August 29, 2014 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #177


Maurice Noble and Fresh Ideas. In a 1992 interview, animation designer Maurice Noble said, “Whatever I worked on, I tried to give freshness and make as eye-appealing as possible. Always, in the back of my mind, were the fundamentals of composition and color. I believe that the use of happy, bright colors psychologically effect people. Therefore, my palette is always ‘high-keyed’.

“For each cartoon, I tried to step into the picture, look around, see what was going to work, and discover, in a sense, the flavor of that particular production. Something which, in a subtle way, was a theme that ran through the whole thing. Then I’d go from there. Sometimes there would be three or four possible ways to go. I’d finally choose one and work from that standpoint. You get a concept and you build on it. One doesn’t introduce material that is inappropriate just because it’s fun to look at.

“One time (Director) Friz Freleng made an unexpected appearance at the door of my office, look around at the unusual concept sketches and paintings on the wall (for “What’s Opera, Doc?” 1957) and muttered ‘What the Hell?’ and then just left. He seemed a little overwhelmed but I think he came to appreciate it. I can still see his face. He’s just like Yosemite Sam, you know.”

Clampett’s Co-Director. Why was Norm McCabe listed as co-director with Bob Clampett on two 1941 Warner Brothers cartoon shorts, “The Timid Toreador” and “Porky’s Snooze Reel”? McCabe stated in 1992, “Well, if you want to know, Clampett got sick and was out of work for a week or two and I finished the story. We were working on more than one story at a time. We were constantly juggling things back then. It would take several months for one cartoon to go from initial idea to completed product. Since I had worked with Bob for so long (as an animator), they let me finish the story. We (the directors) did all our own layouts in those early days. We worked at the recording sessions and handed out the jobs to the animators. It was really a lot of fun.”

Virgil Ross on Friz Freleng. In 1933 1993, animator Virgil Ross remembered, “Friz (Freleng) typed me as a ‘personality man’ almost right away. My specialty was animating subtle actions like the way a character talked or moved his hands. Friz was an excellent director and quite definite about what he wanted and didn’t want. This could sometimes cause friction.

“(On Freleng’s 1946 “Rhapsody Rabbit” where Bugs plays classical piano), I play honky tonk piano but I did try to approximate where Bugs’ hand should land while playing. People have told me that this send up of classical pianists is right on the money.”

Singing in a Warners Cartoon. Voice artist Stan Freberg performed a variety of memorable voices for Warner Brothers cartoons. In a 1993 interview, he remarked that after a day walking through the storyboards, the next day “we’d be in a different building on the actual Warners lot and we’d utilize whichever set had a boom microphone in position. If we had a song to sing, Treg Brown (film editor and sound effects wizard) would be at the piano giving us the starting pitch, and a click track was provided. We’d have to sing the song acappella, and the orchestral accompaniment would be added later. We never performed directly with that wonderful seventy piece orchestra (that Warners used to score the cartoons).”

walter_lantzThe Lantz Extended Family. Walter Lantz in 1992 said, “I never thought Woody Woodpecker would still be popular over fifty years later. It’s amazing! When I think of all the nitrate cels we buried in the desert and the set-ups our office staff made and sent out in respect to fan mail, it’s kind of funny now.

“When I think about the old days, Lantz was the only studio that never had a strike. We were more of a family. I never had a favorite animator or director. I loved them all. We all worked together so well. I never had contracts with anybody. The ones who are still around stay in contact with me. We were close then and are still close today.”

Culhane at Disney. Animator Shamus Culhane took less than a third of what he had been making as an animator and director working for Van Beuren Studio in order to join the Disney Studio. When several of Ben Sharpsteen’s senior animators were pulled to work on “Snow White” (1937), Culhane was given the opportunity to animate the sequence of Pluto and a crab in the short “Hawaiian Holiday” (1937).

Realizing the importance of the assignment to his future, Culhane put in extra time and roughed out the animation in time to the music and ran it on the big screen for Sharpsteen. However, it was run without the music so the animation looked shaky and jerky. Sharpsteen hit the roof.

It was arranged to re-run the animation with the music and suddenly the movement hit every beat. Sharpsteen and Walt Disney himself approved the sequence with no changes.

Another two months was spent on the scene because it continued to be expanded. Culhane got a raise of $100 a week and when the picture was completed, he received a bonus of several thousand dollars. Culhane was even assigned to “Snow White” where he worked for six months on the scene of the Seven Dwarfs marching to work singing “Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho”.

BlockheadsThe Blockheads. The Blockheads in “The Adventures of Gumby” series are human like, red-colored figures with block-shaped heads, who wreak mischief and havoc at all times. There are 26 blockheads, each having a certain letter of the alphabet on both sides of their heads. The two most featured blockheads are Blockhead G and Blockhead J, who cause Gumby some trouble.

“The Blockheads evolved because I was fascinated with the Katzenjammer Kids. I would read them in the Detroit Free Press Sunday Edition,” said Gumby creator Art Clokey in 1993. “The Blockheads (who don’t talk) were more or less born from that and reflect the love I have for silent pictures. I was brought up on Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplain, Harold Lloyd, all the silent masters. I thought that it was an art form that could be revived if we got a person who knew how to get laughs visually, because movies are a visual medium, and those comedies were perfectly adequate. They didn’t need dialogue.”


  • “Virgil Ross on Friz Freleng. In 1933, animator Virgil Ross remembered, “Friz (Freleng) typed me as a ‘personality man’”
    Excuse me, but weren’t VR and FF merely young dudes just learning the ropes in 1933?
    Whatever the year of VR’s reminiscences was, it was most definitely NOT 1933.

    • A typo no doubt. It shall be corrected.

    • Yes, that was supposed to be 1993….in an interview from 1993.

  • It’s great to see Animation Anecdotes back! I’ve missed them.
    I especially like the lengthier write-ups, too. Sounds like Lance got what the other Walter always wanted.

  • As with being slower to move over to Avery-style humor in the 1930s, Friz’s unit was definitely slower than the Jones unit to adapt to more pleasing UPA-inspired designs in the mid-1950s. Noble would have been working on the “What’s Opera, Doc?” layouts just about the time the Freleng unit was emerging from their post-reopening preference for giving all the secondary characters giant pillbox heads while trying to move into more abstract designs.

    That would change in the ensuing years (and the designs Friz used on the first Pink Panther short would win him an Oscar), but in 1956, you could see where the “What the Hell?” remark was coming from.

    • Noble would have been working on the “What’s Opera, Doc?” layouts just about the time the Freleng unit was emerging from their post-reopening preference for giving all the secondary characters giant pillbox heads while trying to move into more abstract designs.

      It was a little odd noticing Granny drawn that way I recall.

  • Either Walt’s memory was playing tricks, or someone lied when Variety reported in 1953 that Lantz signed Tex Avery to a 20-year contract.

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