Charlie the Tuna

Here’s a bit of animation history for you. It’s the hand drawn variety, of course. Back in the seventies I was lucky enough to work with some very talented people at a Studio City commercial house known as FilmFair. There were amazing designers in house such as Bob Kurtz, and veteran animators like Ken Champin. Back in those days all animation was created with pencil and paper and inked and painted by hand. We even had our own in house camera department, and the old gentleman who operated our animation camera had once worked for Walt Disney on the classic motion picture, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

I worked on several commercial accounts, but one of our favorites was for a canned tuna product that was hawked by our own animated tuna named, Charlie. Charlie’s memorable voice was provided by character actor, Herschel Bernardi and I honestly can’t remember how many “Charlie” commercials we did, but it was a fair amount.

Those of you old enough to remember the smarty pants tuna probably guessed he was based on a popular comedian of the time named, Phil Silvers. Perhaps the studio was unable to secure the services of Mr. Silvers so they went with a sound alike instead. In any case, Herschel did a darn good job of voicing the continually disappointed tuna as he tried endlessly to be caught. There was always the tag line, “Sorry, Charlie” as our eager fish was once again declined the opportunity to end up on the dinner table.

As I said, we did several “Charlies” during my time at FilmFair and I remember the job was always fun. Plus, the whole thing was created in house including the animation, clean-up, and background painting. Even the ink and paint was done in the compact little studio on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City. The one exception was the storyboards and they were usually created by the agency.

I have fond memories of FilmFair and the delightful animated television commercials I worked on. Each commercial was turned around in a few weeks and that meant no job ever dragged on endlessly. That’s what I love about animating television commercials. You didn’t have to wait years to see your finished product. Each production, from start to completion would only take three to four weeks and we could then view the finished spot in full color in the studio screening room. For this old animator it was much more satisfying than working on a “big deal” animated feature film. Those bloated, over-hyped corporate products tend to drag on forever.

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Reader Comments (3)

Floyd, have you ever worked on your own stuff at all, or has studio work kept you busy enough over the years?

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Latham

Boy those were the days. I use to look forward to seeing any animated commercial. I loved the"Charlie the Tuna" commercials. Back then there were so many animated commercials and all hand drawn done with ink and paint. I miss those times.

January 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrobert alvarez

Concerning my own stuff, filmmakers usually work for clients simply because the medium tends to be expensive. However, I did earn my filmmaking chops by creating my own movies both live-action and animated while still in school. I animated my first "home made" cartoon while still in middle school and our class produced a 45 minute documentary while in high school. While still a low level assistant at Disney, I made a number of short cartoons with a friend. This was simply because we were bored at work. My friend and I eventually launched our own production company some years later.

January 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Norman

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