Note: Lesson 3 covers the UPA and Hanna-Berbera; Lesson 4 covers everything else. As an additional note, most of what is written for Lesson 4 was not covered during the lecture, but instead done through rudimentary research at my own discretion and my own time. I just find that there is a lot more that should be worth a mention.
While the more famous animation houses stole most of the limelight (you know which two), there were other smaller companies that played second fiddle, although some of them did create a thing or two that would later have an effect on the animation industry as it is today. Walter Lantz Productions found a mascot for all of Universal Studios’ theme parks in the form of Woody Woodpecker, for instance. My focus today, however, is on the United Productions of America (UPA), and Hanna-Barbera.
The UPA was formed during the Second World War, as a direct result of several of Walt Disney’s employees leaving Disney due to dissatisfaction with the little reward they got for working so hard (such as for Snow White, which was drawn frame by frame, as I mentioned in Lesson 2), and they started off making training films. After the war, they had a stint creating Mr. Magoo shorts for Columbia Pictures. Mr. Magoo, while not so much a hit as the Looney Tunes or Mickey Mouse, survived long enough as a character to warrant his own film. The premise of him is very simple: a blind man put into extremely dangerous situations that he is unaware of. Take a look.
Watch that once and enjoy it. Watch it a second time and note the repetition of the background at around 0:47, as well as the lack of animation on Magoo’s body when he speaks - only his hands and head move once in a while - and the fact that his mouth tends to move in the same faction every time he speaks. This is what the UPA pioneered - limited animation. What was supposed to be a cost-cutting and time-saving measure - repeating a background several times and animating only what is needed - became an animation style that animation studios around the world took note of. It is interesting to note that at least one UPA founder left Disney because they were disillusioned with the idea of realistic animation, and felt that realism can be portrayed without being realistic all the time. In that sense, you could say that UPA’s limited animation style is the counterpart to the ultra-realistic animation style that The Disney Company employs in all of their animated films.
Take a look at this car chase scene from Shinkyoku Sōkai Polyphonica, for instance. Internet denizens know it more for the huge amount of factual and perspective errors that this particular scene has (they call it QUALITY), but they have also pointed out the repeating scrolling backgrounds used throughout, which I am now very certain was T.O. Entertainment, the production house behind the anime version, taking a leaf out of the UPA’s book, although they may not have used it in the right context.
Hanna-Barbera Productions (H-B) took things one step further when they came into being in 1957. This animation house formed from the ashes of MGM’s cartoon studio, and the founders of H-B, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, were instrumental in the runaway success of Tom & Jerry. However, that was when they were with MGM, which had a ton of money for them to work with. They had no such privileges in H-B, so they made do with limited animation. H-B’s line of work was to animate cartoon shorts for Television, which until their genesis was limited to theatrical screenings, feature films in theatres, and re-screens on Television. H-B was one of the first animation houses to animate shorts specifically for Television, not theatre. This was what led to their huge success back in the sixties and seventies. During this period, their heyday, H-B created an absurdly huge library of cartoon characters - Quick Draw McGraw, Johnny Quest, Space Ghost, Top Cat, Atom Ant, Secret Squirrel, Snagglepuss, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons and so on. They can all be easily traced back to H-B, even to the common layman, because the art and animation style employed is the same across the board.
When H-B’s parent company entered dire straits in 1990, they sold H-B off to Turner Broadcasting. Two years later, Turner created a new channel, of which most of its content stemmed from the immense library of cartoons and characters created by H-B. This channel is Cartoon Network, and it is with Cartoon Network that H-B’s decades-old shorts survive to this day. If any one of you reading this have always wondered why the name “Hanna-Barbera” was portrayed so greatly on Cartoon Network back in the 90s, this is your answer.
On a personal note, I was fortunate enough to have a taste of Cartoon Network back in the late nineties, so I know what they showed back then, and I loved it. I still do. H-B made so many characters, I ended up liking some of them and disliking the rest. There was no middle ground. In retrospect, I now realise that H-B’s characters and cartoons were more or less the whole of Cartoon Network back then. It is this knowledge that allows me to understand the grievances of people who in this day and age are screaming at Cartoon Network for no longer being as good as it was twenty years ago.
Before I continue, here’s a little … uhh, music video, courtesy of the guys from the Space Ghost cartoons. This video was made for a different cartoon series, called Cartoon Planet, featuring Space Ghost and two badguys he caught. Now, I’ve never watched Space Ghost before, but I’ve seen his trademark figure around Cartoon Network, and I like this video very much.
Animation was not just restricted to the United States alone. Elsewhere around the world, other countries had their own fair share of animation. Sadly, I do not know much about them, since everything is focused on America.
America’s neighbour, Canada, knew full well that competing with the Americans for success was a very effective way of committing suicide, so they went for awards instead. They had good reason to avoid competition, especially since America is home to Disney, Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera, i.e. three of the most prominent animation houses in the world, each with at least three decades of work to them. There are a great number of award-winning animations that come from Canada alone, this being one of them.
The best I can say about Russian animation is that it is diverse. The Russians started off small, inspired by some Mickey Mouse shorts that Disney sent over back in 1936. Due to restrictions by the Communist government, however, much of what the Russians could have developed during the 30s to 50s was lost, and many animators left for greener pastures. Those who stayed on found it difficult to move away from rotoscoping, but they did eventually. From a short called History of a Crime, the Russians finally began to diversify, and animators started to develop their own styles of animation. Russian animation style today is a fusion of the traditional American animation styles and modern computer graphics.
The Japanese had a rough and very slow start in animation. While the earliest known Japanese animations were made as early as 1917, most of them no longer exist, having been cut down into strips or individual frames after being screened publicly. It did not help that, back in the early 1900s, Disney was the go-to company for any form of animation. As a result, every animator in Japan had to resort to limited and cutout animation in order to save time and costs while at the same time being able to charge cheaply so that local audiences would prefer to watch their shorts rather than shorts created by the Americans. During the Second World War, the Japanese would find use in animation as a propaganda machine and as an educational tool.
Toei Animation was formed after the Second World War. The first anime feature film ever released was made by them, titled “The Tale of the White Serpent”. This film borrowed a few concepts from Disney, such as excessive use of music and animal companions. However, what made Toei stand out was them giving extra attention and detail to the focus of the scene, usually leaving everything else in limited animation. This method of animation, called the “money shot”, would be employed in other animation houses around the world, such as H-B, later on.
Competition from Television in the 70s would cause the animation industry in Japan to drastically shrink, forcing many young animators into higher positions far earlier than if they were promoted via experience. As a result, this created a window for experimentation, and the Japanese started making the switch to animations with a futuristic theme in them. It was during this period that Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam were formed. The latter is now a cash cow franchise.
However, during the 80s, while most of the Japanese animation industry was caught up in future-themed animes, two new developments arose. The first was the formation of a subculture, called otaku, forming around manga-based magazines in response to the overwhelming reception to future-themed animation. The second development was that Space Battleship Yamato’s director decided to allow the animators working for the show to employ their preferred method of animation as a cost-cutting measure. Both developments were responsible for the creation of manga-based anime, of which both Bleach and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya fall under, and animation houses such as Studio Gainax, creators of Neon Genesis Evangelion. A by-product of sorts from these events is Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, an animated film directed by Hiyao Miyazaki. The success of this film resulted in an increase in the number of high-budget and experimental films, as well as additional funds for Miyazaki, allowing him to form Studio Ghibli. Sadly, many studios that formed from the result of this film’s success were unable to make a living and eventually shut down. However, a small number of animated films produced during this period found their way overseas, and ended up being internationally acclaimed despite being commercial flops. Akira is one such example.
Near the mid-1980s, anime was finally brought into home entertainment with original video animation, or OVA. OVAs are essentially the packaged form of what H-B did for a living: animated films and cartoons made specifically to be run on home video such as VCRs. The creation of OVA also crated what is probably an unintended side-effect: hentai.
The 90s might very well have spelt doom for the anime industry if it was not for Studio Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion. Evangelion revolutionised the anime industry and gave it a massive shot in the arm by introducing censorship and merging extremely plot-heavy animation with the robot- and future-themes from the 80s. In the meantime, experimental anime found a home in Japanese late-night Television. Finally, the world was introduced to Pokemon, Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon, all of them now regarded as three of the most successful franchises of all time, especially more so for Pokemon given that it is one of the few game-derived anime to have an impact on the entire world. Near the end of the millennium, the Japanese started to mix anime into real-life, the result being anime such as Hana Yuri Dango and Jigoku Shoujo.
The 00s saw mainstream anime experiencing a revival of the robot- and future-themed anime from the 80s with anime like Gundam SEED, Code Geass and Macross Frontier, while at the same time sliding towards real-life events, bishoujo (pretty girls), bishonen (good-looking boys), moe (character emphasis and preferences), romance and cutouts from a character’s fictional life. There was also an increase in the number of anime adapted from manga, light novels (manga targeted at high school teenagers) and visual novels (computer games where their monetary value is derived from storytelling). The aforementioned Shinkyoku Sōkai Polyphonica is an example of the latter, and K-On! is an extremely good example of the penultimate.
On a final note, Doraemon was appointed by Japan to be the country’s first Anime Ambassador. His job: to promote anime worldwide in diplomacy. Funny, perhaps, but true.