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R.I.P. Filmation Co-Founder Lou Scheimer

For TV viewers of a certain age, the shows produced by Lou Scheimer’s Filmation evoke fond nostalgia and happy Saturday morning memories. Scheimer, co-founder of the notorious TV animation schlock house Filmation and a key figure in TV animation history, passed away yesterday, just two days before his 85th birthday. The cause and location of death remains unknown at this time.

Scheimer was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1928. He was the son a German Jew who, according to family legend, had to leave Germany in the early-1920s after knocking out a young Adolf Hitler in a beer hall scuffle. Scheimer served in the U.S. Army between 1946-’48, and later studied art at Carnegie Tech. He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s and began working at commercial art studios and animation production houses like Kling Studios, Walter Lantz Productions (where he painted backgrounds on the Tex Avery short Crazy Mixed Up Pup), Hanna-Barbera, Larry Harmon, Ray Patin Productions, and Warner Bros. Animation.

Scheimer (above, left) founded Filmation Associates in 1963 with partner Hal Sutherland (above, middle) to produce a low-budget TV series called Rod Rocket.

Soon after, a third partner, Norm Prescott (above right), joined the company. For the next twenty-seven years, the studio ruled Saturday mornings, churning out TV show after show, including The Archie Show, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour, The Lone Ranger, Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down, Gilligan’s Planet, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and dozens more. Many of the shows were half-hour toy commercials masquerading as content, and the studio became famous for its corner-cutting production techniques, limited (sometimes non-existent) animation and generally abysmal production values.

There were also positive aspects to Filmation. The studio (pictured above) kept animation jobs in America long after other studios had started shipping work overseas. Their insistence on keeping animation made in America was a contributing factor to the studio’s downfall in the 1980s. The studio also helped pioneer first-run syndication of children’s animation with its TV series He-man and the Masters of the Universe and occasionally created progressive kids’ shows like Fat Albert that promoted positive social and educational values. (Scheimer provided voices in many of his shows, including Fat Albert’s Dumb Donald.)

Despite the inferior quality of his studio’s work, Scheimer was well liked as a studio executive. Artist Tom Sito wrote this afternoon on the Animation Guild blog:

“Some artists who become bosses tend to forget their roots, like that necktie is now part of their anatomy. Lou Scheimer never stopped being ‘one of the guys.’ He was passionate about animation and his fellow artists. It actually pained him to lay people off. In 1982 when the Guild held a city-wide strike to try and prevent all our work outsourced overseas, Lou shouldered a sign and picketed his own studio, because he agreed that work should stay in town. Lou never reneged on his promise to keep as many people working as he could.

Many of today’s well known artists worked early in their careers at Filmation including Bruce Timm, John Kricfalusi, Tom Minton, Bruce Smith, Lynne Naylor, Tom Sito, Dan St. Pierre, Rusty Mills, Steve Hickner, Lenord Robinson, and Vicky Jenson. “The shows were absolutely terrible, and the hours were grueling,” remembered artist Eddie Fitzgerald, “but it was my first industry job and there wasn’t a moment when I didn’t feel surrounded by magic.”

After Filmation closed in 1989, Scheimer formed a new company called Lou Scheimer Productions. His assembly line-oriented approach to creativity had been rendered irrelevant by the creator-driven TV animation movement of the early-1990s. After years of unsuccessfully attempting to sell a show, he shuttered the company in 2004. The Filmation library is currently owned by DreamWorks Animation subsidiary Classic Media.

Scheimer wrote about his life in the well recevied 2012 autobiography Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation. Below is Scheimer’s final public appearance in 2012 at Comic-Con International: San Diego:

UPDATE: Have some Kleenex handy before you watch this heartfelt tribute to Lou Scheimer from fan Dan Eardley:

  • Jack Rabbit

    RIP Mr. Scheimer. Your Filmation cartoons had valid moments made by the best of us!

  • Floyd Norman

    Being a great animation boss is a good deal more than making great cartoons. Filmation hardly made great cartoons but they were a studio I always admired. Much of that was because of Lou Scheimer. Rest in peace, my friend.

  • Close3k

    Farewell, man. You had the power . . . literally.

  • Karl Hungus

    I met Lou at the Comicon (2012) in the clip above. You could see he was struggling to get around at his advanced age, but there was no quit in him. And he carried himself with incredible grace. I kept complimenting him on his white suit and he had a zinger to throw back at me every time. I feel lucky to have met him because he was truly animation royalty.

  • Serinthia

    The Sorceress of Greyskull was one of the first characters on TV I looked up to as a child. Thanks for that, Lou. Rest in Peace

  • James Madison

    Thank you Mr. Lou Scheimer

    You paved the way for great entertainment, by birthing your own shows and bringing forth talent from your camp.

    You have provided lasting memories and a childhood of anticipation waiting for adventures on weekends and weekdays.

    Along with Rankin and Bass (Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass), Filmation (Lou Scheimer, Hal Sutherl and Norm Prescott) gave me a world of escapism and joy.

    Thank you, thank you.

  • Jason Cezar Duncan

    I was wondering if this was a rumor at first, but it seems it’s been confirmed :( However, rumor or not, I noticed some really shallow comments over Facebook and it’s just not right. 1. He was not responsible for the poor animation scene in the late 70s/80s and no individual was. That was a general cultural trend that just didn’t favor cartoons/animation in the adult mainstream to any significant extent. 2. Despite the unfavorable production model, his company still provided jobs to many in it’s home country who would have otherwise had to switch careers as everyone else was just shipping it off to Japan at the time. 3. He didn’t do anything dishonest or unethical as far as I can gather, he ran an animation company that made some cartoons a lot of us (including myself) didn’t like. So what? The 90s came along, artists took over it again, and IMHO animation’s never been more diverse, accessible, and artist driven. So RIP Lou.

  • Jonah Sidhom

    Thank you for everything, Mr. Scheimer. You made my childhood better, and I know the same can be said by countless others. I wish I got the chance to meet you.

  • Darrell “Big D” McNeil

    i was one of those animators/layout artists at filmation during those years and it would’ve been nice if the writer of this piece,( whose dislike for filmation animation is well known……) had kept his snarky-ass opinions of said work out of a freakin’ ‘report’ on the man’s death, for cryin’out loud!most of today’s animated product is not only ‘not better’ than the bulk of what filmation, (and h&b, r&s, etc.) it’s arguably worse. i’m sorry about you,man, but lou and i knew otherwise, the response to andy mangels book and his last public appearances at san diego,() which were my brainchild showed us and him otherwise and the simple fact that the toons he and we made will be remebered for far longer and much warmer a time than shows like ‘adventureferbpants’ will EVER be will say more about this man’slegacy than crap like some of the above. for christ’s sake……………then again, i guess i should consider the source……..a ‘news’ story. seriously.

  • Fond memories, repetitive animation

  • Michael

    Filmation programs were a significant part of my youth, growing up, and I, too, wish to thank Lou Scheimer for making this happen. God bless him and may He especially bless both Erika and Lane. I agree- TV animation really needs to be kept in the U.S., so Lou knew what he was stressing. Now that leaves David H. DePatie, Arthur Rankin, Jules Bass, Joe Ruby, Ken Spears and other animators from our youth, and we must cherish whatever they brought(or in Ruby-Spears’ case, still bringing) to TV animation. One more time, thank you, so much, Mr. Filmation, Lou Scheimer.

  • Barrett

    Sorry to hear of his passing, at least he died knowing that his studio’s works were just as widely enjoyed as they were widely criticized. I think there is room for both love and criticism in the legacy of Filmation.

    (Cool to see a pic of the studio, something I’ve never seen before published anywhere!)

    • Good Googily Goop

      YES, very cool! I’d never seen that photo before either.

      What street corner was the Filmation studio on? Would be interesting to consult Google Street View to see what’s there now.

      • CAB

        Filmation was located at 6464 Canoga Ave., Woodland Hills, CA

        • Dave

          The Canoga Ave. location was the last location of Filmation, but earlier the studio was located in a building on the corner of Sherman Way and Lindley Ave. in Reseda. (in the photo above it’s showing the Sherman Way location) .

  • kadecando

    Wish Lou could have attended Power-Con this year so all the He-man and She-ra fans could have given him a huge standing ovation for his work. For all Cartoon Brew’s jabs at Filmation’s dismal production values, the He-man fandom going strong today because of Lou’s work.

  • Tommy Retro

    I’m appalled by some of the bashing I’ve seen directed toward Lou’s company. One such comment “Many of the shows were half-hour toy commercials masquerading as content” is utter rubbish. The majority of their shows are morality plays and animated adaptations of popular live-action movies (such as Journey Back To Oz, Journey To The Center Of The Earth, Fantastic Voyage, Flash Gordon), television series (such as Star Trek, My Favorite Martian, Lassie, Jerry Lewis, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island) DC Comic Books (such as Superman, Batman & Robin, Aquaman, Shazam! Isis), and pop-culture (The Hardy Boys, Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, Zorro). In the 3 decades they were in production, the ONLY 2 instances were the 2 shows contracted by Mattel: “He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe” and “She-Ra Princess Of Power”. “Bravestarr” was created by Filmation and spawned merchandising based upon their property. “The Ghost Busters” were created first as a live-action series (starring the cast of “F Troop”) and later revived in the ’80s as an animated series. So where are Filmation’s “Many toy commercials masquerading as content”?
    Here is the REAL fact: ALL of the animated shows produced in Japan & Korea during the 1980s are the half-hour toy commercials! Including but not limited to: G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem, Inhumanoids, Dungeons & Dragons, Defenders Of The Earth, Visionaries, Bigfoot And The Muscle Machines, Robotix, Air Commanders, Centurions Power Extreme, and the list goes on and on and on. The majority of these were produced by Toei Doga Animation of Japan for Marvel Entertainment, while the Thundercats, Silverhawks, Tigersharks, etc. were all toy lines animated by Pacific Animation Corporation of Japan for Rankin-Bass. Apparently the writer of this piece did not do the proper research or has selective memory.

    Filmation shows were superior to much of Hanna-Barbera’s output at the time, and utilized new techniques (such as rotoscoping athletes for running, jumping, & swimming scenes, and moire backlighting effects for lasers & energy fields) and entertained generations of TV viewers every Saturday morning from the 1960s till the 1980s.

    Thank You for the years of fond memories, Mr. Scheimer.
    Saturday mornings will never be the same again…

    • Funkybat

      All the Filmation bashing annoys me, and is particularly inappropriate at a time like this.

      Most of their shows were adaptations of existing properties such as Superman, Batman, and Star Trek, but their most memorable shows were new ideas developed in-house in conjunction with outside idea folks, such as Fat Albert and He-Man. (Not to mention their in-house original series served as a seminal prompt for the later Harold Ramis “Ghostbusters” film and TV show.)

      Even the much-derided He-Man and She-Ra series were more than just toy commercials. There were some decent writers involved with those shows, and the shows themselves were a kind of sci-fi action lite for kids. I’ve re-watched them with adult eyes and still find entertainment value there separate from the nostalgia. I honestly found the animation to be only slightly more stiff and repetitive than what H-B was doing at that time.

      I’m sorry to learn of Lou’s passing, but glad that it has prompted renewed discussion of Filmation and its legacy.

    • chesterbr

      I also agree that much of the bashing is completely off-based. Quality was not different from HB et al in terms of animation, and his production values were second to none. Rest in peace, Mr. Scheimer.

    • Proud Filmation Animator

      I worked at Filmation for the last 10 years and the bashing is way out of line. Many of the animators who worked at Filmation went on to work on “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Tarzan” and many more of the Disney features. There was not a lack of talent, there was a lack of time. We were the only studio in the U.S. doing TV animation. Lou Scheimer promised to keep the work here and in doing so had to compete with Asian studios who paid their animators a fraction of what we were paid. We weren’t overpaid but you need to make more money in the U.S. to be able to live than you do in the Asian countries. We had to find ways to cut corners and save money so we could keep our budgets as low as possible. If we didn’t… we were out of work. It was frustrating to have to rush everything and not be allowed to do our best work but the other option was unemployment. Filmation was a great place to work and Lou Scheimer was a rare breed that cared about the U.S. workers unlike the other studios that just shipped everything out and closed their doors to American workers.

  • marti386

    While Filmation was primarily known for it’s animation output, it was always their live action shows like Ark II, Space Academy and Jason of Star Command that got me out of bed on Saturday mornings! :-)

    Rest in peace, Lou. You will be missed.

  • Jeff Missinne

    I am saddened as well to read of the passing of Lou Scheimer. While I have heard and read much disrespect for his studio’s productions, I’ve never heard an unkind word about the man himself. (I never knew he worked for Walter Lantz either!) The worst disrespect to Mr. Scheimer may be the fate of the Filmation shows themselves. I have heard and read from several sources that all the Filmation master materials (negatives, tracks, etc.) were destroyed by Hallmark Cards, Inc; which bought the company’s library after L’Oreal Cosmetics liquidated the studio itself. The only apparent existing materials, as used by Classic Media, are 25fps transfers for European TV use.

    That Hallmark may have done this would not surprise me; as only a third-party intervention prevented their destroying all the masters of the Laurel and Hardy comedies; which they also considered to be of little or no value. “When you care enough”…yeah, right. (Anyone who knows for sure that this did not happen, proof otherwise would be welcome.)

    Maybe Filmation’s shows were no great works of art; how much of TV is? (Especially in this era of Honey Boo-Boo and the Kardashians…) But they entertained generations of kids and created some fond memories. And that ain’t bad, folks.

  • Richard Arte Digital

    I recently learned about Lou Scheimer passing. I grew up watching Filmation productions and glad to be part of a generation influenced by Mr Scheimer’s legacy in animation. My condolences to his family and loved ones. May he rest in peace.

  • MaskedManAICN

    I have to say I object to anyone claiming Filmation made ‘inferior’ animation. Compared to who? Who was knocking superior tv animation back in those days that makes Filmations look so bad? Judging Filmation by their peers, they had some of the besting looking shows on air- Fat Albert, Star Trek, Tarzan, Flash Gordon, etc.

    R.I.P. Lou, thanks for all the hard work.

  • Andy Mangels

    Yes, it exists, and was completed. I showed a clip from it at San Diego as seen in the panel video above. There are also stills from it in the book I co-wrote with Lou, CREATING THE FILMATION GENERATION.

    • Jeff Missinne

      Thanks for the tip; I hadn’t had time until this weekend to view the panel video. The show looked good; better than the “New 3 Stooges” and other series based on old-time comedians. Did Groucho do his own voice; and who played Chico and the other characters?

  • Proud Filmation Animator

    Lou Scheimer was my hero and made my dreams of being an animator come true. Anybody who lives in the Austin area, I was an animator at Filmation and will be a guest at the WizardCon in Austin at the end of November. Come on out and meet me and we can talk about how the Filmation cartoons impacted your life. Be sure to bring your DVD sets and any other items you would like me to autograph and I will have plenty of original artwork from your favorite shows for as well.

  • Rich Rodriguez

    I came across this article while googling “Lou Schiemer tribute”. I am very appalled at the writer’s bias against his subject in the article. I suppose being a lover or hater of a particular animation studio or its work is a matter of personal opinion, but the snarkiness Amid injects in what I thought was an obituary piece is just very disrespectful to Lou Scheimer, his family, and the many artists who worked at Filmation throughout its history.

    Granted, the technical quality of Filmation’s animation work wasn’t all that great, but compared to its competitors Hanna-Barbera and DePatie-Freleng, it stood out from the crowd with its creative use of rotoscoping, special effects, lush backgrounds and its often-maligned stock footage clips. The stories were also far more thoughtful and better written. As a kid in junior high I knew “He-Man” was primarily a marketing tool for the Mattel toys it was based on, but Filmation took what it had and turned it into a really fun show that stands on its own, and looking back I am impressed at how they weaved those life lessons and educational messages into the plotline instead of just tacking them on at the end to satisfy the FCC as others did in the 80’s.

    Everything I have read and heard about Lou is that he was a hands-on executive who never forgot his roots and genuinely cared for the well-being of his employees. He was always known as (pardon the pun) a cartoon producer with character. And I am so happy he got to see before he died just how remembered and well-loved he and Filmation’s works still are 30 years later.