Saturday 26 June 2021

Squirrel Animator Sal

There were problems aplenty at Val-Mar Productions, so many that even an heroic flying squirrel couldn’t solve them.

It was the studio set up in Mexico to handle a lot of the artwork for Rocky and His Friends in 1959. The cartoon series was going to be sponsored by General Mills, and someone in its ad agency told the cereal maker it could save half-a-million dollars a year by having it animated outside the U.S. (where unionised labour would have to be employed). The contract with Jay Ward Productions set the budget for each half-hour at a ridiculous $8,520. By contrast, Hanna-Barbera was getting $21,000 for a half-hour of The Quick Draw McGraw Show.

Keith Scott’s book The Moose That Roared outlined some of the problems, including the fact the studio didn’t have a phone. Film was held up at the border. Rookie artists were hired, and they only spoke Spanish. Ward responded by getting some Americans to work out of Mexico—Bill Hurtz, Dun Roman, Gerard Baldwin (briefly) and the man who is the subject of our story. It appeared on newswires on July 22, 1961.

'Rocky' Animator Works in Mexico
Sal Faillace is an American artist with a Mexican ink bottle.
South of the border, where they munch tortillas, ole to bulls and matadors, and palaver in Spanish, this ex-New York area resident cha chas with brush and palette to animate the characters for ABC-TV's "Rocky and his Friends."
Sal Faillace does all this animated nonsense on a drawing board in Mexico City. He is production supervisor for Gamma productions, an outfit that employs 150 people and does both the story lines and animation for "Rocky and his Friends." The studio will also do the animation for "Rocky" when it hits the South American market — in Spanish.
"When I first came to Mexico nine months ago," said Sal, "my biggest problem was the language barrier. There were 12 animators in the department, and only myself and the Mexican interpreter could speak English. So I used hand signals and expressed what I wanted to say in my drawings. It worked out fine. Besides, an animator is like an actor; instead of acting on stage he acts on paper."
In New York recently to attend his brother's wedding, Sal, 31, recalled his childhood doodling days in Larchmont, N.Y.
"I always liked to draw cartoons," admitted Sal. "I bought comic books and copied all the Disney characters. I learned by experience."
Sal, who never had any formal cartoon schooling, ventured into whut he calls the "play for pay" ranks when he graduated from high school a dozen years ago. He bundled up his art work, kissed mom goodbye, and bought a one-way ticket to New York and the Famous Studios.
"I guess I was lucky," said Sal. "The director of Famous liked my stuff and put me on the payroll as one of the animators for Popeye."
But Sal finally tired of Wimpy, Olive Oil and other Popeye personalities and expanded into animated commercials for television. His journey across the Rio Grande was prompted by information that Gamma was looking for an animator.
Unmarried, he plays the role of an American tourist in metropolitan Mexico City. "Sometimes I get homesick," said Sal. "But never lonely. Besides, I'm too busy learning Spanish."

After Bullwinkle wrapped up, Sal worked on the Underdog Show. He also animated on Schoolhouse Rock in New York in the mid-70s.

What happened to Sal after that is difficult to say. There was a Salvatore Fallace who died in Laramie, Wyoming last July who would be our Faillace’s age, but there’s no confirmation it’s him. No biography is in his obituary (this Sal’s brother was a professional magician in New Jersey). He’s one of the countless people who animated in the Golden Age and even managed to get credit on the small screen. Their talents deserve recognition.


  1. Hans Christian Brando26 June 2021 at 15:12

    I can see animators getting tired of working with the same characters (and this was probably when Famous was doing the limited animation Popeyes for King Features Syndicate), but did Sal Faillace also get tired of getting paid union scale?

  2. Just because Sal Faillace worked in Mexico, doesn't mean he was paid below U.S. Union scale. If an American animator went to Gamma Productions, he or she would be expected to direct and supervise the local talent as well as do their own work, so extra pay was part of the package. By the way, Yowp, do you have any photos of Val-Mar or Gamma Prods. studio when it was actually in business? I am especially interested in photos INSIDE the studio. Thanks, Mark

    1. True, Mark. But speaking generally, I suspect the reason behind animating in Mexico or Korea or the Philippines is because the general staff don't belong to the Guild so the company saves money.
      I've never come across any photos of Val-Mar (inside or outside). If any were readily available, I suspect they would have found their way into Keith Scott's book through one of his many interview subjects.

    2. Mark, visit Darrell Van Citters' Art of Jay Ward blog--There's many pics of the Mexican studios' interiors and staff.

  3. Carlos Manriquez was credited as a background artist on a few 1951/1952 Warner Bros. shorts (Don't Give Up The Sheep, Snow Business, Muscle Tussle, Fool Coverage)

    1. Yes, and he was at Disney a good 20 years before that.