On Wednesday there's an enormous animation art auction in L.A. that includes some gorgeous pop culture history. It will include original animation cels from Fleischer Studios, concept art from Disney legend Mary Blair, and an original production drawing from Winsor McCay's classic 1914 film Gertie the Dinosaur. There's even some 1970s and 1980s Jetsons art that should pique the interest of any retrofuture fan. But there's one thing noticeably absent among the Jetsons pieces: any production cels from the 1962-63 iteration of the show—which was its first and only season until the 1985 reboot. But how can that be?
The answer might horrify animation history fans. It's because the animators at Hanna-Barbera used to bring home animation cels and let their kids play with them.
When I visited the Warner Brothers animation archive a few months ago I was incredibly excited to get a look at anything that had to do with the 1960s version of The Jetsons. They had some storyboards, and even some pitchboards for never-completed projects (did you know that they were going to do a sequel to that The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones special?), but they didn't have any original 1960s animation cels used in production. One of the Warner Brothers historians (Warner Brothers now owns the Hanna-Barbera archive) told me why. The cels were often discarded or even scrubbed and re-used whenever production was finished on a given project. WB told me that one animator's kid even used to sprawl the cels out on the living room floor and take a running jump on them like it was a Slip 'n Slide.
Animation cels were seen as nothing more than tools in the process of making the final product: the TV show. You wouldn't save an animation cel any more than you'd save a pencil or an eraser that was used to make the show. Animation cels weren't seen as potential collectors' items until decades later, when people became excited about the prospect of owning a piece of pop culture history. But the Warner Brothers archivists assured me that even today it's hard to get animators to see preservation of the work that they do as important.
Just about everything at this auction is too rich for my blood. But I guess I can rest easy knowing that I'm not missing out on any classic 1962 Jetsons material—just some amazing Mary Blair art. Thank goodness her family wasn't into Slip 'n Slide.
Image: photograph by Matt Novak of a 1962 Jetsons sketch from the Warner Brothers animation archive