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Animation in the 1960’s – A Brief Essay

This is an essay I was tasked to write for my 2nd year animation module in University, taking a brief look at an animation topic of my choice. By chance I had come across a few bits and bobs about 60’s pop culture, and decided that could be worth a look. Enjoy!

Television changed things.  Not just for animation- for the entire entertainment and cultural spectrum. In 1964 an estimated 90 percent of homes in America had a television- compared with just 0.5 percent following World War II.  Television became the number one form of entertainment in the modern world- surpassing reading or listening to the radio, and causing a dramatic downturn in movie theatre attendance.

It was in the 1960s, some 30 years after the first national television broadcasts, that it’s potential as a medium for animation was first properly explored. Children made up a much larger audience demographic than first anticipated, and TV executives were keen to capitalise on it.  Across the world studios were established to meet head on the possibilities and problems presented by Television.

The major problem facing studios was budget. In America, the typical budget for a televised short was about $3,000- about ten percent of what was usually given to a theatrical feature of the same length. The situation in the East was even more dire- before the War, it was often cheaper to import features from the west, than to produce them domestically, so studios in Japan tended towards small, low key productions.  After the War, in a period of stoic nationalism where foreign influences were banned, native studios began to flourish, but still struggled with the same impossibly low budgets.

One western studio determined to succeed in the difficult but promising industry was H-B Enterprises, better known today as ‘Hanna Barbera’. Formed in 1957 by veterans of theatrical animation, H-B revolutionised the field of animation with a variety of cost effective time saving measures that would come to be known as ‘limited animation’, a process still used by the majority of animators today. By only animating certain parts of a character in motion, such as an arm or head on a stationary body, features could be created on television budgets.

Huckleburry Hound- Note the Bowtie, separating the head from the body, allowing each to be animated separately

These methods were not without their critics however, Chuck Jones of Warner brothers described their cartoons as ‘Illustrated radio’, whilst Disney commented that ‘They didn’t even see them as competition.’ Despite this, H-B Enterprises were the only studio hiring in the sixties, and their accelerated production schedule allowed them to produce a roster of some 2000 characters throughout the studio’s lifetime.

Part of Hanna-Barbera's Character Roster

Part of Hanna-Barbera’s extensive character roster

Disney themselves never devoted much of their resources to Television animation- instead producing live action series such as Zorro, or hosting their own classic shorts and feature length animations on the ‘Disneyland’ show, which broadcast until 2008. The show was revamped several times throughout its history, and in 1961 changed network to NBC- the first to broadcast in colour, and was even hosted by Walt Disney himself until his death in 1966. It wouldn’t be until the 1990s that Disney would take a serious stake in the TV animation market, with classic shows such as Gargoyles, Recess and the Rescue Rangers- but that’s another story for another time.

DIsney’s Zorro

Meanwhile, back in the East, the industry was being remade by a figure now legendary in anime circles- Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka’s first manga work appeared just months after the end of the war, and his hugely successful series Tetsuwan Atomu (Known in the West as ‘Astroboy’) holds the distinction of being the first animated production broadcast on Japanese TV. Astroboy was an interesting case- the story of a nuclear powered robot boy facing oppression and prejudice from his human neighbours, struck an unlikely chord with an audience still very much coming to terms with the devastation of the atomic bomb.

Osamu Tezuka's 'Astro Boy'
Osamu Tesuka, the 'God of Manga'

Thanks to Tezuka, the Japanese anime and manga industries shared a much closer correlation than in the west- with artists often working on both animated and printed content. Today this link can best be observed in how animated adaptations of comics differ between America and Japan- According to Christopher Hart in his book ‘Manga Mania’, in the west, the idea is that a more fluid motion makes for a ‘better’ animation, so characters adapted form other media are drawn with greater simplicity allowing them to be animated more easily. In the east, greater emphasis is placed on preserving the subtlety and integrity of the original comic book drawings, at the expense of fluid motion. (This helped to later enforce the mecha genre as a staple of 70’s anime output- robots being less mobile and therefore simpler to animate than humans.) Tezuka trained many young manga artists still working today and is credited with writing the first ‘How to draw Manga’ book- his legacy living on with as much gravitas as that of Walt Disney himself.

Mobile Suit Gumdam- A highly successful entry in the mecha genre that would prove popular in the 70’s

Cultural differences between the East and West resulted in widely differing stances of what was deemed suitable viewing for children – In Japan violence and even death were an accepted part of anime. This contrasts with the American view that the audience were to young to deal with topics such as death, Tezuka’s Astroboy being the first of many imported cartoons to receive cuts for violence and tone. Even domestic productions- H-B’s own Space Ghost and Frankenstein Jr, tame by Japanese standards, were eventually brought off air by pressure from parents groups.

Despite this, the 60’s saw the introduction of The Flintstones, Hanna Barbera’s first cartoon with more grown up sensibilities. Scripted like a traditional sitcom the Flintstones combined animated slapstick with clever adult humour and situations, resulting in a series popular with audiences of all ages- a precursor to modern animated greats such as The Simpsons and Family Guy.

The Flintstones paved the way for grown up humour in animation

Following the 60’s animation as an industry continued to grow- better budgets were allocated, shows became more complex, and anime would take on mainstream cultural approval in the East. The lessons and experiences of the experimental swinging sixties still have a lasting effect on the industry today, from the retro stylings of Dexters Laboratory and the Powerpuff girls, to the techniques employed in modern flash animation.

The Powerpuff Girls were strongly influenced by the stylings of the early Hanna Barbera cartoons

So much more could be said about this important era in animation history that a mere thousand words just isn’t enough- we didn’t even get to discuss the introduction of Scooby Doo, or touch upon what was happening in theatres (One hundred and one Dalmations by Disney, 1961), or other parts of the world besides America and Japan, or look more in depth at how the liberal, experimental counter cultures could have effected animation, and perhaps vice versa. For now let’s just accept that the sixties were a time of great change for the industry, perhaps more so than any other.

NB: All images ripped shamelessly from google images.  Ta

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