Saturday, 15 August 2020

Meet My Boss, Walter Lantz

There was an animated woodpecker on TV screens in 1957 who used to invite young viewers to “Meet my boss, Walter Lantz.” The shot would cut to the cartoon producer who’d do a little introduction and appear in between cartoons on the show. Never mind that he and Woody never appeared together on screen—matte shots like that cost money, you know—it was still entertaining.

This was far from the first time that Lantz appeared on screen, as fans of silent films should be able to tell you. Lantz animated Dinky Doodle and dog Weakheart in the 1920s for the Bray studios. In this case, the three of them did appear together on screen. Lantz’s performances wouldn’t have won him any Oscars if they had existed, but they were good enough for the shorts he appeared in.

In an article in the July 10, 1926 edition of The Exhibitor, Dinky Doodle kind of invites us to meet his boss, Walter Lantz, who explains how cartoons were made. The article only talks about the animation, not the procedure to combine it with the live-action shots of Lantz.

Dinky lasted from 1924 to 1926. Tommy Stathes has a filmography on his site.

How Animated Cartoons Are Made
By Dinky Doodle
Per Walter Lantz

NEW YORK, July 6. — Do you really want to know how an animated cartoon is made? Well, my boss was supposed to write this, but his spellin’ is so bad that he passed the buck to me, so here goes.
Of course, you have seen me and my side partner, Weakheart, do our stuff on the screen and wondered how we moved around.
Our home is in an ink-bottle at the Bray Studios and we burlesque the well-known fairy-tales; which reminds me, do you know that J. R. Bray is the daddy of the animated cartoon and has done more for its advancement than anyone in the business?
The animated cartoon field is about the only line of art that isn’t over-crowded. No matter how good an artist one may be, he would probably find it very difficult to animate cartoons. There aren’t any practical schools that teach the work and the only way any one can learn to animate is to start as a tracer in a movie cartoon studio.
These places are known as studios, but take it from me, factory is a more appropriate name. Hundreds of drawings are turned out every day, but not by automatic machines. In this case, the machines are cartoonists, who must be capable of drawing from 100 to 200 individual drawings a day.

A STUDIO that produces a complete animated cartoon each week requires a staff of 25 or 30 people. These consist of six animators, who do nothing but pencil drawings, tracers who ink them in, a gag writer and a photographer. A cartoon that requires ten minutes to project in the theatre has 3000 to 4500 individual drawings.
After a scenario is written, the artist in charge distributes the various scenes among the animators, who study the action very carefully to see where they can insert a little funny piece of business. If a scene calls for an action where a man walks across a room and picks up a book, it is left to the imagination of the animator as to how the man should do this in the funniest possible way. It isn’t so much the scenario, but the manner in which each animator handles a scene that makes it funny.
The drawings are penciled on transparent sheets of tissue paper. The figures are drawn about two to three inches high. The paper has two holes punched at the top (like loose-leaf ledger paper), which fit on pegs of the same size. These pegs are fastened onto the drawing board. The artist makes his first drawing, then puts another blank sheet of paper on the pegs and draws the next position, moving it slightly forward or around, according to what the action may be.
Forty Drawings to Cross Room
If a character is to walk across a room, it requires about forty drawings, moving each one a quarter of an inch. If the character is to move faster, he is spaced one-half inch, or if he is to run, he is spaced one inch. The animator must use his own judgment as to how far apart the drawings are to be spaced. The slower the action, the closer the spacing. He must be careful also not to space them too far apart or the action will be jerky.

AFTER a scene is animated, in pencil, it is turned over to the tracer. The tracers are generally young art students who have ambitions to become animators. They trace the pencil drawings with India ink on sheets of celluloid, the same size as the paper and punched at the top so as to fit the pegs. Celluloid is such a long word to use, that we have a pet name for it, “cels.” A “cel” is laid over a penciled drawing on the pegs and the tracer inks it in. He has to be very careful that the lines register perfectly or the figure will “shimmie” all over the screen.
Tracing eliminates a lot of work. If a figure is to raise his arm from downward position, the animator makes the first drawing of the character, which is called the “model.” Then he only animates the arm, fitting each one to the “model.” The tracer then makes a “cel” of the figure, minus the arm, and puts the arms on another set of “cels.” When this action is ready to be photographed, the model “cel” remains on the pegs and each “cel” of the arm is photographed with the “model.” Where a figure talks, the animator makes five or six drawings of the heads only, and one drawing of the first position complete. The tracer inks in the heads on a set of “cels” and makes a “cel” of the figure, minus the head.
After the tracer has inked in the entire scene, it is then passed on to other people, who fill in the blacks, such as shoes, coats, etc. On the reverse side of the “cel” the figures are then painted with a white opaque water-color paint. This is done so that when a “cel” is photographed on a background which has furniture, etc., in it, the objects will not show through.
When the scene is blackened and opaqued, it is ready to be photographed. The animator receives the scenes he animated and writes a chart showing how many exposures each drawing gets.
The scene and the exposure chart are then given to the cameraman. A regular motion picture camera is used, which is suspended three feet over a table with the lens focused on the table. A set of pegs, such as were used on the drawing board, are fastened on the table directly in line with the lens of the camera. The camera has an automatic crank, operated by a motor. When the photographer pushes a button, the camera takes one picture. The illumination is furnished by two Cooper-Hewitt lamps, suspended on each side of the camera so that the light is centered on the drawings.

THE background is then placed on the pegs. This remains so throughout the scene. The “cels” are then photographed one at a time, as marked on the exposure sheet.
It isn’t necessary to photograph each scene in continuity, as the cartoon is cut and assembled when it comes back from the laboratory. It requires three days for one man to photograph a complete picture.
The next time you see an animated cartoon, just think of the poor animators, who sat up nights drawing it, and think how much better off they would be if they had become bricklayers. And that’s that.

Friday, 14 August 2020


The Gene Deitch version of Tom tries to hit Jerry with a mallet in Mouse Into Space (released March 1962). He misses. We get a camera shake and some of that jagged impact effect animation Deitch loved.

Multiples of Tom.

More effect animation. The screen turns completely red for several frames. It’s accompanied by reverb electric bloops.

Tom stretches trying to get the mallet out of his mouth. No, Tom’s face is not growing a hand.

No animators are credited. Tod Dockstader is given the story credit. This is the fourth of the Deitch Tom and Jerrys to be released.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Who Beats Who?

In one of Hollywood animation’s most memorable openings, carrot-eating Bugs Bunny strolls onto the screen to misread the credits of the cartoon he’s in.

He spits out his carrot in disbelieving outrage after reading the title of the film. “Why these screwy guys don’t know what they’re talkin’ about!” yells Bugs waving his arms.

Bugs adds confidentially, “And I otta know. I woik for ‘em.”

Bugs resumes his anger, “ripping up” the title.

Tortoise Beats Hare was released March 15, 1941.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Death to the Laugh Track

Among the many things that stuck out on The Beverly Hillbillies was the same audience was heard on other TV shows. The exact same one.

That’s because it (and other sitcoms of the ‘60s) didn’t have a live audience. It had a laugh track, one that got a lot of use around Hollywood. The height of ridiculousness was ABC ordering Hanna-Barbera to glue phoney laughs onto The Flintstones. Who ever heard of a cartoon with a studio audience?

The ‘60s were an era of protest. And as the ‘60s became the ‘70s, two actors protested the laugh track and got it thrown out of their show.

They were Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.

Firing a laugh track was big news in the entertainment world. Both major wire services covered it. In the second season, The Odd Couple was filmed in front of a live audience, and looked and sounded better to many viewers.

First up is an Associated Press story from February 26, 1971 and the second is a United Press International column from November 2nd the same year. In the first, both stars of couldn’t disguise their dislike of a fake audience. In the second, one viewer raises an interesting point about whether there was a need for laughs at all. Yet an audience is naturally expected to react to a live performance in front of them, while the actors on stage can gauge their timing by the reaction in the seats.

‘Odd Couple’ Gets Even; No Laughs
NEW YORK (AP) – ABC's "Odd Couple" has made some recent changes to broaden its appeal and next Friday something will be missing—the laugh track.
The show for March 5 will drop the laugh track after much imploring by the stars, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.
“Tony and Jack have been yelling to get the laugh track off,” said Jerry Belson, who with Garry Marshall, adapted the Neil Simon play for television.
“I guess I'm the heavy because I think a comedy show needs a laugh track,” Belson said. “But we have to respect their judgment. We'll do it for one show to see what the audience reaction is.”
As Klugman put it, “‘The Odd Couple’ is ‘inching’ up in the ratings, progressing from an intolerable position at the bottom to one that is merely uncomfortable.”
In recent weeks the show moved from No. 78 to 71 to 59 and finally to 54 in the most recent rating period.
THE timing may be fortunate for the comedy, since ABC is now putting together its fall schedule. “The Odd Couple” is a show which network officials hope to save.
Randall, asked about the laugh track, mocked, “Isn't that daring? One show!”
Klugman, slouched nearby in a chair, said, “You should see the guy running the laugh machine. This guy never smiles.”
Randall said, “‘Hi there’! That's a laugh.”
“‘You home, Felix?’ That gets a laugh,” Klugman said.
“But a line like, ‘You deserve a TV dinner’ doesn't get a laugh,” Randall said.
AT midseason the show was moved from Thursday, where it was being mauled by the CBS Movie, to Friday. The prologue was changed to explain why two divorced men are living together, Klugman was given a girl friend, Randall spends more time trying to make up with his ex-wife, and a boy next door was introduced.
Belson said, “What we’re trying to do is give it more mass appeal without ruining it. Our research showed that the great heartland can't relate to a concept of two guys living together.”
Klugman grumbled, “I liked it the way it was. When I saw the first new script I said if this is what we're going to do, cancel the show. It's ‘Family Affair.’ But we hashed it out and we've kept the same kind of humor.”

‘Odd Couple’ sound track dropped
HOLLYWOOD (UPI)—It is being widely noted in the television industry that ABC-TV's "The Odd Couple" is not only a much better and funnier show this season, but has moved up well in the ratings since dumping its laugh track. With a live audience instead, the Tony Randall-Jack Klugman comedy is a good deal friskier and seems much more natural.
The latest 70-market ratings, for the week ending Oct. 24, report that "The Odd Couple," which is seen on Friday night, usually the least-watched television night of the week, came in 20th among all shows which is really the high rent district in the video rankings. In fact, the series has been faring well in the ratings virtually all season.
Normally, the idea of dumping a laugh track for a live audience would seem to appeal to most people I know. Obviously one of the appeals for seasoned performers like Randall and Klugman is that there is a sort of chemistry between actors and audiences when things are going right. Actors have often said they feel more inspired, and react better, when there is a live audience to more or less share the mutual vibrations.
But should we take this standard explanation as proof that live audiences are necessarily an asset for television series? My own feeling is that they usually are, but a lady reader from New Jersey has sent a letter that brings up some interesting points and shows that viewers often can be more perceptive than top industry executives.
Sound Tracks Unreal
"I can't help but wonder," she writes, "why any TV show thinks it is doing us a favor by taking out a laugh track and putting in the laughter of a live audience. One is just as annoying as another. Especially when they laugh and applaud because a sign is held up for them to do so (before a live audience).
"We at home know whether a thing is funny enough to laugh at, we don't need to be prompted by a live audience or anything else. Just where would an audience be in the apartment of anyone, ready to laugh at the occupants? It is so unrealistic. It just ruins the show, so we just don't view anything with an audience or laugh track built in.
"Right, we just don't look at much TV as so many shows now have laugh and audience tracks ... a live audience should ready be screened out if anything. I have never been able to understand how any big star could put up with a sound track or signs prompting a live audience to laugh or applaud. There was a time when big stars worked hard to earn the applause and laughter of the audience.
Prefers TV Movies
"And now when there are reruns, how ridiculous to hear the applause and laughter of sound tracks or live audiences, especially when the show has been rerun more than once. We can view some wonderful movies without the applause and laughter built in, so if they didn't need it, why does any TV show need it?"
Regarding live audiences, my own feeling is that they seem a most natural part of programs like variety shows in which, for instance, standup comedians like Jack Benny play directly to people in front of them, and play off them to good effect. And then there is excitement in audience reactions to interviews like Dick Cavett's recent long one with Fred Astaire. But our lady reader from New Jersey makes some pretty good points of her own in her letter. Only a performer without pride can find satisfaction in having laughter artificially created for him, either by laugh tracks or cue cards.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Crockett-Doodle-Doo Background

Here’s a clipped-together background that opens the Foghorn Leghorn cartoon Crockett-Doodle-Doo, released in 1960. Warners has gone flat and UPA-ish, even though UPA was no longer establishing art styles in short cartoons.

The art is by Bob Singer from a layout by Bob Givens. Mr. Singer had this to say:
I really enjoyed painting Bob Givens layouts, less realistic and very designey and I painted exactly what he drew. Most of the day as we worked in the same room we would play Frank Sinatra music as he smoked his pipe.
Singer has some other excellent backgrounds in this short, with good use of colour.

As you might expect, Bob McKimson directed.

Monday, 10 August 2020

Queen Betty

Betty Boop hangs around toys, not lecherous men, in Parade of the Wooden Soldiers (1933). In fact, the toys make her their queen.

A soldier fires a rocket into the air (note the blur in the background to help create a speed effect). It bursts into balls which form a sceptre, a crowd and an ermine regal robe.

The regal garb descends upon Betty, who adopts a queenly look.

Seymour Kneitel and William Henning are the credited animators. Dave Rubinoff, known at the time at Eddie Cantor’s violinist on radio, appears in live action.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Solving That TV Viewing Problem

It’s an age-old problem. There are two things on TV tonight. Which one do you watch?

Technology has made the decision less daunting these days, but way-back-when, before VCRs and such, it was a lot more difficult.

That was the situation a man in Louisville, Kentucky had to deal with in 1950. Television networks were growing, despite an FCC-ordered freeze on new stations. But the big network radio programmes were still on the air, though the industry was being weakened by TV.

The man managed to find a solution, though it must have been a fairly costly one in those days.

Bill Ladd’s “Twist the Dial” column in the Courier-Journal of March 5, 1950 outlined what he did.

Incidentally, the man in question was connected with a movie studio in Louisville owned by Reynolds Aluminum, directing the industrial film “Pigs and Progress.” He went on in 1954 to have his construction permit for a TV station in Sharon, Pennsylvania revoked for misrepresenting his financial situation. At the time, he was commercial manager of WFAR, Farrell, Pennsylvania. He died in 1999.

All Those Scientific Gadgets Make It Possible For One Weary Listener To Hear and See All
LET US SHED a silent tear for the problems of Mr. Leonard J. Shafitz of our city.
"I thought you might be interested," he states, "in how all this scientific advance in the entertainment world affects one little weary listener such as me and how I am fighting to keep abreast of it all. Also, what might happen to me within a few moons if this mad pace keeps on as I'm sure it will.
"I find myself coming when I should be going, so to speak, and I blame it all on old man time who gives us only 24 hours a day instead of 36.
"I made my problems myself, since I invested in a television set right at the very beginning. All went well until I realized that
I was missing some of the radio stars to whom I had become attracted through the years of, if you will pardon the expression, radio. Being slightly in the business end of show business, I found myself embarrassed. I had but one pair of eyes and one pair of ears. Watching television while listening to Jack Benny can be very distracting. Instead of simply going when I should be coming, I might even eventually go that-a-way.
Hears ‘Em All
"So I bought a tape recording machine. Now on a typical Sunday evening this is the general schedule. At 5:30 I begin by listening to the Henry Morgan show, which I listen to without qualm or interruption. At 6 I warm up TV for 'This Is Show Business.' While I am watching this I record on tape the Jack Benny program. Then Amos 'n' Andy.
"At this point I knock out TV and listen to Charlie McCarthy, Christopher London and maybe Screen Guild. Then to TV again for 'Toast of the Town' and 'Playhouse.'
"After this, if still conscious, I play back Jack Benny and spend a half hour wishing I had another tape recorder so I could have gotten Red Skelton and Phil Harris.
"But the big trouble comes when I am too tired and put off listening to Benny until the following night. Hearing a Sunday show on Monday louses up the entire week. It makes me think a day behind all week!
"I think what I need is a personal kinescope machine, because when the other station (WHAS-plug) goes on, I'll want to record some of the TV shows too!"
TV Film Studio
We can only advise a stiff upper lip, Leonard, and a set of tin ears and soap boilers' eyes. Beyond that we cannot go.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Why Play Leap Frog?

“Preparing bully-boy’s anatomy for the butcher shop costs money, too,” we’re informed by narrator Bud Hiestand in the John Sutherland industrial cartoon Why Play Leap Frog?

The bull catches on to the fact he’s going to slaughtered and runs away, leaving the painted markings hanging in mid-air.

Why Play Leap Frog? was part of the “Fun and Facts About America” series made by Sutherland at the commission of Harding College of Searcy, Arkansas. Harding’s leadership was unapologetically pro-capitalist, anti-Communist and thoroughly against any government interference in letting business do business, a philosophy shared by John Sutherland himself. The two got together and this cartoon series was the result.

This was the fourth Sutherland cartoon made for the series. It stars average American worker Joe, the star of the first short Meet King Joe. That cartoon was followed by Make Mine Freedom, which won the Freedom Foundation’s award in 1949, Albert in Blunderland, which won the award in 1950. This cartoon won the award in 1951.

Daily Variety reported on February 28, 1952 that final editing was being done on What Makes Us Tick for the New York Stock Exchange, and Sutherland was putting into production Dear Uncle and The Devil and John Q as well as preparing an animation/live action 30-minute film for Kaiser Aluminum on industrial public relations.

MGM agreed to give the Sutherland films a theatre release; it had eliminated its Lah/Blair unit and acquiring the rights to screen cartoons was no doubt less expensive than making them. Metro didn’t release them in order. Leap Frog was the second Sutherland cartoon on its schedule. It was in theatres in Los Angeles by February 1, 1950 (see ad on the right), though Boxoffice magazine put its official release date at the time of February 4th. Despite the America-is-Number-One patriotism in the shorts, they appeared in theatres in Canada.

How did these shorts end up at MGM? W.R. Wilkinson, the publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, explained in his column of February 23, 1951:
WE SAW a couple of shorts the other day that gave us the greatest kick we have ever had out of a short. We saw great entertainment in these couple of two-reel subjects, with a background of FACTS of our great American scene. Each told a story in extremely humorous cartoon form about important conditions in our country—a type of story telling and buildup of America that’s never before been approached in this business. Each one of the subjects should be a MUST on every exhibitor’s playbill.

The pictures were so novel and so GOOD we dug into their making, and found the ideas for both were conceived by George Stuart Benson, president of Hardin[g] College, an institution for boys obligated to work their way through college. His conception of the approach arose out of a desire to illustrate his lectures in a manner that his students would have the least trouble understanding.

John Sutherland Productions got wind of this manner of Benson’s teaching, then animated the subjects, showed them to Nick Schenck and they were referred favorably to Fred Quimby of the MGM shorts department, and they are now in release. Their titles are “Meet King Joe”—he’s the labor wage earner in our nation—and “Why Play Leapfrog,” a subject proving that Labor and Management CAN work together.

Fred Quimby tells us that never before in the history of MGM’s shorts department have so many letters been directed to his desk praising an effort. The letters are not only from a very pleased public, but actual raves from almost every exhibitor who has played the shows, pleading for more of their type, and promising not only more playing time but more important billing because, as one exhibitor put it, “I have never had such audience enthusiasm for a short reel picture.”

What makes those little pictures good is (1) the story idea back of them, explaining conditions important to every ticket buyer, and (2) the explanation done on an extremely amusing background that takes all thoughts of preachment away from the subjects.
MGM continued to release the Sutherland films until a short called Fresh Laid Plans laid an egg, despite being submitted for Oscar consideration (Hollywood Reporter, Jan. 23, 1952). It was accused of being propaganda against the Truman administration’s agriculture policies. We outlined that story in this post. Sutherland then signed a distribution contract with United Artists (Hollywood Reporter, May 20, 1953) for six or more shorts a year but it’s unclear how many made it into theatres. The Living Circle was one.

There are no credits on this short other than John Sutherland’s name. Former MGM animators George Gordon and Carl Urbano were both at the Sutherland studio around this time. Besides Hiestand, Frank Nelson provides a couple of voices, though I do not know who is voicing Joe. Setting aside any politics, the cartoons are enjoyable to look at, and a further examination of John Sutherland Productions by animation historians is overdue.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Greatest Man in Siam Swirls

Swirls, outlines, Phil De Guard’s backgrounds and Pat Matthews’ animation of Miss X are among the highlights of The Greatest Man in Siam, a 1944 short directed by Shamus Culhane for Walter Lantz.

Here are some swirls and outlines as one of the challengers for Miss X’s hand sings his own praises.

Culhane’s timing varies from static shots of backgrounds to jumpy movement on ones.

Matthews and Emery Hawkins receive the animation screen credits but I suspect Les Kline and others on Lantz’s wartime roster are at work here, too. I believe Harry Lang provides voices.