Saturday, 17 October 2020

How They Made Clutch Cargo

Quick! What TV cartoons were printed on Eastman Reversal Color Print Film, Type 5269? Give up? Why, Clutch Cargo of course!

Only a real film geek would want to know that, and they would have found it in the March 1962 edition of American Cinematographer magazine.

There are things in the cartoon world that attract people for reasons I will never understand. If I enumerate them, someone will get upset. But I will say one is Clutch Cargo. If you’re a fan, fine. But I don’t get it, even in a “it’s-so-bad-it’s-good” way. And if you’re a fan, you’ll probably appreciate the American Cinematographer article below. Sorry for the low res pictures. You can read more about Clutch in an earlier post.

Some ingenious devices that impart the illusion of motion to artwork are used in producing the “Clutch Cargo” cartoons for television.
CAMBRIA STUDIOS, producers of the “Clutch Cargo” TV cartoons, refer to the show as “television’s first comic strip.” This is because, although the cartoons possess “full movement,” the action is less costly to produce than when conventional animation techniques are used. Cambria employs some unique mechanized methods to simulate animated cartoon movement in the “Clutch Cargo” series.
With Cambria’s system, elements of artwork are given motion mechanically wherever possible, rather than by the single-frame exposure method usually employed for animated cartoons. The producers aim to avoid conventional or “full” animation as much as possible. Episodes in the series are regularly turned out which contain as little as 12 per cent single-frame animation photography. Nevertheless, the illusion of fairly smooth and continuous movement is a remarkable feature of these films.
The illusion of full movement in the “Clutch Cargo” show is created through a series of technical tricks that are both ingenious and economical and for the most part, guarded secrets of Cambria Studios.
Among them are:
1) Methods of superimposing live effects over cartoon scenes while the camera is in continuous operation.
2) Incorporating working, three dimensional models with artwork on a live-action basis.
Frequently, cartoon sequences in “Clutch Cargo” are filmed at speeds of 24 frames per second, using live action techniques. As few was [sic] two or three animation cels may be required for a single take. This makes it possible to produce “animated” cartoons for a fraction of the cost of full animation.
Such production economies have not hurt the consumer acceptance or popularity of “Clutch Cargo.”

By the fall of 1961, the series was appearing on some 80 TV stations around the country, both in color and black-and-white. The show has an estimated 23 million viewers weekly, ranging through all ages and heights of brow.
Although limited animation is employed, “Clutch Cargo’s” creators insist that they are not making animated cartoons.
“We’re making comic strips for television and this is a completely different form of expression,” says Dick Brown, Cambria’s president and executive producer.
Brown’s attitude is seconded by Clark Haas, former artist on the “Buz Sawyer” newspaper comic strip, who is the creator of and art director for the “Clutch Cargo” series. “The results we obtain aren’t comparable to conventional animation,” says Haas. “We’re someplace in between live action and drawing.”
Some indication of how “Clutch Cargo” differs from other popular TV cartoons is illustrated by the fact that only about a thousand animation cels are required to make a full half-hour show—six 5-minute segments. By contrast, it often requires a thousand cels just to create one minute of action, using the full-animation technique. A further economy is the fact all cels, which are used in each “Clutch Cargo” episode, are carefully stored for possible re-use in future episodes—similar to the way Hollywood studios stock key set-pieces for re-use in later productions.
This conservative use of animation cels is made possible through a series of new mechanized techniques developed by Cambria Studios. One of the most important innovations is a continuous action rig which allows the cameraman to shoot animation cels at live action camera speeds, and simulate almost any type live action camera shot, including trucking, dolly and pan shots.
This continuous action device utilizes glass panels on which animation cels are mounted. The panels are then moved horizontally in the lens field by motors turning at pre-set speeds. A 16mm camera photographs the resulting motion.
Using this arrangement, the cameraman can, for example, photograph one cel representing a rocket ship against a moving background of sky in continuous action at 24 frames per second. Artwork requirements are reduced to individual drawings of the rocket ship and background. Because the sky (on one glass panel) is moving past the cel representing the rocket ship, the camera records it as full movement. By increasing the number of cels, the cameraman can utilize more than one rocket ship and have them traveling at different speeds.
Further action can be added to the scene by superimposing live effects such as smoke and flame. If a rocket ship appears in the “Clutch Cargo” series spouting fire out of its tail, the fire is real. It is superimposed at the time the rocket is photographed against the moving art background of sky.
The superimposing mechanism is an optical reflection device called a “frajilly” by the company wits because it came in a box marked FRAGILE. By setting this mechanism immediately Itetween the camera and the continuous rig, a jet of fire, or any natural effect or live action which can he created in the studio, is optically super-imposed on the artwork on the action rig. The live effect is produced in an area at right angles to the artwork, and “frajilly” blends the two together for the benefit of the camera.

Artist Haas and technical director Edwin Gillette are constantly on the lookout for new techniques which will enable them to produce realistic movement on the screen without requiring additional drawings or cels. In many instances they have been able to integrate working models and three dimensional mock-ups into an action. For instance, in one “Clutch Cargo” episode with a Holland locale, the background contained a number of windmills whose arms actually turned mechanically.
Perhaps the most ingenious of “Clutch Cargo’s” many technical innovations, however, is a process called Synchro-Vox. An invention of Edwin Gillette, this process superimposes over the drawings of faces in the strip, live-action photography of an actor’s lips speaking lines. The illusion obtained is that of a talking cartoon character with life-like movement, expression and perfectly synchronized voice.
To accomplish this, an actor is first photographed speaking the lines. This film is shot through a matte which eliminates all but the actor’s mouth. The image of the moving mouth is then superimposed over the pen and ink artwork on the action rig. The cel drawings of the character’s faces used in this process are complete except for the mouth area.
Absolute voice syncronization [sic] is obtained, since the sound is recorded at the time the live-action lip movement is photographed. In conventional animation, hundreds and sometimes thousands of hand drawings must he made to create the illusion of a person talking. Cambria’s method makes it unnecessary to draw mouths to fit the dialogue.
All photography for the “Clutch Cargo” series is done in 16mm color. The film used is Ektachrome Commercial Type 7255. Release prints are processed for Cambria by Filmservice Laboratories in Hollywood. Color release prints are made on Eastman Reversal Color Print Film, Type 5269. Black-and-white releases are made on Eastman Fine Grain Release Postive Film, Type 7302, from Eastman Fine Grain Panchromatic Duplicating Negative.
The success of the “Clutch Cargo” films is underscored by the recent selection of the series for presentation in the RCA exhibition hall in New York City as an outstanding example of the quality of color television.
Each “Clutch Cargo” adventure is divided into five 5-minnte episodes. The show can be presented daily in 5-minute chapters or once a week as a half-hour feature.
With 52 half-hour “Clutch Cargo” stories completed on film, (260 five minute episodes) the fertile minds at Cambria Studios are looking for new cartoon strip ideas to introduce to television.

“Space Angel,” a science-fiction series, is next in line. There will be other new strips after this, and Cambria Studios hopes to be able to offer TV stations a full hour of animated program material daily within a very few years. This, they feel, represents maximum saturation, after which Cambria would only be competing with itself. All of the cartoons now being planned by Cambria will utilize the same mechanized movement in the production techniques that has proven so successful with “Clutch Cargo.”
The application of these techniques are not limited to television alone, according to Brown. Cambria Studios has had marked success with them in incorporating three-dimensional moving models and mock-ups in the production of films for industry and the military.
In addition, Cambria holds there are marked benefits in the use of their methods in the production of educational films, titles, and experimental movies. ■


  1. The human lips on cartoon drawings was creepy when I was in kindergarten. It's creepy today.

  2. The superimposing mechanism is an optical reflection device called a "frajilly" by the company wits because it came in a box marked FRAGILE.

    Mmm-hm...Wonder if one Jean Shepherd also came across this article at one time...

  3. Ah yes, the human moving lips, and every show ending with a cliff hanger. That's what I remember most about " Clutch Cargo ". Also, Scott McCloud in " Space Angel ". I recently saw both online for the first time in more years than I care to mention. Came away with the same conclusion. Strange back then, strange now.

  4. Ha, ha! Put me in the qualified Clutch Cargo fan bunch. I mean, a little of CC and other Synchro-Vox series goes along way, but still. Fascinating stuff. Margaret Kerry gets my vote for most creative mouth acting... I get a kick out of the way she could suck in her lower lip to drive home her characters' apprehension. And by the way, those syndication prints of Clutch Cargo on Eastman Reversal Color Print Film, Type 5269 still look terrific today. Most aren't faded one bit (got some myself!)

  5. This is an interesting article, and I didn't know that the "CLUTCH CARGO" episodes were produced in color. I guess I'd only gotten to see these episodes in black and white broadcasts, and I doubt that the series was still being broadcast anywhere into the age of the actual dawn of color TV sets. However, you should sometime do an extensive article or series of articles as to the technique used in the films of Michael McClaren; I hope I've gotten that name right. He produced a well-known short called "NEIGHBORS" in which he used live action humans as stop motion animated characters. I'd be curious as to how he got his actors to pose properly for each frame, and the results is stranger than anything produced similar to "CLUTCH CARGO". Art Clokey dabbled a bit in this as well with one particular GUMBY short in which Clokey himself starred with a female actress (perhaps his wife?) as two people having a picnic when a runaway lawnmower takes on an evil life of its own and decides to rush through the picnic site. Some of the antics are under-cranked, and I think that was part of the design here, but, regarding films like "NEIGHBORS", you are watching two men literally acting like cartoon characters, with one man stomping the other into the ground until just his head is visible. This surely must have been an interesting process, and I wonder how many more of these kinds of films he created. There are TV commercials that used this technique, along with under-cranking, to get the desired chaotic effect of whatever that commercial was trying to convey. I can't entirely remember what products they were selling, but the commercials are visually memorable whenever you see them, and actors and actresses were perhaps chosen according to their talent to show exaggerated expression throughout their entire body.