I’ll be spending the next five days (as I do every Labor Day) over at Cinecon 42 based at both the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel (at Hollywood & Highland) and the Egyptian Theatre down the block. The dealers room opens at noon, the films start at 7:00pm (the first film to be screened will be a gorgeous 35mm print of the Columbia Screen Gems cartoon Flora). CINECON is a five day marathon of movies dating dating from 1915 up to 1959, highlighting restored prints of rare films not on DVD or TV. The small attendence always seems to hover around 300-400 people. It’s like a private little club of really intense film buffs. The screenings start at 9am and go to midnight the next several days. Films range from Scrappy cartoons to Ozzie Nelson B-musicals, serial chapters, shorts, documentaries… even a rare Ernie Kovacs color TV special.If you can’t make it to Cinecon this weekend, the next best thing is being glued to Turner Classic Movies. In addition to their weekly series Cartoon Alley, they are running an hour of Chuck Jones cartoons on Monday Sept. 4th at 12:30pm EST/ 9:30PST, vintage Dick Cavett interviews with Woody Allen (Sept. 14th) and Mel Brooks (Sept. 7th), and a whole day of theatrical live action shorts (Sept. 15th).On Monday September 25th TCM is running a film I’ve been trying to see for the past 20 years, Over The Goal. Here’s why I want to see it: this is the film which features the song “As Easy As Rolling Off A Log”. This song is heard in the 1938 Merrie Melodies cartoon KATNIP KOLLEGE, but was written for OVER THE GOAL. GOAL features Johnnie “Scat” Davis and Mabel Todd in the cast, and it is their voices heard singing the song in KATNIP KOLLEGE. In fact I’m certain the much of the sountrack of KATNIP KOLLEGE is cobbled together from various Warner Bros. feature films. KATNIP KOLLEGE itself is an unusual cartoon for the Schlesinger cartoon unit at that time. There must be a story behind it that hasn’t been told. Seeing this film will answer some questions I’ve had for a long time. I’m sure it isn’t a very good film, but it’s been beyond my reach for two decades! Thank you, TCM!
Earlier this evening I received word from Van Partible and David Sheldon that animation legend Ed Benedict passed away in his sleep this past Monday at age 94. Per Ed’s wishes, there will be no service of any kind. He will be cremated and his ashes scattered over Carmel Bay, where his wife Alice’s ashes were also spread.
It’s a difficult time to be an animation fan as slowly the last of the greats of animation’s Golden Age have been dying. With Ed gone, only a handful of the industry’s giants remain, including Joe Barbera, Bill Melendez, Bill Littlejohn, Ollie Johnston, Jack Zander, and a few others. But back to Ed, his career was long and illustrious, not to mention fairly unconventional, including an attempt to start his own studio in the 1930s and involvement in very early TV commercials. He began at Disney in 1930 and animated on the studio’s early films like THE CHINA PLATE and BLUE RHYTHM. In 1933, he moved to Universal where he worked on Walter Lantz’s Oswald shorts. For much of the 1930s he was at Universal, though he also worked a stint at Mintz and briefly started his own studio, Benedict-Brewer, in partnership with Jerry Brewer. He returned to Disney in the early-1940s where he did layout on various industrial/educational films like ENVIROMENTAL SANITATION and DAWN OF BETTER LIVING. During this time, he also received his first and only Disney credit as a layout artist on MAKE MINE MUSIC. In the mid-1940s, he entered the world of TV commercial animation at Paul Fennell’s Cartoon Films, which is where he first began exploring the more modernized approach to drawing that would serve him well in the following decades.
In 1952, Benedict was recruited by his former Universal colleague Tex Avery to become Avery’s lead layout artist and designer at MGM. Ed designed a number of Avery’s classic shorts including DIXIELAND DROOPY, FIELD AND SCREAM, THE FIRST BAD MAN, DEPUTY DROOPY and CELLBOUND. After Avery left MGM, Benedict continued working at the studio on the Mike Lah-directed Droopy shorts, while also freelancing for Avery on TV commercials at Cascade. While at MGM, Ed’s work caught the eyes of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. Hanna asked Benedict to design a dog and a cat for a TV project, which turned out to be the first Hanna-Barbera TV series THE RUFF AND REDDY SHOW. During the late-1950s and early-1960s, Benedict became the primary designer for Hanna-Barbera and he designed most of the studio’s early stars including Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, The Flintstones, Snagglepuss and countless others. It would not be an exaggeration to say that a large part of H-B’s success in TV animation is owed to Benedict’s incredibly appealing and fun character designs. Ed moved to Carmel, California in the 1960s and continued freelancing for various studios during the 1960s and ’70s before retiring.
Ed’s passing is made a litle easier knowing that he was appreciated and recognized for his accomplishments during his lifetime, which is something that can’t be said for a lot of other animation artists. Ed has countless admirers throughout the animation and illustration communities including John Kricfalusi, David Sheldon, Van Partible, Jordan Reichek, Craig Kellman and Gabe Swarr, to name but a few. The influence of his work is readily apparent in countless cartoons being created today, a testament to the lasting quality of his work.
On a personal note, I have to say that Ed was certainly one of the most memorable of the artists that I’ve interviewed over the years. He was a study in contrasts. He made it very clear that he disliked the Hanna Barbera TV cartoons, the work that he was most known for, and that he didn’t care particularly that people liked his work so much. And yet, you could hardly find a person more passionate when it came to discussing art, design and animation. I had the opportunity to visit Ed a few times in northern California, and I can’t ever remember a visit lasting less than ten hours. Ed would keep you enthralled with a fascinating range of opinions on every conceivable topic from why organs sound better than pianos to lamenting the deteriorated state of contemporary car design. On the surface, Ed might have seemed indifferent, but his theories on such a variety of topics revealed years of careful observation and analysis of his surroundings. It’s only fitting that the designer of so many classic animation characters would himself have such a depth of personal character.
If you have personal remembrances of Ed Benedict or were influenced by his work, please feel free to leave comments in this Cartoon Modern post and I’ll try to make sure it’s forwarded to his family.
Links to Ed Benedict on the Web
John Kricfalusi writes about why he likes Ed’s work so much
Holocoast survivor Dina Gottliebova Babbitt, who was the second wife of legendary animator/director Art Babbitt, is profiled in this fascinating piece in today’s NY TIMES (use BugMeNot if registration is required). The article focuses mostly on her attempts to recover paintings that she made for the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele while in the Auschwitz camp. The article also says that she worked in animation, which is something I hadn’t known:
After the war she pursued work as an animator in Paris and was hired by the American who would become her husband, Art Babbitt. They married, moved to California and had two daughters. The Babbitts divorced in 1962, and Mrs. Babbitt returned to animation, working on characters like Tweety Bird, Wile E. Coyote and Cap’n Crunch.
After she gets back her paintings, I hear that she’s going to start a campaign to recover some of her Cap’n Crunch animation drawings.
(Thanks, Galen Fott)
For those of you in Los Angeles who can’t make it up to Ottawa this year, the American Cinematheque has an alternative for you. UNSHOWN CINEMA: THE ANIMATED FILMS THAT GOT AWAY (presented in Association with Los Angeles Film Critics Association) will screen September 22 – 24 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.This year the L.A. Film Critics’ ongoing FILMS THAT GOT AWAY project will focus on great and rarely shown animated features and short films, none of which have received commercial theatrical distribution in the U.S. The features include Ladislas Starewitch’s rare stop motion REYNARD THE FOX (1937), Yoshifumi Kondo’s WHISPER OF THE HEART (1995), Jacques-Remy Girerd’s RAINING CATS AND FROGS (2003), and a feature length tribute to pioneer animator Paul Grimault called THE TABLE TURNS (1988). Shorts include Steffen Schaffler’s Oscar-nominated The Periwig-Maker, Lisa Barcy’s The Guilt Trip and J. J. Villard’s Bukowski adaptation Son Of Satan. There’ll be panels, parties and special guests.
Too bad it’s being held the same week as Ottawa. I’ll miss it, but if you are in town, I recommend it without reservation. Go!
It’s getting so that every animation artist has a blog. Maybe in the next update, I’ll do a post about artists who don’t have blogs. Now that’d be something.
Raymond Xu was a runner-up in our just-completed Ottawa contest, but his blog is an all-out winner. He’s currently a student at Sheridan. There’s excellent personality-packed illustrations throughout his blog so be sure to check out his monthly archives. It’s nice to know a few of the younger artists can still draw nowadays.
Speaking of people who can draw, Jim Smith (REN & STIMPY, SAMURAI JACK and currently DreamWorks) now has a blog. When I was working on REN & STIMPY, I remember even his drawings that ended up in the trash were still great. I don’t think he’s physically capable of doing bad drawings.
I never met Daniel L–pez MuÃ±oz while I was writing THE ART OF ROBOTS, but he created some superb art for that film. He’s jumped ship from Blue Sky to Pixar where he’s started blogging.
Whatever happened to Cartoon Network’s WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ROBOT JONES? Who knows. We do know, however, that the show’s creator, Greg Miller, now happens to have his own blog.
Craig Clark has worked on everything from the Peanuts specials to Bakshi features. He started in the biz as a teenager at Duck Soup, and on his blog he shares stories of working with legends like Amby Paliwoda, Duane Crowther and Corny Cole, as well as showcasing his own current projects.
If you ask me, some of the funkiest and most distinctive animation backgrounds being created today are those by Ben Prisk for Adult Swim’s SQUIDBILLIES. His bgs are a combination of real paint combined with scanned paint textures, and he recently started a blog devoted to his work on the series.
It wasn’t easy but Brewmasters Amid and Jerry have selected the two winners of our Ottawa International Animation Festival 2006 contest. They are Bill Robinson (East Aurora, NY) and Dav-Odd (NYC, NY). Each of these guys will receive a full Animapass (valued at $200Can) to next month’s festival. Their entries are below (click for larger versions). We chose Bill’s not only because it’s a fine tribute to Bob Clampett, who is the subject of a retrospective at Ottawa this year, but because of the extra effort he invested in the layout and typography to create a complete package. Dav-Odd’s piece should hit home for any animation lover: yes, a true animation fan can find things to admire even in a Chiquita banana commercial.
We received so many entries that we decided to honor five runner-ups as well. The five runner-ups will each receive an issue of ANIMATION BLAST 9. These winners are Raymond Xu, Marc Crisafulli, Mitch Kennedy, Brian Montenegro and Jess Elwood. Their entries are in order below (click for bigger versions). A BIG thanks to everybody who entered and we’ll see ya next month in Ottawa.
We get letters. From Stacey Byrne-Gibbs
My father, who is now 89 years old had two brothers (Tom and Charles / Charlie) who were both cartoonists (they were 14 and 17 years older then him so were original animators). Tom, the oldest one started out at Pat Sullivan studios in NY. Both brothers (Tom and Charlie) moved to LA. Charlie worked at Disney when it was in Glendale or Burbank (I forget which area but the original studio). My aunt (deceased) had several pictures of the old studio with very few employees growing to more employees in the later pictures. I have a repo of one that has just a handfull of employees including Charlie right next to Walt with the old version of Mickey standing up in front of them. Anyways, I know Tom worked for Disney for a short period, then MGM (worked with Hanna and Barbara there before they left and started their own business) and then he worked with Walter Lantz until retirement. Charlie died a long time ago and my dad said he was “the story department” at Disney before it got big. I don’t think he was one of the original pack that is often writtten about but I can’t seem to find any information about him that pertains to his contributions at Disney. Any ideas?
J.B. Kaufman responded:
I don’t have much of anything on Charles Byrne at the Disney studio, but here are some animation credits for him. These are all from 1930-32, and may very well be incomplete. Byrne was evidently one of the junior animators at this point, sometimes part of the junior crews assigned to Ben Sharpsteen, and he tended to get isolated scenes:Arctic Antics (assisting Wilfred Jackson)
The Chain Gang (cow plays pick)
The Gorilla Mystery (Mickey and the duck)
(Mike Barrier has him in The Picnic animating some of Rover (the formative Pluto)
Pioneer Days (Indian runs into woods with Minnie; Mickey follows)
The Castaway (seagulls)
The Delivery Boy (CU of Minnie playing)
The Busy Beavers (LS beavers run for cover)
Mickey Steps Out (Pluto chases cat under the bed)
The Cat’s Nightmare (cat through knothole in fence)
Egyptian Melodies (opening LS: palm trees in the wind)
The Clock Store (mechanical Dutch windmill clock)
The Barnyard Broadcast
The Spider and the Fly (flies carry and fire Flit gun)
The Beach Party
King Neptune (pirates run up mast)Then I lose him. Your correspondent says he was in the story department, and this may be where he stopped animating and went to that department, although I don’t seem to have anything on him there. Then, for some reason, I pick him up in 1937, animating again in Woodland Cafe (dancing snails, grasshoppers, and beetle couple). At any rate, the draft says “Byrne”; maybe this was a different Byrne. I hope this is some helpIf you’re thinking about posting this exchange, I should clarify something that could lead to a misunderstanding. I made a reference to a 1931 cartoon called The Cat’s Nightmare. This is the film that appears in most filmographies as The Cat’s Out. When Russell and I were working on the Silly Symphony book, we found that The Cat’s Out was the working title, and the company still has a vault print carrying that title, but after that the weight of evidence points to The Cat’s Nightmare. As you know, it was copyrighted as The Cat’s Nightmare, and we found that Columbia distribution correspondence invariably referred to it by that title — suggesting that that was the title that appeared onscreen in theatrical showings. In the company’s TV index, the card for that cartoon has Out crossed out and Nightmare substituted. So we went with Nightmare, and that’s the title I automatically come up with.
I asked JB about his forthcoming SILLY SYMPHONIES book. Where is it? Who’s publishing it? His reply:
The Silly Symphony book, thanks for asking, is — as we’ve been saying for many years now — almost finished. I don’t entirely know why, but this one has had a much more difficult journey than Walt in Wonderland. At any rate, although I can’t swear to it, I think we’re in the final stages now and the book should be out in October. Like the other one, it’s to be launched at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Italy. (Of course the Symphonies are sound films, but the book is published by the same people who run the festival and who published Walt in Wonderland, and we’re making the point that the Symphonies extended the aesthetic of silent films — images combined with music — clear through the 1930s.) If there are further changes in the plan, I’ll keep you posted.
Despite my best efforts, I didn’t meet my goal of shipping out every order of ANIMATION BLAST #9 last week. I also wasn’t prepared for the massive amount of new orders that have poured in over the last few days and which haven’t made things easier, though I’m certainly not complaining about getting more orders. The good news is that I’d estimate 65-70% of the BLAST 9 orders have been shipped so far and the rest are being shipped this week. Please be patient as your issues may take a while to arrive. If you have any questions about your order or want to give a change of address, please contact me at amid (at) animationblast (dot) com.
Coming up later this year from McFarland & Company Publishers is a new book which examines 1960s cartoons from the perspective of the Vietnam War. Unlike the 1940s (or today for that matter) I don’t recall many animated films (commercial or independent) that even came close to reflecting the war in Vietnam. There were several that focused on the hippie movement (MARVIN DIGS, HURTS AND FLOWERS, et al.), but there was certainly nothing on Saturday morning or in feature length productions.Racking my brain, only two theatrical war-themed cartoons come to mind (not counting the ongoing war between Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales): The Pink Panther in PINK PANZER (1965) has a war overtone with the Panther’s escalating battle against his neighbor, an ultra-miltaristic Little Man; and Warner Bros. release of Ken Mundie’s independent anti-war short, THE DOOR (1967) (1968′s G.I. PINK has the Panther being drafted into the Army, but it’s as topical of the war as an episode of Gomer Pyle USMC). I welcome the opportunity to be reminded of other cartoons of the era which reflected the actual Vietnam conflict.I look forward to reading what Lehman has to say. According to this interview with the author:
Lehman says: “Cartoons of the Vietnam Era were political and reflected their times. They were more subtle in the message that the films of the World War II but political nonetheless.” During his book research Lehman notices that cartoons changed to violent when the U.S. aimed for military victory in Vietnam and they became nonviolent when the goal shifted to military withdrawal.
American Animated Cartoons of the Vietnam Era: A study of social commentary in films and television programs, 1961-1973 will be published in November. Lehman is currently working on his second book The Colored Cartoon which will focus on African American cartoon characters of animation’s first 50 years. A 2001 article by Lehman (from the Journal of Popular Film and Television, Summer 2001) discussing Black Animated Images of 1946 is worth a read.
The opening titles for the PBS series MYSTERY! were based on the artwork of Edward Gorey. It’s a quite successful adaptation of his illustration style to animation, though Gorey himself had little involvement in the piece. It was directed by Derek Lamb, who also directed the SESAME STREET “I Get Mad” piece which I posted a couple days ago. Lamb, who passed away in 2005, discussed his experience creating the MSYTERY! piece in this AWN article.
ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE has just published an informative piece by historian Jim Korkis about Disney’s short-lived (and rarely discussed) TV commercial unit during the 1950s. I’d love to see a collection of these spots on a future Disney Treasures dvd set. The spots were generally well produced and they deserve to be more widely available. Not to mention that Tom Oreb created an extraordinary amount of great designs for these commercials, like the Pegleg-less Pete Cat model above.
“Everybody needs to draw Mickey once.” So says Keitai from the Netherlands, who hosts the everybodyneeds2drawmickeyonce.com website, and is encouraging everyone to draw their version of the mouse and send it in for posting. So far she’s recieved dozens of fun entries from the likes of Oscar Grillo and Eric Weise (above) – all Mickey’s recieved to date are collected here. You can even vote for your favorite. No prizes, but it’s a hoot. Check it out – or better yet, contribute.
Here’s a classic mid-70s SESAME STREET spot directed and designed by Derek Lamb and animated by esteemed cartoon historian and this year’s animated short Oscar winner John Canemaker. The cartoon teaches kids that it’s quite alright not being able to keep your emotions in check and getting angry all the time. Why can’t today’s children’s cartoon teach such great lessons?