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Warner Bros. Animation

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Warner BrosWarner Bros. Animation 2008 logo(00:05)
The Logo of WB Animation featuring Bugs Bunny.

Warner Bros. Animation is a division of Warner Bros., and a subsidiary of Time Warner, and was formerly referred to as Leon Schlesinger Productions from 1930 to 1944, and Warner Bros. Cartoons from 1944 to 1963. The studio was founded in 1930, and is famous for producing the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, which began under the production of Harman and Ising at Schlesinger's unit. Since 1990, Warner Bros. Animation has primarily focused upon the production of television and feature animation of other properties, notably including those related to Time Warner's DC Comics publications, as well as the Scooby-Doo and Looney Tunes franchises.

History

1930-1933: Harman-Ising Productions

Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising originated the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of animated short subjects in 1930 and 1931, respectively. Both cartoon series were produced for Leon Schlesinger at the Harman-Ising Studio on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California, with Warner Bros. Pictures releasing the films to theaters. The first Looney Tunes character was the Harman-Ising creation Bosko, The Talk-ink Kid. Despite the fact that Bosko was popular among theater audiences, he could never match the popularity of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse, or even Max Fleischer's Betty Boop. In 1933, Harman and Ising parted company with Schlesinger over financial disputes, and took Bosko with them to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. As a result, Schlesinger set up his own studio on the Warner Bros. lot on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

1933-1944 Leon Schlesinger Productions

The Schlesinger studio got off to a slow start, continuing their one-shot Merrie Melodies and introducing a Bosko replacement named Buddy into the Looney Tunes. Disney animator Tom Palmer was the studio's first senior director, but after the three cartoons he made were deemed to be of unacceptable quality and rejected by the studio, former Harman-Ising animator Isadore "Friz" Freleng was called in to replace Palmer and rework his cartoons.The studio then formed the three-unit structure that it would retain throughout most of its history, with one of the units headed by Ben "Bugs" Hardaway, and the other by Earl Duvall, who was replaced by Jack King a year later.

In 1935, Freleng helmed the Merrie Melodies cartoon I Haven't Got a Hat, which introduced the character Porky Pig. Hardaway and King departed, and a new arrival at Schlesinger's, Fred "Tex" Avery, took Freleng's creation and ran with it. Avery directing a string of cartoons starring Porky Pig which established the character as the studio's first bonafide star. Schlesinger also gradually moved the Merrie Melodies cartoons from black and white, to two-strip Technicolor in 1934, and finally to full three-strip Technicolor in 1936. The Looney Tuneswould be produced in black-and-white for much longer, until 1943.

Because of the limited spacing conditions in the Schlesinger building at 1351 N. Van Ness on the Warner Sunset lot, Avery and his unit - including animators Robert Clampett and Chuck Jones - were moved into a small building elsewhere on the Sunset lot. Although the Avery unit moved out of the building after a year, it later became a metonym for the classic Warner Bros. animation department in general, even for years after the building was abandoned, condemned, and torn down. During this period, four cartoons were outsourced to the Ub Iwerks studio; however, Iwerks struggled to adapt his style to the type of humor that the Looney Tunes had developed by this time, and so Clampett took over as director (using Iwerks' staff) for the last two of these outsourced cartoons. Schlesinger was so impressed by Clampett's work on these shorts that he opened a fourth unit for Clampett to head, although for tax reasons this was technically a separate studio headed by Schlesinger's brother-in-law, Ray Katz.

From 1936 until 1944, animation directors and animators such as Freleng, Avery, Clampett, Jones, Arthur Davis, Robert McKimson, and Frank Tashlin worked at the studio. During this period, these creators introduced several of the most popular cartoon characters to date, including Daffy Duck (1937, Porky's Duck Hunt by Avery), Elmer Fudd (1940, Elmer's Candid Camera by Jones), Bugs Bunny (1940, A Wild Hare by Avery), and Tweety Bird (1942, A Tale of Two Kitties by Clampett). Avery left the studio in 1941 following a series of disputes with Schlesinger. By 1942, the Schlesinger studio had surpassed Walt Disney Productions as the most successful producer of animated shorts in the United States.

1944 - 1964 Warner Bros. Cartoons, Inc.

Schlesinger who had been making the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, sold his studio In 1944 to Warner Bros, who renamed the company Warner Bros. Cartoons, Inc. The continuation of Schlesingers popular toons continued (from 1930, with Harman and Ising producing, through 1933 - 1944 under Schlessinger, and on to 1963 Under Warner, then from 1967 to 1969, Warner reestablished its own animation division in 1980 to produce Looney Tunes related work. By 1946, Tashlin, and Clampett had left, and the remaining directors - Jones, Freleng, McKimson, and Art Davis - carried on the Warner Bros. cartoon legacy. Edward Selzer, who by Jones' and Freleng's accounts had no sense of humor or appreciation of cartoons, was appointed by Warner Bros. as the new head of the cartoon studio, which moved to a larger building on the Sunset Blvd. lot in 1948. Schlesinger died in 1949.

Among the Warner Bros. cartoon stars who were created after Schlesinger's departure include Yosemite Sam (1945), Sylvester (1945), Foghorn Leghorn (1946), Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner (1949), and Speedy Gonzales (1953). In later years, even more minor Looney Tunes characters such as Rocky and Mugsy, ' Marvin the Martian and Tasmanian Devil have become significantly popular too.

After the verdict of the United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. anti-trust case ended the practice of "block booking", Warner Bros. could no longer force theaters into buying their features and shorts together as packages; shorts had to be sold separately. Theater owners were only willing to pay so much for cartoon shorts, and as a result by the late-1950s the budgets at Warner Bros. Cartoons became tighter. Selzer forced a stringent five-week production schedule on each cartoon (at least one director, Chuck Jones, cheated the system by spending more time on special cartoons such as What's Opera Doc, less time on simpler productions such as Road Runner. With less money for full animation, the Warner Bros. story men: Michael Maltese, Tedd Pierce, and Warren Foster — began to focus more of their cartoons on dialogue. While story artists were assigned to directors at random during the 1930s and 1940s, by the 1950s each story man worked almost exclusively with one director: Maltese with Jones, Foster with Freleng, and Pierce with McKimson. Art Davis' separate unit was dissolved in 1949, and he became an animator for Freleng.

With the advent of the 3-D film craze in 1953, Warner Bros. shut its cartoon studio down in June of that year, fearing that 3-D cartoon production would be too expensive and the creative staff dispersed among other studios, with Freleng moving into commercial work. Warner Bros. Cartoons re-opened five months after its close, following the end of the 3-D craze. In 1955, the staff moved into a brand new facility on the main Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. KTLA television took over the old studio location on Van Ness.

By 1957, Selzer had retired, and John Burton took his place. Warner Bros. also lost its trio of staff storymen at this time. Foster and Maltese found work at Hanna-Barbera Productions, while Pierce worked on a freelance basis with writing partner Bill Danch. John Dunn and Dave Detiege, both former Disney men, were hired to replace them.

During Burton's tenure, Warner Bros. Cartoons branched out into television. The Bugs Bunny Show was a package program featuring three theatrical Warner Bros. cartoons, with newly produced wraparounds to introduce each short. The program remained on the air under various names and on all three major networks for three decades, finally ending its long broadcast run on ABC in 2000. All versions of The Bugs Bunny Show included edited versions of Warner Bros. cartoons released after July 31, 1948, as all of the Technicolor cartoons released before that date were sold to Associated Artists Productions (AAP), in 1956.

David H. DePatie became the last executive in charge of the original Warner Bros. cartoons studio in 1961. The same year, Chuck Jones moonlighted to write the script for a UPA-produced feature titled Gay Purr-ee. When that film was picked up by Warner Bros. for distribution in 1962, the studio learned that Jones had violated his exclusive contract with Warners and he was terminated. Animator Phil Monroe supervised the completion of The Iceman Ducketh, the last cartoon Jones had been working on; the remainder of the Jones unit was laid off after its completion. Most of Jones' former unit subsequently re-joined him at Sib Tower 12 Productions; Freleng left the studio in November 1962, four months after Jones' termination, to serve as story director for the feature Hey There, It's Yogi Bear! at Hanna-Barbera; his layout artist Hawley Pratt directed the Freleng unit's final cartoon, Señorella and the Glass Huarache.

In mid-1962, DePatie was sent to a board meeting in New York, and he was informed that the studio was going to be shut down, due to decline in budgets to produce shorts and decline in theatre attendance (mainly due to competition with television). DePatie completed the task by spring 1963. The final cartoon to be completed was the Bugs Bunny cartoon False Hare, directed by Robert McKimson, while Señorella and the Glass Huarache was the final cartoon to be released in 1964. The final project at the studio before it closed for good was the animated sequences, directed by McKimson, for the 1964 Warner Bros. feature The Incredible Mr. Limpet. With the studio closed, Hal Seeger Productions in New York had to be contracted to produce the opening and closing credits for The Porky Pig Show, which debuted on ABC in 1964. This marked one of the first times that the Looney Tunes characters were animated outside of the Los Angeles area.

1964-1967 Warner Bros. shorts by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and Format Films

DePatie and Freleng started DePatie-Freleng Enterprises in 1963, and leased the old Warner Bros. Cartoons studio. In 1964, Warners contracted DePatie-Freleng to produce more Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, an arrangement which lasted until 1967. The vast majority of these paired off Daffy Duck against Speedy Gonzales, and after a few initial cartoons directed by Freleng, Robert McKimson was hired to direct most of the remaining DePatie-Freleng Looney Tunes.

In addition to DePatie-Freleng's cartoons, a series of new shorts featuring The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote was commissioned from an independent animation studio, Herbert Klynn's Format Films. Veteran Warner animator Rudy Larriva, who had worked for years under Road Runner creator Chuck Jones, assumed directorial duties for these films, but even with the Jones connection Larriva's Road Runner shorts are considered to be mediocre by critics. McKimson also directed an additional two Road Runner shorts with the main DePatie-Freleng team, which are slightly better regarded than Larriva's efforts.

After three years of outsourced cartoons, Warner Bros. decided to bring production back in-house. DePatie-Freleng had their contract terminated (they subsequently moved to new studios in the San Fernando Valley), and Format Films were commissioned to produce three "buffer" cartoons with Daffy and Speedy (again, directed by Rudy Larriva) to fill the gap until Warner Bros.'s own studio was up and running again.

1967-1969 Warner Bros. Animation (owned by Warner Bros. -Seven Arts)

The new cartoon studio was to be headed by studio executive William L. Hendricks, and after an unsuccessful attempt at luring Bob Clampett out of retirement, former Walter Lantz Studio and Hanna-Barbera animator Alex Lovy was appointed director at the new studio. He brought his longtime collaborator, Laverne Harding to be the new studio's chief animator, and brought in disney animator Volus Jones and Ed Solomon which contributed to make cartoons from this era of the studio stylistically quite different from the studio's "Golden Age" (though for good measure, Lovy also brought in animator Ted Bonnicksen and layout artist Bob Givens, both veterans of the original studio). This animation style was also used by the company when What's New, Scooby-Doo? was produced 35 years later. Shortly after the studio opened, Warner Bros. was bought out by Seven Arts Associates, and the studio was renamed Warner Bros.-Seven Arts.

Initially, Lovy's new team produced more Daffy and Speedy cartoons, but soon moved to creating new characters such as Cool Cat and Merlin the Magic Mouse, and even occasional experimental works such as Norman Normal (1968). Despite the latter gaining a cult following after its release, Lovy's cartoons were not well received, and many enthusiasts regard them (particularly his Daffy-Speedy efforts) as the worst cartoons ever produced by the studio.

After a year, Alex Lovy left and returned to Hanna-Barbera, and Robert McKimson was bought back to the studio; for the most part though, he focused on using the characters that Lovy had created (and two of his own creation: Bunny and Claude) rather than the studio's classic characters. The new studio's cartoons remained unpopular however, and in 1969, when Seven Arts split up from Warner Bros., Warners ceased production on all its short subjects and shut the studio down for good. The back catalog of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts would remain a popular broadcast and syndication package for Warner Bros. Television well into the 2000s, by which time it had reacquired the pre-August 1948 shorts it sold to a.a.p. in 1956.

1970 - present: Warner Bros. Animation

With Warners' own animation studio closed for the second time, the studio had to resort to outside producers whenever new Looney Tunes-related animation was required. In 1976, Chuck Jones, by this time the head of his own Chuck Jones Productions studio, began producing a series of Looney Tunes specials, the first of which was Carnival of the Animals. In 1979, Jones produced new wraparound footage for a compilation feature of Looney Tunes shorts entitled The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie. The success of this film spurred Warner Bros. to establish its own studio to produce similar works, and Warner Bros. Animation opened its doors in 1980. to produce Looney Tunes related work.

Under the supervision of Friz Freleng, three new compilation features were produced: The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie, Bugs Bunny's Third Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales, and Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island. Later in the decade, the concept of compilation films was revived by writer-directors Greg Ford and Terry Lennon, and new short subjects were produced for theatres.

Warner Bros. Animation continues sporadic production of Looney Tunes-related specials and TV series to this day, the most recent being the Saturday morning action series Loonatics Unleashed, and the newest prime-time Cartoon Network series The Looney Tunes Show. The studio's main focus is on original and licensed television programming; in this field, Warner Bros. Animation has had major successes with Looney Tunes-esque shows such as Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs, DC Comics-licensed shows such as Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, and shows based upon other properties such as ¡Mucha Lucha! and Hanna-Barbera's Scooby-Doo (H-B was acquired by WB in 1996 as part of the Turner-Time Warner merger). The studio briefly delved into feature animation production from 1994 to 2003, although Space Jam (1996), a live-action/animation combination film starring National Basketball Association star Michael Jordan opposite the Looney Tunes characters, remains the studio's only financially successful feature. The abandonment of feature film animation was mainly due to the poor box office performance of the feature Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Trivia

The classic Warner Bros. animation studio is sometimes referred to as "Termite Terrace", a name given to the temporary headquarters Tex Avery and his animators were assigned to during Avery's first year as a Looney Tunes director. Occasionally this term is still sometimes used for the modern Warner Bros. Animation facilities.

Only one theatrical Warner Bros. cartoon was ever produced in 3-D, Lumber Jack-Rabbit starring Bugs Bunny.

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