Last week, we published a tribute to the industry figures who passed away this year. But it turns out 2020 wasn’t quite done dispensing bad news. Another great talent has since left us: Doug Crane, animator and pillar of the East Coast industry, died from cancer on Thursday, his daughter Rose-Ellen announced on Facebook. He was 85.
In the course of his epic career, Crane worked in series, commercials, and features, lending them his considerable talents as an animator, but also in storyboarding, layout, backgrounds, and character design. His credits include Beavis and Butt-Head, Mighty Thor, The Smurfs, Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and Heavy Metal. His wife of 61 years, fellow artist Maureen Crane, predeceased him by two days.
Crane was born in Bronxville, New York in 1935. One of eight children, he sometimes struggled to make himself heard in his family, and turned to cartooning as an outlet for his frustrations. “Apparently it worked,” in 2012. “My doodles were appreciated, and I got to say a few things … at least during dinner…”
Crane’s talents drew him to New York City’s Cartoonists and Illustrators School, which would eventually be renamed School of Visual Arts (and where, in his later years, Crane would teach classical animation for 15 years). Animation was not taught there at the time that he attended, and the young Crane harbored ambitions to become an illustrator or comic strip artist.
Upon graduating in 1956, he found that this work was hard to come by, so instead he joined animation studio Terrytoons in the ink and paint department. The cubicle next to his was occupied by Maureen Hurley, another new recruit; the pair would be married within a few years. Crane’s early work at the studio included inking the short film Flebus, but he eventually worked his way up the studio’s ranks to become an animator. “I never really did choose animation,” he later reflected. “It was kind of thrust upon me.”
His career was interrupted by a stint in the army, where he remained active as an artist: his roles included illustrating recruitment pamphlets and drawing a comic strip called Tiptoe and Timber that ran in military newspapers. After returning to Terrytoons, he moved on to the ill-fated Paramount Cartoon Studios, where he found himself animating on the Mighty Thor segments of The Marvel Super Heroes series (1966) under the direction of Shamus Culhane. He continued working with Marvel characters at Krantz Films on the Spider-Man series.
Based for a while in California, Crane worked with Hanna-Barbera on series including Super Friends and The Flintstones. He and his colleague Red Auguston impressed their bosses enough that they were asked to set up a studio in New York. For a year and a half, Crane and Auguston ran Hanna-Barbera East, which employed almost two dozen animators.
Drawn into New York’s thriving advertising industry, Crane worked for dozens of commercial shops animating dozens of spots including Campbell Soup, Burger King, Exxon, and Crest, for whom he animated an iconic sci-fi-esque series of spots (see below). A minute-long, one-shot commercial for The Wall Street Journal produced by Perpetual Motion Pictures won him a Clio Award; he considered the work “my greatest challenge (and success).”
And here's an iconic Crest toothpaste commercial that Crane animated:
— tjppe.com – Animation News (@cartoonbrew)
But advertising remained only one strand of Crane’s work. Throughout the decades, he continued to work on prominent series and features, often handling very distinctive scenes. He animated the “Harry Canyon” sequence of Heavy Metal (1981), the hallucination sequence in MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996) …
and the hallucination sequence of Beavis & Butthead Do America.
— tjppe.com – Animation News (@cartoonbrew)
… and the ship scene in Raggedy Ann & Andy. Richard Williams, his director on that film, paid tribute to his skill: “[Doug] can do all the stuff nobody’d dare to do. Anything that would scare a normal animator, you give to Doug. He gets it on the nose every time!”
Doug is survived by his children Maureen, Erin (her husband Mark, their daughters Megan, Katie, and Kerry, and their families), Thomas (his wife Debbie, their children Sean and Brianna, and their families), Colleen (her husband Art and their children AJ, Aidan, Tiernan, and Riley), Caitlin (her husband Shawn), Kevin (his wife Erin and their children Abigail and Nathaniel), and Rose-Ellen (her husband Andrew and their daughters Sam, Shannon, Jordan, and Hayley). He was predeceased by his son Douglas Jr. in 2018.
Here are some more tributes from Twitter:
I’m absolutely crushed. I TA’d for Doug for a summer course and he was such a wonderful guy to be around. He was always a wonderful presence around the 5th floor and I loved talking with him about animation or comics or just goofing around. Gonna miss him. RIP.
— Good Ol’ Mike P (@PattenPending)
BOY could he draw. Even when I last saw him, he could still draw Archie, He-Man, She-Ra, the Smurfs, Fat Albert, the Cavity Creeps and Spider-Man perfectly from memory. And he could animate in perspective better than anyone else. Just look at the boats in Raggedy Ann! All him!
— Michael Ruocco (@AGuyWhoDraws)
So sad to hear about this. Doug was my first year animation teacher at SVA; had such a dry wit and incredible skill. He was like a New Yorker version of Hank Hill. It was thanks to him that I began to learn what the true art of animation was really about. Rest In Peace.
— Chris Niosi (@Kirbopher)
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