For some time now my wife and I have pondered a question about the old Clutch Cargo cartoon series. The mouths of Clutch and his pals, Spinner and Paddlefoot, seemed almost lifelike--much different from the characters' other movements. Were actual lips somehow superimposed on the faces of the animated characters? We cannot recall seeing this technique used in any other cartoon shows — and we watched our share of them.
Illustration by Slug Signorino
I remember Clutch Cargo well — especially Spinner, the teenage castrato. That kid’s squeak was like chalk on a blackboard. You apparently never saw Space Angel, released in 1964 by TV Comic Strips, Inc., which also produced Clutch Cargo. Both series made use of a technique known as “syncro-vox,” in which, as you correctly surmise, film of actors with everything masked out but the lips was superimposed over the animation. (The actors actually spoke their lines through a black megaphone.) The idea, not surprisingly, was to conserve bucks, since lip movements are a hassle to draw. In Space Angel they often used to draw microphones in front of the characters’ mouths to save even the minimal expense of syncro-voxing. The technique was also used for things like flame. Little else in the scene moved, with the exception of the occasional plane, train, or extraterrestrial vehicle, which more or less slid across the screen. The contrast of the totally wooden action with the luridly lifelike lips was bizarre even by the relaxed standards of kidvid, and the producers wisely deep-sixed the technique after a short time.
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