Mar 23, 2017
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Gumby Creator Passes On
by Karl Cohen
Art Clokely and his friend and creation "Gumby." photo courtesy Clokely Estate
Art Clokey, who was 88 when he died this January, spent much of his life thinking up cool ways to entertain kids using his green friend made of clay. “Gumby” first aired on the “Howdy Doody Show” in 1956 before Clokey got his own program on NBC. While the public found “Gumby” to be delightful entertainment for kids, educators also approved of it and of his other series, “Davy and Goliath” (1961-75), because they explored an innocent world of fantasy with wholesome values such as honesty, respect, etc. TV execs loved them because they could be produced quickly and with low budgets.
The only successful TV animation made for kids before “Gumby” was “Crusader Rabbit” by J. Ward and Alex Anderson in Berkeley. It first aired regularly in 1950. Beloved by kids for its odd adventures, it was mostly dialogue with limited amounts of movement.
What is rarely mentioned, however, is Art Clokey’s importance to the Bay Area film industry and the revival of interest in stop-motion animation. In the mid-1980s, Art moved here and produced “Gumby Adventures” (1988). The 99 seven-minute episodes were packaged as 33 half-hour shows. Budgeted at $7.5 million, they took three years to make. Art also produced the feature “Gumby, The Movie” (1990) which Warner Bros. released as a DVD.
Since Art had only a limited labor pool of trained personal to work with, his productions provided entry-level jobs and advancement for dozens of today’s top film artists and executives. Animation wasn’t the big industry then that it is today. The revival of interest in theatrical animation came after the release of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988) when executives saw animation could be profitable.
Clokey's Gumby and friend Pokey helped pioneer claymation while symbolizing love. photo courtesy Clokely Estate
After “Gumby,” many of Art’s former employees found work locally at Colossal Pictures, Pixar, ILM, and on Henry Selick’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993). Graduates of Art’s Premavision studio in Sausalito have also worked for Disney, Sony, WETA Digital in New Zealand and other studios around the world.
“It†was the best job I ever had,” Jay Davis, who was a Gumby artist and later art director at Sausalito’s Bridgeway Studios, told me. “I was really sorry to see it end.” Mike Fennel, an art student with no professional experience, said the same thing, “I was in shock when he hired me.” “He was hiring me for my honesty and enthusiasm,” he said Art had told him.
Gene Hamm, a voice artist and freelance animator, recalls, “Art Clokey made working on the ‘Gumby’ TV series the most fun and creative time I ever had working at a studio. He made it like a family. I got to create characters, build sets, make special effects, and perform voices. You couldn’t do that at any other studio. Art was like the Roger Corman of animation. He gave lots of animators their first job and me a new start. Gumby was a character that you could feel proud to work on because it stimulated kids’ imaginations and passed on good values.”
“Art was one of a kind,” notes Tim Hittle, who has been nominated for an Oscar and is presently an animator at Pixar. “He had an original and unique way of doing things. That made for a lucky break for a lot of us getting into the animation business. And he created an iconic character known the world over.”
A tribute to Art Clokey is being planned by some of his former employees and ASIFA-SF, the Bay Area’s animation association, probably to be held at the Balboa this month. It will include rarely screened films including the fascinating feature “Gumby Dharma” (2006) that explores Art’s complex life and work.
Posted on Mar 08, 2010 - 04:43 PM