Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Commercials at UPA

My last post featured Sam Clayberger's color work at UPA for some of the theatrical Magoo cartoons.  Concurrent with those shorts, UPA was also producing a high volume of television commercials and in fact, that division was the only one making money for the studio. 

Due to the technology of the time, i. e. black & white TV, the spots were executed in shades of gray rather than color.  While it might appear simpler to paint in a monochromatic medium, the challenge is in making your values read crisply so items don't blend into the background.  Below are few of the thumbnails painted by Sam for some of the myriad commercials done during his time at UPA.  Vintage B & W TV ads are difficult to find so none of these have been identified as of yet.  If anyone can ID the spots these are from, please let me know.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sam Clayberger, designer at UPA

Sam Clayberger painting at UPA
I first met designer and painter Sam Clayberger as part of my research for my book, The Art of Jay Ward Productions.  As it eventually turned out, Sam became quite a resource for art for that book, having been Ward's principal background painter for most of the Ward studio's history.

Readers of my book may recall that most of Jay Ward's staff came from UPA after having left the studio as it was collapsing in 1959.  While many of the directors at Ward were already old pros by the time they arrived at UPA, most of what would become the design crew at Jay Ward Productions were recent grads of the LA art schools.  A prime example of that was Sam Clayberger who, sometime after graduating from Chouinard Art Institute, got a phone call from Chouinard instructor Don Graham informing him of a short term  opportunity at UPA moving desks.  Sam took the gig and parlayed that "quickie" into a full time job doing layout and later background painting.  He left employment at UPA after a few years in order to paint but kept money coming in as a freelancer first at Hanna-Barbera in their early days and later working for Ward as a full-time freelancer so he could continue to paint, later adding teaching at Otis Art Institute into his already full schedule.

Sam recently came across a small stack of his color thumbnails from his brief time at UPA where he worked on a number of Mr. Magoo cartoons, some of which are reproduced here for your enjoyment.  First up, Magoo's Cruise from 1958, in which Magoo arrives on a pier for a reunion cruise with old friends but is mistakenly taken on board what appears to be a Soviet submarine. Sam is credited with design and color, which would mean he designed and laid out the backgrounds as well as keying and painting them.  (Brief footnote here, one of the animators on each of the shorts listed here was Casey Onaitis, who animated on Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.)  The last image is an actual production background of the interior of the submarine.

Next, 1957's Magoo's Private War, in which he is credited for design (layout) and co-credited with Ervin Kaplan for color.  The color styling was all Sam's making it likely that Erv followed up on the backgrounds.  In the cartoon, Magoo mistakes a theatrical war film for an invasion and tries to calm the audience, telling them that "General Clayberger" will be coming to save them.  Most of the beginning shots are painted quite hot in contrast to the bulk of the film which takes place in either a darkened theater or on nighttime city streets.  The currently available transfer of this film is on the murky side in comparison to these color keys.

Finally, Merry Minstrel Magoo from 1958 wherein Magoo heads down to a TV station to audition for a talent show; Sam is credited with both design (layout) and color:

Unfortunately, these cartoons are not available online so if you'd like to see them to compare them to Sam's originals, you'll have to pick up the boxed set from The Shout Factory which is available here on Amazon.  Up next will be some of Sam's keys for black & white UPA commercials.  On March 23rd, be sure to check out my Jay Ward blog here for some examples of Sam's beautiful color keys for Jay Ward.