Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How To Do A Shorts Program Using Logic and Experience

Fred Seibert and his team of crack executives peer in on the latest short being focus tested

Looney Tunes The Most Successful Shorts in History
When Fred Seibert hired me to consult for him as he took control at Hanna Barbera 12 years ago or so, he asked me why old cartoons were so great and new ones sucked. He wanted to make new ones that didn't suck. So I gave him a history lesson.

I used Looney Tunes as my main example because they did everything right and succeeded because of it.

Looney Tunes created more popular characters than any other studio in history. Their cartoons have lasted 60 years.

Their key Directors are all famous and looked up to decades later.

How did they do all this? They had a logical studio production system that developed and encouraged talent:

Short Cartoons
First, like every other studio, they made short cartoons and constantly created new characters to see what characters clicked with the audience.
They didn't put all their eggs in one basket, like when a Saturday Morning Studio green lights a whole series at once and then when it fails, a lot of money is lost in one shot.

Director System
The producer-Leon Schlesinger was a very smart business man. He was risking his own money-unlike today's executives who don't care how much they spend.

Leon knew that his success depended on the talent. He was always on the lookout for the stars within the studio.

He would promote his experienced animators to director then let him sink or swim. If the director made cartoons that made the audience laugh, they got to keep their jobs.

Directors and Units Got To Practice Their Craft
If the director made yawners, then they didn't keep their jobs for long. But Leon wouldn't fire you if your first cartoon was a flop. He gave you enough time to learn how to direct and get used to your crew. Chuck Jones actually made 4 years of yawners with Leon threatening to fire him the whole time unless he started to make funny cartoons. The other directors kept telling Leon that Chuck was a real talent and Leon believed them. Eventually Chuck became the most famous director at WB. Leon trusted his talent. He didn't have sub executives telling him what cartoons worked or who was good.

Directors had their own units
The director had his own team of animators, story people, BG painters. These people would get used to each other's styles and working methods and with each cartoon, they would naturally get better-especially under a strong director.

Sometimes certain artists would migrate to other directors whose sensibilities were more in tune with their own.

I explained that there were no scripts in old cartoons, that the artists drew the stories on storyboards. Fred said "Of course! That explains why we can't find any Flintstones scripts at the studio!"

You Had To Work Your Way Up Through The System
You didn't start at the top like many of the young guys the Execs dig out of a cornfield in Idaho today. You had to learn from the ground floor up and as you started to prove yourself you could be up for promotions.

They Got Experience First
Bob Clampett started at Schlesinger's when he was 16-as an inbetweener - not as a director. He then became an animator after a couple years, and the whole time he was learning his craft, he was always pitching story ideas to the directors and to Leon. He begged Leon for years to direct and finally got his chance when he was 23 - 7 years after he started. He turned out to be the star director really fast and created many characters and classic funny films and influenced everyone else in the industry.

Partly because of his awesome talent, but also because he knew how animation worked in every sense, from working with experienced folks for years and working in various departments himself. He paid his dues first.

A good director has to understand how all the parts fit together in a cartoon, because he has to manage them and coordinate them for the most entertaining effect. He also needs the respect of the artists working for him, and an inexperienced director is not going to be respected by experienced artists.

No one today gets the opportunity to learn what it takes to be a director, because the execs split up all the director's duties and don't start people at the bottom anymore.


Everything evolved -characters, styles, artists
Nothing was ever set in stone. People believed in progress then. The characters changed design in a steady flow, the studio style, the personalities constantly grew and progressed. There were no story bibles, no predetermined catch phrases. Everyone expected next year's cartoons to be better than this year's. You can tell an early 30s cartoon from a late 30s cartoon because of the steady progress in skill.
Look back at the last 15 years of cartoons at any studio today. Anyone see any progress? It all seems to be slipping backwards to me.

The Audience Decided What Was Successful
This is so logical and obvious, it baffles me why execs can't grasp this today.

The directors knew when they had a hit cartoon and they would get inspired and run off and say "Let's do more of that!" If no one laughed, they would be ashamed, and go back and try to figure out what they did wrong and not repeat it. They didn't go into the audience and ask people what to change, as we do now with "focus testing". Imagine an architect asking a house owner why the house caved in and how to fix it.

OK, so I explained all this to Mr. Seibert and he got real excited and decided on the spot that he was going to institute a shorts program at Hanna Barbera, and I wholeheartedly supported him.

He only remembered part of what I said though. He remembered that shorts are there to discover new talent and new star characters, but the rest he kinda discarded.

I helped him find some potential new director talent and he found some of his own, but in my opinion he jumped the gun.

He started too many units at once. Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.

Then on top of that, he hired a pile of sub-executives out of nowhere, people who didn't know the first thing about cartoons and didn't like cartoons and didn't like cartoonists.

The artists would overhear these lieutenants in the hallways talking about how stupid this whole shorts idea was. It was ridiculous to write cartoons on storyboards and give cartoonists any say in the making of cartoons. "We should go back to using scripts, like we did at Ruby Spears." Yeah, that was successful! How many people can even name a Ruby Spears character today?

Of course when they were in meetings with Fred, they were all gung-ho about what a great experiment this was.

Many of these bottom feeders have now migrated to other studios and hired more of their kind and the creative process has become more complicated and illogical than it ever was.

Fred is the most logical and sincere of the modern execs for sure, but he combined some purely logical elements of cartoon making with modern crazy witch doctor management theories that undermined the cartoonists-even though he didn't mean to. It's just his hippie executive management background.

Even so, just doing something right was enough to revolutionize Hanna Barbera and put the Cartoon Network on the map. They made some pretty successful series based on the shorts created by Dave Feiss, Genndy Tartakovsky and Craig McCracken.

Since then, every studio has started up their own shorts program. Why? Because they want to discover real talent and new characters the logical efficient way?

No. They all have them because it's the thing to do. No self respecting network can have a studio now without having a shorts program. It just isn't done.

Executives don't do things for logical reasons. They do them because everyone else is doing them. Slaves to trends.

The whole reasoning behind shorts programs has now been undermined and they are managed crazily.

It would be so easy to do it right and then beat the crap out of all the other studios, just by setting up a program with pure common sense and lessons from experience and history. The first studio to follow my advice would be the top dog within a couple years. If you know what your goal is, you oughtta take the shortest most direct route to achieving it. So, let's review the goals of a shorts program.

...In the next post of free advice for execs


kevin said...

Perfect John, glad to hear all this stuff. Today's Non Sequitur comic here - http://news.yahoo.com/comics/uclickcomics/20070327/cx_nq_uc/nq20070327 also says it all about the Hollywood process.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I didn't know Fred Seibert was on Supercar!!!

Bob Clampett worked his way up the ladder to become a director by expanding his drawing skills as well! He did comics for the newspaper and took life drawing classes at Otis! Hooray!

Paul B said...

hi john. What's your opinion about this animation?


see ya!

JSL said...

This stuff is amazing. I can't believe you're giving out all this information for free.

I've been reading this blog since day one, and I've reached the point where I can't watch a cartoon anymore without analyzing it like a wine taster.


David DeGrand said...

Wonderfully entertaining and informative post as always. I completely agree with you that if studios today adopted the old way of doing things then quality cartoons would be made, however do you think that executives today would be willing to wait the 2 or 3 years it would take to see the results? As badly as the industry needs it, I have a hard time believing that unless the cartoons are instant hits the second they air then they would be willing to invest more time and money into seeing if it can actually grow organically, just like the best cartoons of the Golden Age.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Congratulations John! A brilliant post! Hearst used a somehat similar method for finding print cartoonists for his newspaper.

If Hearst saw a strip he liked in some small newspaper somewhere he offered to double the guy's salary if he dropped everything and came to work for him. He'd walk the new guy over to the art department and personally introduce him to the old hands and he waited while the old guys set up the new guy's desk. The idea was to make sure make sure the staff understood that the new guy was under Hearst's personal protection.

The new artist had a simple deal. He would create a new strip with original characters and Hearst would carry it for a while whether it was successful or not. If it failed the new artist would get one more chance. If that failed too then the artist was kicked out and promptly forgotten.

I forgot to say that the new artist wasn't a beginner. He had to get a successful strip going in his home town before Hearst ever became aware of him.

Dan! said...

"The Audience Decided What Was Successful"

Sometimes I worry about the audience. Too many people prefer Family Guy and Aqua Teen to classics like Looney Tunes of which they can't appreciate the artistic creativity behind. It bums me out and makes me think, what's the point of trying? Too many people think that having a cartoon that actually moves well and is fun to look at doesn't matter.

JohnK said...

Sometimes I worry about the audience. Too many people prefer Family Guy and Aqua Teen to classics like Looney Tunes of which they can't appreciate the artistic creativity behind.<<

Those shows have a small audience of emos and posers who just want their friends to think they are cool.

Kids are less phony and laugh at old cartoons a lot harder than they do at new ones. I've witnessed it over and over.

Start with the kids and they will grow up with better taste.

Anonymous said...

the problem is that you also have to be funny, John K is funny, the old warner brothers guys were funny,Don martin was funny, most "cartoonists" and animators, especially the technicaly gifted cal arts types have really lame senses of humor and give real cartoonists a bad name.

How many brilliantly drawn online comics have you seen that were full of gags about muggers telling clowns to "not try anything funny"

Mr. Semaj said...

How many people can even name a Ruby Spears character today?

I only recognize Ruby-Spears for their 80's incarnation of Alvin and the Chipmunnks, which had an eerie resemblance of the stuff Hanna-Barbera made thru the 70's, right down to the sound-effects.

Nickelodeon still has their shorts program, also from Seibert, and I don't think it did them as much good as it did for Cartoon Network. In spite of borrwing many CN talents, their only real hit from the program was The Fairly OddParents. The program petered out, but now they're taking forever to re-launch it.

Even the Disney Channel has their own shorts program, but because they know squat about individual styles, I can't even bring myself to try them.

This was still a cool read. Is this a part of your new plan? To launch your own shorts program?

Anibator said...

This is one post I absolutely wholeheartedly agree with, and I have disagreed with you on many other things.

But if you want to run a shorts program, this is absolutely the way to do it.

It stands to reason that because Fred followed, say, 70% worth of this model, he got cartoons that were about 70% good (some would say I'm being generous with that 'grade' - but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt for the sake of argument).

What's amazing to me is that this production philosophy is not rocket science. It's perfectly reasonable and you'd think anyone with even a tiny fraction of intelligence could grasp it.

And yet, all of the shorts programs being made now don't even follow 1% of this system and - not surprisingly - all (yes... "ALL") of the shorts coming out of it are mediocre at best.

Even the ones that look like they were decent ideas have clearly had all of the fun beaten out of them by gutless executives who don't know when to just trust their talent.

If executives actually fostered talented artists and established a trusting relationship with them, they would be able to rest easy when the artists say things like "Trust me... it'll be great!"

They'd be able to take it to the bank.

paul etcheverry said...

Hi John,

This is a great idea - it certainly worked for the Schlesinger studio and the Hal Roach "Lot Of Fun" - that would very likely result in the next generation of classic cartoons, but it makes too much sense.

If I'm not mistaken, Leon Schlesinger - originally the liaison between cartoon producers Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising and Warner Brothers - launched his studio by offering Harman and Ising staffers more money to work for him. Clampett, Friz Freleng and Rollin Hamilton (who is responsible for very cartoony moments in the early 30's Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies) were among many who found this a deal they could not refuse. It took a couple of years for the studio to survive its growing pains and get the right directors in place.

I think Leon's greatest contribution was largely leaving Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin and Bob Clampett alone to make cartoons as they saw fit, as long as they were on schedule and on budget.

Anonymous said...

Does that horse's arse Melissa Wolf still work for Fred?

I got the impression she had never seen a Looney Tunes short that hadn't been edited into non-sense. Because of all the network cartoon editing that began in the 70's, people in their thirties generally wouldn't know a good cartoon if it bit them on the ass.

Hector Cortez said...

Great post. And yes, I agree that kids should be made aware of the classic cartoons at an early age. My little 5 year old nephew LOVES the classic Tom & Jerry shown on Boomerang and on DVD.

mike f. said...

"Focus testing?" What's that?

Did Looney Tunes get focus tested, Unca John?

Did the wise executives consult the expert opinions of cartoon-hating housewives, single mothers, and various other unemployed underachievers - to tell them what to put in (or, more likely, take out) of the cartoons?

What is the purpose of focus groups, anyway? And more importantly, does fuck-us testing work?

Has it EVER worked?

Tell us all about the merits of fecal-testing, Unca John!

[Kali Fontecchio said...
I didn't know Fred Seibert was on Supercar!!!]

Yes, young Kali - and the next time you're over my house, we'll watch lots and LOTS of SUPERCAR!

mike f. said...

[JSL said...
"I've reached the point where I can't watch a cartoon anymore without analyzing it like a wine taster."]

Me too. I'll occasionally watch a piece of shit like FAMILY GUY, to use as a "palette cleanser" in between viewings of REAL cartoons.

It teaches me to respect the value of great artistic achievement in an age where it's become almost non-existant, and helps to remind me that American popular culture wasn't always the wasteland it is now.

Zwoltopia said...

Great post John,
These are the things I love to read.
Beats a good book anyday

S.G.A said...

Yes, It will be nice to see some good kid cartoons, as incredible to look at as those adult party cartoons..

ardy said...

"Cartoon Cartoon Show" was great. Before it came along, all Cartoon Network played was reruns of Thundercats and Scooby Doo (and every single Scooby Doo spin-off). Then all of the sudden shows like Cow and Chicken and Dexter's Lab came up through it and Cartoon Network became great. But even the shorts they didn't make into series were better than what they have now.

Now it just sucks again. They threw that process out the window and now we've got shows like Squirrel Boy and My Gym Partner is a Monkey.

Also I wanted to ask: Since Seth MacFarlane got his start from that show, how do you feel about your advice indirectly resulting in Family Guy being created?

Brian B said...

Do you think it hurts these not to be able to step inside a theater, and here the reaction of hundreds of people to your cartoons? TV ratings are vague. They might tune in, but there's no evidence as to how intently they tune it.

I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to pilot and test future shows in front of features. They put commercials, trailers, and everything else before a movie nowadays.

Tim said...

I really connect your depictions of Executives with the bosses in The Bear that Wasn't, with each of them telling the bear exactly why he wasn't a bear, because they knew better.
Now that I think about it, there are a ton of connections between that short and modern animation.
You're not an artist, you're a silly man who refuses to write and doesn't know how to make cartoons.

Kali Fontecchio said...

MIKE FONT: Yes, young Kali - and the next time you're over my house, we'll watch lots and LOTS of SUPERCAR!

What's WRONG with you!!!!!??????????????

MIKE FONT: It teaches me to respect the value of great artistic achievement in an age where it's become almost non-existant, and helps to remind me that American popular culture wasn't always the wasteland it is now.

"I agree, tee hee." says Young Kali.

Gabriel said...

dammit, mike, wont you ever get a blog?

Anonymous said...

Walt Disney started focus testing his cartoons in the forties, partly because at that point he was getting gunshy about what audiences wanted. This began a very bad trend. Much of today's network focus testing is held in North Hollywood or Burbank, where child actors in between callback auditions pretending to be 'normal kids' are paid fifty bucks or so each to react to segments from certain cartoons. Whether or not they like them, the focus group memebers are then asked leading questions by tall men in black leotards until their responses fit the paradigm the questioners want. Frequently these leotarded gents wear ear pieces to get ceaseless direction from top children's television network execs, watching the group behind one way mirrored glass. Then the shows get altered to fit the theory du jour. I've seen it happen more than once up close and man, is it ugly.

Ollie said...

Hey John, have you seen the Mr Bean animated series?

What do you think about it?

Just in case you haven't seen it, Here's the openening title sequence.


PCUnfunny said...

"How many people can even name a Ruby Spears character today?"

I don't even know who the hell he is. Another thing back in the good old days of animation,producers actually some sort of clue what entertainment was.Leon Schlesinger knew how to open a cartoon and conclude it.

Anonymous said...

home movies is a crudely drawn hilarious cartoon

jert said...

thanks for the history lessons here on your blog mr.k, always an entertaining read for an uneducated clod like myself....

Mebbo said...

You wouldn't honestly think that a process so logical as making funny cartoons could be so monumentally fucked up by a bunch of MBAs with chips on their shoulders.

Continue to lead the Old School faithful, John. We're with ya!

GinoMc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I hope the next post is 50 lines of text all telling them to go fuck themselves.


Anonymous said...

"Family Guy and Aqua Teen...those shows have a small audience of emos and posers who just want their friends to think they are cool. Start with the kids and they will grow up with better taste."

Aren't these the same kids that grew up watching your cartoons though?? You're condemning your audience.....for a genre you created.

Look at the evolution...Ren and Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead,King of the Hill, South Park, Family Guy...then all that crap on Adult Swim.

Granted...the lineup gets more and more retarded and inbred as you follow the family tree, but it's virtually the same. An adult show in the guise of kid cartoons.

The only crime is that these shows were too lazy to follow the high quality artwork of Ren and Stimpy.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad that he only heard part of the conversation.

The shorts program would have been better today, if he only remembered the rest of what you said.

Thanks John.

Phillip Skeen said...

Are you going to Comic Con in July '07? Let us know in the upcoming post PLEASE.

Phillip Skeen said...


Are you going to Comic Con this year?

Anonymous said...

the oddballs came out of the shorts program and thats awesome

JohnK said...

Hi Philip, no I don't think so.

Why? Did you want to shoot me?

Stone said...

Geez, are you following me around? Your topics seem to be relevant towards things I'm invovled with on almost a weekly basis!

David Germain said...

"How many people can even name a Ruby Spears character today?"

I don't even know who the hell he is.

Hey, pcunfunny, it's not a "he" it's a "them". Jack Ruby and Ken Spears both worked for Hanna Barbara throughout the 60's (and I think a bit into the 70's) until they left and started their own studio which became just a clone of Hanna Barbera really. Noone can really tell the difference between the two which makes one wonder what the point even was for these two guys to start a studio in the first place.

Oh well, I guess this can be held up as a testament to how screwed up animation was at the time.

Kali Fontecchio said...

MIKE FONT you didn't spell "palate" and "nonexistent" correctly, but I just did. I also would like to confess I did not originally know the definition of palate. I hope you do not think less of me, just like I do not think less of you. Except that you smell.

Anonymous said...

Was Jack Kirby's "Thundarr the Barbarian" a Ruby-Spears production?

I also seem to remember a lame solo version of the Thing from the Fantastic Four. These cartoons are only memorable for their association with Jack's characters.

Anonymous said...

> Those shows have a small audience
> of emos and posers who just want
> their friends to think they are
> cool.

Well, enough of those "posers" bought the DVDs to make FG come back from the grave, which I think is pretty much unprecedented?

Wouldn't you, as a proud American capitalist, agree that spending actual money is the ultimate demonstration of appreciation?

Of course kids will prefer Looney Tunes, after all FG, SP etc are directed at an older demographic.

Ecto said...

This, like so many other cartoon-studio-theory posts you do, makes so much sense. It's just damn logical.

So why aren't you, or anyone else, doing anything about it? What's happening??

Anonymous said...

>You're condemning your audience.....for a genre you created.

John didn't invent crappy animation, Jay Ward did.

I LIKE Jay Ward, but that's where Matt Groening got the idea for The Simpsons.

And South Park came from Monty Python's cut-out animation.

The creators of those respective shows even said so themselves!

Animatrixie said...

I don't really know if I understand their definition of funny anymore. None of the new outbreak of shorts are funny or very original. I think it has a lot to do with the "Hey! Let's screw the new guy! He won't know any better!" mentality as a way to exploit desperate would-be industry employees and save a buck. They know the greenhorns won't balk much at endless ridiculous revisions, as long as they can get their foot in the door (for what good it does them). It really is a sad state, and incredibly demoralizing for folks who start off with good ideas.

John A said...

To david: His name is Joe Ruby, not Jack Ruby, Jack Ruby was the club owner that shot Oswald (Lee Harvey, not the Lucky Rabbit)on national television.

Joe Ruby and Ken Spears must have a room reserved for them in hell for creating Scooby Doo for H and B.

The Mighty Robolizard said...

Nah, ATHF fans are pretty hip for the most part. As we can see from the Boston incident, its everyone else who doesn't get it! {:] Family Guy used to be very funny because the randomness SURPRISED the viewer. Now it just feels crass and dull because everything is expected.

Apparently John Lasseter is bringing back shorts, which is great. Although a Harvie Krumpet series... I dunoo...

[or a Finding Nemo series where he ALWAYS GETS LOST! Yeahh...]

The Mighty Robolizard said...

Besides, grumbling about the audience is futile. They'll like what they enjoy, irregardless of what one feels is 'good'. The obviously thing Family Guy is good. The only way to win them back is to create something they will like. ATHF, Venture Bros, Chuck Jones and Bruce Timm can all live in harmony...

Jennifer said...

Very informative post! I can't wait to read the advice to executives. I hope it's constructive. I like the "nuts and bolts" posts that you do on the animation industry, and I like your perspectives on the business.

Young sub executives are dug out of a cornfield in Idaho? I thought that young sub executives were being picked from the bohemian lounges at the trendy liberal arts colleges while they were drinking their Starbucks coffee and reciting lines from obscure films because it's so "cool and edgy". I also thought that some of the young sub executives were buddies of a top executive. Unless my mind is playing tricks on me, I remember reading an article on an "executive of the month" mentioning that he hired his friends to help with the cartoons (they weren't animators).

I was about to ask "what's a Ruby Spears", but David Germain answered that question.

JohnK said...

Hi Jennifer,

it's not the sub-execs that come from the cornfield, it's the young directors of the shorts. The "creators".

Chickens And Beandip said...

See I grew up worshipping Looney tunes, inspector gadget and eventually Ren and Stimpy and the likes. But at the same time I still Like Family guy (not so much the post cancelled series) Futurama, South Park, and Fosters Home and other assorted New Cartoons. Now I respect John K alot for making one of my all time favourite cartoons, but there is alot of close mindedness going on in here. Family guy was brought back to air because of the audience fan base. You talk of all the principles and the art of animation but in the end, it is a cartoon. That is all the audience sees. People need to learn to let go. You can spend 10 years on 2 mins of animation, but if the audience didn't like it then it obviously didn't work. I agree that cartoons need to be entertaining, and as of now I am only a junior animator so i don't understand the politics, but at the same time I think young people should have a chance to bring fresh ideas to the table. Maybe better supervised. And i don't think people prefer family guy to looney tunes, I like looney tunes better than family guy, i've just watched looney tunes so much in the past 24 years I need something new. Looney tunes even today is still aired constantly. So kids haven't forgotten about the classics.

P.s. There is a whole lot of ass kissing going on in here.


David Germain said...

it's not the sub-execs that come from the cornfield, it's the young directors of the shorts. The "creators".

I've gotta get to one of them thar corn fields in IOWA, John. Potato fields are in Idaho.

Oh, and thank you, John A. for clearing that up.

Anonymous said...

if somethings funny its funny, all the subtle contrasting poses and acting in the world dont matter if the joke is lame

Anonymous said...

family guy does suck now, its nothing but 3 minute recreations of movies from the 80's with no jokes and smug pop culture references. American Dad has never been funny.

I actually didnt mind early family guy, some of its gags werent bad

Mebbo said...

chickens and bean-dip:

Ass-kissing? The reason people post here is because we enjoy John's writing and agree (for the most part) with what he has to say. Hell, I don't agree with everything John says all the time. But as a former animator who worked for the biggest MAN(mouse) of them all at the most menial, underpaid level, I totally support John's basic driving argument, which is to return cartoon-making to the ARTISTS who have earned their stripes and away from the execs who have all but ruined the craft and almost killed an entire medium.

You're a junior animator? You'll learn soon enough ;)

Anonymous said...

Lois: Peter our son is covered in fleas!
Peter: Who cares, in my day I was covered in ticks
Lois: Peter this isnt a contest!
Peter: It was in my day
Closeup on trophy; "Most ticks 1963"

Thats funny

JohnK said...

I don't get it.

smackmonkey said...

A general "dumbing down" of the animation viewer base definitely seems to have occurred. Even my own relatives rave to me about FG while I cringe and open another bottle. I'm no art snob (I really liked the first few seasons of South Park and only started to tire of it as they ran out of material and were forced to attempt things that were out of their league) nor is my sense of humor of the high-brow variety BUT combining mediocre drawing with mediocre, wishy-washy, watered down humor certainly hasn't done anyone any good. Today's viewers just don't expect much - AND DON"T EVEN REALIZE IT! Couple this with the Dante-esque executive cluster-f*ck and maketing nightmare that is broadcast TV and it's little wonder that the only shows being green lit are based around the infantile chicken scratchings of some poor kid from Timbuktu who'd make a really good inbetweener and, in ten years, a decent story artist.

It's sad really. To see young kids come into the animation world all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed only to make the mistake of selling off their cherished ideas for a pittance. A few make it big. Most get ground up and spit out without even their own ideas to take with them as they leave.

p.s. - I liked Mike F's spelling of "palette cleanser". Good one, Mike.

allen mez said...

Once again, thank you for telling it like it is.
When I met Fred Seibert at Frederator, as he shook my hand he said, "Welcome to a world of pain."
His honesty didn't temper quite the heartbreak.

PCUnfunny said...

"Hey, pcunfunny, it's not a "he" it's a "them". Jack Ruby and Ken Spears both worked for Hanna Barbara throughout the 60's (and I think a bit into the 70's) until they left and started their own studio which became just a clone of Hanna Barbera really."

Yeah I looked it up. They really,really,suck.

Chickens and Bean dip, you don't get what John is saying at all.John simply demands basic principles of animation and artists controlling cartoons; Family Guy and South Park has none of these things. He isn't against new ideas, he's against anything with no priciple and no artistic merit.

Mr. Semaj said...

Hey John,

I got my hands full right now, but I just had an idea for an analysis on some modern cartoons (you heard right) that I think I'd like to share. Just to see how much of the fundamentals prevail in this day and age.

If I can't get anything up today, then later in the week.

Gabriel said...

not again with family guy? you folks who like it must be insane! I don't care about the dialogue, the gags or anything, they could have the greatest jokes on earth, the first problem is the looks. Those drawings alone make me cry, they are awful, they might give you eye cancer! I've never watched a full episode, and i don't think i could handle it without throwing up or wanting to kill myself! Don't we have standards anymore?

Pat McMicheal said...

I grew up in the 70's and I remember being Force-Fed those bullshit cartoons!!!(superman,scooby,etc.) And I kept finding myself searching out the Old classics.(Bugs,Tom-Jerry). There was something about the smooth movement and gags that was overwhelmingly appealing. Even at that young age I ranted about how LAME the new crap was...a static drawing with only a poorly animated mouth moving, taking up 13 seconds of animation time!
Exactly when did the bottom drop out on cartoons?
There doesn't seem to be too much of a demand for talented artists these days!

Kali Fontecchio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ZSL said...

On the subject of the "Spears" cartoons that noone remembers or likes....

...they are making a live-action Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.

Gee. I wonder if they'll change the character designs to look more "realistic" and do it with terrible CGI?

Pete said...

John, please do us a favor and right a book of your knowledge. I gaurantee it would sell, and would likely help the next batch of cartoonists and animators TREMENDOUSLY. Your Blog is great, don't get me wrong, but to have all the info compiled into one physical source would be fabulous.

Tougi said...

John, have you heard of a book called "The Innovator's Dilemma"? I think you should give it a look. It's not the fastest-paced, most interesting read ever, but it's not bad, either. It's repettive and, in some ways, overly detailed - exactly the sort of simplified but technical writing style necessary to help executive-types understand concepts that may seem obvious to you or I. Anyway, the old, logical cartooning system is what the book calls disruptive technology. The book explains that, when properly used, disruptive technologies have almost always been capable of completely overtaking markets; in this case, making cartoons in the way you describe could lead a studio to new levels of profit and market share. There's not much there that would be new to you, but it could serve as sort of a cartoonist-to-ignorant-businessperson translator. It may not offer anything that would help, but I want good cartoons to triumph over the modern dreck badly enough that I'm willing to recommend it on the chance that it does some good.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"Lois: Peter our son is covered in fleas!
Peter: Who cares, in my day I was covered in ticks
Lois: Peter this isnt a contest!
Peter: It was in my day
Closeup on trophy; "Most ticks 1963""

If this is their clever wordplay, I'm not impressed. Although I have seen students watching this crap at school, and they chuckle at every other gag. While watching Tex Avery, everyone laughs, and hard. Tex almost doesn't give you enough time to breathe between laughs!

To add to the list, I have never heard anyone laugh at The Simpsons, except for an acknowledging, "heh" because they recognized one of the thousands of references they pack into every episode. And to tie loose ends, people do laugh at South Park, but it seems unnecessary for it to even be animation. Someone could have just Photoshopped Paris Hilton with a pineapple up her twat, and would have received the same reaction as a still picture. Their humor is controversial just for the sake of being controversial, which really shouldn't have a place in animation.

So there!

Shawn said...

Why do die-hard Family Guy fans even visit this blog?

Mebbo said...

Exactly when did the bottom drop out on cartoons?
There doesn't seem to be too much of a demand for talented artists these days!

Animation is EXPENSIVE, no matter whether its TV or movie. Full animation is labour-intensive and thus costs a lot, which makes it unfeasable for television. It's not that artists are getting shunned for being talented, it's just that current animation production demands just don't allow for the sort of high-end 'animation as an artform' that we all want to do.

When I was a kid, I though Hanna-Barbera cartoons kinda dull because of the limited animation. As an adult, I'm now reappraising my opinion of the seminal HB toons and enjoying them for their wit and charm, looking past the curtailed production values.

Anonymous said...

Peter bursts into the cockpit
Pilot: Hey, youre not a pilot! I know every pilot in the world!

Now thats funny

Anonymous said...

Hey John, I know you like Tex but you dont really seem to mention him all that much compared to jones and clampett

Anonymous said...

Seth Macfarlane has said in interviews that the blank expressions of his characters are funnier than if they had more elaborate acting. He cites the Simpsons and the Far Side as other examples where less is more.

I like the acting in Ren And Stimpy and classic Warner Brothers, but how many cal arts style cartoons have you seen where characters have retardedly over the top reactions to the mildest statements?

Anonymous said...

"Peter bursts into the cockpit
Pilot: Hey, youre not a pilot! I know every pilot in the world!"

I didn't smile a bit when I read that quote. The pilot is just saying that he knows every other pilot in the world. I don't get the joke.

Nick said...

Peter bursts into the cockpit
Pilot: Hey, youre not a pilot! I know every pilot in the world!

Now thats funny

I like Family Guy, well the old ones anyway... but that doesn't make sense

GinoMc said...

Pete said...
John, please do us a favor and right a book of your knowledge-....well,it kinda seems like he is-only instead of pouring over it in one sitting and then walking away thinking you know something,you've got time to digest it,work on things,question some of the ideas,put things to the test,and maybe,just maybe...truly understand what's being said.(or maybe not)

PCUnfunny said...

"Peter bursts into the cockpit
Pilot: Hey, youre not a pilot! I know every pilot in the world!

Now thats funny"

What is funny about that ?

Anonymous said...

The masses are starved, and John K has a refrigerator full of ingredients and knows how to cook. Too bad nobody`s letting him use the goddamn stove.

That was a poor excuse for a metaphor, so I`ll be direct:

Fred Seibert, please give John Kricfalusi a show! Or at least a short! Come on! 50,000 screaming Kric-tians can`t be wrong!

PCUnfunny said...

Seth Macfarlane has said in interviews that the blank expressions of his characters are funnier than if they had more elaborate acting.

So according that "logic" this is funnier then this ? I guess he is dumber then I thought.

"He cites the Simpsons and the Far Side as other examples where less is more."

That makes sense. He backs his dumb point with dumb examples.

Anonymous said...

You dont like the Far Side Pc? Why not?

GinoMc said...

tanisha said... thanks for being so brief. -brief?huh?.....what's that?

tanisha also said...i soon will buy ''THE ANIMATION BOOK''
it's a classic book to be sure,but check around before laying out the cash. you might find it @ the library,or used @ a local bookstore (maybe even free online)it's pretty cheap over HERE,but i know nothing about prices over there(being a student ANYWHERE it's important to spend with care),the chapters covering digital production are kinda BRIEF!(there's that word again!)but they will point you in the right direction though.
you might also try searching online first for free tutorials covering using photoshop and or after effects for animation. it's not overly complicated and it shouldn't take you long to pick it up you'll do fine,i know it!
as a side note(i've given up on the BREIF thing it's way too much work)-maybe think about bringing some indian culture(or even POP culture!) into your work,so many people are cranking out the same old stuff,that it would be nice to hear a fresh new voice for a change.

Anonymous said...

John K. 3:16- For John so loved the world, he gave his best cartoons, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish in Family Guy Hell.

I know, it stinks. I believe in John. And I don't want to go to Family Guy Hell.

I want to be a high class towel boy, like Ren. OOOOH! The perks of that job. Making her balloons nice and shiny.

Anonymous said...

Tanisha, Id recommend "The Illusion of Life" its basically every good animators bible and will teach you everything you need to know about acting.

PCUnfunny said...

"You dont like the Far Side Pc? Why not?"

The character designs are ugly and visual gags are flat as a pancake. The most I get out of a Far side comics is a little giggle, sometimes. And as for The Simpsons, the show was funniner in it's early seasons but it was and still is a visual eye sore.

Anonymous said...

You guys must love Family Guy its all guys talk about.

GinoMc said...

Anonymous said...
and will teach you everything you need to know about acting.
the ACTING THING i'll save for some other time -but i will say that the illusion of life is in it's own league,and so are the preston blair books,richard williams book is awsome for mechanics and timing and i could go on (and on and on)this post is from another thread,the question asked was about 2d SOFTWARE not about animation principles the one thing i wasn't clear about though was that only the SECOND EDITION covers digital production and it's NOT the focus of the book.
she already knows flash so i also recomended HOLLYWOOD 2D DIGITAL ANIMATION which does a good job of streamling the production pipeline in FLASH.......oh hell....while i'm at it what's ONE more rant...acting and more importantly IMPROV (esp. second city's take on the subject)is somthing that is TOTALLY overlooked AND NO LESS THAN CRITICAL to developing both character AND story!and if it lessons on acting you want you're going to have to go ALOT deeper than the ILLUSION OF LIFE.......

Anonymous said...

Well the Far Side is 1000 times better than the ripoffs in syndication at least.

Check out comics.com Speedbump, Brevity, Reality Check, all trash

Anonymous said...

B. Kliban is the undisputed master of the panel cartoon

Mr. Semaj said...

Like I said, here I am with my own animation analysis.

I managed to get these clips: One from Family Guy and one from King of the Hill. Two different shows with similar scenarios.

In the FG clip, they use a lot of the same limited poses and expressions used throughout each episode. Little is used with those or the camera angles and movements to develop the mood for Meg's excitement or Brian's indifference.

In the KotH clip, some of the poses and expressions are also limited, but there's a broader sense of acting. That and the camera angles are used to help focus on Luanne and Kevin's interraction at the prom.

I wouldn't know exactly how much construction, lines-of-action, staging, etc. that either show uses, but it seems like King of the Hill uses more fundamentals than Family Guy. Very ironic considering KotH's realism to FG's surrealism.

Robert Hume said...

"Those shows have a small audience of emos and posers who just want their friends to think they are cool."

Man what's with everyone giving that term "emo" so much attention? Talk about feeding trends. There just the same bunch of kids we use to call "Gothics" in the 90s, "Punks" in the 80s, "Hippies" in the 70s-60s, and "Beatnics" in the 50s. If you want to catagorize them, why not just call them all something that isn't trendy, like "Wimps" or "Non POPULAR kids"? That's what we really mean when we call kids that, isn't it? I hate that term "emo".

Robert Hume said...

Oh GREAT POST By the way John!! I'm sorry for getting off subject with my little rant on the emo term! :P Keep up the Great Work!

jhbmw007 said...

There's a lot of comments about Family Guy in this post- so I figure I'll share with everyone my version of Peter Griffin singing Ding fries are done:

PCUnfunny said...

"Well the Far Side is 1000 times better than the ripoffs in syndication at least.

Check out comics.com Speedbump, Brevity, Reality Check, all trash"

They're all trash.

"B. Kliban is the undisputed master of the panel cartoon"

There are no masters of comic strips today, they're all dead or probably retired. The only good comic strip out there is The Pink Panther.

Tibby said...

All that sounds great and WAS the best way to make cartoons. But Teams of animators don't exist anymore because they are all overseas. Directors, and producers today are sending the storyboards, key drawings and all that work to China, Korea, India. I don't think there is a local studio - in Canada or the USA that has any real teams of in house in-betweeners or animators anymore.

There are no jobs. Plain and simple. The old methods of hiring artists have faded away and now only the most elite of close friends can hope to get a job at some local studio. And then they are not doing the actual animating - that is all sent overseas.

If animating jobs can be brought back to local shores and artists can be artists again then we might see a resurge in animation. But since it is all outsourced - and John k. even you are guilty of outsourcing animation production - there is no job to be had.

JohnK said...

Hi Tibby

I'm guilty as you say of outsourcing "animation", but I keep all the posing in my studio. Posing is the main part of animation. What they do overseas on my cartoons is basically inbetweening and I even hate to send that.

I even try to keep as much animation at least in North America as I can.

I could have pocketed a lot of profits if I didn't do all the layouts and posing in house.

I always choose for better quality and more art and creativity, however.

This process made a lot more money for the networks and launched many careers here.

Sean said...

sigh. its sad, ainit?

Family Guy: its not just the emo kids, john, its the entire 15-35 age group for all those fox/adult swim shows. not every single person likes every show, and they might only like a lot of them "ok", but its broad enough to be a trend. i asked a friend of mine what he likes about those cartoons. he responded that he likes dialouge heavy joke based cartoons.

then he says that he can only watch 5 minutes of a tom and jerry cartoon and be fine not seeing more for another year.

my theory is that people are, like, malnutritioned cartoon consumers... they can eat as much gruel as they can, because its easy on the stomache (very passive viewing, eliciting a chuckle once a minute at most) while a fully animated short ( a feast!) is so rich and emotionally involving that it wrings these lazy viewers dry; they puke it up or cant watch more than a little bit.

your analysis of the kids phenomenon is correct too, but sadly, another commenter's analysis of focus testing seems accurate too.

so, the kids can be steered into giving incorrect ratings and the adults cant digest real cartoons... whats the solution?

dave said...

Ruby Spears? How can anyone forget Rubik the Amazing Cube?!

Tibby makes a valid point. How do you nurture artists from the ground up, when theyre on the other side of planet earth?
Outsourcing animation is a total anathema to my ability to make a living. While I understand that your show will air cheaper and faster because of it, and everyone above the line will be richer and happier, it really does nothing for the art, or the artists.
Im sure you'd abolish the outsourcing pipeline if you could.

PS, I rewrote this so you'd get it, John.

Lois: Peter our son is covered in fleas!

-ECU on Chris' skin, blanketed in fleas. One of them lays eggs, grimacing as if taking a big dump.

Peter: Who cares, in my day I was covered in ticks

CU on Peter's nipples. They pop into an erect state.
Offscreen we hear a female voice coo.
One of the nipples morphs into a hand, and flicks a flea wearing a fedora.

Lois: Peter this isnt a contest!

Peter: It was in my day
Closeup on trophy; "Most ticks 1963"

Dr. Mr. Horse jumps into frame.
"No sir, I dont like it."

Anonymous said...

>Man what's with everyone giving that term "emo" so much attention?

Well, Emo began in the 80s DC punk scene, and it's a very specific term, so your argument doesn't make much sense.

Thomas said...

Joe Ruby and Ken Spears left Hanna-Barbera in late 1977, backed by the Filmways Company and with a sweetheart deal from ABC to buy just about anything they came up with at their new studio. Several years of dubious success ("Rickety Rocket?")came to a screeching halt once that deal ran out and the mid-80's toy syndication business hit the wall. Joe Ruby was thoroughly befuddled by the popularity of and critical raves for the 1987 "Mighty Mouse" and, if you've seen the Ruby-Spears website and checked out what they have in development, it's clear they still haven't learned a thing. They meant well, but then, so did B.F. Skinner.

Mr. Semaj said...

Damn, I thought their company folded ages ago!

p.maestro said...

john, i love frequenting your blog when there are posts like these, but even better are the passionate comments people leave! it's like you're feeding your energy! directly through the internet! without even having to make it into a cartoon first! awesome!

it seems though like a huge debate between salt and pepper and all the grains in between. if i'm wrong it'll suck, cause i'm now 25 years old, so that gives me little chance of breaking the mold of thought and process i've built.

when it comes to animated content on tv, does it matter how well it's animated or what style it's done in? i love south park more and more with each passing season, but it's not like i cherish it's suave "style" or "charm." i just laugh easily at poop jokes.

i don't need to argue that clampett, jones, and avery have directed some of the greatest, funniest shorts. and they're timeless to boot! they'll be hilarious 60 years from now! unlike cartoons today that rely on popculture references to sell a joke. the cartoons of today make people laugh, but i wouldn't expect kids 20 years from now to appreciate Anything that has come out in the last 10 years or so. it has no soul! it lacks the humanity required to be appreciated on a level above... well, the "filler between commercials".

nobody's stopping anyone from making great cartoons. so there really isn't too much need to complain about the state of things. it's like jazz and classical musicians complaining about the shit you hear on the radio. but as long as there are people to keep the knowledge of the art alive, we never need to worry about it disappearing.

if you want to make a great short, technology has advanced to help you get it done without a crew of people all trying to pervert your idea with their genius.

of course, i've seen what Some people think are great ideas, and... well, i guess animation is in such demand right now that just about anyone can get hired. if i was a stale producer afraid of harming my reputation as a Businessman, i'd want as many "security guards" as i could afford hovering around as insurance that the creative-types wouldn't suddenly get inspired to take over a scene and risk "destroying" the entire production.

but maybe i'm a little too "on the fence?"
i say let the artists make art, let the entertainers entertain, and let the workers work.

oh yeah, and don't let tv dictate trends to you! that stuff will rot your mind!