I wrote the following article in October of 2000 for a zine called Apatoons. It’s just my musings on the late Ed Benedict.
He also worked on my two other Johnny Bravo Specials after I wrote this article.
ED BENEDICT ON JOHNNY BRAVO
When I started Johnny Bravo I wanted to develop a classic Hanna-Barbera style for the show. Not the '70's or '80's "Push it through, it looks good enough" style that the studio was accustomed to, but the very stylized and minimal look that I found appealing. The one that was developed for Ruff and Ready and Yogi Bear. I asked my producer, Byron Vaughns, who we could talk to and he mentioned Ed Benedict. I pessimistically thought, "Yeah, right! Like, Ed Benedict would come out of retirement to design my show." Byron said, "Hey, it's worth a shot."
From there, I decided to do some homework on Ed Benedict. I knew that he designed all the major H-B characters but that was about it. Surprisingly, when I asked people around the studio about him, they questioned my wanting to approach Ed Benedict for anything. I was told by several artists and production people that he was a crabby old man who doesn't like to be bothered. They said that he was difficult to deal with and that if I wanted to learn about his artwork that I should just watch the cartoons he worked on and study his model sheets. It was interesting because all these comments came from people who hadn't really dealt with Ed on a one-on-one basis. The only one who could really say anything about him from first-hand experience was Joe Barbera, and he told me that he's the main man to go to if I can get him.
Fortunately for me, the Animation Art department was still in the studio and they had recently dealt with Ed. I knew that they could give me the real answers about the Ed Benedict of today. Mike Ryan, the head of the department, told me that all the stories I've heard about him are true. Ed is a crabby old man who left Hollywood because he hates it. But he also told me that he likes when people visit him and that he still knows how to work a pencil. Then he showed me some of the line art that Ed had recently drawn for them. I was amazed at how clear the composition was and impressed that his linework was the same as it was all those years ago. I had recently gotten a drawing from Joe Barbera and noticed that there was a slight deterioration in his drawing skills. Since they were both in their late eighties, I assumed Ed had also lost a bit of his craftsmanship, but apparently it was still there. From that point on, I was determined to use Ed Benedict and all the rest of the old school H-B guys in one way or another on my show.
Meanwhile, Byron had gotten Ed on the phone. It seems that Ed gave up working in animation because he didn't need the money or the stresses of deadlines. Besides that, he's retired! Fortunately for us, from Byron's conversation, Ed agreed to talk to me and my designers, Miles Thompson and Julian Chaney, about the art of animation. Over the course of a couple of weeks, Ed would call us up and discuss animation but, in his words, "it's like trying to tell you about a pretty girl. No matter how much you describe her, you'll never know how stunning she is until you can actually see her." That prompted me to ask our head of production, Sherry Gunther, to pay for me and one of my designers to fly up and see Ed for a drawing lesson. It was a long shot, but it worked. The next thing I knew, Julian Chaney and I were flying up to Carmel to spend a day with Ed Benedict.
We arrived at his home and were kindly met by him and his wife, Alice. Entering into his kitchen, I saw my first bits of Ed Benedict artwork. He had created about twelve different rabbit sculptures, all made from different things from wood and clay, to paper clips and rocks. Alice told us that he made one every year for Easter. Next he took us past his retro looking family room to his back room working space. As we complimented him on his home decor, he proudly said, "Notice how I don't have any animation artwork on my walls except for this drawing." He then pointed to a framed drawing of Betty Boop given to him by Grim Natwick. "Now he was a good man and a great artist."
From there, Ed told us that he didn't understand why we kept asking him if he could help us figure out the "Ed Benedict" style. To him, there was no "Ed Benedict" style so it urked him that we even made a comment like that. He then proceeded to pull out his sketchbooks from the 1930's. (That right there was worth the trip.) He showed us all the different things he liked to doodle and explained how he doesn't like to dictate the way his art comes about. He also talked of how he dreamed of being a set designer and showed us sketches of sets on the MGM lot that he did during his breaks. He also had landscape paintings, caricatures, horticultural and architectural studies, and most of all, studies discerning composition of shapes within space. From there, he began to draw with that concept in mind.
We were there for hours as he took our development drawings and transformed them into works of art. It was a once in a lifetime thing to have Ed Benedict talk in abstracts and then watching these concepts flow from his pencil. The worst part about it was that he kept drawing over everything he did and then ripped it up when he was finished. By the end of the day, I had grown an appreciation for the art of animation. I had learned more in those couple of hours than I ever had before or since. I had also made a new friend and mentor on my journey through the world of animation.
After that meeting, Ed agreed to do some conceptual design for my show. As long as he didn't have a deadline. He also made it a point to let us know that he wasn't doing it for the money because he didn't need it. I like to think he did it because of the camaraderie between the two of us. Each delivery he made was like getting a Christmas present in the mail. I remember looking forward to his deliveries and the follow up calls to discuss why he did what he did. I felt like the luckiest kid in school because I got one of the greatest animation legends to come out of retirement to work on my production. It was a dream come true.
One of the funnest things about visiting Ed was going through his personal file cabinet of every single piece of artwork he's ever done. He kept all his drawings because people kept asking him for the same designs for animals and people over and over. Knowing full well that he hates having people copy his stuff, I was pleasantly surprised when he allowed me to take selected files of his original artwork to Kinko's and photocopy them for reference purposes. The best part was that he allowed me to make beautiful color copies of his development artwork from "Invitation to the Dance" and "Dixieland Droopy." All that he asked was that I not make any more copies of his material for other people to steal. I can now look at his artwork and study it in ways I could never have without Ed's thoughts and words.
I went and visited him by myself two other times during the course of my show and about three or four times socially after that. Each time I went, I tried to spend a full day with him. Each time I learned a little bit more about Ed as an artist and as a person.
He has a deep love and passion for the art of animation and is saddened and angry of its demise since the golden age. He sketches with a pencil that is not in existence anymore. He loves drawing Vegas showgirls. He doesn't think Pebbles is designed to go with the rest of the Flinstone family (he didn't do that design). He holds his pencil between his third and fourth finger. He loves classic Disney and UPA cartoons. He started Disney the same day as Fred Moore. He likes chocolate chip cookies. He only takes two or three puffs from his cigarettes. In between his cigarettes, he takes the gum out of his mouth, places it on a toothpick, and then puts it back in his mouth after he's done smoking. He's a pack rat. He loves to tinker on his organ and plays it every night before he goes to bed. He doesn't like to be bothered until after 11:30 in the morning and behind all his crabbiness is a person who just likes what he likes and doesn't give a damn about what anybody else thinks.
On one particular visit to Ed’s home, I was leafing through a stack of old drawings he had done. Somewhere in the middle of the stack, Ed had me stop on a specific drawing. It was a sketch he had done on an old magazine page. I looked at it with the artist’s eye that Ed had taught me to use and was ready to tell him what I saw. I was ready to give him a compliment on his use of positive and negative space. I was ready to comment on his use of straights versus curves. I was ready to show him that all the things he had shared with me had sunk in.
“You see that drawing?” he asked.
“Feel that paper. I saw that in a magazine and had to draw on it.”