Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Favorite Story About Bill Hanna from Jetsons The Movie (1990)

[updated 3/15/2013 to mention Al Gmuer and Jerry Mills]

Many years ago, our little production company, deGraf/Wahrman, inc (dWi) ended up doing two Hanna-Barbara Projects at once. How it happened is a little complicated, but they were essentially two completely different projects: a motion platform ride for Universal Studios Florida and about 40 or so shots for the first Jetson's Movie directly for Hanna Barbara.

Our client for the latter was Bill Hanna personally, and it was one of the most endearing and positive client relationships we, dWi, or I, personally, have ever had. I have a few anecdotes from that project that is the point of the post, but I think it will be helpful to return to yesteryear and explain what was going on.
At the time, about 1989 or so, computer animation was not used in motion picture or animation production.
You might want to reread the above sentence a few times in order to get what I am trying to tell you, and then add a very important phrase: except for a few brave souls who would every once in a while try computer animation and see if it would work for them.   But when you examine those projects, good or bad, you can see that Hollywood is actually in its way trying to find a way to use this new medium.

Bill Hanna and Hanna Barbera was one of those brave souls / companies.

They had after many years managed to get Universal to finance a feature film around the Jetson's property and we were going to be included. I was and am such a fan of the Jetson's I can not tell you how thrilled I was.

It is now necessary to set the way-back-machine, Sherman, to get into the right mood. (3) In 1989, you could not easily use PC's in production like you do now, you had to use much more expensive machines such as Silicon Graphics and Symbolics. We had access to a factory floor of Symbolics Machines in Chatsworth (1), and about a dozen of various types of machines in West Hollywood. If you needed to record to film you had to provide your own film recorder, no motion picture oriented services were available. (4)

This is a good dWi image because it is dark and ambiguous

Above, a very low resoulution screengrab of a smoggy day in the Jetson's neighborhood, and the inspiration for the sequence from Los Angeles

The project was to do about 40 shots that were going to be BG shots with 2D animation on top. In a few cases we would composite George Jetson into his Jetcar while it whizzed past. Animation included a flock of Jetcars in a traffic jam, a hero jet car elevating out of the traffic jam, the Jetson's towers elevating out of the smog, and so forth. Many people worked on that project at dWi, all of them with distinction. I don't want to get the names wrong, so I will provide the names at a later date. (2)

Now for the anecdotes. The first one is minor, the second one will be hard to understand if you have not been in this or a related business.

One day while we were in a story board meeting with Bill Hanna, I got up the courage to ask him why they did not do more Jetsons and Flintstones, telling him honestly what a big fan I was of them. I could not understand how there could only be one season of The Jetsons and the Flintstones, one each.  He just laughed at me, and said, "We loved the Jetsons and Flintstones too.   But we never got the ratings. On the other hand, Scooby Doo is in its 13th season and we are happy to be working".

13 seasons of Scooby Doo but only one of The Jetsons?  No justice, clearly no justice in this world.

So after a rocky start having to do with the other project, the one administered by Universal Studios Florida, the project from hell, we start delivering lots of shots for the movie. And things are going along and, this is so amazing I can't believe it, one day I got a phone call from Bill Hanna.

And he said "Michael, you know those shots you just delivered?" I said, "Yes". "Well, it turns out that they are what it is we asked for, and of course we will pay you for them. But we think we would want some changes, and we wanted to know if you had the time to do some extra shots and if we could perhaps get a discount given that these shots will be very similar to the ones you just did" I was speechless for a few seconds and then either I, or possibly the producer, said "we would love to".

But what you may not appreciate is how unusual this is: He was not trying to get something for free.  He was not trying to blame us (believe me, we were not perfect). He was thanking us for our work, asking us if we had some more time, and wondered if he might have a discount.

It was such a change from the unbelievably evil project and people on the other side of the house that I had to sit down. Wait, a client saying "thank you"?   It does happen, that people say thank you in that business, but it is not all that common.   

We loved working for Hanna Barbera and for Bill.  I am sorry he is gone.

While I am on the subject, I do not remember all our friends at Hanna Barbera by name, but two names in particular stand out beyond Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, and that was Al Gmuer (sp?) and Jerry Mills.  Just wanted you guys to know how helpful I thought you were and what a pleasure it was to work with you.  (I am spacing out on the name of a third person, who I think was the senior Art Director there, but I can do some research and find it).  

William Hanna (1910 - 2001)

Jetsons The Movie (1990)

1. Because the factory was in Chatsworth, and Chatsworth was where the farms were when I lived in Granada Hills as a kid, I called it the Render Farm. Years later, everyone was calling their render farm a render farm, but I doubt it was because of me. I think this is just a coincidence, I hope.

2. I think the people on the project included Jim Hillin, Phil Zucco, Ken Brain, Jay Sloat, Ken Cope, Michelle Porter, Allen Battino, Craig Newman, of course Brad and myself, and the usual crew of people who helped out on all our projects like Liz Ralston, our office manager and later producer, Anne Marie, Carter and Ladd McPartland. Who am I forgetting?   Did Greg Ercolano and J Walt Adamczyk work on this project?  How about Tom Betts (Did I get his name right, it has been a long time).  Did Steve Segal and Tuck Tucker work on this project?

3. This is of course a reference to Sherman and Peabody from Jay Ward.

4. The more I think about this, the more I realize that this could not be true.  It is true that excellent scanning and recording was not easily available the way it is today, as a commodity service.  But probably had we wanted we would have found someone who provided a film recording service on a CELCO or DICOMED or other device.   Nevertheless, we felt we had to do it ourselves.

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