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A Peek Into the Jetsons Archive at Warner Brothers Animation

See some early sketches of the cartoon family that shaped our vision of what life would be like in the 21st century

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Early concept illustration of Rosey the Robot from the Warner Brothers animation archive (1962)

Earlier this week I had the rare opportunity to meet with archivists from Warner Brothers and got a peek at their archive of Jetsons material. As you can imagine, I was in paleofuture nerd heaven.

I shot a segment here in L.A. with “CBS Sunday Morning” (airing this Sunday April 28th) about the impact of “The Jetsons” on the way that we think about the future in the year 2013. We touched on my recently wrapped project that looked at all 24 episodes of the original series and, aside from being a nervous mess, I think the interview went well! Afterward I was able to travel up to Burbank where Lee Cowan spoke with Sam Register from Warner Brothers animation. They looked at storyboards and talked about some of the tech from the show—some of which has been realized, with many more (as regular Paleofuture readers know) still a fantasy here in the 21st century.

The archivists were kind enough to let me snap a few pictures.

Opening title illustration for The Jetsons from the Warner Brothers animation archive (1962)

“The Jetsons” TV show was produced by legendary animation studio Hanna-Barbera but its library became part of Turner Broadcasting in 1991 and then became part of Warner Animation when Turner was purchased by Time Warner in 1996.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Warner Brothers archive doesn’t include a single animation cel from the original 1962-63 series (though they had some from the 1980s). As the archivists explained to me, the cels weren’t seen as something worth holding on to after an episode was finished. I suppose since the individual cels weren’t considered to be part of the final product, saving cels must’ve seemed to those midcentury animators at Hanna-Barbera like the equivalent to saving mere tools (like, say pencils).

One archivist explained that in the early 1960s many animation studios even had cel washers that would clean paint completely off the cels when a production was finished because the studios saw the plastic as more valuable than preservation. He said that it wasn’t until Disney started selling the animation cels for dirt cheap in the Disneyland park (maybe $7 a pop) that anyone realized there might be a market for these things after a cartoon or movie was finished.

I took a few photos of sketches from the archive (the most fascinating being the early sketch, below, of Judy looking rather sedate and conservatively dressed), but you can see even more if you tune in to “CBS Sunday Morning” on April 21st! April 28th!

Early designs for the Jetson family from the Warner Brothers animation archive (1962)

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