Saturday, 21 March 2020

Making Looney Tunes

Ray Katz’ cartoon career began fairly easily. His brother-in-law gave him a job.

His brother-in-law was Leon Schlesinger.

He was personel manager of Schlesinger’s studio when it opened in 1933; he did some of the originally hiring, according to animator Don Williams. Later he was installed as sub-contractor in charge of the Bob Clampett unit making Looney Tunes; the Screen Cartoonists Guild treated his employees as a separate bargaining unit, according to Variety.

There’s no indication Katz knew anything about drawing (Chuck Jones didn’t speak well of him but Jones doesn’t seem to have thought highly of anyone in management) but it would appear he grasped the basics of how his Looney Tunes were made. Here he is giving an outline to the Decatur Herald of November 12, 1933.

When Schlesinger sold the studio to Warner Bros. in July 1944, Katz stayed as production manager under Eddie Selzer. But not for long. He went on medical leave in February 1945 and then quit the studio because of illness two months later. How sick he really was is open to conjecture. In July, he was hired to be the general manager of the Screen Gems studio and stayed until Columbia closed it over a year later. He went into commercial property building after that and died in Los Angeles on February 16, 1963.

How Animated Cartoons Are Made Is Told
Former Mattoon Man Now Hollywood Manager, Describes Method of Producing Movies.

By Staff Correspondent
Mattoon—Ray Katz, formerly of Mattoon and now of Hollywood where he is business manager for the Pacific Title and Art studios and Leon Schlesinger Productions, entertained a small group of listeners here a few days ago by telling how animated cartoons are made. The Schlesinger Co. produces all "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" which rank, as animated cartoons, second to Walt Disney's brain child, "Mickey Mouse".
"The first, and one of the most important things," said Mr. Katz, "is the writing. We employ a staff of a dozen writers who do nothing but think up ideas for cartoons and plot stories. They have found that they work better in a group; when they work by themselves they easily go stale.
Hold Conferences.
"They have 'conferences' in which everyone seems to have a good time, laughing and joking; but in reality, they are hard at work, digging out ideas. The qualifications of a 'story-man' are uncertain; one of the best we have had never did a lick of writing before he came to our studios; in fact, he hadn't done any sort of work.
"The writing isn't like fiction writing. There can be very little dialog; the stress must be on action, and very simple action at that, particularly the little ridiculous things we catch ourselves doing and see others doing all the time.
"After the story is doped out, the director must go over it. Changes must be made to suit him. When this is done he takes the script to the 'lay-out' men, who design and sketch the background against which the cartoon is to be thrown, be it barnyard, desert island or cabaret. This, too, the director closely supervises. The director is the hardest working man in the outfit. For when this is done he takes his script and 'layout' to the 'animators'.
What Animator Does.
"Now an animator has to be a very accomplished person; being a cartoonist is not enough. He must also be something of a writer and an actor. If he can write, he knows situations that will be impressive and if he can act he knows the value of facial expression and posturing. When the director comes to him he will tell the story, stressing the desired action. The director may have to get down on his hands and knees and bark like a dog to get his idea across; things like that are not unusual.
"The animator must then go through the same actions himself to satisfy the director.
"After this the animator draws the first cartoons that are made. what we call the 'key pictures'. These are portrayals of the chief character in the most important situations in the story. These are inspected by the director, and are then turned over to more cartoonists whom we call the 'in-betweeners'. They fill in the script with all additional characters and situations.
Flashed on Screen.
"When this is done, the cartoons, and there may be between 6,000 and 10,000 of them, and the 'layouts' are flashed on a screen to see how they film. The bad ones are culled out and done over. When they are all ready they are taken to the inking and printing department. The originals were done on paper with pencil. In this department, the drawings are placed on wooden blocks with sheets of celluloid placed over them. The pictures are traced on to the celluloid in ink. This takes a long time. When it is done the celluloid plates are taken to the printer for toning, shading with black, white, or gray. This is done with both cartoons and backgrounds.
"When these plates are finished the first filming begins. The cartoons are superimposed, one by one, on the background scenes, and pictures are taken. A regular camera is used, not the kind that you crank, such as they use in the movies. To "take" between 600 and 700 feet of film, the usual length of the animated cartoon, requires two weeks, a thing that could be done in a few hours with a movie camera. These pictures are composite prints, and are fitted together to make the entire cartoon.
Begin Recording.
"When all this is done, and not before, the recording process begins. As I said before, we try to use as little dialog as possible; but we do insist on our musical scores being elaborate. Some of the highest paid talent we have with our companies is among the musicians. The recording is very like phonograph recording, synchronized to the movement of the cartoon."
When all this has been done, Mr. Katz explained, the business of distribution begins. He estimates that his company's cartoons are shown in at least 5,000 theaters throughout the world. One of the most surprising things about the distribution end of the business is that the animated cartoon is even more popular in England and France than it is in the United States.
American "Art."
A few years ago an eminent French critic startled many people in this country with a magazine article in which he stated that the animated cartoon was the most distinctive contribution America had made to dramatic art. Mr. Katz explained this by saying that the subjects of animated cartoons were always so simple that they could be truly appreciated in another country, "so long as the people are human."
Mr. Katz was a resident of Mattoon for many years, working with his father at the Katz Clothing Co. His brother. Elmore Katz started the "K" theater in Mattoon. Leon Schlesinger, president of the company for which Mr. Katz works, married a sister, Miss Bernice Katz.


  1. Pretty informative story in general terms, without the normal fluff a lot of stories of the time period had when talking about how cartoons are made.

    While it's arguable in November of '33 if Leon's studio was second only to Disney -- we're only two months removed from "Buddy's Day Out" and "I've Got to Sing A Torch Song" when this story was published -- by the time Katz left Warners it was ranked No. 1 in the short subjects department. So someone in management had to be doing something right (and the decision by Leon, Ray or Henry Bender to promote the Tex Avery unit, with Jones and Bob Clampett, to the No. 2 spot assisting Friz with the color Merrie Melodies indicated that someone at the studio had a talent for nut just hiring people, but recognizing what was clicking, and decided the brand-new group was a better bet than the Jack King unit for the studio's future).

  2. Whatever happened to Henry Binder?