Saturday, July 30, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Iraj Paran, art director, and Bob Singer, character designer

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries “Super Friends” (including list of interviewees).

Iraj Paran, art director:

What exactly was your role on Super Friends?

I worked at H-B as an art director for 33 years. I designed the openings, titles, bumper cards, and end credits of the Super Friends, plus certain collateral material including advertising and publicity art, every year. Anything graphic.

What was your background before that?

Before I became in charge of the Title Department, I worked in the background department as a background artist. I painted backgrounds for shows including The Mighty Mightor, Dastardly and Muttley, Josie and the Pussycats, Perils of Penelope, Gulliver’s Travel, etc.

Regarding the original characters the Wonder Twins, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and El Dorado, what do you know about who created them and what the process was?

As I recall, Alex Toth was the main character designer for many of the superhero shows. He did the rough drawings for approval. Bob Singer was in charge of the layout department and character design. Excluding the non-Hanna-Barbera properties such as the Smurfs, almost all of the H-B characters were created by the layout/character design departments where many talented artists were employed.

What else did you design with regard to the show?

I was involved in producing the commercials for superheroes cereal boxes for General Foods.

How much interaction, if any, did you have with the voice actors? Were you there when they recorded?

I was not present when SF voice actors recorded the show. However, sometimes in passing through the hall when I would see the Recording Studio A’s red light on, I would quietly enter the engineer’s booth and stayed and listened to part of the sessions.

Do you have any other SF memorabilia from the era (i.e. cards signed by cast members, candid photos, etc.)?

[among the images Iraj sent me:]

Bill Hanna, Iraj Paran, Joe Barbera and Hoyt Curtin at Bill Hanna’s last birthday party (possibly 2000)

Did you socialize with any of the voice actors?

Yes. I socialized with Janet Waldo, Wally Burr, Frank Welker, and Casey Kasem.

Are you still in touch with anyone from SF?

Yes, I am in touch with Wally Burr, Bob Singer, Janet Waldo. I saw Casey at the recent H-B reunion.

How do you look back on SF?

Those great Hanna-Barbera days and being part of the excitement of creating everlasting shows fills my memories on a daily basis.

What are you doing these days?

I do some freelancing. I am also working on creating my website as an informative and somehow educational tool for H-B fans all over the world.

Has anyone else interviewed you about SF?


Anything else about the experience I didn’t cover that you’d like to add?

Nothing else other than thanking you for bringing my great memories of those fun days back to me.

Bob Singer, character designer:

How did you get the job to work on Super Friends?

By the time SF began, I had already been in the layout department at the studio for nine years and had just been named as layout head. I was also part of the team put together by Iwao Takamoto to create and develop new shows. Along with half a dozen or so artists, we worked in the off-season doing presentation art to sell the new shows to the various networks. As the shows were sold we turned our attention to developing them by doing full sets of model sheets and color keying them, drawing the key backgrounds, and setting a painting style.

My natural drawing style leaned toward the design-y/cartoon-y style that included Scooby-Doo, Flintstones, and Yogi Bear. It became a stretch for me to draw in comic book style and I remember learning how to draw it by studying various comics such as Tarzan and Prince Valiant. My days drawing from a live model in art school days also helped me make the transition to drawing this adventure style.

What was your role on Super Friends?

We had no character model department at this time. Alex Toth was enlisted to do the new characters, vehicles, and props for each of the 13 shows at a pace of one a week.

Alex worked from home as a freelancer. It was a herculean task, but week after week, Alex delivered his work on time. My job as layout head was to coordinate, making sure Alex got his scripts and, as his work came in, to convert his drawings into model sheets that were delivered to all concerned. I also assigned layout artists to draw the scenes, checked their work, and sent the layouts to animation and the background layouts to the background department.

How familiar were you with these characters before you got the job?

Like all kids I grew up reading comic books, but my dream was to become an illustrator and perhaps follow in the footsteps of Norman Rockwell or work in the animation field at Walt Disney. I never thought I would be drawing in the comic book style. It is ironic that I ended up spending my career in both fields, drawing and creating art for superhero properties.

Were you involved in the creation of other characters in the show, such as Wonder Twins, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and El Dorado?

I was involved only in the preparation of the presentation art for the Wonder Twins but not directly with their design. Another unit handled those other new characters as by this time I was more involved with other areas of the studio. I have no names to offer [as to] who did [create those characters].

What can you remember about the presentation for the Wonder Twins? How were they received?

[They] must have been Joe Barbera’s decision after a suggestion from network. I feel they didn’t have much of an impact—[or rather lessened] the dramatic tension of the shows. This same thing occurred when the Scooby show introduced Batman and Robin as guest stars. Superheroes didn’t bring much drama to the show and, to me, looked out of place in a comedy format.

Any design proposals that didn’t make it on air?

Alex Toth wanted the characters to have large areas of black shadows as part of their designs to give them more of a comic book look. The studio objected as large black areas were considered a no-no for the small TV screens and so Alex lost that battle. Years later Alex must have felt vindicated as large areas of black were utilized in the Godzilla show and greatly enhanced the look of the show.

Any controversy or debate over any of the original [multi-ethnic] characters?

I’m sure they were accepted with no thought of racism as that battle had been fought and won years before in the comic pages.

Are you still in touch with anyone from SF?

Most of the people who worked on Super Friends have left us, as far as I know. There may be some layout artists, animators, and background painters who are retired, but Joe Barbera, Iwao Takamoto, Alex Toth, Tony Sgroi, and Mo Gollub are gone. Iraj Paran and myself remain with our memories of having contributed to a great show.

How aware are you of the influence the show has had on comic creators of today?

I know Super Friends is still popular because I occasionally get requests for artwork from fans and galleries. Another show that still has a loyal fan base is Jonny Quest, a groundbreaking show. Both series were difficult to produce as most of the storyboarders, layout artists, and animators were cartoon-oriented and had to learn to draw in this different way. I look back to these shows with fond memories and recall all the problems we had to overcome in producing them. It was a very challenging time for all of us.

Has anyone else interviewed you about SF?

I’ve had several TV and radio interviews concerning my time at Hanna-Barbera, but no one has asked about Super Friends before you. I was happy you called and that you are writing of this great show. It’s a story that deserves to be told.

What are you doing these days?

I’ve been retired since 1993 but I’ve continued to work, appearing at many galleries around the country as well as in Hawaii, Australia, England, and even Tasmania. I’ve designed over 40 limited editions, mostly of Hanna-Barbera characters, and have been quite busy drawing for clients through Clampett Studio Collections plus a few private clients. Lately I’ve begun to record videos on how to draw that can be seen on the Internet.

And I have a book I’m preparing on my life in animation, due in 2011.

Next: Don Jurwich (producer).

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