It started with a ball of clay, molded into shapes and recorded on film to a jazz soundtrack. Now, nearly 60 years later, some of the top stop-motion animators in the business will gather on Saturday to celebrate one of the industry's pioneers at the inaugural Gumby Fest in Glendora.
The city is hosting a daylong celebration of the beloved green character created in the early 1950s by Art Clokey. Gumby Fest will include a museum exhibition, film screenings and hands-on crafting and animation. A series of panels will feature industry leaders as well as alumni of Clokey Productions, which was based in Glendora in the 1960s and '70s.
“I was aware that the Clokey studios were in Glendora,” said Jeff Kugel, city planning director. “So I found out where the studio was in the city. It's still there, an older industrial building, and I said, wouldn't it be neat to have some type of Gumby festival?”
His offhand remark gained traction among community leaders and a committee was formed.
“We had this concept of it being, on the one hand, a celebration of Gumby and Clokey Productions,” Kugel said. But it also is “an exhibition of stop-motion animation as well as an exhibition of current stop-motion animation.”
The organizers contacted Joe Clokey, the president of Clokey Productions/Premavision Studios and the son of Art and Ruth Clokey, who will be one of the panelists and has provided all of the materials for a museum exhibit in the Glendora Library Friends Room.
“It's wonderful,” Joe Clokey said. “I'm just really honored that the city thought of Gumby and my wife and I are putting a lot of effort into this because we think it's a great honor.”
Some of the first Gumby episodes began as bedtime stories Art would tell his children, Joe Clokey remembered.
“They were Gumby stories — and later they would turn into a Gumby episode,” he said.
In 1960 the production company settled in Glendora, where Art Clokey and his wife Ruth produced the series “Davey and Goliath.” Art was the creative director while Ruth would run the studio as the producer; she continued to run it by herself through the 1970s, Joe Clokey said.
“I'm very proud of my mother running that studio for all those years,” he said. “She and Lucille Ball were the only women running studios in those days.”
The studio featured a puppet room, where Clokey remembers workers pouring clay into molds, a wood shop where Gumby's “Toyland” was kept in a corner and the main studio, full of animation sets.
“The smell of film, clay and fresh-cut wood are great memories for me,” Clokey said. “And the people working in those studios, for most of these guys it was their first job and in their next jobs, they went on to create the great movies of our day.”
The production company's alumni include Harry Walton, who started his film career with Clokey Productions in 1968 and went on to work on “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”; Doug Beswick, who worked on the classic Gumby television show as well as “Davey and Goliath” since 1967 and went on to work on “Star Wars,” “Ghostbusters” and “The Terminator”; and Richard Zimmerman, who started his career with Gumby in 1987 and currently works on “Robot Chicken.”
“My dad always hired young people,” Clokey said. “And he had a knack to hire young people who had talent; he had a good instinct and the people who worked for Clokey Productions were multitalented.”
Walton, Beswick and Zimmerman will be among those speaking at a 2 p.m. panel discussion with Rick Baker, who won an Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for “An American Werewolf in London.” Robert Stromberg, director of “Maleficent” and son of Clokey Productions alumnus Bill Stromberg, is a late addition to the panel, organizers said.
The company is working on a new television series and a new theatrical project, Clokey said, and recently finished remastering all of the original Gumby episodes.
“There's always a new birth of Gumby,” Clokey said. “Gumby never ages.”
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Glendora and Foothill avenues; Glendora Library, 140 S. Glendora Ave.