The Hubley Studio: A Home for Animation
One Self
Seers and Clowns (1994) by Faith Hubley

One Self
One Self: Fish/Girl (1997) by Emily Hubley

Amazonia (1990) by Faith Hubley

My Universe
My Universe Inside Out (1996) by Faith Hubley

One Self
Beyond the Shadow Place (1997) by Faith Hubley

  In 1935, at the age of twenty-two, John Hubley was employed at the Walt Disney Studios painting backgrounds and layouts for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He became an art director and designed layouts for Pinocchio, Bambi, Dumbo, and the "Rites of Spring" sequence in Fantasia. For many animators, that work might represent an artistic peak; for John Hubley, it was merely a departure. He left Disney during the company strike of 1941, and shortly thereafter became a founder of UPA (United Productions of America), a studio whose modernist, flat, symbolic style revolutionized popular concepts of animation. As UPA's creative director, he designed the memorable character Mr. Magoo and supervised the animation of the Academy Award-winning Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950).

Faith Hubley had worked in Hollywood and New York as a music editor, script supervisor, and film editor. Blacklisted during the McCarthy years, John established his own company in 1955 in partnership with his equally gifted wife, Faith, a collaboration that produced twenty-two films. Seven of these were nominated for Academy Awards, and three--Moonbird (1959), The Hole (1962), Tijuana Brass Double Feature (1965)--were awarded the Oscar. Since John's death in 1977, Faith has continued to make passionate, independent films that confront relevant social issues. In her uniquely personal "voice," the films reveal images drawn from myths and other cultures. The myriad shapes and designs of her films have a delicate line, soft edges, and a subtle palette enhanced by her expert use of "underlighting"--a technique in which drawings on paper are illuminated from below, as opposed to conventional animation, in which paintings on celluloid are lit from above.

For more than forty years, the Hubley Studio has remained a family affair. Children of the 1950s may recall Mark Hubley demanding, "I want my Maypo!" in the animated commercial that was recently chosen as one of the twenty-five best commercials in television history. It was the first of many inspired collaborations between the elder and younger Hubleys. Moonbird (1959), based on the tape-recorded ramblings of Mark and Ray "Hampy" Hubley, and Windy Day (1967) and Cockaboody (1973), which uses the child-musings of John and Faith's daughters Emily and Georgia, transform the children's roles in an animated film from those of consumers to its stars and co-creators. In a backyard safari for the mythic moonbird, in an imaginary play about Princess Polly and Prince Joel performed by two sisters, or in the interactions of two little girls at bedtime, the characters reveal all the frustrations, competitiveness, and above all, the spirit of play that define childhood. And the visual style is as free and deceptively simple as a child's nimble brain.

Most directors of animated films follow the traditional, arbitrary rules of cartoons: anthropomorphic animals, representational drawings, linear graphics, and easy laughs. The Hubleys, however, liberated animation from these constraints. Their creatures--human and animal, vegetable and mineral--change size, shape, and color at inspired whim. The films offer a liberal education in its most delightful form: they investigate the frontiers of philosophy and science (Of Stars and Men), depict the absurdity of war and the arms race (The Hat), warn against nuclear annihilation (The Hole), question overpopulation (Eggs) and urban development (Urbanissimo), explore with pathos and humor the eight stages of Man (Everyone Rides the Carousel), and defend the rights of children (Step by Step). The Hubleys created a simplified, impressionistic style influenced by modern painters such as Picasso, Matisse, Klee, and MirÓ, working in oils, watercolor, pen, felt-tip markers--whatever tool lent itself to the task at hand. In Faith Hubley's Who Am I? (1989), images of flowers, food, dolphins, and bears dance like figures in an animated cave painting in a child's head, heart, and tummy; the commentary ("I can feel!" "I can learn!") is provided by a third-generation Hubley, Mark's son, Sam.

Parents and animators: both generate offspring, do their best to control them, then hang on as imagination and circumstance catapult them into the unknown. For the Hubleys, animation was an adventure as much as an art, a kind of pictorial jam session. Appropriately, their musical collaborators include jazz masters such as Benny Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, and Quincy Jones. Their films have a visual eloquence, a subtle cinematic rhyme scheme, poetic imagery, and motion.

For all their artistry, the Hubley films exude the joy of the creative spirit, and the poignancy of being a parent (or a child) in the late twentieth century. In Cockaboody, young Emily says sagely of grownups, "They laugh and laugh and laugh until they stop laughing and they cry. And then it starts all over again. Laughing crying, laughing crying, laughing crying." The films of the Hubley Studio open a new window on a whole galaxy of human intelligence and emotion: laughing-crying, feeling-thinking, being-doing.

As the Hubley children grew, they became more involved in the animation process: painting and inking drawings. Emily and Georgia were animators and artists on many of their mother's films, and, today, Emily is an established director of her own animation studio and has made films for Nickelodeon and Lifetime Television. Georgia, with her husband Ira Kaplan, has composed music for recent films by Emily Hubley. Their brother Ray is an editor of feature films.

Like a family of artisans, the Hubleys continue to follow their intuitions and polish their skills, devising precious, handmade projects. This exhibition offers a glimpse into the complex artistic achievements of the Hubleys--the first family of animation.

Mary Corliss, Assistant Curator
Department of Film and Video

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©1998 The Museum of Modern Art, New York