Ed Benedict: Animator for Hanna-Barbera

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The Independent Online

The animator Ed Benedict designed some of television's most famous cartoon characters, from Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear to Fred and Barney of The Flintstones. He was noted for drawing heavily outlined figures, with unusual asymmetry and flat geometric shapes - almost like Picasso in style.

These legends of the small screen were not just a triumph for the artistic skills of Benedict, but also a winner for the animation studio Hanna-Barbera, which was commissioned to make cartoons for TV at less than half the budget previously allocated for such films in the cinema.

Television sounded the death knell for animated cinema shorts, which were shown before the main feature. As the big studios closed their animation departments, Benedict found himself out of work at MGM in 1957, along with the producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who had made the Tom and Jerry films. Hanna and Barbera took their skills to television, which offered only $3,000 for each half-hour cartoon, but aimed to maintain quality by creating "limited animation", using fewer drawings. Benedict was their perfect animator, whose distinctive designs provided characters whose body movements were kept to a minimum and lip movements reduced to a simple, vowel-by-vowel cycle.

The team soon had a hit with The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958-62), featuring the slapstick adventures of a naïve dog who turns up in a different disguise each week. It became the first animated series to win an Emmy Award, for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming (1959).

One of the characters featured in the show, Yogi Bear - complete with pork-pie hat and usually obsessed with purloining the "pic-a-nic" basket from picnickers in his home territory of Jellystone National Park - graduated to his own cartoon series in 1961.

Hanna-Barbera had by then launched television's first animated sitcom, The Flintstones (1960-66), which ran for 166 episodes and followed the fortunes of two Stone Age suburban families in the prehistoric city of Bedrock. As the response to a television producer's request for a programme with "kidult" appeal, it featured Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their neighbours and best friends, Barney and Betty Rubble - modelled on the sitcom The Honeymooners. Forever dreaming up get-rich-quick schemes, Fred was memorable for his upbeat catchprase, "Yabba-dabba-doo!" The Flintstones' success lay in such colourful characters, good stories and Benedict's innovative drawings.

John Kricfalusi, the creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show, summed up Benedict's contribution by saying:

He was the look of the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The look was instantly recognisable and so different from what everybody else was trying. I remember thinking, "Wow! That's the weirdest character design I've ever seen." A lot of people grow up with that and they just get used to it and they don't notice that there's anything weird about it. When that stuff came out, it was weird-looking. People with square heads!

By the late 1960s, Hanna-Barbera was the world's largest producer of animated entertainment films and Benedict's list of memorable characters also included Quick Draw McGraw and Augie Doggie - although he was rarely credited because he always worked as a freelance.

Born in Ohio in 1912, Benedict joined Walt Disney's studio in 1930, working on shorts such as The China Plate (1931) and Blue Rhythm (1931), and animating characters that included Clarabelle Cow in the Mickey Mouse films, before moving to Universal as an animator on Walter Lantz's Oswald the Lucky Rabbit pictures, starting with The Dizzy Dwarf (1934). He returned to Disney in the 1940s as a layout artist on industrial and educational shorts, also doing the same job on the 1946 feature Make Mine Music, a compendium of 10 different musical cartoons.

In 1952, Benedict was appointed MGM's lead layout artist and designer by the director Tex Avery, who had worked with him at Universal, and he made shorts such as Dixieland Droopy (1954) and The First Bad Man (1955).

His first television cartoon for Hanna-Barbera was The Ruff & Reddy Show (1957) He worked for the pair until his retirement to Carmel, California, in the mid-1970s.

Anthony Hayward

Ed Benedict, animator: born 23 August 1912; married; died Auburn, California 28 August 2006.