Animation &Hubley &repeated posts 18 Sep 2008 08:20 am

Moonbird revisited

In September 2006 I posted a couple of Bobe Cannon drawings from Hubley’s Moonbird. Let’s take another look:

Moonbird is one of the seminal films of 20th Century animation.

After John Hubley left UPA, where he helped explore the use of 20th Century graphics in animation, he formed a commercial animation company in Los Angeles. Apparently, with this new entity, John did less drawing and more producing. Trying to correct this problem, he closed the LA office and set up in NYC with Faith.

The studio in New York did commercials on a smaller scale. With a Guggenheim Fellowship of $8000, the couple produced a short film, Adventures of an * in 1957 and committed to doing one film a year for themselves. With this film, Hubley picked up where he’d left off at UPA. Exploration of modern art now took on the wildly successful Abstract Expressionists and told a non-verbal story using expressionist art.

The film Tender Game, done in 1958, told another non-verbal story using the song “Tenderly” to illustrate a romance, again, in expressionist art. This film, in some ways, feels like an outgrowth of Hubley’s work on the feature, Finian’s Rainbow.

In 1959, Moonbird took a giant leap forward. The art style borrowed from the expressionists, but used a method of double exposures to layer the characters into the backgrounds. Each animation drawing was painted black outside the border of its lines. Moonbird, the character, was colored with clear wax crayon and painted with black ink. The black resisted where the wax stood and gave a loose scribbled coloring. All of these painted drawings were photographed as double exposures, shot at less than 100%, to combine characters with Bgs.

The soundtrack involved an improvised track of two children, Mark and Ray Hubley, playing. These were recorded in sessions within a recording studio and massively edited down to create the final tracks.

Bobe Cannon animated the film with Ed Smith assisting. Ed inbetweened Bobe’s scenes and animated many others.

A variation of this became the Hubley method. There was usually someone working in the studio who did all inbetweens and animated some lesser scenes. A great way to break into the medium in a big way.

Some extremes by Bobe Cannon are posted below.

(Click on any image to enlarge.)

Here’s a link to a YouTube version of the film.

5 Responses to “Moonbird revisited”

  1. on 18 Sep 2008 at 2:14 pm 1.Jenny Lerew said …

    I hadn’t watched “Moonbird” in a long time.
    So obviously a labor of love, it’s also a heck of a lot of work that had to be done on a relative shoestring by seasoned professionals who were not all related, so it’s a kind of interesting contrast: keeping a airy, delicate dream-poem of a film going without its charm turning cloying.

    I’m visualizing John and/or Faith Hubley wading through hours of time in the editing room assembling the soundtrack, then reading those tracks over, and over, and over…no picnic!
    Love seeing this unpublished work stuff here. Thanks again.

  2. on 18 Sep 2008 at 7:08 pm 2.hans bacher said …

    my favorite films! thank you, michael, for the information. there should be a book about the hubley’s work!!! hopefully most of the artwork has survived, you showed some pictures from an exhbition a while ago.

  3. on 23 Sep 2008 at 3:29 pm 3.Richard O'Connor said …

    Several years I screened my 16mm print of Moonbird which didn’t have any titles.

    A couple days later I was talking to Ed Smith about the scene in which the kids are in the hole and the bird peeks in from upper screen left -how it was “all wrong” by the book, but still so great and so “right”.

    Since my copy was missing was missing the credits I was surprised when Ed says, “When I was animating that scene, I thought the same thing. But I figure Hub knew what he was doing…”

    Just one of many amazing pieces of work that Ed has been part of.

  4. on 23 Sep 2008 at 5:10 pm 4.Michael said …

    I have a scene that Bobe Cannon animated with Ed’s inbetweens. Ed used a different sized paper and different colored pencil. It’s fabulous. Someday I’ll post it.

  5. on 26 Feb 2009 at 10:20 am 5.Annie Chen said …

    Dear Michael,
    How are you? This is Annie from Taiwan, I just happen to see your website in internet. Are you the Michael we met in 2002 New York? You were helping us for doing the Courage dog TV series(Stretch Film). Is that you? If yes, so happy to hear from you in internet! Please contact me if you have time.
    Thank you and take care!

    Best regards

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