The Men Be­hind Jay Ward’s Funny World

By Dar­rell Van Cit­ters

Animation Magazine - - Content -

A glimpse at the tal­ent that helped cre­ate the stu­dio’s iconic, comedic aes­thetic. by Dar­rell Van Cit­ter

Tele­vi­sion an­i­ma­tion has al­ways had low bud­gets, but Jay Ward Pro­duc­tions was handed the low­est bud­gets in the in­dus­try. Be­cause of this, an­i­ma­tion at Ward’s was never about the amount of draw­ings; it was what you did with the few you had. If a draw­ing couldn’t move much, then it needed to be fun to look at. As a re­sult, the stu­dio be­came the pri­mary stan­dard bearer for funny—and fun­ny­look­ing—car­toons dur­ing the 1960s.

The pro­gen­i­tors of those funny draw­ings, the ones that had the most im­pact on what be­came the “Jay Ward look,” were two out­stand­ing de­sign­ers, both well re­garded by their im­me­di­ate peers, but nei­ther of whom made much of a splash in the an­i­ma­tion busi­ness. Al Shean and Roy Morita were both strong drafts­men and facile de­sign­ers, yet as un­alike as two per­son­al­i­ties could pos­si­bly be. One was cocky and self­as­sured, the other quiet and self-con­tained. De­spite their dif­fer­ences, they shared a sen­si­bil­ity in cre­at­ing flat, lin­ear draw­ings while still man­ag­ing to im­bue them with ap­peal, hu­mor and per­son­al­ity. It was a loose, un­struc­tured, al­most spon­ta­neous ap­proach to car­toon de­sign; their draw­ings were de­cep­tively sim­ple and quickly done, al­most al­ways de­lin­eated in pen, the sign of a con­fi­dent drafts­man.

The No­mad

The first, Al Shean, de­scribed him­self as “’un­set­tled’ (and still am to this day).” He was an in­de­pen­dent and rest­less spirit, fre­quently leav­ing jobs when he felt they be­came too re­stric­tive; in fact, he had a du­bi­ous rep­u­ta­tion for work­ing like a dy­namo for about six weeks be­fore los­ing in­ter­est, sud­denly feel­ing the work was be­neath him and mov­ing on.

Shean had demon­strated early artis­tic prom­ise and at­tended Chouinard Art In­sti­tute on a schol­ar­ship. He joined the Walt Dis­ney stu­dio in 1954, where in his own words, he was “booted as a rebel” and quickly landed at another rebel’s stu­dio, John Hub­ley’s Sto­ry­board Films, as Hub­ley’s chief as­sis­tant. When Hub­ley moved his op­er­a­tion to New York, his for­mer staff formed Quar­tet Films in LA, with Shean as one of the new em­ploy­ees. Af­ter a stint at both Shamus Cul­hane’s com­mer­cial stu­dio and John Suther­land’s for an in­dus­trial car­toon, Shean was hired as the first em­ployee of Jay Ward Pro­duc­tions. As the stu­dio’s first de­signer, he would draw the ear­li­est model sheets of Rocky, Bull­win­kle, Boris, Natasha and Capt. Peach­fuzz, de­sign dozens of new char­ac­ters in­clud­ing Dud­ley Do-right and Ae­sop & Son, help cre­ate pi­lots and do co­pi­ous sto­ry­boards for Frac­tured Fairy Tales, Dud­ley Do-right and Ae­sop & Son. Al­though he was key to the Ward op­er­a­tion, Shean’s rest­less­ness even­tu­ally pushed him to de­part the com­pany for good, much to the cha­grin of Ward and [part­ner Bill] Scott who had grown to rely heav­ily on his sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions.

Over­all, Al Shean was am­biva­lent about the an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try but de­spite his feel­ings, he con­tin­ued to free­lance for decades on projects as di­verse as A Boy Named Char­lie Brown and Ralph Bak­shi’s Heavy Traf­fic. But by the 1980s, the man who had helped to de­fine a new vis­ual ap­proach to TV an­i­ma­tion was re­duced to work­ing on such projects as the an­i­mated ver­sion of GI Joe be­fore fi­nally re­tir­ing from the busi­ness.

The Devo­tee

Like many of the Ward de­sign­ers, Roy Morita was also a grad­u­ate of Chouinard and found work where many Chouinard grads found it, at UPA. Some of his first projects were for The Bo­ing Bo­ing Show, but most of his ca­reer there was spent as the head pro­duc­tion de­signer for their com- mer­cials unit, which was well known for its in­no­va­tive spots for TV. When a large group of artists quit en masse in the fall of 1959 to be­come For­mat Films, Morita left with them, head­ing up pro­duc­tion de­sign for their new an­i­mated com­mer­cial depart­ment.

Roy Morita was a pro­lific artist and con­tin­u­ally picked up free­lance work, the bulk of which con­sisted of more of what he did dur­ing the day, de­sign­ing com­mer­cials. But per­haps the most cru­cial de­ci­sion of his ca­reer was agree­ing to moon­light on a project for Jay Ward while still at UPA. Bill Scott, Ward’s part­ner, asked him to help out on a pi­lot fea­tur­ing the un­likely com­bi­na­tion of a moose and a squir­rel and a for­mula for jet fuel based on a cake recipe. Once the pi­lot sold, it forged a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Ward that lasted for over a decade, mak­ing Morita one of the key per­son­nel and in­te­gral to prac­ti­cally ev­ery project that moved through the stu­dio.

In per­son­al­ity, Roy Morita was a somber man of few words, but his play­ful draw­ings spoke of a funny streak be­neath the sur­face. His myr­iad char­ac­ter de­signs and sto­ry­boards were in­te­gral to the vis­ual vo­cab­u­lary of the stu­dio and his work was ex­tremely in­flu­en­tial on Rocky and His Friends, Frac­tured Fairy Tales, Ae­sop & Son and Hop­pity Hooper. He con­tin­ued on the Ge­orge of the Jun­gle se­ries but when the show ended its run, he boarded and laid out dozens of Quaker Oats com­mer­cials un­til the mid1970s. Roy Morita spent the fi­nal years of his ca­reer at Dis­ney, work­ing on The Black Caul­dron and de­vel­op­ing the pro­posed fea­ture, Mis­tress Masham’s Re­pose.

The Art of Jay Ward Pro­duc­tions (Oxberry Press, $44.96), writ­ten by Dar­rell Van Cit­ters, will be avail­able in stores na­tion­wide and on ama­ this month.

“Rocky & Bull­win­kle & Friends” © Ward Pro­duc­tions, Inc. ROCKY & BULL­WIN­KLE and all Ward char­ac­ters, their lo­gos, names and re­lated in­di­cia are trade­marks of and copy­righted by Ward Pro­duc­tions, Inc. Li­censed by Bull­win­kle Stu­dios, LLC. All rights re­served.

The artists who de­fined the “Jay Ward look,” Al Shean (left) and Roy Morita. (Photo cour­tesy of Keith Scott) Left: Model sheet from “Metal Munch­ing Mice” by Morita (cour­tesy of Tif­fany Ward and the Jay Ward archives)

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