Friday, March 02, 2007

Roger Ramjet - "is this your brother?"

Here are just some quick thoughts about Roger Ramjet and I'll add more later.When I was a kid, I wasn't a big fan of Jay Ward cartoons, because they were slow and not drawn very funny. I liked the designs and the voices and always looked forward to a new one when it came out, but then was disappointed when I actually would see them.

Rocky and Bullwinkle had great bumpers (Bill Hurtz) and misic and I loved those parts, but the cartoons bored me. Maybe they were too wordy, I don't know. Fractured Fairy Tales had great stylish limited animation by some of Hollywood's best animators, but the stories dragged for me.

In the mid 60s I discovered Roger Ramjet. I thought it was Jay Ward at first because it superficially looks like it.

But I was laughing when I saw it. Out loud, which is rare for cartoons-especially wordy ones. Usually with wordy cartoons, the intent is to make you feel smug and self satisfied that you got some obscure reference or joke, but you don't really laugh out loud much, unlike how you do constantly at a Warner Bros. cartoon or live action comedy.

movie clip:

Roger Ramjet was put together by a bunch of radio DJs and comedians-Gary Owens, Dick Beals and the likes.

They would write and record the soundtrack. Their delivery had true stand up comedian timing and every character had a really funny ultra pro voice-unlike today's cartoon voices which sound like your gay neighbor pinching his nose and squealing like a baby pig being castrated. They also added some funny very specific sfx-not "wacky" like Saturday Morning cartoons-but funny. There's a big difference!

The guys would cut the soundtrack together really tight with almost no time left inbetween dialogue to add any visual gags so you'd think that would be no fun for the animators.

But Fred Crippen and his team figured out ways to have fun. Each director drew the cartoons in their own style. I'll try to get an interview with Fred and Bob Kurtz to talk about that later...

Funny Design
Their character designs are really funny and match the personalities of the characters perfectly. It's a real 60s style, only it's like they are making fun of it. The drawings have sarcasm built into them and that isn't something you can define in words. "Hey Fred, put some sarcasm in your designs!"

Funny Cutting
They use cutting to puncuate the gags and even the accents in the dialogue. This was a brilliant inspiration, and I can't believe no one else ever picked up on this!
They purposely avoid hookups and the "180% rule". They just cut to funny angles and gags that weren't in any script and it adds a ton of fun to the entertainment package.

Funny Gags
They added lots of visual gags - like General Brassbottom up in the lamp...

Roger Ramjet represents a philosophy that doesn't exist anymore. It's the entertainer's code. Every element that is available to all the creative people involved on the production is used to be entertainment. The voices, sfx, design, timing, cutting, poses, backgrounds everything.

All the people involved on Roger Ramjet automatically feel it is their sacred duty as entertainers to give the audience all they have. Real entertainers have this instinct and you have to beat it out of them to make them not use it. That's the situation we have today with the few entertainers that are left in the industry and that's what executives and modern cartoon writers are for-to distance the entertainers from the creative aspects of the project.

That's why execs favor voice directors, story editors, note givers, secretaries and the like over cartoonists and real voice actors and story people.

I used Gary Owens as the voice of Powdered Toastman, and I have to tell you he is a super professional. He understood all the gags in the stories and gave automatic funny delivery as he read them and hammed it up appropriately.

He was so good that he even suggested all kinds of jokes that weren't in my storyboards and so we recorded them on the spot and I put them in the cartoons. Then I had to call Nickelodeon to get permission to make the cartoon funnier than what they already approved. Amazingly, back then that was ok with them!

He seemed so happy to be involved in the creative aspects of the show. I'm sure he has had to work on lots of shows where "voice directors" just view the recording session as another day's work and another paycheck.

Gary seemed totally in his element at Spumco. He just fit in as one of the gang instantly. Gary is a man out of his time. He is known as a great voice actor, but he's also a comedian, a writer and a cartoonist!

Roger Ramjet has to be one of the cheapest cartoons in history, but it proves that you don't need a ton of money to be creative. You just need to let loose some creative artists and let them do what God put 'em on earth to do. Entertain people!


Kent B said...

Nice appreciation of Roger Ramjet. The writers on this show were Gene Moss & Jim Thurman - these guys used to have a radio show in L.A. in the early '60s, and I remember it being a lot of fun - they'd play the usual top 40 songs, and in between they'd do really funny skits. If anyone has tapes or mp3s of these, I'd really like to hear them again.

Roger Ramjet was "illustrated radio" done right. Fred Crippen told me they would edit the soundtrack for the episodes, including sound effects, cutting out the "inhales" in the dialog so the shows played really fast paced - The budgets were really low, so the animation was done with the fewest possible drawings. The animator did it all: storyboard, layout and animation was all one step! The "big heads" in the scene meant they didn't have to paint as much of the BG! (There was a theory about having the head take up 2/3 of the frame) Fred had worked at UPA in New York, so he had learned that a jump-cut could take the place of a bunch of unnecessary in-betweens. He hates the label "limited animation" - he prefers "unlimited animation" - the only limitation is your imagination.

JohnK said...

Hey Kent!

Who did the editing? Fred?

Or was it edited when it came to him?

Gene Moss and Jim Thurman did voices on the show too, right? Do you know which ones?

Who did the fat kid? Is Doodle the fat one?

Clinton said...

I don't remember Roger Ramjet, but I do remember watching Rocky & Bullwinkle Show all the time before Nick @ Nite came on. I enjoyed the dialogue more than anything else. So this is the limited animation reference best used in Flash shorts? I am still trying to figure out the best way to animate in Flash for my own projects. I like Cigarettes in Weird Al's video, and Jessica Borutski's "I Love Pandas" the most. Please keep posting lectures on how to animate in Flash!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Family Guy borrowed and misapplied the non-hookup theory, using it as a dream sequence reference camouglaged by choppy cutting. They found a way to make cheap looking crap expensive and not funny. Doubt if any of the people on that show ever saw a Roger Ramjet episode.

S.G.A said...

" you don't need a ton of money to be creative." ....Great!! Make some NEW cartoons!
Also , I was wondering what you thought of the Home movies cartoon..I love it and don't care if I am criticized for it... I laugh out loud at that cartoon... and it's REALLY cheap.

Troy Little said...

That cut to the general in the lamp had me laughing out loud, thanks John!

Raff said...

Thanks for bringing RR up. They really do sound like WABC DJs having a laugh.

I notice Fred Calvert is in the credits. Wasn't he the one who did things like this?

mike f. said...

I can verify that Gary Owens fit right in at Spumco. He was funny as hell. It sure was a blast meeting him.

(It hardly ever happens - meeting a hero of your childhood, and finding out that he's just as cool in person as you always imagined.)

BTW, I wonder what your frustrated friend - little chuckwad - will have to say about your analysis of Roger Ramjet.

Cayen said...

Speaking of Gary Owens as Powdered Toastmanthats one element I miss in the Lost episodes. Each one was a thirty minute cartoon, which isn't bad, but it loses something. I kinda like the double cartoons with the fake ad thrown in there to fill time. I also missed a powdered toastman cartoon.

going on to more recent cartoons. I couldn't tell you any of the new cartoons if you tortured it out of me. The lost art of making a cartoon for fun is almost completely gone now.

I saw 'almost' cause the entertainers have left hollywood to make thier cartoons on the internet. It's the same way with comics. Both industries are stagnating. Censors and control freak executives are killing all the creativity just so they won't offend anyone at all. It's too damn steril now. You can't even have a cartoon with a bully unless you have the bully make amends for his evil ways. Heck even the villians aren't really all that bad anymore. It's just a sad state. You can't have characters to cheer for, and you can't have villians you love to hate.

lastangelman said...

You can find out all stuff about Roger Ramjet show here:
here are the credits I paste and cut from the website:


Producer - Fred Crippen
Associate Producers - Dick Reed, Paul Shively
Supervising Director - Fred Crippen
Writers - Gene Moss, Jim Thurman
Production Coordinator - Fred Calvert
Animators - Don Schloat, Alan Zaslove, George Nicholas, Bill Hutton, Fred Crippen
Background - Jack Heiter
Layout - Rosemary O'Conner, Sam Weiss, Dave Hanan, Joe Bruno, Bob Kurtz
Sound Effects - Phil Kaye
Ink and Paint - Constance Crawley
Checking - Dottie Mullens
Camera - Jerry Smith, Roger Brown, Larry Hogan
Sound - TV Recorders, Western Recorders
Music by Ivan Ditmars
Edited by Dee Futch
Executive Producer - Kenneth C. T. Snyder
Produced by Snyder-Koren Productions/Pantomime Pictures, Inc.
Originally syndicated in 1965 by CBS Films
Voices -
Roger Ramjet: Gary Owens
Yank: Dick Beals
Dan: Dick Beals
Dee: Joanie Gerber
Lotta Love: Joanie Gerber
Doodle: Gene Moss
Noodles Romanoff: Gene Moss
Gen. G.I. Brassbottom: Bob Arbogast
Ma Ramjet: Bob Arbogast
Lance Crossfire: Paul Shively
Red Dog: Paul Shively
Dr. Evilkisser: Gene Moss
Announcer: Dave Ketchum
Other voices: Ken Snyder, Jim Thurman

a link to full episode of Monster Masquerade (Real Player)

a link on to purchase Roger Ramjet DVD


Kevin Kunreuther
Dallas TX

Kali Fontecchio said...

The only part of Rocky and Bullwinkle I liked as a kid was Dudley Dooright.
And only because his voice was cool.

Roger Ramjet is almost non-stop hilarity. I wish I'd seen it as a kid. OH MISSPENT YOUTH!!

Tommy said...

There was a kids show here in Phoenix called the Wallace and Ladmo Show. They showed a lot of Roger Ramjet cartoons. It was great. I was one happy little kid.

Ryan G. said...

I used to like Rocky & Bullwinkle when i was little but Ive never seen Roger Ramjet untill now. Its hillarious!

:: smo :: said...

putting the general in the light fixture is hilarious!

i don't totally agree with you on the ward call. i feel liek for the budget they were pretty well done and pretty funny too, they definitely hold up a lot better than some of the cartoons out there now! but roger ramjet is definitely a keeper for sure!

yet, i'm still wary of telling people jumping the 180 is okay. in a situation like this where everything is on the same plane it would make me think, say the general was actually on the other side of the room suddenly. which, as with the lamp gag could happen and be really funny...if he WAS over there. the humor is in the timing and the cutting. but just doing it without a reason might make something that's so dependent on the viewer's expectation, disorienting, and not as funny as a character just suddenly being on the ceiling.

JohnK said...

I don't think anybody would be disoriented by "jumping the 180" except people who have been told there's something wrong with it.

I've seen it in a million movies and it never dawned on me there was a law against it.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"i'm still wary of telling people jumping the 180 is okay."

It's funny, so why restrict yourself?

ChatRabbit said...

"you don't need a ton of money to be creative."

Sometimes I think money is a real deterrent to making good things. Without a big budget you are "forced" to get the most bang for your buck.

Cayen said...

hey John I just noticed Raketu has a Cartoon channel for the TV part. Are you going to make cartoons for it?

Gabriel said...

i don't like rocky & bullwinkle much but i think Fractured Fairy Tales is really cool. The characters look as if they were drawn directly in ink, without sketches, i liked that. It made me very conscious that a human hand made them, in an appealing way.

Pseudonym said...

When John said they used "backgrounds", my first thought was: Didn't you mean "backgounds"?

(BTW, you're not a real Roger Ramjet fan unless you get that.)

Stephen Worth said...

Wallace and Ladmo were great. Do you have any tapes of them Tommy?

Gene Moss and Jim Thurman were comedy geniuses. They did a puppet show in my very distant youth called Shrimpenstein and wrote the jingle for Der Weinershnitzel that I still sing to this day. My friend Lew has a reel to reel tape of Shrimpenstein that he taped off the air when he was a kid. It may be the only surviving document of the series.

See ya

EIBass said...

Is this the lesson on how to cut corners and get away with it?

Limited animation and fast paced radio commentator type dialogue doesn't really do it for me. I cant believe you put this crap on a higher level than the Simpsons or family guy.
The fast cuts are really the best the thing about this type of stuff and it should be used in moderation. But hey, limited budget=limited animation. "You pay peanuts, you get monkeys"

Ollie said...

Hi John. I used to watch this show as a kid too. It was shown here in England around the same time as the original Ren and Stimpy cartoon.

Was this made by the same people that made George of the Jungle?

Jack Ruttan said...

I don't get it, but these cartoons kill! Wish they were back somewhere.

PsychoWiLL said...

This is the kind of stuff I'd like to do... only... better animation.

Mad Taylor said...

I agree with your take on the 180 rule. It always seemed to me that rules of film aren't wrong until someone is told that they are wrong. It's like HD tv to standard really don't notice it until they are side by side. So when someone points out these rules...they aren't really "rules" they are just adjustments to make a film better (if you need it).

Pretty much the basis of your teaching...we get used to looking at too many crappy cartoons...but once we see good ones right next to those it reveals the true potential for a cartoon.

JohnK said...

Limited animation and fast paced radio commentator type dialogue doesn't really do it for me. I cant believe you put this crap on a higher level than the Simpsons or family guy.<<

Yeah, a much higher level. Funnier drawings, funnier jokes, better design better voices.

No comparison.

Are you saying having inbetweens make the drawings funnier?

Anonymous said...

I just received the Roger Ramjet box set in the mail today. I watched it and I laughed out loud at the first cartoon and I had to watch another, and another. Until work called wondering where I was at.

The show gave me so many ideas on what I could do with the characters I had made.

Well back to work, study, draw, and laugh.

akira said...

uh the 180 rule is VERY important WHEN YOUR CHARACTERS ALL LOOK THE SAME... which is the case for many cartoons and movies and tv shows... instead of making characters recognisable by their looks, you just have to remember them as "the guy on the left" or "the guy on the right."

if you can make it obvious who is who and where they are without following the 180 rule then there is no need for it...

dwestburg said...

John - I've been reading your blog for a couple of months now. During that time you've commented a lot on how today's animators don't know how to draw well. That they need to go back to basics and learn to use proper construction.

So isn't it a contradtiction to say you love the animation in Roger Ramjet?

Can you explain more about why you think the animation in Roger Ramjet is any better than Samurai Jack or Fairly OddParents?

dwestburg said...

John - I've been reading your blog for a couple of months now. You've commented a lot on how today's animators don't know how to draw well. That they need to learn the basics and use proper construction.

Isn't it a contradiction to say that you love the animation in Roger Ramjet?

Can you explain more about why you think the animation in Roger Ramjet is any better than Samurai Jack or Fairly OddParents?

JohnK said...

Because it's funny.

I'll post more about it later.

EIBass said...

It’s not the inbetweens that place the Family Guy on a higher level. But with out them you have no “cartoon jokes”.
I think the quality of roger ram jet is some where between wait till your father gets home and Tom Slick, which where both horrible.

“Yeah, a much higher level. Funnier drawings, funnier jokes, better design better voices.”

Better design is the only agreement you’ll get from me and that just because I like that style. But the lack of inbetweens makes it more of a slide show with fancy voice-overs. Mediocre at best and not a good use of the medium. So the tweens are a big part of it and the limited palette (monochromatic in some frames), the non existent backgrounds. I could go on but I think it’s just a matter of my unrefined taste and lack of cartoon know-how. I just don’t like Ramjet . So go ahead, commence the ripping.

Lex said...

Can you explain more about why you think the animation in Roger Ramjet is any better than Samurai Jack or Fairly OddParents?

Maybe it's just me, but I've never squirted grape Kool-Aid out of my nose while watching Samurai Jack or Fairly OddParents. Now I've got to clean up my desk after seeing the General in the lamp.

- Lex

Scot said...

You had mentioned many posts ago that you had done some form of consultation to the people at the Cartoon Network some years ago. During that time, were you involved with their rerunning of Roger Ramjet with the "hipper" intro sequence? Yeuch"

I think a lot of the tastes of the current generation are seasoned with what they grew up watching, unfortunately. When I was 5-10, the local UHF stations loaded their mornings with old cartoons (Tom and Jerry, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Woody Woodpecker, Popeye, Roger Ramjet, and so on) because it was cheap.

When TV stations switched to barter-cartoons... the quality of cartoons, in general, took a violent dip.

Tom Dougherty said...

Several RR shorts on YouTube. Good ones, too.

Chloe Cumming said...


That ape clip is wonderful. It's a kind of absurdist humour that completely transcends era and nationality. I think.

yes, pouring all available resources into funnyness makes good economic sense to me.

My Mum used to hate Roger for some reason. Or did she love it? This is a long time ago.

Roberto González said...

“Yeah, a much higher level. Funnier drawings, funnier jokes, better design better voices.”

Compared to Family Guy Roger Ramjet seems to have funnier drawings, jokes and voices.

Compared to The Simpsons, I think it probably has funnier drawings and slightly better voices. I haven't seen too much of it, but I am unsure if it will have funnier jokes, probably it just have a different type of jokes.

The designs have expressive eyeballs and slightly interesting shapes. Apart from that they are not so different to some modern cartoons for me, their poses lack energy and the colouring is pretty boring.

I also think the in-betweens make animation a little more interesting. That's not to say FG or South Park looks better than this. But I think the Simpsons at their best can be more entertaining to watch, at least for me. I love The Flinstones characters, their stories, even the drawings and the designs. Still I can barely see more than one episode the same day, and I can see two or three Simpsons, one after another.

You enjoy The Flinstones more than Tom and Jerry. I generally enjoy Tom and Jerry more, even if they are more generic, they have a lot more energy, more dynamic poses and more in betweeners.

I am not trying to say I dislike The Flinstones, Rocky and Bullwinkle or Roger Ramjet. In fact I think they are very funny and they have lovable, symphatetic characters. They feel very natural, I give them that over The Simpsons, which often -not always- can feel a little forced or "written". But while I am watching those series I can't help thinking they will look better with inbetweeners and more vivid colors. I know the colors in The Simpsons are not exactly great, but they are ,at least, vivid.

I find all this very interesting and I want to read more. And I should check that link to an entire Roger Ramjet episode that somebody put the other day.

dwestburg said...

Lex - Samurai Jack was a bad example since it's not meant to be a funny cartoon. So replace replace Samurai Jack with South Park or SpongeBob (both of which, to the best of my knowledge, John does not like)and my question is still there.

Jeff Read said...

Gary Owens is awesome. He is the consummate voice artist, and it's no surprise that he fit in like one of the boys at Spumco.

One of his most memorable roles (to me) was the Narrator for the later, CD-ROM-distributed installments in the Space Quest adventure game series; like many PC adventure games the textual narration for Space Quest was written in a hilarious, deadpan manner, and hearing Gary delivering it added so much to the atmosphere to the game.

Smartbutt said...

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Philo Tagdarian said...

"jumping the 180".
I've been in television production for almost 15 years and have never heard of this.
What the hell is it????

Anonymous said...

[It’s not the inbetweens that place the Family Guy on a higher level. But with out them you have no “cartoon jokes”.]

I've seen quite a bit of Family Guy, and I don't honestly recall any "cartoon jokes." Every visual gag I've seen on that show could easily be replicated (and better) live action. There is more "cartoon joke" in just the design of the general (not to mention the crazy ape with the buckteeth and pointy head) than you will see in an entire season of Family Guy.

Anonymous said...

Why are we talking about Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park?

Family Guy and The Simpsons aren't limited animation, they have extremely smooth animation because it costs them $1000000 to animate one episode, yet they have inexcusably bad "design" and bad animation and no poses or acting.

And South Park exists in a vacuum in which it takes them 5 days and a couple grand to make an entire episode form start to finsih, on computers (yet it still manages to have better animation than FG, albeit more limited) so even discussing it in terms of regular cartoons is useless.



For my money, I love Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, I've loved them since I was a kid. I never heard of Roger Ramjet and I've never seen any episodes but this makes me want to check it out.

Thanks John! You and Jerry Beck both recommended this so it's gotta be pretty good!

PCUnfunny said...

That was retarted and funny.Roger Ramjet is barely above illustrated radio but you can enjoy the visuals.

Jeff Read said...

Some of those gags never get old -- like the fact that the hotline to Ramjet's headquarters is physically hot to the touch, and he must find ways of answering it without burning his hand; and the way the General always gets scorched by Ramjet's jet exhaust.

PCUnfunny said...

Okay I just saw a full episode on YouTube. Like I said, retarted and funny. There is great combination and quit cutting and the occasional funny drawings. My favorite gag was the parrot and the consstant changing of his hat when the camera cuts back to him.

:: smo :: said...

""i'm still wary of telling people jumping the 180 is okay."

It's funny, so why restrict yourself? "

i don't know. i don't find it funny, it's just a cut. john very well might be right that film school taints certain perceptions. and i suppose ford and hitchcock weren't really out for the laughs. but i guess just like anything, if there's no setup for the gag it's just there.

ha i guess i'll just stay away from it then. maybe it's more of a personal preference than anything.

Roberto González said...

Why are we talking about The Simpsons or Family Guy? Well, cause we want to know if John K. has double standards, cause you know, he's so passionate that sometimes it's difficult to see his point. Like when he's talking about Clampett compared to Jones, it almost seems as if he hates Jones sometimes, and that's clearly not true.

I also have seen some episodes of Roger Ramjet in youtube, and I kind of see his point. I still enjoy The Simpsons but I see the storytelling is less convoluted and more visual, meaning the visuals tell the gags, though they don't play on different styles or distinct colours and it can get a little boring to look at after a while.

Now, I still expecting an explanation on why it's "right" for him to like Beavis and Butthead and "wrong" for us to like The Simpsons...or even maybe Family Guy, which I hate, but someone could say it's not a hell of a lot uglier than Beavis and Butthead and he probably could be right. Still, I personally find Beavis and Butthead funnier to look at than FG, even if its animation is more smooth. Almost anything is funnier to look at than FG.

JohnK said...

Roger Ramjet and Beavis and Butthead are rare exceptions to the rules.

They are both funny and I like to laugh.

Roger is sometimes drawn really well-depending on who drew the individual episodes. Bob Kurtz' are usually extra great.

Most modern cartoons are merely exceptions to the rules of skill and control, but without any redeeming qualities to make up for it.

Today EVERYTHING is an exception.

Exceptions should stay in the 2% range of the overall quantity of entertainment. Instead we have absolutely no one making cartoony cartoons and everyone else breaking the rules.

It's like having professional sports being played by your friends and neighbors instead of professional athletes. That might be funny for one or 2 games, but you wouldn't want the entire sports industry to be run like that.

Roberto González said...

Ok, that's clear enough. I totally agree with that. In all fairness, though, I think The Simpsons was the first show that used an style (more or less) similar to the one used in Rugrats, Beavis and Butthead and Family Guy, and South Park stories, at the very beggining, were very influenced by The Simpsons (sometimes they were almost rip-offs). I am not sure when Beavis and Butthead pilot was released, though.

But I guess personal preferences don't mind so much. I think it's true that ,especially in adult shows, they compete with each other to create the uglier show. Unforunately the ones that have "tolerable" designs (like Clerks the animated series)or awesome designs (like Ren and Stimpy APC) haven't been a success.

JohnK said...

McDonald's is a big success too.

Steve Carras said...

Seems like Phil Kaye did a lot of classic HB effects (which is also vis-a-vis that "not Saturday Morning cartoon sound effects" comment..including that cat meow (one of several) when one's startled or is making a physical 180 degree turn (Phil is also credited in the 1969 Rankin-Bass/VideoCraft Int'l "Frosty the Snowman" starring Jimmy Durante for film editing and some of those SAME SFX including the "meow" are included. See comments by me and others on "Boomerang" on!

ALso, "Fractured Fairy Tales" were among the best which Jay Ward had..some,l;ike'Ugly DUckling" had the "Seely" canned music (here by Phil Green ("Snooper and Blabber"'s circus theme "Comedy Circus") and Jack Shaindlin (?) "sad trombone/violin" music. And of course, Edward Everett Horton (these same music and Horton elements showed up in that 1963 indie film "One Got Fat". Anybody remember? John K must have seen it!)

And I thought Roger, The Alvin Show, and even Underdog from time o time were also Ward productions...

Roberto González said...

What happened with a comment I posted here? Well, I guess I digressed a little too much in that one, and I probably was a little too harsh, but I don't think it was something that you wouldn't approve...