Saturday, 14 February 2015

Whinny and Bo

How can you have an animated cartoon without animators? A twosome named Whinny and Bo almost answered that question.

Theatrical cartoons were a huge hit on TV in the mid-1950s, but there was one problem. There was a finite number of old theatricals. The solution was obvious—make brand-new cartoons for kids. But that resulted in another problem and the solution was not so obvious—how to do it on a shoestring budget as full animation was too expensive. By mid-1957, a handful of companies, TV Spots (“Crusader Rabbit”), Soundac (“Colonel Bleep”), and Sam Singer Productions (“Pow Wow the Indian Boy”) had given limited animation a try and managed to syndicate their cartoons. There were other firms that weren’t so lucky.

One of them was Illustrated Films, Inc. It had an unlikely connection to the Three Stooges through Moe Howard’s son-in-law, Leon Maurer. Leon’s brother Norman spent the later part of his career as a writer at Hanna-Barbera (“Speed Buggy,” various incarnations of Scooby-Doo), but in 1957 he had developed a method to animate without animators.

Here’s Variety from April 8, 1957:

New Process Offers Automation Animation
A new process of animation without the use of animators has been developed and is said to reduce the cost of animated subjects to one-fifth the present cost. It is planned for use both in tv spots and theatrical presentation. Invented by Norman Maurer of L.A., process is called the Artiscope, and is animation by automation. First test subject was Friday by Illustrated Films, Inc., which is sponsoring the new system and of which Maurer is prexy. Moe Howard, one of the Three Stooges, is veepee and Leonard Maurer secretary-treasurer.
Electronic Etching
Process involves a totally new concept of getting animation on film, according to inventor, which practically eliminates the need for artists drawing a frame at a time, as per the present method of animated films. Result is attained electronically, with up to 90% of all artist hand labor scrapped, Maurer said, “proving the practicability of automatic animation.” A combo live action-animation technique, live action is converted into animation action on cells, to get the smoothness and realism of live action in drawings. As an example of the savings to be effected, Maurer said that what now would cost $200,000 to produce as an animated subject could be brought in for $85,000 by use of Artiscope. Process uses only 720 cells per minute, as against the standard 1,440 cells with other processes, he declared.
Lacks Refinements To Date
Subject screened in demonstration was a short animated film consisting of 2,000 separate drawings, without the labor of a single animator. The first to be made, it thereby lacks the refinements which can be added to process, it is claimed. Process, no longer calling for artists, does away with the animator, assistant animator, in-betweener and inker, and requires only the painter, Maurer stressed, who says company is now prepping another subject.
In his book Beyond Ballyhoo, Mark Thomas McGee explains how the process worked:
Performers wore white makeup and were photographed in black and white. The dark areas of the negative were removed with acid and supposedly went through four separate printings with [Norman] Maurer’s Artiscope lens. The result, printed in red, was a burned out effect more easily achieved through solarization.
It took a while to figure out how to use the Artiscope. And that’s where our friends Whinny and Bo come in. The folks at Illustrated Films set up a cartoon studio. Motion Picture Daily announced on September 4, 1958 that a Whinny and Bo series was in the works. Broadcasting magazine expanded on it in its edition of October 27, 1958.
Animated Package in Production As First Offering by Westworld
Westworld Artists Productions, recently formed New York animation studio, is making pilots for a 15-minute syndicated cartoon series to be released to stations in the fall of 1959. The package will consist of two six-minute units, Whinny and Bo and Deadly Dudley, each with a complete story line and with openings for commercials at beginning, middle and end of the package. Officials said several 90-minute programs also are being prepared for production. These include "Adventures of Paul Bunyan" and "Rumpelstiltskin, a Musical Fairytale." Len Maurer, Westworld production head, said all filming will employ the most advanced wide-screen and dimensional animation techniques available. Techniques to be used include Artiscope, new electrochemical process for converting a live-action film into animation [FILM, June 30], Scanimation and Animascope. Jack Silberlicht, former electronics engineering of Hazeltine Research Corp., will be in charge of technical direction and development of the new processes, Mr. Maurer said.
So who or what were Whinny and Bo? A horse and a bum? (See Animascope drawing at the top). A couple of humans? Creatures from outer space? And what about Deadly Dudley? (See Animascope drawing below). The answer may be out there somewhere. Whatever they were, the Broadcasting story apparently was the last mention in the trade press of Whinny and Bo. Jeff Lenberg’s The Three Stooges Scrapbook states that by the end of 1958, Norman Maurer was proposing using his Artiscope to make a half-hour animated series starring Moe Howard and the other two Stooges. “Stooge Time” never sold. Artiscope was later dubbed Cinemagic and utilised in the 1959 epic “The Angry Red Planet” starring former radio actors Gerry Mohr and Les Tremayne.

Whinny and Bo may have been finished, but Westworld Productions wasn’t. It announced “a new process of color animation which is shot directly on film without the use of cells through the use of costumed actors, puppets or models to produce the drawings of cartoon characters.” Said Variety of April 9, 1962:

The technique, called Colormation, supplements Westworld's Animascope process which eliminated hand animators and inkers but required cells and opaquers for color after the initial shooting.
Leon H. Maurer, president of Westworld, said the new process can produce color cartoons for about one-tenth the cost required by conventional techniques because of the elimination of hundreds of hand animators, inkers and painters.
He estimated that production costs for an Animascope cartoon feature ranges from about $1,800 to $3,600 a minute and that the new Colormation technique is expected to cut these costs in half. Westworld is currently planning the production of several Colormation cartoon tv features using comic strip characters, Mr. Maurer said.
Whether any footage exists or was made of the “cartoon tv features” is unknown.

Leon Maurer announced yet another process called Electronimation (Variety, March 31, 1965) and that Westworld had been granted patents for it the U.S., Canada and Japan. It apparently was an electronic version of the earlier processes.

In the process of putting together this post I, once again, found I was cutting a path where one already existed. Jerry Beck wrote about Animascope here and linked to a promotional video for it. We’ve embedded it below.

3 comments:

  1. The Stooges and Emil Sitka demonstrating the process is posted on the 'Cartoon Brew' website (fortunately this one stayed up, while most of the other ones Jerry Beck posted while he was partnering with Amid Amidi have been taken down in the past couple of months).

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    1. I probably saved a bit of that in the meantime when they were up, shame they're gone now.

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    2. Did Amid delete Jerry's contributions out of spite?

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