Iwao Takamoto, an animator whose most celebrated creation was the endearingly klutzy canine Scooby-Doo but who also left his mark on dozens of other Hanna-Barbera classics, including “The Jetsons” and “The Flintstones,” has died. He was 81.
Takamoto died Monday of heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said Gary Miereanu, a Warner Bros. spokesman.
Iwao -- pronounced “E-whoa” -- Takamoto found inspiration for his career in a place he rarely spoke of: the Manzanar War Relocation Center for Japanese Americans, where he and his family spent much of World War II.
Sketching to amuse himself, he caught the attention of two fellow internees, former art directors, who encouraged Takamoto to go into animation.
After returning to Los Angeles, he was quickly hired by Walt Disney Studios just before the end of the war in 1945. Soon Takamoto was an assistant to Milt Kahl and worked with the rest of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” the team of animators that created some of the studio’s most famous films.
“They were the best animation school in the world, possibly in the history of animation,” Takamoto told Yolk magazine, a publication geared to an Asian American audience, in 2002.
His Disney resume included the feature films “Cinderella” (1950), “Peter Pan” (1953), “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) and “101 Dalmatians” (1961). He was put in charge of the design of the pedigreed Lady in “Lady and the Tramp” (1955), according to Barker Animation Art Gallery, a Connecticut firm that represents his work.
By the early 1960s, Disney was cutting back on animated features so Takamoto decided to take a chance on television. He joined a fledgling studio, started by the late William “Bill” Hanna and Joseph Barbera, that would dominate Saturday-morning cartoons by the 1970s, and began drawing for “The Flintstones” (1960-66), the first animated series in prime time.
“I was heavily involved in just about every project ... and was given an exciting degree of freedom,” Takamoto told Yolk. “I couldn’t ask for a job that could be any more fun.”
While developing a teenage mystery show for CBS, he came up with Scooby-Doo. Barbera, who died last month at 95, suggested adding a dog to the mix because it had helped liven up other shows he had created, including “Jonny Quest,” Takamoto said in the 2002 interview.
Takamoto insisted that making Scooby big and clumsy would give the dog more comic potential. From a breeder of show dogs, he “found out what made a prize-winning Great Dane and went in the opposite direction,” Takamoto told Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald in 1997.
“The legs were supposed to be straight so I made them bowed, I sloped the hindquarters and made his feet too big. He was supposed to have a firm jaw, so I receded it,” he recalled.
The nickname of the cowardly Great Dane, whose full name is Scoobert, reportedly was inspired by Frank Sinatra’s vocal improvisation in the song “Strangers in the Night”: “Dooby dooby doo.”
“Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” ran on CBS from 1969 to 1972. The character has had an enduring afterlife, starring in other series and videos. Two “Scooby-Doo” videos were among Takamoto’s final projects.
“He wasn’t a cartoonist the way most cartoonists are. He took the work very seriously,” Scott Shaw, a cartoonist and an animator who worked with Takamoto for more than 20 years, told The Times on Tuesday. “He wanted the work to look good.... Iwao was such a good artist that nobody could draw Scooby as well as he could.”
While serving as an art director at Hanna-Barbera Productions Inc., Takamoto had a major role in designing the space-age architecture, the vehicles and the dog Astro for “The Jetsons,” first shown in prime time on ABC in 1962.
He developed Atom Ant and the title character for “The Secret Squirrel Show” in the mid-1960s and was the primary designer of “The Great Ape Show,” “Harlem Globe Trotters” and “Josie and the Pussycats,” shows that first aired in the 1970s.
For “Wacky Races,” Takamoto drew a favorite creation, the svelte damsel in distress Penelope Pitstop. He came up with Pitstop in two hours after a client wanted a female character added to the series, which aired from 1968 to 1970, according to Warner Bros.
In 1973, Takamoto co-directed “Charlotte’s Web,” an animated feature film. The Times review praised the movie for its “sweet, relaxed charm” and the directors for giving the spider Charlotte “eyes of a limpidity to make spider-lovers of us all.”
After Hanna-Barbera was acquired by Time Warner Corp. and became part of Warner Bros. Animation, Takamoto continued to go to his Sherman Oaks office. He was there as recently as last week.
Takamoto had worked on the 2005 Tom and Jerry animation short “The Karateguard” and helped design characters for the series “Krypto the Superdog,” which airs on the Cartoon Network and the CW.
“Iwao was always ready with a wide smile ... and a warm welcome,” Sander Schwartz, president of Warner Bros. Animation, said in a statement. “Iwao’s designs will be his legacy for generations to come.”
Born April 29, 1925, in Los Angeles, Takamoto was the son of Japanese immigrants. At 15, Takamoto graduated ahead of his class from Jefferson High School, according to Warner Bros., but his academic career was cut short when he was sent to Manzanar.
Takamoto is survived by his wife, Barbara of Beverly Hills; son, Michael; stepdaughter, Leslie; brother, Robert; and sister, Judy, all of Los Angeles. Services will be private.