Thursday, November 12, 2015

Animator of the Month: Iwao Takamoto

Today, I have decided to introduce a new feature to this blog, The Animator of the Month. It will feature animation artists both well-known and obscure, based upon their impact on the animation industry as a whole. This month, Iwao Takamoto will be covered.

Iwao Takamoto cira 2005.

Iwao Takamoto, was born on April 25th, 1925 in Los Angeles, California to Japanese immigrants. Although Iwao never attended college, he was a quick leaner. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angles at age 15. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Iwao and his family were forced to move into the Japanese American internment camp, Manzanar.  Despite having to endure living there until the end of WWII, the Takamoto  family made the best they could of the situation. Iwao took up drawing classes under the wing of two other interns who were formerly film studio art directors.

Barracks at the Manzanar internment camp.

After being released from Manzanar, Iwao contacted Disney. He initially knew little about the company, but had remembered hearing the name frequently from his tutors. Despite having little idea how to put together a portfolio, Iwao's work was accepted by the studio. He would end up working there for 16 years, between 1945 to 1961, as an assistant animator. He worked closely with senior animator Milt Kahl, helping bring life to such characters as Lady from The Lady and The Tramp and Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. While he was working on Sleeping Beauty, he married Jane B. Baer in 1957. They would have one son together, Michael, and remained married for seven years. The last film Iwao worked on at Disney was 101 Dalmatians.

Layout drawing by Iwao Takamoto for The Lady and the Tramp.

Iwao working on Sleeping Beauty
(The cigarette is just as essential as the pencil.)

A drawing from a sequence in Sleeping Beauty.

While it is easy to speculate that Iwao could have left Disney due to receiving little to no credit for his work, this practice was common at time for other Japanese Americans, women, and minorities. (Today, many contemporary animators are more aware and appreciative of their efforts, including Disney's Andreas Deja.) It is far more likely that he eventually left the studio due to the competition that theatrical animation was receiving from television, and thus started working for Hannah-Barbera.

Iwao at Disney between 1950-1960.

At Hannah-Barbera, Iwao Takamoto found great success. He first began working as a layout artist on The Yogi Bear Show, and would quickly go on to become one of the studio's chief character designers. By the 1970s he had become a major producer for the studio and he would go on to direct two of the company's feature films, Charlotte's Web (1973), and The Jetsons Movie (1990).  Iwao also met Barbara Farber at HB on one of her studio tours. They married in 1964, and would stay together for 44 years, until Takamoto's death.

Iwao's drawing style is distinguished by his use of thick, smooth lines with rounded edges and tapering angles. (Which is what Hannah-Barbera would later become known for.) His work for Disney is more detailed than what HB's more limited animation would allow for. Thus, his later work tends to focus on simple, easy to draw forms. As Iwao's friend and co-worker, Scott Awely, put it:
"When you do a Saturday Morning cartoon, you have to cut out every nonessential line because pencil mileage is money."

Character sketches for HB's Alice in Wonderland TV special.

Iwao seemed to be specially apt at designing cartoon dogs (Astro from The Jetsons, Muttley from Wacky Racers, Scooby-Doo, Hong-Kong Phooey) and young women (Penelope Pitstop from Wacky Racers, Velma and Daphne from Scooby-Doo Where Are You?). Scooby-Doo is arguably Iwao Takamoto's most famous creation. Iwao was inspired to create Scooby-Doo by one of his co-workers who bred Great Danes as show dogs.

Upon reflecting on Scooby-Doo, Iwao said, "She showed me some pictures and talked about the important points of a Great Dane - like a straight back, straight legs, small chin, and such. I decided to go the opposite and gave him a humped back, bowed legs, big chin, and such. Even his color is wrong."

The first sketch Iwao Takamoto proposed for Scooby-Doo in 1969.

Pitch title card for Scooby-Doo.

Later in his life, Iwao's role in the animation industry began to get more commonly acknowledged. In 1996, he received the Winsor McCay Award for Lifetime Achievement, having spent over 50 years working with Disney and Hannah Barbera. He also became Vice President of Special Projects for Warner Brothers Animation the same year.

Iwao Takamoto passed away on January 8th, 2007 at age 81. His legacy lives on through the many animators he worked with and helped inspire. In 2009, Takamoto's post-humerous memoir, My Life with a Thousand Characters, was published. An intimate memoir entitled Living with a Legend by Leslie E. Stern, Iwao's stepdaughter, was published in 2012.