Animation &Animation Artifacts &commercial animation &Hubley &Models &repeated posts 03 Sep 2012 05:11 am

Vlasic Business at the Hubleys

– Years ago I worked at the Hubley studio on a pair of commercials for Vlasic pickles. One of the two spots made it to the air.

This is from the spot that never made it.

Vlasic had a commercial they wanted, and because of the agency’s long time relationship with the Hubleys, they came to him to try to develop the character. (The agency was W.B. Doner, the agency that had done so well with Hubley’s Maypo commercials.)

The agency came with two already-recorded voices: one was a Groucho Marx impersonator (Pat Harrington was the Groucho impersonator ultimately used for the stork’s voice.*) The other voice was character actor, Edgar Buchanan, a man with a gruff voice who appeared in a million westerns. John Hubley wanted Edgar Buchanan – it was a much richer voice, lots of cowboy appeal.

John designed the character to look like one of those stationmasters in cowboy films. The guy who gives out tickets and does morse code when he has to. The stork had a vest and a blue, boxy, stationmaster-type cap cocked off to the side. It was a great character.

Phil Duncan was the animator. A brilliant character guy who had done everything from Thumper to George of the Jungle. I loved cleaning up and inbetweening his work. It was all fun and vibrating with life.

The rough thumbnail drawing (above) fell out of one of Phil’s packages. It was a thumbnail plan of the action. Phil would do these things which usually stretched around the edges of his final drawings. In a nutshell, you could see the scene and how he worked it out. Lovely stuff.

I felt this drawing was as beautiful as the original animation drawings.

The agency approved the stork, Edgar Buchanan and the plan of action.

We’d already finished the first commercial which was on the air. (Represented by the two set-ups posted here.) The style was done with acrylic paints – out of a tube – on top of the cel. Ink with Sharpie on cel; paint dark colors – ON TOP of cel
- up to and over ink line; after drying we painted it again with lighter tones, and we pained it again after it dried using even lighter tones with a translucent color. Imagine kids & a gun in a spot today!)

Phil Duncan did a great job of animating it. I inbetweened, and the Agency loved it and approved it to color.

All this time, John and Faith were busy preparing the start of Everybody Rides the Carousel. It was to be three half-hour shows (Eventually CBS changed their mind and asked the shows, still in production, to be reconfigured to make a 90 min film) and was in preproduction. I did the spots on my own with John checking in. Faith wanted nothing to do with a commercial and was somewhat furious that a commercial was ongoing. She daily spoke out against this spot with many shouting matches. I never quite understood the problem. The spots didn’t hold up any other studio work; I was making it as easy as possible for John to not have to do much work on the spots, and they were getting necessary money to help finance some of the preliminary work for the Carousel. (Of course, the Hubley name was involved, but even Michelangelo did commercial work – like the Sistine Chapel to pay for the art. Not that Vlasic was the Sisine Chapel, of course.)

Within weeks the spot was in color and two junior exec. agency guys, John and I stood around the Hubley moviola. (It was a great machine with four sound heads and a picture head that was the size of a sheet of animation paper. Pegs were actually attached to enable rotoscoping!)

The two agency guys were buttoned up with good suits and briefcases. They stood behind John and me, and I operated the moviola.

We screened the spot the first time. I turned around and these two guys had come undone. Their ties were loose and astray; they were visibly sweating. I swear this all happened within the course of 30 secs.

John smiled and optimistically asked how they liked it. They looked at each other, and couldn’t answer. I don’t think they were able to form a decision or say what they actually thought. Eventually, they left with the spot in their briefcase and would get back. It wasn’t good.

They did get back. I was asked to pack up all the elements and ship them back to W.B. Doner. The spot was thrown out of the studio by John who refused to change it. (Hubley’s stork.)
He liked what was done, and apparently had
a rider in his contract which covered him – somehow.

The spot showed up at Jack Zander‘s studio, Zander’s Animation Parlour. They used the Groucho impersonation and slicked it up a lot. Vlasic is still using that stork, and that was John’s last commercial endeavor. The character is still showing up in a cg version, just as bad as the 2D version.

* Thanks to Mark Mayerson for this information.

4 Responses to “Vlasic Business at the Hubleys”

  1. on 03 Sep 2012 at 9:59 am 1.Elliot Cowan said …

    In hindsight, do you see why they didn’t like it?

  2. on 03 Sep 2012 at 10:53 am 2.Michael said …

    To be honest, no. The commercial was funny, well animated with a great character and a funny voice. The style was certainly looser than Zander’s house style, but this is what they’d bought with all the prior sots they’d received from Hubley. The Groucho voice was a mediocre impersonation, the Buchanan voice was an original. Perhaps they wouldn’t have been able to easily impersonate it after Mr. Buchanan passed away, but that had little to do with the original.

  3. on 03 Sep 2012 at 11:25 am 3.Amy said …

    I was the voice of the kid who said,”Daddy,can I have a dog?” in the Hubley!

  4. on 03 Sep 2012 at 11:26 am 4.John said …

    The only thing I can think of is someone at the company or the agency liked the idea of having the stork use the pickle as a cigar due to their (sort of) similar shapes and the connection that could then build to Groucho (along with the bird with the secret word connection to Mr. Marx from “You Bet Your Life”). Buchanan had just come off eight years on “Petticoat Junction”, where he was the best thing about the show, so audiences of the early-to-mid 70s would have been just as familiar with his voice as they were with Groucho’s.

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