Monday, March 13, 2006

Beautiful People 9 - yeesh- and Spumco's business acumen

Hey, while you are figuring out who these beauties are, let me ask you something. My pal Eddie once wrote up a list of all the innovations that were introduced by Spumco that the rest of the cartoon business just takes for granted now.

It's a pretty long list. In fact there are quite a few inventions and concepts we started that haven't even been picked up yet. The whole business according to Eddie is still trying to catch up on about 10% of the first slew of gifts.

Now I know this is bound to agitate the Spumco bashers out there and will sound like bragging, but I kinda don't give a crap. I figure I better put it down just for the sake of history, since the whole cartoon business made a pile of money from us with no thought of ever paying us back.

Basically, for the last 15 years, Spumco has been the research and development department for the rest of 2D animation. Usually studios pay for this department, but since Spumco was an independant studio, everyone else just waited for all the inventions and the training of new artists and snapped 'em up as greedily as they could. Spumco has only ever been paid for basic production, not for training artists, not for developing markets and technologies and not for developing new shows-(all this is usually covered under "overhead" at major studios), but I have always had to use my own money (and my producers') to push history forward. Nevertheless, Spumco is responsible for the 3 biggest business, marketing and technological innovations in the last 15 years and everyone else has benefitted greatly.

The 3 most general changes in animation were 3 new markets that generated billions of dollars for the industry:
1) Cable TV cartoons: Before Ren and Stimpy, kid cartoons were relegated to major networks' Saturday Morning cartoons. Ren and Stimpy came along and was the most popular TV show ever created for cable for 10 years (until Sponge Bob, a descendant of R and S) and it sold 600 million dollars of merchandise in the first 2 years. This success brought Nickelodeon into millions of new homes and gave The Cartoon Network confidence that it too could maybe compete against the established Network giants.
Nickelodeon then adopted (a nice way to put it) my studio system that was completely different than the Saturday morning cartoon system and stocked their new studio with my trainees. (And spent about 10 times more just trying to imitate us than what they ever spent on the ones who created all the new ideas).

Within about 4 years after Ren and Stimpy hit, Saturday Morning cartoons were crippled and ever since, cable cartoons have been on top.

2) Short cartoons on TV: When Fred Seibert took over Hanna Barbera in the early 1990s he hired me as a consultant and asked me why old cartoons were great and new ones sucked. In a nutshell, I gave him a history lesson, explaining that old cartoons used a director and unit system rather than the established Hanna Barbera assembly line system, and that they constantly created new characters that appeared in shorts, rather than banking on 13 half hours of Saturday Morning cartoons that might die if the audience didn't like a new character. I also told him not to use "writers" or scripts; that the old cartoons-including Disney's were all written by artists with drawings on storyboards.

Fred started the first shorts program for the Cartoon Network-I helped him pick directors and voted on the best shorts which led to Cow and Chicken, Dexter's Lab and Powerpuff Girls, thus making Cartoon Network the second most powerful kids network and in turn caused every other studio to start their own shorts programs, each new one getting further away from what the purpose was of doing shorts in the first place.

3) Flash and Internet Cartoons: In 1996 I was so frustrated with how ungrateful and slow moving the TV cartoon business was, that I was looking for a new medium and had recently discovered the WWW.
I instantly saw the potential of reaching audiences directly and for less money than you would need to pay to keep a network filled with highly paid pests who hated creativity.
I needed a program that would allow me to make cartoons for the internet. Within a few months of my brainstorm, in walked Annmarie Ashkar, a big Spumco fan who wanted to work for me. She told me about a primitive new program called Flash that some websites were using to make banner ads and simple games. We both agreed that maybe we could force it make cartoons, so we made the very first Internet cartoon called The Goddamn George Liquor Program.

Now at the time everyone thought I had lost my mind (as they do each time I find a new way to make them rich). They told me to drop this crazy notion of Internet cartoons and get back to TV. Even my own staff was mad at me.

So I spent my own money developing the techniques to make this program work for animation, put the first Internet cartoons up, called Macromedia and showed them what I was doing, worked with their programmers and suggested many improvements for the program. I also called all the magazines and Newspapers and marketed the whole deal myself. I got on the cover of Wired and many other magazines and the news spread like wildfire.

Soon, everyone and his dog started up their own Flash websites and copied what we were doing. Icebox, one of our followers, then saw another cartoon I had started called Weekend Pussy Hunt and paid for part of it. I trained about 40 artists to use Flash with the techniques Annmarie and I developed and now they are all the top Flash people in TV.

OK, this folly of mine has now been copied by every network that won't buy Spumco cartoons and I have generated Hundreds of millions of dollars of business again.

These 3 major innovations are merely business innovations, they don't even begin to count the tons of creative innovations that Spumco either started or reintroduced from classic cartoons.


That's just a start folks. Want more?
On a lighter note, watch the world's sexiest man eat a hot dog:


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Ohjeepers said...

Crusader Rabbit may be primitive, but it's actually animated. Obviously the early ones have the least animation, but overall once it got going it worked pretty much the same way that Ruff N Reddy did. The characters have basic Lip Sync, and pop from extreme to extreme with an occasional walk cycle thrown in. They use a LOT of cheats, but I personally think that the cutting and the staging in Crusader Rabbit was way more clever than anything used in Ruff N Reddy (which I also love by the way). The show mostly just uses cut outs, and the cells only appear when a cut out obviously couldn't do the job.

I'm actually luck enough to own a bunch of original Art from NBC's Telecomics. The ink wash is amazing to look at, but since the show was all action adventure type of stuff, they pretty much avoided any real motion, maybe just a camera zoom or cut out slide effect here or there. I think that all of the cut out stuff here was done by hand under the camera, as opposed to frame by frame like on Crusader. I might be wrong about that though since I have only seen one episode, and it was a few years ago (Does anyone else know for sure?).

The woman in the layout you mentioned would have been on a cut out piece of paper, and most likely have been moved into frame by hand. I hope this helps.

Getting back on topic...

John, History is on your side.

What about Mildman? Can we see some of that art?


Ohjeepers said...

Steve you beat me to the Post...

I feel redundant.


Stephen Worth said...

Hey Folks...

Here are some cool links to old cartoons (the GOOD STUFF!) on the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive Blog...



Click on every link you see, and read every word. You won't find great stuff like this anywhere else.


Ted said...

SW: Does any of the material the archive has of Telecomics have similar layouts that show elements that don't appear in the standard backgrounds (for want of a better term)? Have you (or has anyone reading this) actually seen some of Telecomics? I can find a 16MM film print and some guy selling a VHS tape 30Minutes long for $20 online, and that's about it. ohjeepers, where did you see it when you did? When you say the animation would have involved moving the drawings by hand, would you say it was real time or frame by frame?

Are your (or the archive's) Telecomics stuff from the subshow I have material from (I'm not even sure which segment it is; Rick Rack or Danny March, or something else even) or from some of the other segments? I've seen some stills of Space Barton, which looks totally kick ass, but have never seen anything from any of the other segments.

(Also, your link appearance issues seem to be because your handle is so long; you've already decreased its size enough so it doesn't fully cripple your posts, but by itself it still extends about 5 characters into your photo, and I think the spaces, "said" and ellipse count towards the line length, so to get it to appear on the top of your post, I think you need to lose about 11 characters)

ohjeepers: There were two separate incarnations of Crusader Rabbit in the '50s, right? Stephen's post implies a lower level of animation than you imply CR had, but that may just have to do with the different incarnations.

Ohjeepers said...

I was referring to the First series which is the same one that Steve was, I think I was just being more forgiving since I'm so fond of it. The second incarnation looks kind of like a cross between early Hanna Barbera staging With some of the more interesting Mel-O-Toons style back grounds.

If you like early TV Animation go look up Col. Bleep... THAT is the coolest show ever as far as design goes.

... But really

Mildman... how about it John?


Ted said...

I've got a DVD called "The Greatest Sci Fi Cartoons of All Time" that has some Col. Bleep material on it. It does have great designs...

John Pannozzi said...

Those are some good points on Spumco's leagacy, but there's just one mistake:

The cable cartoon revolution didn't begin with just Ren & Stimpy, it began with all of the Nicktoons. Nickelodeon really pushed for creator-driven cartoons (and FYI, Fred Seibert was one of the executives who helped start the Nicktoons project in the first) and they were lucky to find John K. (and other creative people like Joe Murray, creator of Rocko's Modern Life, the show that among other things help led to SpongeBob). And I agree that Fred Seibert and John K. running CN and Nick would be a great idea. At least with Fred Seibert's Oh Yeah Cartoons back in production there's some future for creator-driven cartoons. And just maybe, Cartoon Network (who as of late is trying to be like Nick) will ressurect What-A-Cartoon! to compete with the new episodes of Oh Yeah Cartoons (which, BTW won't even be called "Oh Yeah Cartoons" anymore, as Fred said on his own blog)

Stephen Worth said...

The first three Nick cartoons were Ren & Stimpy, Doug and Rugrats. Guess which one put Nick on the map and got the network on cable systems all over the world?

See ya

Hint... It wasn't Doug!

Max Konrardy said...

I suppose it's a bit late to answer evan's question ... oh well ... what I meant was when shading occurs on the contour of the edge, following the line with a sort of blur. Flash could achieve this with its gradient tool if the gradient followed the edge of the shape, no matter how bonkers it looks.

You can cheat this with masked graphics, which might look better anyway, but if done right, the automatic version could add a lot of nice shaping to the objects. Just a thought that I heard brought up before on the Macromedia boards and thought I would mention it here. :)

John Pannozzi said...

And the first short cartoons on TV weren't What-A-Cartoon!, they were Liquid Television on MTV. That show introduced Aeon Flux and Beavis & Butthead. But I'm sure all of the shows mentioned (inlclduing Liquid TV) are part of some kind of revolution spurred by Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, I guess.

Anonymous said...

ive been using flash as a traditional animation tool, drawing every frame by frame , and performing my own voices.
John k i need a critique.
ive got an art show in la april first at the lab 101 gallery . its paintings of storyboards.
gallery is at 8530-b washington blvd.
hope you can make it out.
heres the link

from matthew rodriguez

Film Girl said...

No disrespect -- I love your work, but you can't really take credit for killing Saturday Morning cartoons. Live-action shows (like Saved By the Bell), which were cheaper to make (because they are shit -- I loved them as a kid, but they are shit) and got more money for advertisers killed Saturday Morning Cartoons. If anything, cable was the natural place for cartoons to go -- and you totally helped pioneer that on a huge level -- but live-action killed Saturday morning.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha, the trolls saying bad stuff about John K are probably Billy West and his wife, hee hee hee.

James said...

I don't know why there's so many posts bagging out all the newer TV Flash stuff, I think there's some really interesting, illustrative styles comming out of it, and it gets more impressive as time goes on (just look at Foster's Home, it's beautiful work). Sure, there's alot of really bad Flash stuff, but hasn't a flood of bad animation been around alot longer than Flash?

Sure, it's different to cartoons as everyone remembers, but you gotta realise that the generation before you looks at the stuff you enjoy and say "blahblah killed animation. dang whippersnappers.".

As far as technology's concerned, it's a pretty exciting time to be in animation, don't you think? In the end, if it's Flash or not it's gonna be uninspiring stories and lack of imagination that'll hurt the industry.

kurtwil said...

JK, I feel and share your pain of animation outfits encountering the "take it and run" or "dog eat dog" syndrome. A tiny little company called AVA was right next door to your Melrose/Gower operation, using then-new PC/Mac digital paintboxes to make cel and 3D animation shot to film. AVA's story, and later Unlimited Energee's in Australia, followed similar arcs (creative innovations, lost talent to competitors, etc, etc, etc.).
Saw all that first hand.

FLASH is not going to save 2D animation. Toon Boom might, though Disney's latest effort with it, offering effects and techniques far beyond FLASH, seems to be rowing in place admidst the growing flood of 3D animation including TOY STORY 3 and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.

Hopefully Spumco alumni (and newcomers they like) will get the deal with Adult Swim and raise the 2D bar again, hopefully using Toon Boom. But IMHO they'll be some innovation ripoffs and possible loss of talent to do it. That seems the price all inventors and innovators have to pay. Still, Adult Swim has made progress - remember those digital HB cutout shows they were doing just a few years ago?

kurtwil said...

BTW, as James points out, FLASH and TOON BOOM are as good or bad as the artwork artists create with them.
Toon Boom just has a lot more tools and capabilities than FLASH.

John P., JK mentioned Nik's creator-driven environment on the R&S season 1 DVD featurette.

1914 said...

John , you are an outrageous innovator, and I'm always appalled when I read tales about how you got stiffed by the networks, and people laundering your creativity.... but I'm so glad you've kept on fighting! And refuse to lay down, and keeping us laughing and continuing to innovate.

Never been anything quite like John K's benchmark creations before or since.

When is somebody going to assemble a +500 page book packed with SPUMCO art ?

Never mind replying !!!
Just voicing appreciation.

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