Inside UPA

I wrote the following review for Drawn!, but decided to post it here, with a few added words because I think the book's worth it. Amid and Tee's hard work should not go unnoticed.

"When I die, I don't want to go to Heaven, I want to go to UPA." –Warner Bros. director Friz Freleng

Inside UPA is the brainchild of Amid Amidi, who's amazing Cartoon Modern (previously) was a triumph, earning the Theatre Library Association's award for 2006 Best Book about Film, Television and Radio. That's quite an honor. With his new book, Amid approaches the subject matter in an entirely different manner. Whereas "Cartoon Modern" was all about the art of animation in the 50's, "Inside UPA" is completely devoid of art. It's all photographs. Ah, but what a goldmine these photographs have proven to be.

"Inside UPA" offers us a rare peek inside one of the most innovative animation studios of all time. Holding the book in my hands, I couldn't help but sense a connection between the book and the studio itself. Just like the studio, "Inside UPA" is diminutive in size (64 pages, measuring 7.5" x 8.7" with a soft cover with French flaps) but what it provides the reader is monumental. Within the walls of UPA a legacy was formed that shook the foundation of traditional animation thinking at the time. Here, within the pages of "Inside UPA", we are able to look upon the faces that formed that legacy.

I've seen a great deal of photos taken at studios at that time and practically all of them were for publicity sake, with animators posed and staged as if they were part of the decor. Most of the photos presented here in "Inside UPA" eschew such pretentiousness. It was obvious to me that in some of the photos the subjects were very aware of the photographer, but even in some of those shots, the director, animator or background artist seemed comfortable with the environment. Amid tells us that there was a sense of great pride working at the studio, and you can tell after thumbing through this book. The artists are shown working, creating, thinking, discussing, all within the cleanly designed walls of the studio, a perfect specimen of midcentury modern architecture at the time (now razed), designed by architect John Lautner.

UPA has been such an enigma for me because practically all the names that are usually associated with the studio (Bobe Cannon, Zach Schwartz, David Hilberman, Steven Bostustow, John Hubley, to name a few) were just that: names. Here, Amid, along with the help of Tee Bostustow and others, finally gives us a chance to place faces with the names. There are a great deal of pages that show the employees of UPA hard at work, but I also enjoyed the ones where they were shown unwinding and just hanging out. We get to see Steven Bostustow go over a Paul Julian background from "Tell Tale Heart" with director Ted Parmelee. We see director Pete Burness share a laugh with Mr. Magoo voice Jim Backus. We peek in on designer Charleen Peterson and background painter/designer Sam Clayberger as they are knee-deep in work. And in one of my favorite shots, we see director John Hubley sketching dancer Olga Lunick for reference on "Rooty Toot Toot." The book provides us the opportunity to sit in on story and staff meetings, impromptu discussions, even parties and dinners.

Right at the heart of the book, there is a full page shot of the entire staff, circa 1950. The opposite page is blank, save for this quote by background painter and production manager Herb Kynn:

"Everyone [at UPA in the early years] had respect for the other person. Everyone was relaxed, and free to contribute, and there was a great warmth and compatibility, which generated this enthusiasm, which ended up on the screen."

"Inside UPA" gives us a chance to see that enthusiasm up close and personal.

All proceeds of the book go to production of the feature documentary, UPA: Magoo, McBoing Boing & Modern Art. The book is published in a limited edition of 1,000 copies. Fifty of these copies come with a bookplate signed by UPA veterans who are still alive. It also includes a six-page filmography compiled by UPA biographer, Adam Abraham, which lists not only UPA's theatricals and TV shows, but also industrials and commercials.

More links:
Inside UPA on Cartoon Brew (with a couple of spreads from the book)
UPA exhibit at MoMA 1955