Sunday, December 10, 2006

Art Lozzi 3- HB starts to standardize

There are a lot of variables that go into the look or "style" of a cartoon.

Every artist that touches the cartoon and every mood he/she or it is in when contributing, and the tastes of the bosses, the mood of the era...all these go into the feel and look of the final image and film. ...If they work at a studio that allows them to have creative input...

Change any one of these variables and leave the rest the same and you'll get a different look. Change them all and it will be a drastically different look.

These BGs are done by my hero Art Lozzi in 1961. They look completely different than the BGs in the previous posts about Art. The brush technique is still great, so why does it look so much "straighter" than the striking and fun 1958 HB cartoons?

Art Lozzi said:
As HB grew, we “unified styles” As the bg dept grew, we did our best to unify our styles, although Bob G always was recognizable, and Montealegre was too. Few of the other bg painters at Hanna-Barbera actually attended Fine Arts colleges. They took art lessons or went to Chouinard's -period. My art training began, as I told you, from the age of 8. This is basically the explanation of how -to me- green is not simply green. There are dozens of other tones included: blue-greens, myriads of shades of forest colors. I don't know if this can be called a theory but it certainly helps explain particular tastes...and techniques. It also touches on "how you choose your colors, textures". They're not actually chosen in the sense of selecting; they come out, I guess, depending on what my mood was the day I began those bgs. I think by 'frisket' you mean the cut-out cel we used to sponge in a color, especially for the repeats?

"Threadbare Bear" (1961)

Art's explanation doesn't answer quite everything. The 2 main things I see that are really different are:

1) The Layouts are bland and evenly composed, not as graphic or cartoony as 3 years earlier

2) The colors are realistic. Skies are blue. Grass is olive green.

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera threw away the great creative opportunity they had with their quick success in TV.

All the elements that made their early cartoons so unique, fun, cartoony and imaginative were year by year sanded down and blanded out until all the cartoons began looking the same. And sounding and acting the same, and repeating the same stories over and over again. The irony is, as they had more money to put in the cartoons, they took out more of the creative elements.

These Lozzi BGs are still great, even though they aren't as obviously striking as the earlier ones. The caves here are much like the great caves and rocks he did in the Flintstones-and I'll go into that later.

When Huckleberry Hound came out in 1958 something happened that had happened in many cartoon series and comics earlier-a secondary star became more popular than the title character.

Yogi Bear was so popular, that 2 years after he debuted in the Huckleberry Hound cartoon, Hanna and Barbera did something that actually took common sense-something they usually were devoid of.

They spun off Yogi into his own show in 1960. Makes perfect sense right?

But while they did that, they made a whole bunch of decisions that I would call completely against any logic or sense. They purposely undid their good luck in discovering a star character by accident.

The original premise of Yogi and the characters that worked with him-Ranger Smith and Boo Boo - was a perfect sitcom.

Yogi is an overbearing slovenly greedy shifty but lovable oaf.

Boo Boo was his naive underage conscience who goes along with Yogi's schemes but always tries to steer him to do the right and responsible thing.

Ranger Smith is the republican authority figure whose mission in life is to make forest animals follow his regimented man made ways.

Boo Boo is always torn by his loyalty to Yogi and his obedience to Ranger Smith.

It's a perfect formula for conflict and laughs and imaginative stories.

Had HB taken all the great elements of the early cartoons and built on them and made more and more cartoony and imaginative cartoons and utilized the personalities of their characters, they could have saved animation and started another golden age.

Instead, when they made the Yogi Bear Show they must have assumed that since he was so popular, they wouldn't need to pay much attention to the cartoons.

One of the things that made the 1958 Yogis unique from each other was that there was a different mix and match of artists on each cartoon.

In Yogi's own show they decided to give every cartoon to the same layout artist ... and the weakest one of all.

The layout artist back then had a lot to do with the look and the acting in a cartoon. He would draw all the main poses of the characters and their expressions and he would design, draw and compose the backgrounds around the characters. When stars like Ed Benedict, Mike Lah or Walt Clinton drew a show it added a lot of style and life to the episodes. Animators like Carlo Vinci and Ed Love would use the poses and then add some of their own and the combination of styles made every cartoon look and feel new and different and alive.

You would see these same animators animate from Tony Rivera's layouts and the cartoons were a lot weaker -really primitive actually.

I used to watch these badly drawn Yogi cartoons, not knowing who drew them and just wondering why some Yogis looked like a kid drew them. I thought it was funny, until I realized there were so many of them. Mike Fontanelli and I, after watching the Huckleberry Hound DVD and being amazed at the variety of styles in it, cracked open his DVD set of the Yogi Bear show and watched a couple whole sides of Yogi cartoons in succession. We were stunned. Every one had terrible character drawings and bland background layouts. Many of the paintings were still good technically and interesting but had lost the charm and surprise of the 1958 stuff.

Even the music was different-it was now depressing. The voices were still professional but less distinct and had fallen into formula line reading rhythms, although Don Messick still did some hilarious acting for Ranger Smith-if only the artists had taken advantage of it!

Now, while sabotaging the creativity and fun of their most popular characters seems kind of crazy, Bill and Joe went even further!

Since Yogi was no longer in the Huckleberry Hound Show that was still running with new episodes on TV, they had to replace his spot with new characters. So what did they do? They invented a fake Yogi and Boo Boo!

Instead of bears they are wolves. Insane!

But this time the chemistry of the shifty oaf and his little buddy just isn't there.

Why would they purposely undermine their own star characters by competing directly with them and watering down two shows at once?

This became the pattern for Hanna Barbera (and the rest of the cartoon business) for decades to come. Eventually they would do cartoons with their star characters and they took out every part of the characters' personality that made them successful in the first place. Yogi eventually became a citizen of the world and flew around in Noah's Ark saving the environment!

All this bad decision making that gave HB the horrible name it had later started really early in their TV career. Studios today, without even realizing it still follow the self-sabotaging formulas devised at the Hanna Barbera studio during the 1960s and 70s.

Here's some fake Yogi and Boo Boo:

Hokey Wolf "Hokey Dokey" (1960)

Hokey Wolf "Pushing Wolf Around" (1960)
Look how skinny the lines are around the characters now and how uncartoony everything looks.

No more one of a kind poses or expressions.

Hokey Wolf "Too Much Too Bear" (1960)

Hokey Wolf "Phony-o-Juliet" (1960)

Hokey Wolf "Robot Plot" (1960)

Completely symmetrical composition.

Hokey Wolf "Which Witch is Which" (1960)

Here comes the garish colors!!

What a strange thing to do with a studio full of some of the greatest talent in the history of animation. You can have all the talent in the world in your studio and not know how to take advantage of it. Just design a system that doesn't allow the talent to get their stuff on the screen.

I understand when an executive run studio is set up that way since they naturally fear creativity, but when artists themselves do it, it baffles me.

For shame.