Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

A blog dedicated to the making of the first animated Christmas special, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bob Singer, layout artist

In 1960, job opportunities abounded at UPA due to the studio’s sharp refocus from theatrical shorts to TV animation.  The Mr. Magoo Show and The Dick Tracy Show , each with an order for 130 five minute shorts, necessitated a hiring binge.  Corny Cole had called ex-roommate Bob Inman to come over and around the same time, layout artist Sam Weiss told his friend Bob Singer of an opening in the layout department.  Singer, who was working at Warner Bros. as a background painter, was just beginning to cross over into layout and jumped at the chance to pursue it full time.  He spent the next five years as a layout man at UPA.  

Bob Singer started his career as a background painter for Shamus Culhane on the Bell Science films and also painted on the titles for Around the World in 80 Days.  He was recommended for a storyboard job on the Bell films at Warner Bros. by Ben Washam, an animator in Chuck Jones’ unit, who had freelanced for Culhane.  When those films finished, Bob began painting backgrounds for the McKimson unit, occasionally painting for the Jones unit and finally for Abe Levitow on A Witch’s Tangled Hare.  He had just moved into layout and was about to join Freleng’s unit in that capacity when Sam Weiss made his fateful call to join him at UPA.

Between the conclusion of the TV shorts and the ramp up on Gay Purr-ee, Singer filled his time doing layouts for General Electric commercials featuring Mr. Magoo.  On Gay Purr-ee, he was handed sizable sections of the film to stage and layout.  Bob remembers:

Since Chuck Jones wrote the story as a writer's storyboard, it was not suitable for production. We had to re-board most of it. I was assigned to do all the sequences occurring in the loft in Paris where our heroine was kept captive by the bad guy.  Then I did all the layouts for that area, including following Musette as she escaped and ran through the streets. Another area I boarded and laid out began in a cafe where Jaune-Tom and his sidekick (Robespierre) were drinking and had a drunken spree that introduced a song sequence ending in a burst of fireworks. Also, near the end of the picture there was a sequence in Alaska, ending on a ship at sea which I again boarded and laid out.

When production began to wind down on the feature, Bob was picked to move on to Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, the film that was moving through the studio right on the heels of Gay Purr-ee.  Sequences Bob laid out were the titles, credits, the prologue with the song "Back on Broadway", Scrooge’s office, the graveyard and the epilogue after the play ends.  Singer’s character and background layouts are highlighted throughout my book.

The year 1963 was a slow one at UPA and appears to have been primarily filled with the production of GE commercials.  When The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo was given the greenlight at the beginning of 1964, Singer was asked, along with Marty Murphy and Corny Cole, to help board the premiere episode, William Tell, and also laid out a chunk of the film.  Bob worked on many of the episodes such as the four part Robin Hood, Paul Revere, Treasure Island and several others.  Production had begun in January and although there were 26 episodes in the series, they were all completed and the entire artistic staff was laid off before the series made its debut in mid-September that same year.  The last man out was Bob Singer, who fell back on his background painting skills to finish up a GE spot on his way out the door. Below is a page of Bob's storyboards from the William Tell episode and a layout from the Robin Hood episode.

From there, he briefly went to Tower 12, Chuck Jones’ operation which became the new incarnation of MGM, but left after a few short weeks due to what he felt was a creatively constrictive atmosphere.  In October 1964, Bob began the longest stint of his career, at Hanna Barbera, eventually rising to the head of layout there.  He worked on dozens of shows from Jonny Quest to Scooby Doo and everything in between.  Of all the productions Singer worked on at HB, the one he was most proud of was art directing the feature, Charlotte’s WebBob finally decided to retire from the business in 1993.  

Since then, he has kept active by writing and self-publishing a book on storyboarding and doing commissioned art featuring the Hanna Barbera characters.  Although the book details the television production model for storyboarding, it’s recommended for its solid approach to production boarding, still applicable even with today’s technological methodology.  If you would like to order a copy of the book or inquire about a personalized commissioned piece of art, you can contact Bob here.

In looking back on his career, Bob felt the artistic high point of his career was at UPA:

Abe (Levitow) was fortunate that he had assembled an excellent staff of artists who did good work in a timely fashion.  Being an excellent artist himself, we all had a great deal of respect for him. With a boss like that you worked hard to please him and there was a good working environment in the studio, although filled with deadlines. I have worked in at least 16 different studios around town, as we all did, but I look at my time at UPA as the most pleasant and rewarding.  Abe allowed his artists to have the freedom to invent, contribute and create without feeling the heavy hand of supervision and the ego that goes with it.


J.H. Everett said...

Bob Singer is truly a treasure. It is wonderful to see public appreciation of his work. As one of his students, I can truly say that anything he has to say about art and animation should be considered canon and inspired on every level.
J.H. Everett

Courtney S. said...

Bob Singer "aka Papa Bob" is not only a great artist but also a great teacher. As a young child he would allow us to sit in his studio and let our imagination go wild. To him our scribbling was a master piece, proudly displaying them in his home. He continues to teach the same values of using your imagination to his great grand children.

We are so blessed...

Courtney Shapiro

JR said...

Bob is one of the greats, and it shows in each sketch and in every story that includes him in the industry. His influence on animation is still being felt, and his work, from the most polished painting to the loosest sketch is some of the best that animation and entertainment art has seen.