketches but they're not spectacular enough to make me want to keep them. I'd say a good 99% find their way to the Shredder but every once in a while, I'll find a drawing that somehow stands out of the bunch. I posted a few examples above that were done in Ebony pencil. I don't think this was intentional, but the guy looks a little like Disney Animator Frank Thomas while the dog has a Hanna Barbera influence to him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Visit to Tiny Toons Two-Tone Town

Tiny Toon Adventures was a very interesting experience. The memories that I have from it are all good. As a matter of fact, working on that show was a whole lot of fun. There was a carefree quality for me working on these cartoons and I remember laughing a lot. Maybe that's why in 'Fields Of Honey' I explode in a burst of laughter (more on that in another post). I had just joined the studio from Don Bluth's Burbank facility. I was working as an animation trainee and making a very low salary. Don't get me wrong; I learned many things there at the Bluth House, but it got to the point where I couldn't afford to work there anymore. Ken Boyer, who was one of the designers of the Tiny Toon Characters and a director for the show, offered me over double what I made at Bluth to join Warners as a layout artist! I loved animating for Don but I couldn't turn down the offer. Joining Warner Bros. Animation was a fantastic opportunity! Here I was working side by side with legends of animation and some of the most talented animation artists in the animation business! Working on Ken's crew offered me the ability to grow as an artist. Because we both liked the same styles of animation and design, it gave me the opportunity to stretch in the direction that I really wanted. In a short time, I was promoted to storyboarding. Storyboarding is as close to Directing a cartoon as you can get. Here you can really influence how the thing plays from beginning to end and that was very appealing to me.
Although I storyboarded a handful of Tiny Toon cartoons before this, Twotone Town was different for a few reasons. Even though it features the Tiny Toon characters, it feels like a different show. It was a half hour episode (most half hours were made up of three cartoon segments) and it is one of the few that features storyboard credits on the title cards (the episode was broken up into four blocks for the storyboard artists).
It's also one of the best animated episodes of that series...the twotone characters look great in the finale.
It's also credited as the inspiration for the next series that Warners would tackle called Animaniacs.
Although I was never credited for character models for the studio, I did influence a few through the boards. Near the end of this episode in Part Two, the Buddy Hackett caricature is from the only model sheet that I ever did at the studio.
(For your information, I worked on the last section to the finale!)