When Scooby Doo hits the big screen this summer, complete with teen heartthrobs Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar, and a CGI Scooby, one would be hard-pressed not to remember the simple charm of the originally animated cowardly dog with an adventurous heart. Before computer graphics took over the creation of so many celluloid monsters and creatures, there were actually master artists that sat at their drawing tables and painstakingly penciled by hand the cultural and animation icons that fans have come to cherish today. Though their skills were unmatched, these master artists for the most part were unsung heroes.
One of the greatest of these unsung heroes is Iwao Takamoto, long time Disney and Hanna-Barbera artist. Takamoto worked on classics such as Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, and Cinderella as well as “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons,” and, of course, “Scooby Doo.” For an artist who has brought us such joy and laughter, Takamoto has lived a life filled with dramatic life-changing moments.
Takamoto’s father, who graduated at the top of his high school class, had journeyed from Hiroshima to America in order to improve his health. This would have enabled him to pass Japan’s exacting rigorous physical standards required for admission into the universities. “He decided to come to America and work on farms, so that the labor would help build him up physically,” Takamoto says, “and then he just ended up staying. The only trip he made back to Japan was to marry my mother.” Takamoto was born in Los Angeles, and was an extremely bright child and excelled in school. However, his academic days were cut short after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent internment of Japanese Americans. Takamoto and his family ended up in Manzanar.
After the end of WWII, he returned to Los Angeles. “When I was in the camp,” Takamoto remembers, “I had met two men who had art directed for film studios. Just for the fun of it I would sketch things around the camp, and they both encouraged me to possibly consider it as a profession. Remembering this, I called Disney Studios.” Takamoto made an appointment for an interview, and was reminded to bring his portfolio. Having never attended art school, he didn’t have an official portfolio. “I bought two sketch pads,” Takamoto laughs. “I just filled up both of them over a weekend with whatever I could think of, mostly of people.” He remembers taking the two sketchbooks to the Disney Studio and sitting in the waiting room, surrounded by artists dressed in suits and ties, carrying impressive black leather portfolios. “The interviewer looked at my two sketchpads very thoroughly, asked me if I could wait for 15 minutes, and left with the two pads. He came back, sat down, and said, ‘Can you start Monday?’” Apparently, he had checked with some of the animators and was advised to go ahead and hire me right away, which I found out later was unusual.”
Once in the halls of Disney, Takamoto was taught the basic mechanics of animation, and was set to work in Disney’s short film division under the auspices of Bob Carlson. One day, he was given a scene from Disney’s feature animation department, and upon completing it, “I was told that I’d better pack up because I’d be moving again. I found myself in a unit under an animator named Milt Kahl, who was legendary, even at the time. Milt was part of what people now refer to as the Nine Old Men, who were the core of Disney’s animation staff. For 15 years I was able to work with the Nine Old Men—they were the top of the industry, and they were my teachers. They were the best animation school in the world, probably in the history of animation.”