Charlie Chaplin and Walter Lantz. Actor Charlie Chaplin was an influence on Walt Disney but also on Walter Lantz. Lantz told an interviewer: “What I used to do was project Chaplin’s films on paper and then trace them. When you flipped the paper you really had a full action movie. That’s how I really learned to make a character move and all the possibilities there were in making these drawings. His actions were so broad; they made great animation. His humor was very broad, too, very much like we would use in an animated cartoon…throwing pies, dumping kegs of water of people, shooting them with dynamite, all that kind of stuff.”
Lantz’s Oscar. “The Woody Woodpecker Song” was nominated for an Academy Award in 1948 and lost out to “Buttons and Bows” from the Bob Hope film “The Paleface” (1948). Kay Kyser’s cover recording of the song was a huge hit single. In 1979, comedian Robin Williams presented a special Oscar to Walter Lantz at the 51st Academy Awards for “bringing joy and laughter to every part of the world through his unique animated motion pictures”. An animated Woody Woodpecker, animated by Virgil Ross, appeared on screen to share the honor and thank Lantz.
The Marvel Superheroes Have Arrived. In 1954, Robert Lawrence, a producer of television commercials who also imported Italian films to be distributed to the American market, joined with two animators, Grant Simmons and Ray Patterson to form Grantray-Lawrence and the company in the 1960s made a deal to do an animated series entitled The Marvel Superheroes featuring the Marvel comic book characters Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner.
Instead of traditional animation, the studio used an unusual method that entailed using offset copies of the original artwork from the comic books, whiting out word balloons and captions, changing backgrounds and adding in necessary parts like hands or heads that were cut off in the original panel. Then, the animation consisted of jiggling the image or having the camera zoom in and out or pan quickly while some individual element like Captain America’s mighty shield was thrown.
“One of the secrets of Marvel’s success is its ability to draw action right into its panels. Marvel’s art is like no other penciling in comics, because its artists and production understand the principle of arrested motion,” stated Lawrence in 1966. “Iron Man doesn’t just stand there. He tenses or relaxes or jumps or recoils. The characters don’t actually move, and yet their actions seem to flow, catching the read up in a current of activity. Since we wanted to retain this flow for our film, we decided to let their artists carry the ball—and the viewer—just as they do their own readers.”
“We were fortunate to have such fantastic art to work with,” claimed Ray Patterson in 1966. “In blowing up these drawings to 18 by 14 in order to do touch ups on them, we found very little that our artists had to tinker with. Let’s face it, the comic book created the illusion of action very successfully. We merely helped it along a little. Reading a (Jack) Kirby story is like looking at 3-D without special glasses.”
Grantray-Lawrence produced 195 six minute cartoons (packaged as three inter-related cliff hanging segments for a half hour show at a budget of $15,000-$20,000 per half hour).
Creating Harley Quinn. For Batman: The Animated Series, writer Paul Dini created a memorable female companion for Batman’s nemesis The Joker. At the time, he explained his thought process: “Harley was created as a secondary character for a show called ‘Joker’s Favor’ (September 11th, 1992). I needed a girl to wheel in a cake in one scene (and even considered Joker in a disguise for that role). What if we do a twist harkening back to the 1960s where the villain always had a girl with him? The Joker is a pretty colorful personality. He probably would have a girl or two around. A couple of girls who are into him the way a girl would be into a rock star, leading that kind of exciting life.
“I decided to make her kind of funny. Kind of a clown in her own right. Somebody whom the Joker might get upset with if she got a better laugh than he did. I started thinking of it as a sort of Punch-and-Judy sort of relationship. I was sort of stuck for a name. Somehow Harley Quinn stuck because I was thinking of clowns, clown-like imagery and carnivals. I started a little design of her. It looked nothing like the character looks now. In fact, it looked like a caricature of Arleen Sorkin, my good friend who plays Harley on the show and whom I wanted to do the voice. I showed it to Bruce (Timm) and he said, ‘It looks like a 1960s go-go girl and it looks like your friend’. Very soon, he came up with the gal we have here for which we’re all eternally grateful.”
Shere Khan and Scar. Animator Andreas Deja was a huge fan of Disney Legend Milt Kahl and especially his work on the tiger Shere Khan in the animated feature “The Jungle Book” (1967) and it influenced Deja’s work on Scar in “The Lion King” (1994). “There was a big danger for me to take what Milt had done and just build everything around that. I had studied Milt’s work and the tiger my whole life, and knew a lot about what he put into it and how he would move this large cat around. But I thought, ‘I cannot do that’. It would look like someone put a wig on Shere Khan and called it a lion. It’s not a question of doing what the old guys did and moving a dog exactly like they did in ‘Lady and the Tramp’. It’s just the degree of excellence that you’re always after. Some animators are less bothered by that and others (laughs) like me are driven crazy by it!”