Friday, December 8, 2017

How to Boost Your Productivity: Emulate Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera

Do you own your own business? 

Cosmo Spacely, Owners of Spacely Sprockets, Inc. on The Jetsons
Or do you work for someone else?

George Jetson, employee of Spacely Sprockets, Inc.  
Whether you work for yourself or are employed by someone else, you probably are constantly striving to boost your productivity. If you are a business owner, increased productivity means increased profits. If you are an employee, increased productivity means greater standing within the company, or, failing that, greater competitiveness in the job market.

If you would like to improve your productivity, you could do a lot worse than to emulate two legends of the animation industry: William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. 

Joe, Bill, and their main stars. From left to right: Yogi Bear, Joe Barbera, Scooby-Doo, Fred Flintstone, Bamm-Bamm Rubble, Pebbles Flintstone, Bill Hanna, George Jetson, and Huckleberry Hound 
As you may recall from this blog post, Hanna and Barbera started their own animation company after losing their jobs at MGM. The animation company they created — Hanna-Barbera Productions — is renowned for making television cartoons financially viable. They did so by adopting the limited animation method, which allowed them to produce the steady, ceaseless stream of cartoons that the demands of television required. In my estimation, Hanna and Barbera’s success in the field of television animation was due to four major factors: (1) they worked hard, (2) they knew how to manage their workload, (3) they made the most of the means they had at their disposal, and (4) they constantly broadened their horizons. By adopting (or perfecting) these four traits — hard work, managing your workload, making the most of what you have, and broadening your horizons — you too can take your productivity to the next level. 

There is no denying that Hanna, Barbera, and their staff worked themselves extremely hard in order to meet the grueling demands of TV. As Barbera once reflected, “In terms of work, what we are doing is impossible. At MGM, we turned out a total of 48 minutes of cartoon film a year. We now turn out more than that in a week. Recently one of our artists said to me, ‘Joe, do you realize how much work we’re doing here? I said, ‘Don’t tell me. I don’t want to think about it. I’m scared to death!’” Despite feeling overwhelmed at times, Barbera had confidence in his company’s ability to meet the demands the animation industry placed on it. On one occasion, Hanna-Barbera publicity director Sarah Baisley noticed Barbera looking very tired. Someone had just asked him for a favor, and he had promised to follow through. Baisley asked Barbera if he ever got tired of people asking him to do things for them. Barbera replied, “It’s okay. They’re only asking me because I can.” 

Hard work is crucial to success. Working like crazy in and of itself, though, won’t get you anywhere if there is no method to your madness. Hanna and Barbera were very lucky to have very different but complementary personality traits. Just as importantly, they recognized this fact and turned it to their advantage. Accordingly, each man ran his own half of the company more or less independently of the other. In 1988, Barbera explained, “We lean toward different areas of the business, so we each get to do what we like. I work on creating the ideas for the projects, and trying to sell those ideas in the various markets. Bill oversees the actual production in studios all over the world, which I would hate doing.” Evidently, a sense of humor also helped them cope with their workload. Musing on the division of labor between himself and his business partner, Barbera once noted, “When Bill’s out of town, I turn the light out behind his name on the studio sign, but he does the same thing to me when I’m gone so we stay even. I have to answer a question that has been asked a lot lately. How can two people work together for 50 years and not fight? We did fight the very first week, and we haven’t spoken since.” 

Beyond working hard and dividing their labor, Hanna and Barbera made the most of the means that were at their disposal. For example, they greatly valued their employees and consistently strove to make sure they were happy. One day, they made the mistake of installing time clocks at the studio. Jean Ann Wright, a former assistant animator at Hanna-Barbera, recalls that many animators were deeply offended. The next day, Hanna restored their goodwill with this humorous memo: “Joe and I do not know how it happened, but over the weekend some sneaky guy climbed over the fence and installed a bunch of time clocks in our studio. We want you to know that we have ordered them taken out, which will be pretty darn quick because we were pretty emphatic about it.”

Just as importantly, Bill and Joe made the most of limited animation. I think I made the drawbacks of limited animation pretty clear in my previous blog post on Hanna-Barbera. Suffice it to say here that limited animation is no match for the sheer beauty of the full animation that characterizes the movie theater cartoons of what is quite justifiably known as the Golden Age of Animation. Hanna and Barbera were the first to recognize this fact; limited animation was not a stylistic choice but rather a necessity of the tighter budgets and faster timetables of television. Hanna and Barbera knew that if their television cartoons were to prove successful, they could not rely heavily on the animation to seduce audiences. They needed something more. They needed rich voices and sophisticated humor. 

Accordingly, Bill and Joe recruited talented character actors such as Daws Butler and Don Messick to give distinctive, memorable voices to their characters. The talent of Daws Butler is best captured by the following anecdote, which is recounted in Daws Butler: Characters Actor, a biography of Butler by radio historian Ben Ohmert and voice actor Joe Bevilacqua. When Butler was auditioning for a role in Ruff and Reddy, Hanna-Barbera’s very first made-for-TV series, Barbera told him that he wanted Reddy the dog to have a Southern voice. In response, Butler spent 30 minutes mimicking the myriad dialects that existed in the South: “Well, North Carolina would sound like that and South Carolina would be a little slower, like that, and the Cracker, oh the Cracker voice down in Florida, the Everglades, and then if we go over into Atlanta...” Butler’s versatility earned him the role of Reddy — and, later on, the role of such legendary characters as Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, or Mr. Jinks. 

In addition to excellent voice actors like Butler and Messick, two experienced writers  Mike Maltese and Warren Foster   helped Hanna-Barbera turn out high-quality cartoons even while working within the constraints of limited animation. During their many years writing for the Warner Bros. animation division, which was famous for producing Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies movie theater cartoons, these two men proved themselves to be comedic geniuses. At Hanna-Barbera, Maltese and Foster contributed countless imaginative lines to TV cartoons. For instance, in one cartoon, Snagglepuss the pink mountain lion challenges a pirate to a game of cards: “How’s about a little game of poker? Damp Jacks wild. Gin rummy? Chemin de fer? Whist? Old Maid? Young Maid? Tiddlywinks? Potsy, maybe? (Whips out tennis racket). Tennis anyone? Or isn’t tennis your racket? Ya get it? Ya get it?” In another cartoon, Snagglepuss finds himself out west: “Ah! The west at last. With its spaces. Wide open, even. Its weeds that tumble. Its get-along-little-doggie. How picturesque. How calendar-artie!” When he accidentally shoots an outlaw, he tells a cheering crowd, “’Twas a mere nothin’. A paltry piddlin’ pittance of pistol practice, even.”

As you can see, puns and alliteration such as these played a major role in making Hanna-Barbera cartoons must-watch TV — and not only for kids. The adventures of Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw were enthusiastically followed at many coffee houses. One official questionnaire given to Tucson, Arizona, police officers, included the question, “Do you watch Huckleberry Hound on television?” Huckleberry Hound was also very popular with college students. In 1960, The Huckleberry Hound Show was one of the top four most popular shows among Yale students. Even rocket scientists loved the blue hound. A team of scientists at the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico asked their local TV station to air Huckleberry Hound at a later time of day because they were too busy working on missile projects during The Huckleberry Hound Show’s air time. Perhaps most surprisingly, an island in the Antarctic was named after Huckleberry Hound

The somewhat surprising popularity of Hanna-Barbera cartoons among adults led Hanna and Barbera to broaden their horizons. Beginning in 1960, Hanna-Barbera produced not only cartoons aimed at kids but also cartoon shows specifically targeted at adult audiences such as The Flintstones...

The Jetsons... 

and Jonny Quest. 

So, there you have it, folks. If you want to boost your productivity, follow the example of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera: work hard, manage your workload, make the most of the means you have at your disposal, and broaden your horizons. Who knows? Your next business idea may just become the biggest sensation since Huckleberry Hound.   

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