Back in the seventies, Hanna–Barbera decided to do a reboot of “The Flintstones.” It had been years since the show had been on the air and many of the talented veterans who had worked on the first shows were no longer around. The series needed to get off to a strong start. The layouts for the show's opening required solid draftsmanship and a clear understanding of the characters. We needed someone with a flair for good animation composition and design. Hanna–Barbera was fortunate to have such an artist on their staff. The scenes were given to Pete Alvarado. Many years later, the Winsor McCay Award For Lifetime Achievement was given to Pete Alvarado at the annual Annie Awards. It was a great moment for all of us to see this animation legend honored, recognized and celebrated by the members of the animation community.
To say Pete is a layout artist isn't nearly enough. He's worked in almost every area of the business, including animation, styling, and character design. You might not have known that Pete was a talented background painter as well. Pete migrated to sunny, Southern California from Colorado. In his younger years he had hoped to become a painter. Because of his talent he was able to attend Chinouard Art Institute on a scholarship. It was during this time that he studied with renowned artist Rico LeBrun. Animation buffs are probably familiar with the famous artist who spent some time teaching at Walt Disney Studios in the forties. Pete tells of a life drawing class where the students were frantically sketching away at their easels. The colorful and flamboyant LeBrun strode into the room, dramatically raised his arms into the air and shouted, “cease!” LeBrun was intent on his students thinking things through before launching into a drawing. An important lesson Pete would remember. Like so many young artists, Pete tried out for a job at the Walt Disney studio's animation department and worked on the studio's first feature film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” However, Pete didn't stick around for "Pinocchio.” He moved to the Warner Brothers cartoon department and that legendary Hollywood facility known as “Termite Terrace.”
The days at Warner Brothers cartoons are still the days Pete remembers most fondly. Though some may have considered this the perfect place for a psychiatrist's case study. “Termite Terrace” was a unique gathering of extemely talented people. Though there were many different personalities in the studio, Pete remembers that they all respected each other as professionals. The “Porky Pig” shorts were still being made in black and white when Pete started working for Bob Clampett. A union man, Pete was even made the shop steward. He tried his best to improve the less than ideal working conditions at the studio. Pete tells of a time when studio boss, Leon Schlesinger called one of his many cost consciousness meetings. “Boys and girls,” said the parsimonious businessman, “we gotta start cutting corners.” The boss was taken at his word. From then on, the staff began clipping corners off the animation paper. Some even sawed chunks of wood off their drawing boards. You might find it interesting that studio managers were talking about cutting costs as far back as the thirties. Things haven’t changed much, have they? Eventually, Pete joined the Chuck Jones unit and tried his hand at doing layout. He took over as background painter when Maurice Noble became ill. His design skills and fine background work helped Jones win two Academy Awards. Pete also worked with Chuck on the very first “Roadrunner” cartoon. His desertscapes expressed a brilliant use of color as well as a strong sense of depth and distance in the film, “Fast and Furry–ous.” It was during this time that Pete began a long relationship with Western Publishing, where he worked on a number of Golden Books. It was the hey day of the western craze, and Pete found himself penciling and inking western heroes' Red Ryder, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. The country couldn't get enough of the cowboys, so Pete did comic strips as well as comic books. Eventually, he just did the pencils, and still managed to keep two inkers busy. Pete was just as ease doing funny animal characters, and the work he did touched on nearly every cartoon character one could think of. Not just Disney characters, but Warners and MGM's as well. One of the few artists put under contract, Pete has been doing work for Western for over forty years. That's a lot of books!
Pete has always said he never liked to stay at any one place too long. In the forties he move to New York hoping to illustrate pulp novels. Oddly enough, he ended up doing comics because it paid more. Pete did work for Fawcett and Funnies, Inc. One of the characters Pete worked on was "Dick Cole,” an all American military cadet. Pete tells of a strange story where the wacky American hero tries to talk Adolph Hitler out of invading Europe. Pete also did “Blue Bolt,” another superhero. While working in New York, Pete did whatever was needed. He penciled, inked, and even did backgrounds, everything except letter, although he could have done that as well. As nice as it was working in the east, Pete found that the weather left a lot to be desired, so he decided to return to the milder climate of southern California. He divided his time doing children's story and coloring books for Western and working on Saturday morning cartoon shows for Hanna–Barbera, Ruby–Spears, Warners and UPA.
At a time when younger men seem to be thinking of retirement, Pete continued doing what he does best. He worked on Hanna–Barbera's “Jetson” feature film, as well as penciled the “Donald Duck” comic strip for Disney. Pete regarded his career as very satisfying. He recalled that the best part of being in the business was the friends you work with and learn from. “Our work may not hang in the Louvre,” says Pete, “but more and more, the public seems to be recognizing animation as a true art form.” As far as the future of the business is concerned, Pete feels there will always be a need for artists, At least,“ says Pete, until they can get computers to round off the corners.” Recalling his days at Chinouard Art Institute, Pete speaks of his instructor, Rico LeBrun, who told his students, "Animation is an okay job, as long as one moves on to do something more significant.” All of us who love the wonderful world of comics and the art of animation can be thankful Pete never took Rico LeBrun's advice.