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Chief Justice Michael Stailey • Location: Santa Monica, CA
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Hanna-Barbera Retrospective
July 26th, 2007 6:45PM

Since I was shut out of the Paramount presentation, I headed upstairs to cover the Hanna-Barbera presentation. Having long been a fan of the studio and many of their series, I was greatly looking forward to this look back into their history. Unfortunately, I think my expectations were a bit too high.

The panel consisted of veteran animator Tom Sito, author Mike Mallory (The Hanna-Barbera Cartoons), producers Spike Brandt & Tony Cervone (Tom and Jerry: The Nutcracker), former HB casting director Andrea Romano, and legendary voice actor Gary Owens (Space Ghost, Blue Falcon).

The presentation started off with a mini-doc Hanna-Barbera: From H to B, and like every other presentation I attended today had it's share of technical difficulties. The film was a loving look back at the house that Bill and Joe built with fond remembrances of colleagues, from Iwao Takamoto, Gordon Hunt, and more. Bill & Joe met at MGM, where they created Tom & Jerry for theatrical shorts. When that business started to dry up, they realized, between the two of them, they had the skills and talents to run their own animation studio. With the help of MGM producer/director George Sidney -- who fronted the cash and negotiated syndication with Screen Gems -- they were off and running. And when the other studios animation departments started to fade out, Bill & Joe brought in a wealth of talent and built HB into a powerhouse. In their hey day, HB was affectionately referred to as the General Motors of animations, with as many as 14 series in production at one time. Andrea noted, "We were recording anywhere between 2 and 5 episodes a day, 5 days a week!" To maintain this breakneck pace, Bill Hannah -- a model of efficiency, drawing on his engineering experience -- built a streamlined process from concept to final print, including simplified character designs with limited movement, model sheets for every character, reusable backgrounds, animator quoatas (100 ft of film per week), and much more. While some industry folks called it a sweat shop, the HB veterans say it was envigorating environment to work in and they wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

Bill & Joe were like a married couple, thriving off each other's energy, finishing each other's sentences, and finding a balance that made the company successful. Joe was the creative guy who could sell a series to the network with one drawing, acting out every sequence, and duplicating every voice. Many of your favorite series were likely brought to life by a series of gags Joe would come up with and his writing and animation team would tie together. Bill ran the business side. Once the series was sold, Bill went into action and would let nothing stop his team from delivering their project on time and on budget. It was a partnership unparalleled in Hollywood history.

This is pretty much where the value of the discussion ended for me. I guess I was expecting them to talk a bit more in depth about the creation of some of the more memorable series -- Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Johnny Quest -- but there wasn't enough knowledge or experience on the panel to do so.

Gary spoke of his memories working with people like Iwao and Mel Blanc. Andrea talked of the thrill she had working with Daws Butler. Spike and Tony previewed a clip of Tom & Jerry: The Nutcracker (coming to DVD Oct 2 from Warner Home Video) and told what a pleasure it was working with Joe on his final project (he passed away during production), and Tom told jokes. That was about it. Although, admit the new Tom & Jerry project looks beautiful in a very Fantasia-esque way.

We'll get more HB stories from Alex Toth's sons on Friday.

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