Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ray Favata and His Hand-Drawn Animation

Ray Favata made Sonny the Cuckoo Bird "koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs" and gave Billy Joe his Jive.

Favata, a leading figure in animation from the 1950s through the 1990s, retired and moved to Washington County in 1997, but his body of work continues to inspire a new generation of artists.

"Ray was an innovator," said Ed Seeman, his long-time animation partner. "He paints with a pencil. He instinctively draws. He doesn't have to sketch. His first pencil line is the line."

Long before computers came into play, Favata helped transform the field with a quirky sense of design. He illustrated everything from Post Cereal commercials to segments for "Schoolhouse Rock" and Billy Joe Jive cartoons for "Sesame Street." Sugar Bear, My Little Pony and the "Tangeroo" are just a few of the characters he developed.

"I think, I spanned 50 years in animation," Favata said.

Through his career in Manhattan, Favata won a number of awards, including an Emmy for his drawing on the opening animated sequence of the 1980s children's series "The Great Space Coaster."

He regularly worked with comedians Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, better known as Bob and Ray. Favata teamed with the comedy duo to create the animated 1950s Piels Beer campaign featuring the characters Bert and Harry. Looking at one of his old drawings of the two balding announcers (one short, one tall), Favata reminisced about the much-loved spots.

"They were extraordinary guys. Bob did this guy's voice (pointing to the tall character), and Ray did this guy's voice (pointing to the short character). Bob was shorter than Ray, but they reversed the voices," Favata said.

Favata claims he knew very little about cartoons and animation before he happened upon a job at Tempo Productions, one of the premier studios in the early 1950s.
"I was doing freelance work, and I was called in to do some storyboards, which I had never done. It was completely foreign to me," Favata said.

"Two weeks after I started at Tempo, I knew I loved doing this," he said. Favata was able to learn from some of the most talented artists in animation, including a number of people who had developed their art while working for Walt Disney.

"I was having a good time. This was a whole new dimension to drawing," he said.

Favata was hired at Academy Pictures, where he met his wife, Carol (who also worked for years in animation as an inker and painter). During the 1950s, he developed ties to some of the top animators and had a steady stream of work.

In 1957, he went to work at the revamped Terrytoons and then went on to team up with Bill Tytla to start a new commercial animation studio, according to Amidi. In the 1960s, the studio became Ray Favata Productions, which continued into the 1980s.

Seeman, who began working with Favata in the 1960s, has many memories of their collaboration.

Along the way, Favata and Seeman formed a working relationship with musician Frank Zappa in the mid-1960s. Zappa scored a Luden's Cough Drop commercial for them, and the artists spent some time photographing and filming the musician and collaborated on his "Uncle Meat" project.
The advertising business began to change in the 1980s, and Favata and Seeman closed their shop. But they still collaborated on freelance projects.

"I had no experience with computer animation, and I knew it was going in that direction," Favata said. "It's almost like the end of an era when I left."

Although Favata never received the mainstream notoriety of some animators, the artistic influence of his work is apparent on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

From the "Powerpuff Girls" to "Chowder" and "Flapjack," a new generation of animation is paying homage to artists like Favata.

Favata hasn't worked in animation for more than a decade, but he remains active and still enjoys taking photographs. His house is filled with mementos of the golden age of hand-drawn animation.


Post a Comment