Friday, May 30, 2014

The Art of Speed Buggy

When my wife leaves the T.V. set on, it's tuned to a news channel.  When my father-in-law watches, it's tuned to basketball.  And when I watch... it's cartoons.

One Sunday morning I left it tuned to Boomerang and noticed a cartoon called Speed Buggy.  I wasn't terribly impressed by the cartoon itself but what caught my eye were the backgrounds.  Hand painted in the Peregoy tradition, all done with the usual Hanna-Barbera competence.

This series ran from 1973 to 1975 although  I never watched it.  At that time I imagined myself "too old" to watch cartoons.  Thankfully I've grown to become much younger because I watch tons of 'em now!

I ordered the Complete Series, a 4 DVD set, and last night I made some captures.  I have to say I am impressed.

The credits list Iwao Takamoto as the Creative Producer.  Character design is by none other than Jerry Eisenberg.  Production Design is credited to Bob Singer.  Thus far, classic HB.

I couldn't find specific credits for the background artists but the following are listed under Layout; unfortunately I have never heard of any of them... although apparently I should have:

John Aherm
Hak Ficq (yes, I am spelling that correctly)
Moe Gollub
Frank Gonzales
Adam Szwejkowski

A little research shows that this was one high-octane crew.  Nothing second-tier about this assemblage, no sirree!  You want great background paintings on demand?  These are the guys to pop them out!

These backgrounds are handled so deftly, so professionally... so beautifully!... that I can only be amazed.

This episode, Speed Buggy Falls in Love, has our intrepid auto and pals going to Eastern Europe - behind the Iron Curtain - to attend a race. 

Whereas I've got them out of sequence, what counts here is the beauty of the paintings.  When possible I isolated the background by itself.
The bad guys hole up in this classic decrepit warehouse.

Love struck Speed Buggy is lured into the bad guys' castle.

Classic Eastern European airport lobby.  Check out the marbling on the counter.  That takes some real brush skills.
...and contrast it to the sleek, modern American airport interior.

Here's the bad guys' castle.  Bad guys live in a castle?  These ones do!

The unveiling of their "sexy" car... the better to lure Speed Buggy to his demise.  Check out the detail work to the work bench and the stone walls.  And, man! check out the size of the hinges on that back door!!

Just a nice street scene.
Comin' to retrieve Speed Buggy.
A nice aerial view of the Eastern European auto race course.
There were dozens upon dozens of backgrounds painted for this episode.  This type of semi-realistic painting... in gouache, no doubt, because it had to be mounted behind a glass platen for filming and gouache is nice and flat... was done by what I can only describe as expert painters.  It was painting on demand: new scene, new paintings!!  Chop chop.  And this crew pumped them out.

Imagine the skill it would take to pop these paintings out on a schedule.  My guess is they were mostly based on photographs.  For instance, the "Eastern European" airport counter could just as easily be Union Station... or the Santa Fe station in San Diego.  And this shot of the airport exterior...

... looks an awful lot like Disneyland.

There was some stunning attention to detail regarding the stones set into the castle walls and arches:

The inevitable chase occurs.  Check out the countryside in this composite of the Speed Buggy making his getaway:

... I especially like the little roadside shrine.

When the airplane carrying our pals lands in this unnamed... or vaguely named... Eastern European country, it landed at an especially picturesque little airport:

Bear with the bits and pieces of the airplane.  Check out the airport.

When this episode was done, HB had a pile of these background paintings.  How much you want to bet that at some point they got sold on Ebay?

The painters must have worked around the clock to produce so many high quality backgrounds.  That kind of talent doesn't grow on trees, my friends, and I wonder if it really ever gets displaced by people who are crafty at Photoshop.  This was the old-fashioned way of doing it by people who were enormously talented and industrious. 

In my humble opinion... my very humble opinion... the quality of the background art outshone the story, the writing, and the horrible jokes.  This was just one episode; I haven't even scratched the surface in uncovering all the wonderful paintings to this series.

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