September '09     

Tom Sito

When I first came to LA. I only wanted to work for quality houses like Richard Williams and Chuck Jones. But when times are tough, you appreciated the Saturday Morning mills. They were always there to catch you, and they paid very well. I called my first house "Casa De He-Man". 

Filmation was an animation studio started in 1963 by several partners- layout artists Lou Scheimer, radio announcer Norm Prescott, ex-UPA BG artist Irv Kaplan, and layout designer Hal Sutherland. The company began its’ existence doing some documentaries for schools, and in 1967 "The Bozo Show" for Larry Harman.  Lou Scheimer eventually bought out his other partners and became paramount owner. He sold control of the company to Westinghouse in 1982, while remaining in charge of production.

Photo by Bronwen Barry.
Filmation's studio in Reseda, California, 1984. View of the main building at the intersection of Sherman Way and Lindley, taken from Sherman Terrace where layout was situated.

At Filmation’s height in the early 1980’s, it was one of the three huge Saturday Morning factories in LA, the other two being Hanna-Barbera and DePatie-Freleng. At it’s height, when there was little employment in L.A., Filmation employed over 550 (Disney Studios - around 120 people).

The house style was a bit boxier looking than Hanna- Barbera's. Chief designers Herb Hazelton and Alberto DeMello created a funky style we used to tease them about, especially for "Fat Albert". We had contests to name the weirdest character designs. My favorite was when She-Ra was attacked by wolf-bats - they retraced wolf heads from "Lassies’ Rescue Rangers", adding batwings sticking out of them. There was a certain perverse pleasure in these strange concoctions.

We always marveled (forgive the pun) at Irv Kaplan’s color selections in BG design. Irv brought that post-UPA surrealism to the He-Man palette, created strange pea-green skies, and Purple rocks. 

Irv Kaplan's "He-Man" palette: pea green skies and purple rocks.

Arthur Nadel was the chief writer. He had previously directed Elvis Presley in his last movie “Clambake”. We used to joke that after working with Arthur, Elvis began taking fistfuls of pharmaceuticals. Arthur expanded the writing crew to include Robby London of DIC, Larry DiTillo, Bob Forward ( "BraveStarr"), Don Heckman the Jazz critic for the LA Times. J. Michael Straszynski  ("Babylon V", "The Changeling") freelanced for Arthur.

Arthur was very glib in his dry way. One time, a writer entered the Mens' Room and saw Arthur standing at the urinal with his other hand reviewing some pages. The writer asked, “ Are you reading scripts in here?”

Arthur replied "No. These are instructions.”

Lou Scheimer kept many older artists employed past their prime, but when you are the recipient of such kindness, that is a good thing. The studio was filled with artists from older studios who loved to tell stories of their adventures. Ed Friedman worked for Mintz and Disney in the 30s. Steve Clark animated Magoo in "Magoo’s Christmas Carol". Jack Ozark was a lead animator on Popeye and Betty Boop for Max Fleischer. Carl Bell animated for Clampett on "Beany & Cecil". The old saying in the business was “You always work with the same people, only the producers change.”

To do the big syndication shows like "He-Man" and "Ghostbusters", Lou assembled a pretty sharp crew of younger artists under the old folks. These crews later filled in the ranks of Disney, Warners and Bluth for the 2D renaissance of the 1990s. The Filmation cleanup, layout and effects crews went over almost en-masse to Disney during their big expansion in 1987. Filmation also used some of the first CGI technologies in 1985, and the artists from that department later went on to prolific careers in CG visual effects.

(photo by Bronwen Barry)
Holiday party, 1984. From left, Dan St. Pierre, Sherrie Weinhart, Tom Shannon, Vicky Jensen.

While you can hardly call Filmation a Bastion of Quality, it turned out a good product for TV, and made memories for millions of children and adults.  And when H&B and the rest of the studios were shipping our work overseas to be done more cheaply, Lou Scheimer took an oath to his people to keep us working here in America. He even picketed his own studio with striking cartoonists to demonstrate his dedication to his principles. There never was a Filmation outsource studio in another country. It may have contributed to his studio’s final fall, but that was Lou’s word, and he kept it.

In 1987, Westinghouse sold Filmation to Swiss conglomerate L’Oreal/Nestle, who just wanted Filmation’s library for the new European cable channels. They closed the studio shortly before a U.S. government standards bill on plant closing went into effect. They laid off 400 people at one blow.

(photos by Bronwen Barry)
Above, Lenord and Bonnie Robinson making quota.

Below, George Sukara cleaning out his desk on the last day.

Bronwen Barry

In 1984, after leaving Hanna-Barbera, where I’d worked for 6 seasons, I decided to branch out from assistant animation and try layout. The layout position available at Filmation was in the Background Graphics department .  I took a test for Supervisor Irma Rosien, passed it, and  was hired as part of this small group which included Ellen “Cookie” Kashan, Barbara Benedetto, and Jennifer Costin). who essentially did BG cleanup.  For shows like "He-Man" and "She-Ra", the  final look of the BG was a clean graphic line on a painted cel--—not a traditionally ‘painted’ image as was the case on other shows.

The main studio was on the corner of Sherman Way and Lindley Ave., in Reseda, CA. The layout department , however, was on the diagonal corner from the main building—in a building called Sherman Terrace. Everyone personalized the hell out of their cubicles.. Very cool.  Though Irma was not one to allow crazy levels of insane behavior, she was pretty tolerant..

Holidays and Halloween were always a great excuse to do pot-lucks....All the Supervisors on our floor  were in on these lunchtime parties. It was like a family - and…WE GOT THE WORK DONE!!!

Morale was usually pretty damn good, because we had no pretensions about the product.
It was what it was—we all did our best.. given the time and budgets etc.. What I really appreciated, and I’m sure my colleagues did as well, was that the head of the Studio, Lou Schiemer was very pro- union and we were treated accordingly.

(photo by Bronwen Barry)
Holiday pot-luck. From left: Cliff Vorhees, Sue Crossley (big '80's glasses), Barry Sietz, Rocco Perrone (foreground).

Later on, in 1986, I transferred to the Feature Unit on Variel St. in Woodland Hills, where they were working on such illustrious winners like “Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night” and later ”Snow White, Happily Ever After”.  I did key assistant animation, had a great time working with old friends, and made new ones, too.

The Feature Unit was on Variel Street in Woodland Hills.. Industrial, non-descript—a bit more sterile than the old Sherman Terrace building, but we made it as comfy as possible.

 While the atmosphere in our dept. was always great because we had such a cool supervisor (Bruce Strock), the overall feeling at the studio could get a bit strange at times. At one point, management demanded we sign in upon arrival, thereby, in true time-clock fashion, docking our pay in six minute increments  The operations supervisor enforced it to the nanosecond.  He’d stand by the front door in coat and tie checking his watch, but these intimidation tactics failed miserably. Morale and productivity went down the toilet.

Many of us had set Disney as their primary career destination. Quite a few who yearned to work on those beautiful films made it there eventually. While I was there from 88-89 for the Roger Rabbit short “Tummy Trouble”, many of us on the crew received panicked calls from friends still at  Filmation.  The studio was closing with little to no warning.  It had been prey to a hostile purchase by L’Oreal Co., who bought it not to produce more animation, as Lou Scheimer had thought, ,but simply to grab the library.

I’m amazed that so many people today still  LOVE the "He- Man" and "She-Ra" shows. While they were nowhere near as uniquely amusing as "Fat Albert" which, in my opinion, was the best thing Filmation did in the 70’s and early 80’s, they certainly had their deserving place in the hearts of a generation of kids. Guess you’re always going to have a soft spot for shows you grew up with…J

Tom Mazzocco

The one thing about Filmation that most stands out in my mind? They had the moldiest heating / air ducts on the planet.

I began at Filmation in 1979 as a 19 year-old in-betweener. We were expected to hit a quota of 80 feet of cleaned-up and in-betweened animation a week. This sounds pretty high, but with the stock animation system they'd "perfected" it wasn't terribly hard to hit.  I would report to the supervisor requesting work, then be told which production and shelf to grab work from.  Often there were four or five separate productions going on at one time.  I might get a handful of scenes from "The Lone Ranger" in the morning and then pick up "Fat Albert" in the afternoon. We rarely were assigned to just one show. 

Often upon opening the folder, I'd be hit square in the face with a nauseating burst of nicotine.  Smoking while animating was the norm, and cigarette ashes frequently resided in the crease of the folder. Burn holes on animation drawings were not uncommon. After recovering from our "smoke break" we would open the scene, and set it on our pegs only to discover that it was a charted CU LO scene - meaning the "animator" took the two or three character layout drawings, Xeroxed them, put timing charts (sometimes quite intricate ones) on the page, then requested the "new" animation be put on model and in-betweened accordingly. Keep in mind, many of the character designs had great amounts of detail. These CU LO scenes would take five minutes for the animator to "animate" and four hours or more for the assistant to make to work. 

It was quite the occasion when an assistant spoke to the animator, everything moved through the sluice so fast that they couldn't be bothered with our questions. We assistants would clean up the key poses, Xerox them, and reposition the copies to follow the arcs of the action. This essentially turned the scene into a mess of clear tape and Xerox paste-ups and the animation was, at best, of the cutout paper doll variety. We'd separate and swing Xeroxed arms. Tip a Xeroxed head into position.  Some tried this approach on walk cycles; the upper body cheated this way, but the legs drawn. "Cut and Paste" existed long before Photoshop was invented. Rarely, if ever, were these scenes kicked back to the assistant to redo. Sometimes lowered standards are their own reward.

"The Bunker" was a real dive bar across the street from the studio. Many directors and animators spent their lunch and post lunch hours in this poorly lit hellhole.  Any production questions had to be dealt with before lunch, because no one was around later to answer them.

There were the old guys, animators who had worked at Fleischer's on Popeye, Gulliver and all that. These guys were finishing off their careers and were not too interested in talking to kids their grandkids' age.  Most of them were nice, but a bit cranky.  A few people stand out - Jack Ozark was the youngest old man I ever met. He was a real good animator and eager and willing to help us young kids. I worked for some time with Morrie Zukor, another Fleischer man, just a sweet guy. I also had the honor of calling Jim Logan my friend, an old East Coast assistant who had worked with all the greats and still could make a scene "sing" whether it deserved to or not. I still miss that guy.

The middle aged artists seemed to have the worst morale. They came into animation in the sixties when there was next to nothing to work on. The feeling was that they were passed over, that they had missed the boat by being born twenty years too late. Many wanted to work at Termite Terrace or for Walt. Neither option was available to them. They seemed to resent having to work on crummy shows and felt, and rightly so, that they'd never had the opportunity to shine.

The younger folks were just happy to have jobs and to learn their craft. I think that's a youth-thing more than anything else. It was fun to cut one's teeth on shows that really wouldn't matter in the big picture.  We all tried to better our skills and groused about the lack of quality of the shows we were on, but we knew that we were learning and that "nobody watched this stuff anyway".  We all did our best, if not for the sake of the show, then for the experience of pushing one's-self to just do better.

The style that came out of Filmation is more about re-using stock animation and previously used scenes than anything else. Thank God for the Xerox machine. The layout department was king at the studio, partly because we were trying to tell stories without moving the characters. Composition and backgrounds really were the "Style". It seemed to me that purple and pink played a big role in the BG style as well.

When I found myself at Disney on the crew of "The Little Mermaid", I looked around the studio and realized that half of the artists there had come through Filmation. ' I came to realize that the artists are often more capable than the studio where they work. Many of today's successful animators, layout, assistant animators, and directors came out of Filmation. I made a lot of lifelong friendships and learned a lot from those "old hacks".

c.2009 Moore Studios, Inc


Feature unit panorama by Bronwen Barry.