MAKE YOUR OWN CARTOONS

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The Animators Kartoon Kit, a boxed set aimed at children and young artists, was filled with materials to make animated color cartoons at home, including the same paint used to create Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. There weren’t enough blank cels in the kit to produce much of a film however, the accompanying booklet documents the common practice of washing the paint off the cels for reuse after photography.

The kit was the brainchild of young entrepreneur E. A. Wilkerson. Shortly after graduating UCLA in 1934 with a degree in political science, he started a company to manufacture paint for the film industry. Wilkerson’s timing couldn’t have been better—the golden age of American animation was under way, and an explosion of cartoon shorts filmed in Technicolor would soon fill theaters over the next two decades.

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Fortunately, Wilkerson already had some filmmaking experience under his belt. At UCLA he had co-founded the Motion Picture Club, and made a feature-length film shot right on the Westwood campus. What a Pal tells the story of two students who enter UCLA and plunge head first into—what else?—frat life, athletics, and romance. The 1931 edition of Bruin Life, UCLA’s yearbook, proclaimed it the first student-produced feature film on the West Coast.

The Kartoon Kit includes an instruction booklet, a tracing board with register pegs, perforated animation paper and celluloid sheets, a pen and tracing ink, a mixing tray and water pan, a paintbrush, a tracing stick, and eight small jars of Catalina Color Company paint.

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What would classic animated films be without the vibrant paint that brings hand-drawn cels to life? Animators had been complaining about Grumbacher paints, used commonly in the industry: that the paints took too much time to mix, that they dried sticky, that they had a short shelf life. In response, Wilkerson formulated a line of opaque tempera paints he dubbed Catalina Cartoon Colors—a superior product, in a variety of pre-blended colors that far outnumbered the basic ones sold by Grumbacher.

By 1938 Wilkerson had become the go-to guy for the animators at Leon Schlesinger Productions.

A year later the Kartoon Kit was born, featuring Schlesinger characters Gabby Duck as well as Porky and Elmer, better known as Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd. “From Hollywood!” got top billing on the box lid.

At the same time, the Academy’s executive secretary was hard at work on a proposed book, “How to Make Animated Cartoons,” found in the Donald Gledhill animation collection in Special Collections. Like Wilkerson’s Kartoon Kit, Gledhill’s book was targeted at young artists, offering advice such as “three years art school training is minimum for really professional work.”

 When Wilkerson was called to serve in the US Army from 1940 to 1945, his chemist Hiram Julian “Hi” Mankin took a larger role in the company. After World War II, Mankin went on to launch the Cartoon Colour Company in Culver City, where to this day Cel-Vinyl paint is still sold to animators by Mankin’s granddaughter.

Edgar Allen Wilkerson retired as president and CEO of Kay Color Company, manufacturers of Catalina-branded cel paint, in 1975, having spent nearly four decades servicing Hollywood productions.

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