Lou Scheimer, who founded the Filmation animation studio that became a Saturday-morning cartoon powerhouse with characters such as Fat Albert, He-Man and the Archies, died Thursday at his home in Tarzana. He was 84.
He had Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Mary Ann.
Scheimer’s company, which in the early 1980s was the largest animation operation in the country based on its number of employees, was lauded for being one of the last holdouts against shipping work overseas. But Filmation television cartoons were roundly criticized by movie buffs for lacking the artistry and full motion of theatrical cartoons of a bygone era.
“Given the demands of the network schedules, it’s practically impossible to take all care and love we would like to on the technical aspects,” Scheimer said in a 1981 Times interview. “We’d love to do theatrical shorts, and if you can find somebody to pay for them, let us know.”
Louis Scheimer was born Oct. 19, 1928, in Pittsburgh. He graduated with an art degree from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon), where one of his classmates was Andy Warhol. In 1955 he moved to Southern California to work in the animation industry.
He founded Filmation Associates in 1962 with a $5,000 loan from his mother-in-law and set up shop in a one-room office. An early series turned out by the company was the futuristic “Rod Rocket,” featuring a space-traveling boy who battled with a pair of bumbling, Russian-accented enemy explorers. The action was so stilted that in some dialogue sequences, the only thing moving in the frame was a character’s mouth.
Filmation wanted to do a series based on a far more high-profile character, Superman, but DC Comics — which owned the rights — wanted to visit the studio to see if it could handle the work. The problem was that at that point, Filmation had almost no staff. “I called everybody I knew,” Scheimer said in a documentary about the cartoon series, “and we filled the place up with people doing fake drawings.”
The ruse worked and “The New Adventures of Superman” was Filmation’s first big hit.
Eventually, the Woodland Hills company had hundreds of animators working on series such as “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and “The Archie Show.” Scheimer won a Daytime Emmy as a producer of the 1974-75 season of the “Star Trek” animated series.
There were also misses. In 1975 Filmation produced “Uncle Croc’s Block,” which featured live sequences with Charles Nelson Reilly dressed in a crocodile suit. It lasted less than a season. And the 1987 animated feature film “Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night” also bombed.
Filmation was sold in 1969 for stock to a cable operator, Teleprompter, that was in turn bought by Westinghouse in 1981. Scheimer remained as head of Filmation but he was pressed to cut costs, and in 1987 he angered workers and their union with the announcement that some work would be shipped overseas. In 1989 Filmation was bought by a French investor group that closed the Woodland Hills plant, firing almost all the employees.
Scheimer had been retired for the last several years. At the 2012 Comic-Con in San Diego, he appeared on a panel that discussed the effect Filmation had on the business, and he was given the Inkpot Award, which honors individual contributions to animation and other fields.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two children — daughter Erika of Santa Monica and son Lane of Maui, Hawaii — from an earlier marriage to Jay Scheimer. She died in 2009.