Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Greatest Backgrounds in Siam

Art Heinemann never seemed to stay at any animation studio for any length of time. He toiled for the Harman-Ising studio in the ‘30s, jumped to Disney, stopped at the Walter Lantz studio in between two stints at Warner Bros, was the responsible for the brief series of Daffy Dittys released by RKO in the late ‘40s, then moved on UPA and the John Sutherland studio, all within about 15 years.

Heinemann’s stay at Lantz wasn’t terribly long—June 3, 1943 to September 26, 1944 according to Joe Adamson’s research through the studio’s records—but it was memorable. He seems to have meshed well with director Shamus Culhane, no mean feat in itself. Not only is he credited with simplifying Woody Woodpecker’s design from the multi-coloured, stump-legged bird of the first few cartoons, he provided some great layouts for a couple of shorts featuring Miss X, Lantz’ answer to Tex Avery’s Red at MGM.

In ‘The Greatest Man in Siam’ (1944), Culhane relied on background art to meet Lantz’ budgets, which were below both Warners and MGM. This drawing is part of the opening scene of the exterior of the Siamese village. There’s no animation in almost the first 20 seconds of the cartoon—it’s nothing but camera-work over backgrounds—and there’s another 29 seconds of the same thing a little bit later. Less animation equals less money spent, and Culhane instead wisely used his animators later in the cartoon for dance sequences.

Heinemann came up with various angles for the interior settings in this cartoon. The archways are stylised which match some of the stylised animation. Here are a few of them.

The background artist is Phil DeGuard, who’s better-known to fans of old cartoons for his work with Maurice Noble in the Chuck Jones unit at Warners in the ‘50s (Heinemann designed for Jones prior to that). The animation jumps back and forth from standard ‘40s type to stylised movement. The credited animators are two of the best—Pat Matthews and Emery Hawkins. We’ll have some of their work in a future post.


  1. Any thoughts on whether or not those doors were shaped like ... um ... that ... on purpose?

  2. I'd say there was purpose. DeGuard would paint a distinctive cloud one decade later in "Sheep Ahoy" -- watch for it in the balloon sequence.