PEANUTS Animation Legend Bill Melendez (1916-2008)

The animator and director of every Peanuts TV segment, Bill Melendez has passed at age 91.
Bill Melendez, the animation pioneer with the trademark handle bar mustache who brought Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts characters to life, died September 2 at St. John's hospital in Santa Monica, California. He was 91.

Born José Cuauhtemoc Meléndez in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, on November 15, 1916, "Bill" moved with his family to Arizona in 1928 and then to Los Angeles in the early 1930s. He trained at the Chouinard Art Studio, which is now the California Institute of the Arts.

Melendez began his career at Walt Disney Studios in 1938. As a young animator he worked on Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, Dumbo and classic Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons. While there, he worked to unionize the rank and file animators and, as a member of the Screen Cartoonists' Guild, he left as part of the 1941 Disney animators' strike and never returned as an employee.

He joined Leon Schlesinger's team at Warner Bros. to animate (as "J.C. Melendez") cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig.

In 1948 Melendez left Warner Bros. and over the next 15 years served as a director and producer on more than 1,000 commercials and films. While Melendez was at United Productions of America, Ford Motor Co. expressed interest in using Peanuts characters in its TV commercials. In 1959 Melendez showed his animation work to creator Schulz, initiating a forty-year partnership and friendship.

The only animator allowed by "Sparky" Schulz to work with his characters, Melendez gave the Peanuts kids life in more than 63 half-hour specials, five one-hour specials, four feature films, the Saturday morning TV show, and more than 372 commercials, produced with partner Lee Mendelson.

Besides dealing with a short schedule and tight budget, Melendez discovered while producing A Charlie Brown Christmas that animating Schulz's simple drawings presented their own challenges. "Charlie Brown has a big head, a little body and little feet," Melendez said in a 2000 LA Times interview. "Normally, a human takes a step every 16 frames--about two-thirds of a second. But Sparky's characters would look like they were floating at that pace. After several experiments, I had them take a step every six frames--one-fourth of a second. It was the only way that worked."

In addition to creating the cartoons, Melendez also provided the voices for Snoopy and Woodstock. Actually, since Schulz insisted that Snoopy (a dog) couldn't talk, the animator supplied his laughs, sobs and howls. In his later years, Melendez chuckled over the fact that he received residuals for his vocal performances.

"Bill Melendez brought his special warmth, charm and directness to the Charles Schulz characters and brought them to life," animation historian and Oscar-winning filmmaker John Canemaker said Wednesday.

Over his career, Melendez garnered more than 150 Advertising Awards, 17 Emmy Award nominations, eight Emmy wins, three National Cartoonist Society Awards, two Peabody Awards, two Oscar nominations, one Clio, and an Academy Award. He "retired" in 2002.

Melendez is survived by Helen, his wife of 68 years, sons Steven Melendez and (Ret.) Navy Rear Admiral Rodrigo Melendez, six grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

Under the leadership of his son and other trusted executives, Bill Melendez Productions, Inc. (founded in 1964), its sister studio Melendez Films in London, and Sopwith Productions (Melendez's art distribution unit) will continue to animate, direct and produce features and commercials.

[Thanks to CHARLES SOLOMON, Special to The LA Times. Additional info provided by Wikipedia.]
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