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Animation Lockdown

Animation Lockdown

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Some years ago, a local businessman told me he was getting into the security business. It was his opinion that society was headed toward a period when people would fear losing their possessions as well of their personal safety. We were moving into an era when everything would be "locked down." This got me thinking about an artist who traveled all the way from the UK to visit his favorite studio. Sadly, he was denied access because he could not get past security. On another occasion, a friend of mine forgot his sunglasses while at lunch. When I tried returning them to the studio, the security guard would not even allow me to leave the glasses at the main gate for pickup. Guess he thought the classy shades might have been a bomb.

Once upon a time, when the world was a kinder and gentler place, visitors were actually welcome at most animation studios in Hollywood. This didn't mean that the general public could wander in off the streets, but then again nobody outside the cartoon world even knew where these studios were located. If you were lucky enough to work in this goofy business, you couldn't help being a little bit curious what your colleagues were up to at the other animation houses. Lucky for us young artists, other studios were not looked upon as rivals or competitors, rather fellow cartoon makers in a different location.

I was working at the Walt Disney studio in the late fifties when friends told me we were only a few blocks from the Warner Bros. Animation Studio. Though working for Disney, I remained a devoted Warner Bros. fan, and couldn't wait to see the inside of the cartoon factory that gave us Bugs, Daffy, Porky and all the other Warner Bros. family. Since it was lunchtime at the mouse house, we hopped into a friend's vehicle and headed down Riverside Drive, and turned left onto a small nondescript street near the rear of the Warner Bros. studio lot. When we came to a stop, I looked out of the window to see a small two-story building near the end of the street. As our little group entered the lobby, a polite receptionist greeted us. We told her we were animation artists from the Disney studio down the street, and we just wanted to have a look around. "Oh, you're just visiting," said the attractive young woman. "Look around," she smiled. "Make yourselves at home." And, with that, she went back to her work. We met many of the Warner Bros. Artists and had a field day taking in all the cool layouts and backgrounds that were pinned on the studio walls for all to see.

I'm sure you're already well aware that could never happen today. Before you could even get to a receptionist, you would have already passed through a security gauntlet requesting drivers license, passport and blood type. I've been told that artists dropping off portfolios seldom breech the studios' inner sanctum. Most have to be content dropping off their work and resume at the main gate, and never even see the inside of the studio, much less a living, breathing person. One friend of mine was shocked to see his portfolio "returned" by means of an empty elevator, which came to a clanking stop while he waited in the lobby. Such is the warm and fuzzy world of animation today.

However, the world was different back then, and my cartoon exploring continued as I visited United Productions of America, located at the time near the Smoke House restaurant in Burbank. This tiny, compact facility was the home of "Gerald McBoing Boing" and "Mr. Magoo." The studio encircled an outdoor patio where the artists could lounge or engage in a game of ping-pong. Several offices opened to the outside, giving the artists lots of natural light. The walls and hallways were filled with the art of all the films currently in production. Though the offices were tiny, the studio had a warm comfy feeling often missing in today's cold, sterile surroundings. As always, artists from other nearby studios were made to feel welcome.

Though it was a longer drive, we occasionally made our way over Barham Blvd. and into Hollywood to see what was going on at Bob Clampett's two-story facility on Seward Street. At the time, the former Warner Bros. director was producing "Beany and Cecil," a cartoon version of Clampett's popular television puppet show which launched the careers of Stan Freberg and Daws Butler. The Clampett studio was a crazy, funky animation house filled with a host of cartoon folk. I confess it looked like a fun place to work, especially since the "Head Lunatic" was Bob Clampett himself. We enjoyed looking at all the great artwork and gag drawings that filled the facility. After a visit to Clampett's free wheeling studio, returning to Disney seemed downright conservative.

A short drive west would take you to Format Films where shows like "Alvin and the Chipmunks" were being animated. Keep in mind these were the days before "outsourcing," and all the work was done in house. It was fun to explore the facility, see all the activity, and talk with old friends. Once again, the animation business was pretty small in those days, and chances are, you knew pretty much everybody no matter where they worked. Along with the cartoon show, we enjoyed looking at the beautiful paintings being done for a special studio project. As usual, all the artwork was on view. Many of us returned to our drawing boards inspired by the work of our outside colleagues.

It was now the sixties, and Hanna-Barbera moved the ever growing crew into their new studio on Cahuenga Blvd, while over in Toluca Lake, Filmmation expanded into a larger facility on Riverside Drive. Since the animation business was still pretty small potatoes in the sixties, being in this business was like being part of an extended family. Being a family member pretty much gave you access to any studio you cared to visit. The idea of cartoonists wearing security badges would have seemed ludicrous, though I recall a few "Geeks" breeching the studio gates. Then again, those same Geeks eventually became part of the business anyway.

I'm not naive. I know the world has changed since the relatively innocent fifties and sixties. We live and work in a time of encoded identification badges, security guards, and electronically latched doors and gates. The days when animation artists could roam from studio to studio are over. Animation art no longer fills the hallways of production houses because its "value" necessitates that it be locked away in some secure facility. Animation today is a good deal more profitable and a lot less fun. Call me old fashioned, but I miss the days when I could visit fellow artists without going through a security check. I miss being able to see artwork without having to check it out from some "secure archive." I miss the way the animation business use to be -- before they locked it down.

Want to learn more about what goes on inside an animation studio but you can't get past security? Then JHM suggests that you pick up a copy of Norman's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" -- for sale over at John Cawley's excellent www.cataroo.com web site. Or pick up Floyd's newest book -- "Son of Faster, Cheaper" -- by clicking on this link. Which will take you straight over to Afrokids.com, where Norman's newest collection of cartoons is currently available for purchase.


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