Animation Artifacts &Hubley 14 Sep 2006 08:00 am


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.)

Amid Amidi has posted a link to a YouTube version of the film. It looks good.

One Response to “Moonbird”

  1. on 16 Sep 2006 at 8:32 pm 1.Brad Bird said …

    I first saw Hubley’s MOONBIRD as a kid in some kind of fluke collection of independent animation on major prime time network t.v. (I think it was NBC!), a show (if memory serves) that also included ERSATZ. This is the kind of show that would never appear on a major network nowadays.

    I loved (and continue to love) this film. Its spontaniety and gentle sophistication made a huge impact on me.

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