Some years ago, a local businessman told me he was getting into the security business. It was his opinion that society was headed toward a time when people would fear losing their possessions as well as their personal safety. We were slowly but eventually moving toward an era when everything in society would be “locked down.” This got me thinking about an artist who traveled all the way from the UK to visit his favorite studio. The film production facility he worshiped was in nearby Emeryville. Would he finally be able to visit Pixar Animation Studios, he wondered? Sadly, he was denied access to the cartoon factory because he didn’t know anybody inside and consequently could not get past security. Once upon a time when the world was a kinder and gentler place visitors were actually welcome at most animation studios in Hollywood. This didn't mean that the general public could wander in off the streets. Then again, nobody outside the cartoon world even knew where these studios were located. If you were lucky enough to work in this goofy business you couldn't help being a little bit curious what your colleagues were up to at the other animation houses. Lucky for us young artists, other studios were not looked upon as rivals or competitors. They were simply fellow cartoon makers in a different location.
I was working at the Walt Disney studio in the late fifties when friends told me we were only a few blocks down the street from Warner Bros Animation. Though I worked for Disney, I remained a devoted Warner Bros fan and couldn't wait to see the inside of the cartoon factory that gave us Bugs, Daffy, Porky and all the other Warner Bros family. Since it was lunch time at the mouse house we hopped into a friend's vehicle and headed down Riverside Drive and turned left onto a small nondescript street near the rear of the Warner Bros Studio lot. When we came to a stop I looked out of the window to see a small two story building near the end of the street. As our little group entered the lobby we were greeted by a polite receptionist who ask us who we were there to see. We told her we were animation artists from the Walt Disney Studios down the street and we just wanted to have a look around. "Oh, you're just visiting," said the attractive young woman. "Look around," she smiled. "Make yourselves at home." And with that, she went back to her work. We had a field day taking in all the cool layouts and backgrounds were pinned on the studio walls for all to see.
I'm sure you're already well aware that could never happen today. Before you could even get to a receptionist you would have already passed through a security gauntlet demanding drivers license, passport and blood type. I've been told that artists dropping off portfolios seldom breech some studios' inner sanctum. Most have to be content dropping off their work and resume at the main gate and never even see the inside of the studio much less a living, breathing person. One friend of mine was shocked to see his portfolio "returned" by means of an empty elevator which came to a clanking stop while he waited in the lobby. Such is the warm and fuzzy world of animation today. However, the world was different back in the fifties and my cartoon exploring continued as I visited United Productions of America located near the Smoke House restaurant in Burbank. The compact facility was the home of "Gerald McBoing Boing" and "Mr. Magoo." The studio encircled an outdoor patio where the artists could lounge or engage in a game of ping pong. Several offices opened to the outside giving the artists access to natural light. The walls and hallways were filled with development art reflecting all the films currently in production. Though the offices were tiny, the studio had a warm comfy feeling often missing in today's cold, sterile surroundings. As always, artists from other nearby studios were made to feel welcome. Though it was a longer drive, we occasionally made our way over Barham Blvd. and into downtown Hollywood to see what was going on at Bob Clampett's two story mad house on Seward Street. At the time, the former Warner Bros. director was producing "Beany and Cecil," a cartoon version of Clampett's popular television puppet show which launched the careers of Stan Freberg and Daws Butler. The Bob Clampett studio was a madcap, wacky animation house filled with a host of talented cartoon folk. I confess, it looked like a fun place to work, especially since the "Head Lunatic" was Bob Clampett himself. We enjoyed looking at all the great artwork and gag drawings that filled the facility. After a noontime visit to Clampett's free wheeling nut house it was time to return to our own studio in Burbank. Only now, Disney seemed like a visit to a senior facility.
In the sixties, a short drive west would take you to Format Films where shows like "Alvin and the Chipmunks" were being animated. Keep in mind these were the days before outsourcing, and all work was done in house. It was fun to explore the facility, see all the activity, and talk with old friends. Once again, the animation business was pretty small in those days and chances are you knew pretty much everybody no matter where they worked. Along with the cartoon show, we enjoyed looking at the beautiful paintings being done for a special studio project inspired by author, Ray Bradbury. As usual, all the artwork was on view. This was art meant to be seen, and many of us returned to our drawing boards inspired by the work of our outside colleagues. It was now the sixties, and Hanna-Barbera moved their growing crew into a new studio on Cahuenga Blvd. Over in Toluca Lake, Filmation expanded into a larger facility on Riverside Drive. Since the animation business was still pretty small potatoes in the sixties, being in this business was like being part of an extended family. Being a family member pretty much gave you access to any studio you cared to visit. The idea of cartoonists carrying ID cards and wearing security badges would have seemed ludicrous. On occasion I recall a few geeks breeching the studio gates. Then again, those same cartoon geeks eventually became part of the business anyway.
I'm not naive. I know the world has changed since the relatively innocent fifties and sixties. We live and work in a time of encoded identification badges, security guards, and electronically latched doors and gates. The days when animation artists could roam from studio to studio are over. Animation art no longer fills the hallways of production houses because its "value" necessitates that it be locked away in some secure facility. Animation today is a good deal more profitable and a lot less fun. Call me old fashioned but I miss the days when I could visit fellow artists without going through a security check. I miss being able to see artwork without having to check it out from some "secure archive." And, I miss the sheer joy of the cartoon business before it became so damn profitable.