Dressing Up As Classic Disney Animators

Disney Animator Costumes

Trevor Hutchison and Shane McCarthy were invited to a Disney-themed costume party recently, and instead of dressing up as a cartoon character, they went as “Disney Animators from the Golden Era of Animation.” They even made vintage Disney ID cards and animation drawings to complete the effect, and they certainly wouldn’t look out of place working at the Hyperion studio. Details on Trevor’s blog.

Mighty Mouse on again at Paramount

This isn’t really new news; we’ve posted about this in 2004 and 2006. But once again, the LA Times is reporting that Mighty Mouse is back in development as a feature film at Paramount.

The Times article has no new details other than the fact the film is being fast-tracked and they are seeking a new writer and director.

I initiated development of a Mighty Mouse movie when I worked for Nickelodeon Movies as an animation VP in 1995. I’ve been trying to get Viacom to do something… anything… with its Terrytoon properties for years. I’ve had development deals for Tom Terrific at Nick Jr. and Heckle & Jeckle at MTV. My pilot, Hornswiggle, was one result of these efforts (the cartoon was pitched and developed as a revival of Sick Sick Sidney). The Bakshi Mighty Mouse DVD last January was another by-product of my years of lobbying for these characters.

The grosses for feature cartoon hybrids (particularly pre-sold revivals like Alvin, Scooby Doo, etc.), and perhaps some visibility from the Bakshi-Mighty dvd, may have finally awakened Paramount to this classic studio “asset”. I hope it works this time. I hope they make a good movie. My only goal now is to use this opportunity to unearth the library of classic cartoons – and get them back out for the public to see.

Warner Bros. Animators ID

Cartoon Research continues….

Earlier this week we posted about a vintage Leon Schlesinger studio program for a Christmas play starring animator Harold Soldinger. Shortly after that post, I received an email from Soldinger’s son Steven. He’s been trying to communicate with people who knew his father, and I put him in touch with Martha Sigall.

Steven sent Martha a vintage photo (below left, which he obtained from the indispensable Michael Barrier) of his dad with some the Looney Tunes artists at a Christmas party and asked her to identify anyone she could. Steven and Martha have allowed me to share this pic with our cartoon-loving readership. Click thumbnails below to see photos at full size. Martha says:

“The people in the picture with the Christmas tree are left top row: Harold Soldinger, Warren Batchelder. The fellow he has his arms around, I don’t know. And, left of him is Bob Matz. Right of him is Fred Jones. Then, Herman Cohen. Leaning on Herman is Paul Smith. Mike Maltese has the paper hat and beard. Next to him is Lloyd Vaughn and Lee Halpern. I don’t know the fellow who is playing the priest.”

UPDATE: Additional identification has been confirmed. Top row, Harold Soldinger, Les Larson (the priest), Mike Maltese, Paul Smith (bending over), Lloyd Vaughan, Lee Halpern.
Bottom row; Warren Batchelder, Chuck McKimson, Bob Matz, Fred Jones, Herman Cohen. The photo was taken in 1938.

Crawford by Chuck Jones

Did you know Chuck Jones drew a daily comic strip in 1976 and 1977? The strip concerned the musings of two children, not unlike Jones’ animated character Ralph Phillips (and his friend, as seen in The Adventures of the Road Runner featurette). I used to clip the Sunday Crawford strips (sometimes titled Crawford and Morgan) each week from the New York Daily News. But my collection is far from complete.

Collector Kurtis Findlay is currently compiling these strips and locating a publisher for them. But he’s asking me if I think there is enough interest in a bound, complete collection. I, for one, am very interested. Though Crawford is part of Chuck’s later psyche, and appeals more to the intellect than the funny bone, its significant for understanding the man and where he was at this time. That’s of interest to me – but is it to you? Is this a comic strip worth collecting in permanent form?

Introducing “The Modern Art of Gene Deitch”

Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat

Welcome to our very special film series “The Modern Art of Gene Deitch.” Over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting some of the rarest and most obscure modern shorts by animation legend Gene Deitch. To kick off the series, we’re starting with what is arguably his rarest film: Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat, a short that he created at the renowned mid-century animation studio UPA (United Productions of America). Lost for over half a century and only discovered last December, this film has never been publicly exhibited. Nearly sixty years later, we’re delighted and honored to present the world premiere of the film. Click over to Cartoon Brew TV to watch Gene Deitch’s Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat.

Cartoon Brew TV #22: Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat (1953)

Welcome to the first entry in our very special series “The Modern Art of Gene Deitch.” Over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting some of the rarest and most obscure modern shorts by animation legend Gene Deitch. To kick off the series, we’re starting with what is arguably his rarest film: Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat. It is a film that Deitch spent over half a century attempting to track down and it was discovered only last December following this post on Cartoon Brew. The film marks his first directorial effort at United Productions of America (UPA), the modernist animation studio that defined the look of mid-century cartoon animation.

We’re going to hand the floor over to Gene now and and let him tell everybody the story of how this film came to be. If you have any questions or comments for Gene, please share them in the comments.

Gene Deitch
February 2010

In June 1949 I left my dream job as Bobe Cannon’s Production Designer at UPA Burbank, to take up an offer to become a director at the Jam Handy Organization in Detroit. It was a risky career move, but it worked out, as I managed to prove myself enough in two years as a director at JHO to induce Steve Bosustow to fly to Detroit and make me an offer I couldn’t refuse: if I would go to New York as a member of the founding group of the planned UPA/Manhattan studio, in the temporary function as studio Production Designer, I would be in line to become a director within one year. Steve tried to explain to me that the condition was necessary because he had somehow committed the position of director to Abe Liss, but he regarded it as “temporary.” As things developed in New York, there was a great tension between Abe and Steve. I never found out what it was, but in a matter of months, Abe left UPA and I was in fact named Creative Director of the studio. I was not happy about the circumstances, as being so set-up, but I was of course delighted that my early Hollywood dreams of become a UPA director had come true. All this is just to emphasize how eager I was to prove myself, and I put everything I had into that goal.

I very soon won twice the New York Art Directors Club Gold Medal for my Steinberg Jell-O commercials, and soon had a chance to make my first UPA entertainment short. It was a custom production order from the Kagran Corporation, the owner of the hot daily NBC-TV show Howdy Doody. In 1953 we were commissioned to make a low-budget pilot film for a proposed Howdy Doody animation series.

The catch to this opportunity was that all of us bright young hotshot UPA stars absolutely hated the Howdy Doody show, and felt that the puppet itself was gross–a ten on a kitsch scale of one to ten. We determined to “improve” the Howdy Doody character to the level of our hallowed UPA design standard. After all, we were already the toast of New York animation, raking in the prizes and publicity. We simply couldn’t lower ourselves to something so crude, even if the client was paying us to do just that. So we just blithely went ahead with transforming Howdy Doody in our own image.

Unfortunately, this God-like endeavor went down in flames. Kagran paid for the film, but “Buffalo Bob” Smith, Howdy Doody’s Daddy, hated what we had wrought, and ordered the negative destroyed. Our little pride and joy experiment was never shown publicly, and was never properly listed on the International Motion Picture Database. In plain language, it simply did not exist.

A 16mm print did exist. I had managed to liberate it when I left UPA. The heavens still punished me when this “one and only existing print” vanished without a trace in an international shipment. I spent the next fifty years–a full half-century–in a fervid but fruitless effort to track down another print. Not that this little film was any kind of a marvel, but simply because it was the very first film to bear the screen credit, “Directed by Gene Deitch,” and thus personally important in my own history. Further, it was a pretty good example of early 1950s animation thinking. The actual film was animated in a very low-budget paper cutout technique with a few camera effects.

Above all, at this late date, I would like to recognize my great departed collaborators on this long ago effort: the budding genius animator, Duane Crowther; the brilliant and not nearly enough appreciated graphic designer, Cliff Roberts, who I had discovered in Detroit; Bill Bernal, my closest friend and collaborator to the end of his life, who co-authored the folk-based story with me; and the brilliant avant composer, Serge Hovey, who I never saw again. All of those great people are gone but are strongly in my memory. The only other survivor of the creative team that made this little film, aside from myself, is Ken Drake, who rode shotgun on our studio Acme animation camera. Ken and I are still in daily email contact. He too will have his memory shaken when he sees the film today!

No one else has ever seen it before. Now, whoever is interested will be able to view it and make whatever judgement as to its place in the animation history scheme. Now, fifty-seven years after it was made, a miracle has happened, and you can have your chance to judge whether this long search made sense. After all this time, due to the relentless efforts of Jerry Beck, never to allow an animation discovery to elude him, and because he is such a loyal fan, a reasonably well-preserved 35mm print has been located in the deepest and darkest archives of the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington. D.C. So that’s it. Does this film show anything ahead of its time, or should it be allowed to rest in peace? Take a look.

(Our thanks to Dave Gibson for his detective work at the Library of Congress, and Ondřej Muška for his restoration work on the print)

101 Yeahs by Ryan Junell and Phillip Niemeyer

A masterpiece of timing and movement in four letters, 101 Yeahs is directed and animated by Ryan Junell and Phillip Niemeyer. The shocker: discovering that it’s created under-camera. Filmmakers say, “Dirty and old school. Stop motion animation of letters of four sizes silkscreened on transparency. The letters are backlit by a lightboard.” The proof is on Flicker.

(via Motionographer)

Help Pres Romanillos

Pres Romanillos

Animation veteran Pres Romanillos (Shan-Yu in Mulan, Little Creek in Spirit, Prince Naveen in Princess and the Frog) is currently awaiting a bone marrow transplant for a relapse of leukemia. Industry friends are organizing both a live art auction in LA and an online auction at Pres-Aid.com. They’ve also started a Facebook page to keep folks posted on the plans.

Our friend, animation journalist and FPS magazine founder Emru Townsend, lost his battle against leukemia a couple years ago and he had a lot of difficulty finding a donor. His website HealEmru.com remains a solid resource for learning how easy it is to become a bone marrow donor.

The animation industry may grow over time, but the community remains smaller than one might think. Case in point: last weekend at MoCCA, I chatted with Pres’s nephew Aleth, who can draw his ass off by the way, and I’d never known they were related until now. Whether you choose to support the auction, become a bone marrow donor, or send well wishes his way, in a tight-knit community like ours, it makes a real difference when we pull together to help each other out. And thankfully, we always do.

UPDATE: Pres Romanillos passed away on July 17, 2010 from leukemia. More information can be found here.

Ruby-Spears and Sid and Marty Krofft Team Up

Jack Kirby

Pray for animation, these are scary times. The animation industry has been experiencing a nasty relapse into the crumminess of decades past. First, there was the news that Hasbro is launching its own toy-driven animation network and recruiting talented artists like Lauren Faust to shill My Little Ponies. As if that wasn’t depressing enough, now comes the news that shlock producers Joe Ruby, Ken Spears, and Sid and Marty Krofft have teamed up to develop new projects using characters that Jack Kirby created or developed in the eighties.

According to the NY Times, the combined stroke of genius of these four geriatric gents was to drive to their storage unit and pull out boxes of Kirby’s artwork. The Times doesn’t bother to ask why, if these ideas are so brilliant, none of them ever managed to get off the ground when Kirby first developed them twenty-five years ago. The quartet has somehow convinced Ari Emanuel of William Morris Endeavor to rep them and help turn these ideas into animated shows, live-action movies, comics and videogames. The ideas include:

“Roxie’s Raiders,” an Indiana Jones-style serial about a female adventurer and her allies; “Golden Shield,” about an ancient Mayan hero seeking to save earth in the apocalyptic year 2012; and “The Gargoids,” about scientists who gain superpowers after being infected by an alien virus.

The NY Times website offers a slideshow of Kirby’s development artwork. My humble suggestion to Ari would be to hook up Ruby-Spears and the Kroffts with these guys. They appear to share the same aesthetic sensibilities, and who knows, maybe they can even get Sean Connery to do a voice.

Music Box with a Secret

Make sure you’re sitting down and buckled up for this one because it’s going to take you for a ride. Music Box with a Secret is an unbelievable creative trip that hails from mid-seventies Russia. Director Valery Ugarov (1941-2007) utilizes a pastiche of sixties and seventies styles and artists as diverse as Heinz Edelmann and Yellow Sub, psychedelia, Seymour Chwast, and Victorian revival, and transforms it into an utterly unique and beautifully animated experience. The synth and electro-soundtrack adds a lot and is an inspired solution to a film about music boxes.

(Thanks, Animatsiya in English)

Neighbors from Hell

An unfunny preview of Neighbors from Hell, the first original animated series created for TBS, which also became the new home of Conan O’Brien today. The show centers around “the Hellmans, a typical, all-American suburban family. . .the only thing that distinguishes them from the rest of the folks in the neighborhood is that the Hellmans happen to be from Hell.” According to this site, numerous parties are involved in its production including Fox TV Animation, DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and executive-producers Pam Brady (South Park) and Mireille Soria (Madagascar). One of the show’s writers is Kyle McCulloch, a veteran of South Park and creator of Icebox’s Mr. Wong (remember that?). Vancouver-based Bardel Entertainment is providing the animation for the first season of ten episodes which will premiere in June.

“Sir Billi”

In a effort to be less negative, and a bit more postive, I hereby post the following image from the upcoming feature film Sir Billi without editorial comment:

So what do you think? Sir Billi is a new animated feature film starring the voice of Sean Connery. The movie centers on a “retired, skateboarding veterinarian who lives in a remote Scottish village and who spearheads the rescue of an illegal fugitive who also happens to be a beaver.” A complete plot synopsis is posted at Collider.com. Connery is a producer on the film. It’s Scotland’s first full-length animated feature, Sascha Hartmann is directing Sir Billi from a screenplay written by his wife Tessa. The film is scheduled for release later this year. Here’s a video of Connery comparing the film to Ice Age and why he turned down doing voice over for Disney.

(Thanks, Mukpddy)

Scott Kravitz

Saturday night I attended a reception at the Cella Gallery in North Hollywood, which is currently featuring sets and puppets from Scott Kravitz’ award winning stop-motion short Loom. Kravitz has worked on various commercial stop-mo and CGI projects in L.A., Portland and San Francisco, from Robot Chicken and The P.J’s to the feature length Garfield and Scooby Doo movies. He even had a hand in the excellent closing credits animation in Madagascar 2. He animated the latter half of this outstanding United Airlines commercial (below, directed by Jamie Caliri), which won an Annie Award last year.

More Van Eaton Goodies

Mike Van Eaton comes up with animation odds and ends all the time. I have no purpose in posting these except that I find them fascinating and I know there are at least twelve of you out there who might find these equally interesting. Click the thumbnails below to examine them at large size. The first one (below left) is some sort of Christmas card to Ub Iwerks from his staff (note signatures from Irv Spence, Lou Zukor, Brad Case, Jerry Hathcock and what I assume are ink & paint staff). The next item is the cover (below center) and program interior (below right) for the Schlesinger studio’s Sketch Pad Varieties, written by Chuck Jones and starring several familiar staffers. This was the “second annual revue” – I wonder how many of these they performed? And wouldn’t it be cool to find Jones’ script for this play?

The Sunday Funnies (4/11/10)

This week, from the top: Bizarro (4/8) by Dan Piaro, Reality Check (4/8) by Dave Whamond, Quigmans (4/6) by Buddy Hickerson, The Argyle Sweater (4/4) by Scott Hilburn, Mother Goose and Grimm (4/8) by Mike Peters, Willy & Ethel (4/6) by Joe Martin; Girls and Sports (4/6) by Justin Borus and Andrew Feinstein.

(Thanks, Jim Lahue, Uncle Wayne, John Hall and Charles Brubaker)

Tom Ray 1919-2010

The Animation Guild is reporting the passing of animator Tom Ray.

Ray started at Warner Bros. in 1937 and worked for MGM after WWII in the Hanna-Barbera Tom & Jerry unit. He assisted at John Sutherland’s studio and UPA in the fifties, finally earning animation credit on several Robert McKimson and Chuck Jones cartoons in the late 50s and early 60s. He shared co-director credit on several Chuck Jones films, including episodes of The Bugs Bunny Show, and The Adventures of The Road Runner featurette. His later credits include animation on Pink Panther shorts, Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, Chuck Jones TV Specials, numerous Filmation and Hanna Barbera series, Tiny Toons and Animaniacs – and directed many episodes of various series including Transformers and Garfield.


The MoCCA Art Fest takes places this Saturday (11am-6pm) and Sunday (10:30am-6pm) at the 69th Regiment Armory (68 Lexington Avenue at 25th St). Your favorite surly Brewmaster will be there hawking back issues of Animation Blast (dirt cheap, I promise) as well as a few of my books (cheaper than Amazon). Drop by and say hello at the Meathaus table (A-11) which I’ll be sharing with animation pals Chris McDonnell and Celia Bullwinkel. Other Brew readers who are exhibiting, please let us know in the comments where you’ll be located. More details on the MoCCA website.

“Modern Art of Gene Deitch” Coming To Cartoon Brew TV

Howdy Doody and His Magic Hat

Beginning next week, join us at Cartoon Brew TV for a special film series celebrating the “Modern Art of Gene Deitch.” If you think you’re familiar with the animated works of the legendary Gene Deitch, think again. We’ve been collaborating with the master himself to dig out his rarest and most obscure modernist shorts. We even found one film that Gene hadn’t seen in fifty-five years! Many of the films in our line-up are industrial and educational shorts which were never intended to last more than a few years, much less into the 21st century. But the artistry and craftsmanship that Gene and his crew put into the films have given them a far longer shelf-life than anybody anticipated–and soon audiences will be enjoying them again.