January 17, 2014 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #145

woody-sheet-musicCharlie 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.

hulk200Instead 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.”

ironman200“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).

harley-quinnCreating 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!”


  • The Marvel Superheroes Have Arrived- You list the year as 1954. Should it be 1964? Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man weren’t created until the early 60s.

    • Jim is correct in dating 1954 as the year GrantRay Lawrence was formed. It was 12 years later that they produced the Marvel Super Hero cartoons.

  • Woody Woodpecker also appeared at the 1991 Academy Awards ceremony, presenting Best Animated Short with Chevy Chase and Martin Short – Creature Comforts was that year’s winner:

  • It’s worth noting that Kirby, Ditko, Colan, and Heck received zero money from The Marvel Superheroes – only Stan Lee, which was one of the reasons why Kirby moved to DC. Regardless of budget, that cartoon was more faithful to the original material than anything produced since. I wish someone would dig up the music library they used, because like the animation it is wonderful.

  • I remember seeing Woody on the 1979 Awards broadcast and wondering how they did it. I couldn’t help but notice that his 1991 Oscar appearance (in honor of his 50th birthday) was a nod to his 1940’s persona, when the character was in his prime.

  • The 1979 Woody Woodpecker Oscar appearance came about when Filmation won a bidding war with the lowest animation quote, as Walter Lantz no longer ran an animation studio in late 1978. Filmation then hired legendary animator Virgil Ross, who was familiar with the character, to come in as a freelancer and animate the brief custom scripted spot. Walter Lantz actually made at least one appearance at Filmation, wearing a sky-blue velour jump suit (I saw him there) to review Virgil’s pencil animation on the then still new Lyon-Lamb video pencil test system. Lantz was enthused that such technology finally existed. He remarked that it would be a great boon to the industry and save a lot of money. Virgil, no fan of office building air conditioning systems, asked Filmation to turn down his air conditioning, which they could not do. So he built, all by himself, a little house entirely from Filmation scene folders, complete with hinged door and roof, sealing himself from the constant air cold air blast directly over his desk. He managed to do all that and still hit his deadline, pro that he was.

    The Woody Woodpecker Oscar spot presented technical problems, as Woody was painted blue and blue was then the color of choice for Chroma Keying, which was the way the telecast was to present the footage, with the woodpecker speaking on stage alongside Lantz and a celebrity presenter. Because Woody was blue Filmation had to use black as the neutral background color, which they shot on a 16 field setup, so that the animation would look better. There were also more than the usual problems eliminating dust, due to the large area of black but finally the shot was in the can and ready. It would have all come off wonderfully but for one unexpected element – the celebrity presenter that night on live television was Robin Williams and he started things off not by following the TelePrompter but by ad-libbing all over the place, throwing a befuddled Walter Lantz completely off. Lantz tried to recover a few seconds later but by then the animated, ChromaKeyed Woody Woodpecker had begun talking, running all over Lantz’s scripted lines and Williams’ interminable ad-libs. The whole thing came off as peculiar and has not turned up anywhere since its one airing.

    The only other memorable major animation footage snafu during a live Oscar telecast animation happened in the late 1980s, when Mickey and/or Minnie Mouse sat down in what was supposed to be an empty front row seat, which was filled by a human chair filler who apparently didn’t get the memo. That clip hasn’t resurfaced anywhere, either. The L.A. Times even ran a fluff piece the following day raving about how flawlessly Disney had pulled the cartoon and live Mickey bit off, with no mention of what actually took place.

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