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!