Gerard, a graduate of the Chouinard Art Institute, got his start in animation after being hired by legendary UPA director, John Hubley. His first work for the studio was in doing the drawings between the animator’s key drawings but his career was sidelined when he was asked to serve in the Korean War. He returned to UPA in 1952, working under Pete Burness, the director of the Magoo cartoons but left for a better paying job at Ray Patin Productions, an animated TV commercial production house. He soon bounced back to UPA to work as an assistant with noted animal draftsman and animator, Ken Hultgren, where his job was to “take Hultgren’s anatomically correct and beautiful drawings and…flatten them out and force them into the UPA ‘look’.” Before long, Hubley approached him about joining Storyboard Films, the company he had founded to produce TV commercials as well as the ill-fated animated feature, Finian’s Rainbow. While there, he was assigned the task of animating Saul Bass’s graphic titles for The Seven Year Itch but it wasn’t until he joined former UPA director, Ted Parmelee at his outfit, Graphic Films, that he became a full-fledged animator.
|Uncle Waldo gets an idea-some of Baldwin's inspired|
animation from the Hoppity Hooper pilot,timed to fit
Jay Ward's crazy clock sound effect. Click to enlarge.
While at Ward, Gerard directed and animated entire episodes of Dudley Do-Right that are, without a doubt, the best and funniest of the bunch. He had a penchant for exceeding the absurdity of the scripts with equal lunacy in his animation approach, due in part to the need to economize because of the low budgets. Baldwin never let continuity between cuts, the number of fingers or even traditional entrances for characters get in the way of telling his story. Characters entering a scene will often slide in rather than walk and his poses are concerned more with hammy acting than anatomical or cinematic verity. Watch The Sawmill episode for all of the above, not to mention perhaps one of the most brilliant three seconds in animation in which Inspector Fenwick and Dudley strive to sort out a miscommunication between the two of them in nothing but multiple cuts of still drawings.
Another episode worth a watch is Marigolds, in which Nell Fenwick has two inventive and funny walks that take full advantage of limited animation(1). Most who animated under cut-rate budgets settled for mundane execution; Baldwin harnessed the limitations of the medium to his benefit, showing that it was not the tool, but the artist who wielded it, that made the difference.
During a dry period between gigs for Jay Ward, he received a call from Abe Levitow who needed a sequence done for Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Baldwin complied, once again utilizing the low budget as his ally in execution. Some of the strongest images in the number are the shots when the screen goes black with nothing but mouths singing the chorus. Between the darkness of the song and Gerard’s inspired execution, it’s probably the most remembered sequence in the film. Baldwin's work is identifiable by his expressive drawing of hands, usually with four fingers rather than the customary three, a characteristic much in evidence throughout “We’re Despicable”.
|A sampling of Baldwin's hands from Christmas Carol|
The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. He’s credited as a Sequence Director, the same title he was given on Christmas Carol. Sequence Director at UPA during this era really meant storyboard artist BUT the storyboard artists, in drawing the story, really did dictate the staging, cutting and acting making them de facto directors as everyone down the production line followed those boards. The sequence director did not oversee the nuts and bolts of everyday production-there was an animation director and a supervising director for that. Baldwin, as with Christmas Carol, did not work in-house but would pick up his assignment, drive to his house in Lake Tahoe where he would board the episode and return the following week to repeat the process.
He soon joined Hanna Barbera, directing industrials and commercials for them before landing as producer of the series that would take NBC from the bottom of the Saturday morning ratings to the top. The Smurfs, initially viewed with skepticism by the executives at the network, became a cultural icon with Baldwin as the driving force, again winning an Emmy. As more people piled on to claim success, the show lost its direction but by then Gerard Baldwin had moved on.
In 1989, he finally left the animation business entirely, migrating to Texas, where he now teaches at Kingswood College, just outside of Houston. He continues to interact with his fans via gerardbaldwin.com. Forthcoming is his autobiography, to be electronically published in the near future. It’s a witty memoir of his life and career and highly recommended. To stay in the loop for the book, contact him here.
(1) Other noteworthy episodes include Flicker Rock and Mechanical Dudley. All of the mentioned episodes can be found on Volume 3 of Rocky & Bullwinkle and Friends.