If you’re new to the site, this site is all about the “Cartoon Modern” style of animation design, which was an art movement between the 1940s and 1960s. Mary Blair was one of the key figures of the movement. Please enjoy her work on this site, as well as work by lots of other amazing artists. If you’d like to learn more about “Cartooon Modern,” please pick up a copy of my book Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation, a beautifully illustrated coffeetable book published by Chronicle Books:
It’s been nearly a year since I’ve updated this blog, but I’m remedying the situation by starting the Cartoon Modern Tumblr at:
I’ll try my best to post a daily dose of Fifties visual inspiration.
If you want to help the cause and see more of this stuff, please buy a copy of the book Cartoon Modern.
When I first started this blog in 2005, there wasn’t a whole lot online about Fifties animation. Recently, however, a number of animation directors have been posting about design-oriented ’50s cartoons on their blogs. Here’s a roundup:
Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi discusses the modern color in the 1954 Disney short Donald’s Diary.
Michael Sporn offers a nice set of frame grabs from UPA’s animated inserts for the 1956 TV special Our Mr. Sun.
Ward Jenkins offers this incredible Flickr set of pre-production art and stills from the 1951 Tex Avery-Tom Oreb collaboration Symphony in Slang. The cleaned-up 35mm frame scans are particularly impressive.
When Flintstones designer Ed Benedict was freelancing on TV commercials for studios like Cascade Pictures, he would photograph all of his designs before delivering them to the studio. The images below are from color xeroxes of Ed’s photo contact sheets. The quality isn’t great and the images aren’t very big, but if there’s interest, I have a lot more of these and can post them. These baseball players are plenty appealing and fun to look at, though I have no idea which commercial, if any, they appeared in.
Satisfied customer Daniel Stone was awesome enough to post this photo of himself and the book on his blog
Good news just in time for your animation-related holiday shopping needs! I have received word from Tee Bosustow that the last of the pre-orders for Inside UPA are currently being mailed out and the the book is now available for immediate shipping. Not only is it the perfect accompaniment to Cartoon Modern, but all the proceeds go towards documenting more mid-century animation history: namely the completion of Tee Bosustow’s film documentary about the legendary UPA animation outfit.
The book is available in a limited edition of 1000 hand-numbered copies, and of those, 50 come with a bookplate signed by the following UPA veterans: Millard Kaufman, Fred Crippen, Willis Pyle, Bob Dranko, Bob McIntosh, Erv Kaplan, Gene Deitch, Sam Clayberger, Dolores Cannata, Howard Beckerman, Joe Siracusa, David Weidman, Joe Messerli, Edna Jacobs, and Alan Zaslove. Only 17 signed copies remain! If you’re curious about what the signed card looks like, check out the pic posted on Daniel Stone’s blog. And if you’re wondering about whether the signed copy is worth it, just listen to what Mr. Stone has to say: “Even though my stomach is empty and I’m all out of coal for the furnace, it was worth it. Worse comes to worst… I can eat the book!”
I did a post a few weeks ago with photos of some of the artists signing the bookplate. Below is a new set of photos. The artists are, top to bottom: Gene Deitch, Dolores Cannata, David and Dorothy Weidman, Howard Beckerman, Edna Jacobs, Joe Siracusa, Fred Crippen, Joe Messerli.
There’s a ton of rare content posted on this blog but today’s entry is one of the rarest of all. In Summer of 1955, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City hosted an exhibition called “UPA: Form in the Animated Cartoon.” With the exception of Disney, no animation studio had ever received such a comprehensive tribute up to that time.
I, or nobody else for that matter, had ever seen photos of the exhibition or had much of an idea of how the animation material was presented. A few months ago though, while I was working on the forthcoming photo book Inside UPA, Tee Bosustow and I discovered a set of photos from the exhibition. Now, for the first time since people actually attended the show in the mid-’50s, we can get a sense of what the UPA tribute at MoMA was like. The photographs below were taken by Soichi Sunami, a well-known East Coast art photographer who was commissioned to take these for the museum.
Part 1 of the Exhibit was called “An Album of Attitude.” It starts off with a series of montage images combining UPA artwork, studio ephemera and outside influences on the artists.
This first montage has three gag drawings by Fred Crippen on it, among other things.
This second collage compares the real-world art and film influences that inspired various UPA cartoons.
An entire montage was dedicated to John Hubley’s Rooty Toot Toot. Hubley’s storyboard drawings are particularly impressive here. Note that in the credits roll, Hubley’s last name is hidden by the shattered record. One has to assume this was intentional since Hubley was persona non grata at UPA in 1955.
This wall features animation drawings from Rooty Toot Toot, from a scene with the lawyer Honest John. On the far right are strips of backlit strips of film.
Part 3 of the exhibit was called “UPA and the Community.”
Here is a closeup of a couple of the commercial and industrial film displays in that section.
This wall features various examples of pre-production art including color keys from the CBS industrial film Tune in Tomorrow (1954, far left) and examples of Bobe Cannon’s timing bar sheets (center).
Mister Magoo was UPA’s most popular character and he garnered his own section in the exhibit.
A close-up of the previous photo shows this character design progression of Mister Magoo from 1949 through 1955.
Storyboards from UPA shorts: at left are T. Hee’s boards for The Jaywalker (1956), and at right are Aurie Battaglia’s boards for The Invisible Moustache of Raoul Dufy (1955).
This room of the exhibit featured zoetropes. A scene from Bobe Cannon’s short Fudget’s Budget is painted onto the wall.
Calling all fans of Cartoon Modern. If you’re looking for the perfect companion book to Cartoon Modern, then you’ll definitely want to check out my new book project Inside UPA. This 64-page volume offers an unprecedented look into the legendary UPA animation studios. Packed with over fifty photos, most of which haven’t been seen in decades, the book offers a rare glimpse into what it was like to work at the mid-century’s greatest design-oriented animation studio.
Like the studio itself, this book is a bit of an experiment. It’s an animation book that treats artists like the stars they are and allows them to be appreciated in a way like never before. Personally I think it’s quite the appropriate companion to my earlier book Cartoon Modern because as that book focused on artwork and animation, this book recognizes the artists who made those groundbreaking films a reality.
Inside UPA captures long forgotten moments from the studio’s history including such images as John Hubley sketching dancer Olga Lunick during the production of Rooty Toot Toot, Aurie Battaglia and Leo Salkin working on the unproduced James Thurber feature The White Deer, architect John Lautner talking to UPA animators about his building plans for the studio, Pete Burness and Mister Magoo voice Jim Backus going through a storyboard, Gene Deitch and Cliff Roberts having an impromptu jam session at a picnic, and a late-night production staff meeting at the Smokehouse Restaurant.
Inside UPA, which measures 7.5″x8.7″, is a softcover with french flaps and b&w interior. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards the production of the UPA documentary that Tee Bosustow is working on so every purchase helps to further advance the documentation of the studio’s output. The book also includes a six-page filmography, which is the most complete UPA filmography to ever appear in print. It includes not only the studio’s theatrical shorts, but also its industrial and training films, TV commercials and shows, and other special projects.
The book is available in a numbered edition of 1000 copies. It’s a limited run and certainly not the type of book that will be available forever. The pre-order price (valid through Saturday, September 15) is $35 (plus S&H). After that date, the price increases to $45. Fifty of these copies will come with a bookplate signed by UPA veterans who are still alive. These are available at $150.
To order your copy today, visit UPApix.com.
A few spreads from the book are below:
There’s no denying that many of the later Mister Magoo shorts are feeble, especially when compared to UPA’s early Magoo films, but some cool artwork can still be found in the late-period Magoos. Below are a couple eye-catching backgrounds from Scoutmaster Magoo (1958), which was one of only a couple Magoos directed by Bobe Cannon. Background credit on the film goes to Jules Engel and Ervin Kaplan though I’m unsure which of them did these particular paintings. Be sure to click on the top one to get a big view of the opening pan from the short.
Here are some random stills from UPA TV commercials. Some of the stills have suffered water damage hence the funky quality. The designers of the ’50s made this type of simplified design look so effortless and appealing, not an easy thing to pull off. I’ve never seen any of these particular commercials but I bet they’re quite a bit of fun to see in movement. Click on the images below for larger versions.
Through the end of August, the Tobey C. Moss Gallery (7321 Beverly Boulevard, LA, CA) has on display a show of animation artwork by Jules Engel. It’s a fairly small selection of artwork but includes pieces from Engel’s work on Disney’s Fantasia, UPA and Format Films color keys, and drawings from his personal short films. This Thursday, August 2, I’ll be doing a signing of Cartoon Modern in conjunction with the show. We’ll also be doing a short screening that highlights his UPA work and includes rare interview clips with Engel. Brew readers who’d like to attend can rsvp by tomorrow either by sending an email to tobeymoss [at] earthlink.net or calling the gallery at (323) 933-5523.
If I had to choose some ‘desert island’ Fifties shorts, Ernie Pintoff’s 1957 Terrytoons cartoon Flebus would definitely be among my selections. It embodies the “cartoon modern” aesthetic as well as any film from the era: fearless design values, a personal style of storytelling that matches the visual experimentation, and animation (by Jim Tyer) which exploits the film’s unique designs. More is written about Flebus in the book. As far as I know, it’s never been released onto home video or dvd, which is a shame, so here’s a copy of the film that we can all enjoy online.
Considering how well known UPA was for its TV commercials during the 1950s, it’s ironic that most of their commercials are currently ‘lost.’ I’d guess anywhere in the range of 95-98% of the studio’s commercial output is currently currently unavailable to see. There’s a handful of spots that are floating around, but there are hundreds of others that never turn up on commercial compilation videos or in film collecting circles.
As a consolation prize, some stills and production materials still exist from the studio’s commercial work. A few months back, I posted a Jack Goodford storyboard for a Borden’s Coffee commercial. Today, I’m posting another storyboard, by an unknown artist, designed for an Old Gold cigarette commercial. The spot is a fine example of UPA’s visual range, veering more into the iconic graphic design territory of Saul Bass than the traditional character-driven style of the studio. The Rube Goldberg-esque contraption that produces the cigarette offers a lot of visual potential, and I imagine this would be a particularly striking spot to see in movement.
In the book version of Cartoon Modern, I published a couple character layout drawings from the UPA short Magoo Express (1955). (A sidenote: I misidentified the title as Magoo’s Express, which I hope to correct in any subsequent printings.) What’s particularly interesting about these layout drawings is that they use a female character design which was significantly changed for the final film version.
Below are the layout drawings I included in the book along with corresponding stills from the film showing how the design changed:
The redesigned version of the character, Gigi, creates an intriguing mystery—Why was the design changed midway through production?—and it’s a question for which I don’t have any answers. The mystery deepens because the character designer of the film, Sterling Sturtevant (1922-1962), spent a significant amount of time designing the original version of this character. A lot of Sturtevant’s development work exists from this film and I’ve posted some of it below to show how she came up with the design of Gigi:
These concepts led to the initial design of Gigi. Below are the character model sheets and a few character layouts:
This was obviously not just a design concept but likely the final design that director Pete Burness had approved for production. Otherwise, Sturtevant would not have invested so much time laying out the film using this design. My personal feeling, and I have no hard evidence to back this up but it’s the only thing that makes sense, is that the animation crew may have asked for a change on the character design. (I have to double-check, but I also believe that this is the last film that Sturtevant worked on before leaving UPA in 1954. Though it’s somewhat unlikely that her departure would be connected in any way to this film, one cannot completely discount that possibility.)
Sturtevant (pictured at right) was a talented artist and easily the most prolific and influential woman character designer of the 1950s, but one of the problems with the ‘femme fatale’ approach of this design is that the style reaches beyond the range of her drawing skills, not to mention the skills of the animators on the crew who were tasked with bringing the character to life. Director John Hubley had no problem pulling off a similarly designed character in the earlier UPA film Rooty Toot Toot (1952), but Sturtevant’s drawings lack the cohesive strength of a master draftsman like Hubley. There are nice graphic ideas in a lot of the individual poses, but the overall design lacks structure, and the character looks awkwardly drawn and poorly constructed from certain angles.
At some point, Sturtevant was asked to redesign the character and came up with the second version of Gigi that is used in the film (model sheet and concept drawing below). Personally, I like this second design far more than the first attempt and think it’s better suited to the Magoo universe. Unfortunately the animation of the film is a huge disappointment. To be clear, I think either of Sturtevant’s designs could have been a success if they had been followed up by the proper animators. Burness’s animation crew, however, included some of the most conservative animators at the studio, and his animators during this period rarely pushed the graphic element in their animation. (Lead animators on this film were Cecil Surry, Tom McDonald and Rudy Larriva.) The animators on this film resigned themselves to creating stilted and limited movement with little deviation from the layout poses, which is a shame because Sturtevant’s second design of Gigi offers fun graphic shapes and a distinctive posture that could have been exploited by more creative animators.
Magoo Express is not a bad entry in the Magoo series by any stretch of the imagination. Seeing Sturtevant’s development of the female character offers some fascinating insights into the design process on the Magoo series and also shows how the films could have been even better if UPA had invested in stronger and more graphically-aware animators.
Since the last post here a few months back was about Marc Davis’s work on 101 Dalmatians, I thought it’d be interesting to highlight the work of another amazing artist who worked on the film: Walt Peregoy (b. 1925). Peregoy was the film’s color stylist and his contributions are deeply felt throughout the film. His work is discussed in greater depth in the Cartoon Modern book. The book also has some of his color keys, but there were many more that I couldn’t fit in. Below is a collection of his work from the film. Click for bigger versions.