Thursday, November 02, 2006

Color Theory- Art Lozzi - Interview - Early Days At Hanna Barbera

From Art Lozzi:

Hi, John,

I'm impressed, not to say flabbergasted. OK, I'm flabbergasted.
You're right - I was never consciously aware of how different my background colors were from the others, but my message here is to stress my own admiration of YOU, that you would notice and comment on them. I'd call that super aware and sensitive. I applaud you. Some time ago I was emailed a page from AWM where you mentioned me in the same sentence as Ed Benedict and Walt Clinton and used words like "absolutely amazing, more subtle, more harmonious colors". Very lofty heights! Thanks. And while I'm on the topic, let me say that I really, truly praise what you, yourself, are doing. Happy continuation!

Here's the beginning of a series of interviews with early Hanna Barbera color stylist and BG painter, Art Lozzi:
Hanna Barbera Beginnings-limited animation
We were at the first studio of theirs, the Charlie Chaplin Studio on LaBrea. Bill Hanna had me installed at Disney's after my short time with them at MGM, telling me that he and Joe were planning their own studio, a first of its kind, doing limited animation for television. Cartoons made especially for TV!!! When the time was right he'd call for me to start up the background department with Monte and Bob Gentle. I was delighted.

But this is how I actually got into the field: In-betweener at MGM, lured by Bill Hanna (who told me that my portfolio was exceptional) NOT to return to UCLA, and to join him and Joe B as soon as the studio was ready, and to help form the background department.

As mentioned, this studio was at the Charlie Chaplin Studio on La Brea. Great. Fantastic history. There was space for only 14 people to work there; the rest worked at home and brought their suff in. I was in a corner room with Montealegre (Montie). Bob Gentle worked at home, bringing his work in a couple of times a week. Wonderful guy, Bob Gentle!


Was there a plan or any direction to the BG styling in the late 50s Hanna Barbera Cartoons?
You'd be very surprised how little was preplanned, studied, discussed, reviewed, exchanged with Monte, Bob Gentle or the layout department. Esp. at the start there simply was not enough time. "Here are the layouts. Get busy. A new batch is coming up."
Since each layout artist drew differently from one another, it was up to the bg painters to established a unity among all the cartoons.
Just as Yogi had to look like Yogi in all of the shows, so did the bg's have to look recognizable for the most part....with allowable variations. Yogi's Jellystone park had to look like it.

John: Try to name the color of that tree! It ain't brown.

Color Keying Considerations
I can't remember doing sketch ideas and tests with colors or textures or lines. I made sure that I knew which characters were working in these scenes, what their colors were, and what other animated objects were there.
A few times I'd discuss this with the head of Ink and Paint (Roberta) just to be on the safe side, to make sure that a movable chair, the opening-shutting front door, the telephone or a pair of shoes was going to be legible.

Forests and Flowers
As for forests, that's easier. A rose is a rose is a rose, without going wild. If I paint them differently from Monte or Bob G, it's because that's the way I paint forests, with a wide range of styles included....for the most part. As I say, there wasn't the time to do sample tests.

Me, I love using textures, I enjoy the many shades of one color. I avoid monotone (monotony)...even in my speech. (John, you showed some of the most beautiful photos on the blog, the colors of Nature. Absolutely Beautiful. That was great! And I hope that your people picked it up, got the message.).

Was Someone The Boss or Head Stylist?
Was there a boss? No. There was simply the fact that Monte and I, in the beginning and still later as we grew, worked standing right next to each other, about 6 feet apart. I used some of his brushes and he used mine. Together we adopted a certain style that was approved by Bill and Joe and by the layout guys -altho they kept their noses out of backgrounds- and we stuck to it. Bob Gentle did a similar thing at home.

MONTEALEGREWow! Look at the beautiful and colorful cartoony BGs from Lion-Hearted Huck!

Disney doing the same kind of thing for more money-just for contrast sake, this is a BG in a similar technique done at a much higher cost for Disney. In my opinion it is a lot less appealing, both color wise and compositionally. The colors are more garish and it looks less like a background than a potato painting.

John: If you are going to use large areas of primary colors, separate them by a neutral color inbetween. In this case Art used white and greys to separate the bright colors.
If you had blue right beside red, then the two areas would clash and cancel each other out as they do all through Disney's Alladin.

Pure bright colors seem brighter when they are framed by neutral colors because the neutral colors don't compete with them.

Do You Remember Anything About Ruff ‘N’ Reddy?
Ruff and Reddy? I have very little recollection of it. It was early, it was great fun - those voices! And the bgs were simple, flat and direct. A fence was white. Sidewalks were toned grays.

John: This rooftop may look simple, but to me, I love it just because it is not typical. Each sort of primary is mixed with organic (non-mathematical) proportions of other tints and greys.
The sky is slightly violet blue, the roof is not red, it's red mixed with purple and brown-I guess you could call it burgundy or even funnier-maroon.
The chimney is one shade of greyish reddish brick on the light side and bluish shadow on the dark side.

This pretty combination of colors was done fast and looks a million times better than the more expensive fruity looking fuzzy tasteless mess below.

BG Painters Selected The Paints-Cell Paints
The paints were selected by us. The paint supplier was somewhere in the neighborhood. We used plastic squirt-type containers with spouts... that you can see in the photo of me that I sent you.

As you know, we painted the bgs so that they didn't appear too heavy and dark. The characters were painted with exactly the same paint as the bgs. Acrylic. We worked out all the hundreds and hundreds of colors and shades for all the cel levels, labeled them, and according to the number of cels, the density of the bg colors was determined. Paint colors were named with the initials of the color. Ex: Y was yellow, YO was yellow orange and OY was orange yellow, etc. ...obviously.

Then there was OY1, OY2, OY3, OY4, OY5, for the different cel levels. That "yellowish'' picnic basket that appears next to the table, by the way, was that color because it was also animated in other was one of the Ink and Paint department colors, not a bg color.

The Painting Tools and Brushes
Rollers, brushes, colored pencils, sponges, cut-outs, tape; these were the basics. I still have a couple of those old brushes here...Finepoint....expensive. I wish I could find that great bg paper here....maybe if I look around. I'm sure that all of this is deep-ingrained in you but maybe it could be useful in explaining it to others.

Thanks To The Commenters
I want to thank those young bloggers for the the flattering comments. I could never really understand why they thought the bgs were SO good. I never analyzed them. They just seemed to happen. One of them -Akira- said, "Any idea how Art Lozzi learned to paint like this? besides a god-given talent, i'm guessing lots of actually observing and painting the real world." Very good commentary. Akira, thanks, but not to sound disillusioning, very little was studied. The bg's were the result of painting them. Lots of enjoyable experimentation too of course. Looking at work from other studios could also be an inspiration where you love what you saw and try to do a variation. The same would be for music too, or whatever else creative. Mozart, I'm sure, was influenced by Bach, etc. The Flintstones by The Honeymooners. Etceteraandsoforth.

-Art Lozzi

...more to come...Art will talk about his fellow artists and how and why Hanna Barbera became standardized and less experimental later


Anonymous said...

MAN!!! the things Mr. Lozzi talks about are invaluable! it's amazing to hear that alot of the BG's weren't even planned out beforehand. awesome! great post John. thanks for sharing.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I love that neighborhood shot example~ What a nice guy too! Thanks Art Lozzi and John for the invaluable info!

Vanoni! said...

I'm with art - it's very interesting to read of how little preparation there was for these backgrounds.

So glad John sought you out so that you could share these wonderful stories with us!

Offering up your time and insight is VERY much appreciated!

- Corbett

Mitch Clem said...

John - How long until you really polish and elaborate on these lessons and make a book? There are a lot of us cartoonists out here who appreciate critical insights from teachers who we can actually trust know what they're talking about.

Shawn said...

>>it's amazing to hear that alot of the BG's weren't even planned out beforehand<<

Exactly! It just came from natural talent and good taste! Amazing!

BTW, everyone should go buy that Huckleberry Hound set! It's one my favorite DVD sets ever, and well worth the money. Not only for the many many great backgrounds, but also because that set contains some of the best Hanna Barbera cartoons of all time! The Yogi Bear cartoons are hilarious! Read my review here:

Marc Crisafulli said...

Terrific post!
Great examples!

I am reminded of an exchange from an unpublished interview I did with John in 1991:

Me: Where do you get the colors for
"Ren & Stimpy"?

John: Oh, at the art store.

Trevour said...

It was great learning about some of the ol' processes and techniques used by Art and the gang. Reading this, it all seemed so logical, nothing complicated, when it came to coloring backgrounds that worked!

I wonder how these coloring practices would fly in modern-day studios? Of course, you need 58 different directors to tell you 'what looks best' nowadays, huh. Cartoony artists calling all the shots - now THAT sounds like an ideal situation.

I also want to thank Art for the thousands of hours I spent as a kid watching H-B cartoons after school! They certainly influenced me and definitely played a key role in my decisions to pursue a career in cartoons (like many others here, I'm sure!).

junior said...

is it Monteleagre or Montealegre? The latter makes more sense (happy mountain).

Steven Finch said...

>> John - How long until you really polish and elaborate on these lessons and make a book?<<

What the hell is with these comments? The man is giving you all the lessons in an easily-searchable, fully-illustrated format for FREE, what's the point in paying for the same information in a different format?

Keep it coming, Kricfalusi, this is good, interesting stuff. I guess the word is "thanks."

Anonymous said...

Awesome! What a valuable lesson- chock full of specifics, specifics, specifics. That's what I like, when a pro talks about what he or she does in a specific yet jargon-free way. I had a teacher in graphic design, the head of the whole program, and all he ever did was grunt.

I admired Art Lozzi's jazzy-cool backgrounds from the shows and after learning who he was from you, I enjoyed them in your posts. Before, it was more of a feeling of, "Mmm... this is nice to my eyes." Now I feel like I actually have new tools with which to appreciate them and some new ideas for coloring the junk I do!

Now that I've read an actual interview with him, I admire him as a person. A humble yet expert guy, justifiably proud of a job well done... and a NATURAL TEACHER.

Thanks to you and Mr. Lozzi for that!

Anonymous said...

I figured they used abreviations to represent cel color schemes anyhow- i collect cels to start off with, and the pencil sketches will often have the basic colors annotated o n where they appear on the character/s

>>>Mitch Clem said...
John - How long until you really polish and elaborate on these lessons and make a book? There are a lot of us cartoonists out here who appreciate critical insights from teachers who we can actually trust know what they're talking about.

- I often wonder how the guy finds the time to blog everyday... i would have thought that after the huge success of Ren & Stimpy, the guy had 'fuc k you' money with which he could hit the bars with, and parade around with his girls dressed up as sexy cows and what have you :)

Ryan G. said...

Wow! Thanks for the insight Art!

mike f. said...

An awesome and informative post. Lozzi is a giant. His beautiful cartoon paintings literally couldn't be more perfect. Bold, fun, understated and innovative. Praise for his work is well-deserved, and long overdue.

Pico said...

John, Thanks for posting the Mr. Lozzi info. I am a HUGE HB fan, and love to digest any information from those innovative kings of animation.

Anonymous said...

John - this is terrific

Thanks for sharing Art Lozzi with the rest of us. This is a great and informative interview. The early days of Hanna Barbera have not really been documented - While not as legendary as "Termite Terrace" or Disney's Hyperion studio, the early HB cartoons created the medium of TV animation and the influence is enormous.

And thanks for asking the right questions!

Kent B

Swick said...

Wow, thanks Art and John. Invaluable information and wonderful examples.

NARTHAX said...

We are the lucky ones. Mr. Lozzi is still around and lucid enough to illuminate a long forgotten era with his intact memory.

Robert Hume said...

Amazing Post...I can't wait for more of these, this stuff is priceless!

akira said...

Wow! thanks John. Thanks Art! great post/lesson/historical record! I'm starting to feel guilty like I owe you guys something.

I think I learned another key ingredient for being an awesome painter: great memory for detail. Mr. Lozzi has a better recollection from before i was born than i do of last week!

S.G.A said...

Woo Hoo, Thank you !!!

Robert Hume said...

BTW John, I would have said that the tree was a Darkened and Grayed shade of Green, but when I color sampled it in Photoshop it said it was a Greyed out Brown or Orange....not sure WHAT you'd call that color.


Rodrigo said...

Wow! I feel like I've hit a gold mine with this blog.

I don't mean to divert too much from the topic at hand, but this blog kicks ass. I'm totally starting up on that "100,000 dollar animation course."

John K, you, amongst other self-made artist, are my hero and if I could I would give you my first material possession.

And about this color theory, I'm not a bg guy by any means (I'm more of a character/storyboard guy), but this explanation finally starts putting the reason behind why some bgs work and others don't. That tree trunk definately isn't brown.

John, keep it up. I've set my brain to sponge-mode.

Gabriel said...

I feel like a senseless caveman because i happened to like the fruity tasteless mess.

JohnK said...

I wouldn't admit it...

Gabriel said...

because of the tastelesness or because of the fruityness?

Pedro Vargas said...

Too damn GREAT! Man, this is such great info! Next time I paint I'm deffinately applying some of Art's techniques and ideas to my stuff. Thank you, John and a special thanks to Art Lozzi, who was awesome enough to share with us some huge info. One question: how did you get a hold of him? I'd love to talk to the man himself one day. Another question: He said he would share paint brushes with Montealegre. Would Art use the washed-up colors that was left inside Montealegre's brushes and combine new color's with that one to create unexplainable colors? Art must've had a huge knowledge of colors to know what colors would go so well together. It's pure genius!

Jorge Garrido said...

Wow! The fact that Art was able to make such amazing backgrounds and color choices without a huge budget or alot of time muust mean he knows this stuff insticivtely. It must be in his blood!

S.G.A said...

HEY, i just saw3 that tenacios D video! Wow !

I hope that is playing before the movie!
Great movement and just WOW!

Larry Rains said...

Holy Crapazoid!!! I think something strange just happen to me when I read this. My brain just enlarged.

Thanks John for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience. Since I've been reading blog the past few weeks you have changed my life and helped me grow as an artist. I look forward to your next post.

You ROCK dude!

R2K said...

: )

max boorks said...

Color is only one part of the equation. You can be the best colorist in the world and still have no sense of design, which is the skills necessary to put it to good use. That's why Thomas Kinkade has the greatest sense of color in the world and all his paintings look like utter shite... he has no design sense.

There's also something to be said for knowing when to use black, the strongest color in the paintbox. Too much black and you look like a Mike Mignola comic book gone horribly wrong, too little and you look like a Target commercial.


rodineisilveira said...

Hi, Johnny K.!

Have you noticed that the first Hanna-Barbera studio - that was the Charlie Chaplin's studio -, was later the studio from A&M Records (nowadays linked to Universal Music Group [previously Grammophon-Philips, Phonogram and PolyGram])?
This was what I've had to report here.

Cheers from this faithful friend who always writes 4 U,

Rodinei Campos da Silveira
You're always welcome!


Danelectro said...

It's so hard to hear from someone who was actually there... people keep publiching books about the 9 Old Men, but they weren't the ONLY people making animation in the world. I wish we could have an "Illusion of Life" of other studios, like Hanna Barbera.

Thanks again johnk for the excellent info and preocupation with the future of animation.

Art Lozzi said...

John K.
I'm reading these comments with awe. The interest that these commenters show is VERY impressive. If there is any way I can help out, any advice I can offer, please don't hesitate to ask. I'm for it.