Hello there fellow Podwitian’s! It as been a long time in coming, but here is the promised conversation with Animation Legend Bob Singer! The man was unbelievable and such a sincere, friendly and warm person. Working in the heyday of animation and being a leading pioneer at Hanna Barbara studios, he certainly has seen it all. Mr. Singer worked as a character designer, storyboard director, animator, layout and background artist. He had a hand in the creation of so many of the cartoon characters from our youth, that it could be argued he helped raise at least 2 generations of children, by way of working on such shows as The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Scooby Doo, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, and Tom and Jerry, just to name a few.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Mr. Singer while I was in Los Angeles in early April and had the privilege to be invited a very intimate gathering of no more than 20 people, where a colloquium was held in honor of Mr. Singer and armed with pad and pencil, he drew some of Hanna Barbara’s most famous characters and showed original concept artwork versus the finished charcter design.
It was amazing how accessible and conversational his presentation was, and this really is a must read for any cartoon or animation fan. So to change the Podwit Profile’s format up, here is Mr. Bob Singer in his own words, discussing his craft:
Bob Singer: For most of you who haven’t met me before, I was the kid in High School who did all the posters of the dances and cartoons for the newspapers or the yearbook, and when I couldn’t get into Disney, I went to Art Central where I spent 5 years. But before that, I was a cartoonist for all of my young life, until I went to Art Central, and they kind of dragged it out of me; they said no, no, we want you to be an illustrator. So when I got out of Art Central, I couldn’t get a job as an illustrator, unless I went back to New York or Chicago. So luckily I got a job at an animation studio and I had to relearn how to do all my cartoons. But it was a wonderful world that opened up for me and I kept my eyes open and watched how things were done, and I managed to learn all about animation and I’m still a student of it today. I love to read about it, talk about it and do it. You know when Bill and Joe uh- Bill Hanna and Joe Barbara were producing cartoons for 20 years at MGM, Tom & Jerry‘s, from 1937 to 1957, all of a sudden they closed down their animation studio. So those 2 men decided to open up their own studio. But going from a budget of $33,000 a picture for Tom & Jerry, they now could only sell and make a picture of $3,000. (crowd gasps)
Event Host: So they went from $33,000 to $3,000 a cartoon? It’s almost- no, it’s actually 90% off…
B.S.: Yes. (Big audience laugh) So Joe Barbara and Billy reinvented how to do
TV cartoons, for little money, and created a whole new style which wasn’t only cheap and inexpensive, it actually became a style. Followed by U.P.A. Pictures and others and commercials were made in Hollywood, reusing that flat style, Limited Animation they called it, or Planned Animation they preferred to call it. Anyway, a very important part of making cartoons is character design and that’s what I’m going to talk about a little bit right now. I’m sure you’ll all recognize these characters that I’m going to show you. (opens his sketch pad) There. That is Rosy the Robot. I made some preliminary sketches, so I’d get them right- ha. This is from the first season, but Rosy didn’t look like that the first season- she looked different. The funny thing when they make cartoons, cartoons tend to change year to year and better and better, with the designs of the characters. There’s a famous one with Shaggy from Scooby Doo that I’ll show you later, but anyway here is what Rosy looked like when she was first designed. (Starts to sketch the original Rosy)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Rosy 1.0…
B.S.: Ha! You notice how they did this? They knew she was a female, they gave a little bust here… by the way, the speed in which I’m drawing, is just about the same speed we do everyday, just about as fast…. Now the problem with this is, as soon as they designed this character, of Rosy, all the merchandisers were anxious, and wanted to imbibe the likeness; to make toys, to make books, to make money. So what they did was, they used this old character and you’ll probably have trouble finding him in the stores these days because they are very rare I would think. Now the first thing I notice in the difference of these two characters are this here,
(referring to her hips) this straight up and down lines back then and what they did when they designed this one, which I think is much better, is they made curve this (hip) and this wavy now (referring to her apron) and that gives her a look; cause this is so uninteresting, the straight up and down. Here’s another one. (flips the page)
Cindy Bear. Isn’t she cute? When she was first designed, what did they do? The made her into- (indicating to finished character) see this is a very feeling, attractive bear (starting to draw demo concept). They gave her a little hat, about this size. In fact, the first person to draw this, they used a Yogi Bear head. (laugh) Which is sorta weird… (group agrees) cause you see this, this is a real female. Also, you can take almost any character, you put eyelashes on it and lipstick, and you got a girl (Laugh. He adds them to the sketch ). That makes them a girl, officer.
A.M.2: She looks like Yogi in drag.
B.S.: That’s true, this looks like a Yogi Bear in drag… So this appeared in toys, and in advertising. (flips the page)
A.M.3: Secret Squirrel!
B.S.: Secret Squirrel. This is a very unusual way to put the eyes, and ears through the hat. Not how he was first designed….(Sketches demo)… he had glasses on…
A.M. 2: If he had glasses on, how could you tell what expression he had?
B.S.: …that’s probably why they redesigned it… put they kept the tooth, that’s for sure… (Laugh)… and they tried to give him a trench-coat look, by doing that (collar)…and this was all dark too, you couldn’t see the eyes… Secret Squirrel.
A.M. 4: I like him the new way.
A.M. 2: Ah, Sqiddly Diddly!
B.S.: With Sqiddly Diddly, you’d be surprised how different he looked, but the character’s the same. (sketches demo) In fact, they didn’t put the sailor hat on there, just a little hat like this… And it had polka dots. Still had the cute eyes. One of my secrets in drawing is I don’t make 2 eyebrows the same. I always change them. One is this and one is that. (laugh) I get better expressions out of them. Sqiddly Diddly. Here’s another one… (flips the page) Shaggy. What’s missing from here?
Dion: His goatee.
B.S.: When Shaggy was first designed, (draws in the original goatee) they drew it like that and you’ll see it in cartoons, in early Scooby‘s, maybe even the whole first season or a half a season. The trouble with this one is, (referring to the left goatee) what color is down here? They used to take flesh and add flesh down into the beard and that didn’t look right. So what they did was, they came up with 7 hairs, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, and I didn’t draw it, but there’s an add in to his jaw to control when you animate the character, you want to keep control of where those hairs go. Anyway, that was the big change with Shaggy. The rest of the characters didn’t change. But in all, it’s very important cause there is alot of money tied up in merchandising. In many cases, the characters would change from the first show, to the second, third seasons and would get better and better, just like Mickey Mouse changed through the years. Bugs Bunny went through a big change. How about Tom and Jerry? Tom used to have fur around his body. So, now you think wow those are such wonderful, growing characters… they just weren’t come up with overnight. It took in some cases years.
(After Mr. Singer’s presentation, he was gracious enough to sit down and to answer some questions.)
Bob Singer: I’m retired now and have been retired for 20 years.
Dion: You started at Warner Brothers right?
B.S.: Yes, I got my big break at Warner Brothers painting backgrounds for Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, and Granny… you could see some of them on the TV, if you type in the name of the show. There’s one called A Witches Tangled Hare, I did the backgrounds on that.
D: How about you Jonny Quest years? You were telling me earlier about Jonny Quest and how you go into that?
B.S.: Well when I came to the studio in ’64, they were just finishing Jonny Quest. And they put me in as a layout man but after 2 weeks, the layouts were completed. So instead of being laid off, I said, “Hey I can paint backgrounds,” because I painted at Warner Brothers for years and I painted U.P.A. Pictures too, on Mr. Magoo. So I went upstairs to the background department, and spent 3 months painting Jonny Quest backgrounds. For anyone out there who wants to become an artist, I would urge you to get all the education you can. Everything I learned in art school-which didn’t recognize cartoons at all- I used in my work, throughout my whole life. And because I had good training there (art school), I was able to advance and learn fast, and catch on to what was being handed to me as an assignment.
D: Didn’t you creat some techniques, some interesting camera techinques for animation?
B.S.: Well yes, that’s interesting too. We were doing space shows one year and we were called into the office and Mr. Hanna said What’s wrong with you guys? You’re taking too long to make these pictures and they’re expensive, alot of backgrounds- what’s going on? Nobody said anything until I piped up. I said “There’s too many backgrounds. They’re 19 backgrounds in this picture and we could do it with 8.” So Mr. Hanna looked at me and after a while the head of layouts came over to me and said: Bob, we want you to take over this show.
B.S.: What I discovered was, everytime you make a panned background-it’s where somebody is traveling through the air and the background moves behind them-well they’re always clouds of course on a sky, to show it is moving. Well, everytime they change direction, like he’s driving down this way, or this way or straight up or down, whichever they’d use a different background. So I invented a background with circular clouds, I called it a circular background and you could use it in any way at all, because it didn’t have a direction like a flat cloud, it was always circular. If you look straight up at the sky on a cloudly day, you’ll see a circular background. Anyway, I instituted programs to help layouts to come out faster, soon I was made head of the layout department. Then later on, I started in the design department, which was backgrounds, character design, I had about 45 artists working (there). Anyway, I enjoyed my work there and I couldn’t believe I was going to work everyday doing this stuff, getting away with something.
D: You said when you got into the ’70s, when you started to outsource a little bit, it changed, the animation when it went overseas…?
B.S.: Yes, we had a lot of trouble with animation. We sold too many shows; 1 year we sold 14 different shows. And each show had 13 segments in it, you know?
D: That’s a lot of shows…
B.S.: So Mr. Hanna was forced to send them overseas to Australia, to Japan and Korea, and other places that subcontracted it out. But the work came in on film already, and a lot of it was not done well. But it was too late to send it back to the far East to have it fixed. So a lot of bad stuff got on the screen. You take the Scooby Doo Movies and the Sonny & Cher episode, and there was a heck of a lot of mistakes there. Although we had a strike on the issue, a runaway production, I recognize that it was probably a good thing to have this production overseas, it enabled the whole industry to enlarge and take in more people. So what suffered was maybe the ink and paint people and production jobs, but creative people swelled and turned out to be a good thing. It made Hollywood bigger, the big studios were coming in and in the end, it wasn’t so bad. We lost the strike though…
B.S.: He was a tough bird, that’s why. They were different, those 2… Joe Barbara and Bill Hanna. Joe was like Cary Grant. He had this real dark, olive skin and was real suave and debonair…
D: He was a salesman.
B.S.: He used to take all his shows- we would make drawings to take back to New York to show Fred Silvermen to help sell a show. And Bill Hanna was production chief. They each had different jobs. And uh, I remember once though we created The Scooby Doo Show, it was called Scooby Doo. It was based on The Mod Squad, if you remember that-
B.S.: 4 teenagers running around in a bus, solving crimes… they just took that situation and created characters and the dog wasn’t even in the 1st concept. But when it got to New York, Fred Silvermen said: Hey what about putting a dog in there? I think he wanted to get some humor in. He already had Shaggy, who was a funny guy and they had an original thought. You know but to now when you have 2 comedies, like Bud and Lou Costello, Bud Abbott, one is funny and one is straight. But Silverman said: Let’s make them both scaredy-cats. And that really was a wonderful thing to happen because there was a lot of humor in that, as you remember in those shows. So Joe would go back sometimes with an artist- the man who created Scooby Doo was Iwao Takamoto, a wonderful Japanese artist. He created all the characters, the main characters… I helped out drawing some of the monsters, like the Tar Monster, Miner-49er, there was an electric monster… I enjoyed those too, but I only did about a third of them, some other artists did the others.
D: Did you ever get to meet or work with the various celebrities on the Scooby Doo Movies?
B.S.: Yes, Jonathan Winters. We’d animate caricatures of them. We had some men who were very good at caricatures. One day in the lab department during a break at the studio, everyone was crowded around somebody, and there was Jonathan Winters in the middle, doing his humourous spiel, entertaining the layout department. But usually we didn’t see the stars, the voice people. Many of them would record in Hollywood, in a sound studio. They wouldn’t come through our department.
B.S.: Both ways. Sometimes they would all gather and go through the scripts, like a radio show. For instance, The Flintstones was done that way, like a radio show. If you ever watch a Flintstones and turn off the picture and just listen to the sound, you’ll understand the plot, just like a radio show. In other cases, you couldn’t always get the voice actors together at one time, so they’d do them separately.
D: Mel Blanc was injured at the time of (the first season) The Flintstones, and so they had to all crowd around his bed and record…
B.S.: (After he passed) His son Noel Blanc, took over his duties and did pretty well too. In fact, the voice of Flintstone, the man died and we had to get another actor. But those things happen.
D: Do you remember any of the other Scooby Doo monsters you remember creating?
B.S.: There was the Tar Monster, who dripped tar…the blue skeleton alien… The Creeper, “Jeepers, it’s the Creeper”, in fact one of the drawings I did for tonight, has him in there, a storyboard.
D: Do you think the early concepts of Rosy the Robot, was based on Shirley Booth‘s Hazel, do you remember that show with Don DeFore?
B.S.: Yeah, I remember that. Probably- everything’s a stereotype….
D: Yeah. Like The Flintstones were The Honeymooners…
B.S.: …actually stereotypes are very good because they are easily recognizable right away. We tried to use stereotypes when we could.
B.S.: Often I’ll have to get a reference. They did over 250 different shows. And each show had 5 or 6 or 7 different characters. So it’s a lot of characters. Someone once said there was like 7000 different Hanna Barbara characters and I would believe it.
D: Do you ever put yourself in any of the drawings?
B.S.: No, not really, ha.
D: Who are some of your favorite characters?
B.S.: Oh Pebbles and Bambam I’ve always enjoyed drawing because Pebbles is so darn cute. Or Fred Flintstone-(refers to his drawing)– take this head, take 2 squares, and that’s how you start this, you see one here (up and down) and like this (referring to the chin) and then you put the nose in between.The nose is where you start and then with him ( Fred Flintstone) I can remember the rest.
D.B.: Did you ever have any characters that weren’t your favorite to draw?
B.S.: Well, it was difficult to draw superheroes like Batman or Superman just because it just took more time and effort. And I’m more oriented to this cute and funny stuff, you know?
D.B.: Do you ever find yourself erasing at all? I notice you never erase anything; you may go over it with something else or blend it in…?
B.S.: Yeah, once in a while. but usually, when you make a quick sketch, I’ll put a piece of paper over it on a light board, light it up, correct it and then make it thicker.
D.B.: Well thank you so very much for your time today and thank you for what you have given the world.
B.S.: You’re welcome, and thank you!
(This interview was conducted prior to the passing of Jonathan Winters. The Podwits would like to express their deepest sympathies to his friends, family and fans.)