Thursday, 19 May 2016

Farm of Tomorrow Opening

Joe Montell took over from Johnny Johnsen as Tex Avery’s background artist for a very brief period in the 1950s. Farm of Tomorrow (released 1954) was his first short. Here’s Montell’s opening shot, likely from a layout by Ed Benedict.

He provided backgrounds for The Flea Circus and Dixieland Droopy, then disappeared. Johnsen returned for a few more Avery shorts before Vera Ohman handled the backgrounds in Tex’s final two MGM cartoons.

Montell went to work for John Sutherland and also spent some time at Hanna-Barbera before moving to Mexico and the studio where Jay Ward cartoons were being made. Under a pseudonym, he wrote what I suppose was an autobiographical novel. His MGM time is covered thusly:
Without any idea how difficult it was to get into the film business, in fact how impossible it is without knowing someone, being someone or doing someone, I nevertheless called up directors, agents, studios. . . practically anyone I saw in the yellow pages that looked promising.
It is indeed true that the innocent are protected and the dumb flourish and fools walk where angles fear to tread. I think in my case I was covered on all three points. I simply phoned the Disney Studios and asked to talk to the man in charge.
Walt was out so I called Metro Goldwyn Meyer Studios...and was connected immediately to the animation department. I told one of the directors that I was a hot shot commercial artist recently returned from Europe with a portfolio of really good and unusual artwork and that they really should see it. It must be said in my defense, and it must be true, that I have a very impressive telephone voice.
The gentleman on the other end of the line said, sure come on over, that he'd like to see my work. I did go to see him, he looked at my work. . .and hired me on the spot. What I didn't know, and what eventually came out, was that the director was fed up with one of the rival directors in the department and he wanted something completely new and different to show the overlords at Metro. So it was not so much that the director liked my work as much he thought it was so different it had shock appeal. He really didn't understand it, but somehow trusted me. And I, without the least experience in designing backgrounds, was put in charge of doing my very own animated film.
Somehow, I got through my first film. My backgrounds were indeed extraordinary. They were so different they went over everybody's heads and not understanding them, they accepted them as good. As with so much modern art, people accept it even if they don't understand it rather than run the risk of appearing ignorant. But, somehow I blundered through the following months learning as I went along. Actually, in the end, after years of working in the industry, I became quite good at my craft.
It’s a little hard to believe that Tex was “fed up” with Bill Hanna or Joe Barbera (Fred Quimby, maybe). The opening drawing you see above could hardly be described as “so different.” And I suspect Ed Benedict’s layouts would have some influence on the stylised drawings seen in this cartoon.

You can read a bit more about Montell here.

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