Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Scene Planning For TV - Setups for storyboard and layout 1

All storyboards should have some logic in their planning, whether for full or limited animation, but it is especially important in limited animation.

Hanna Barbera developed an extremely intelligent system in the late 50s that allowed them to animate whole cartoons with one animator-one American animator.

Of course they used the simplest possible system, just 3 shots basically, but we can add more shots than that and still get a lot of good stuff out of it. They only had $3,000 per short back then so what they did with it was pretty amazing. We have a lot more money these days to play with, even taking inflation into consideration. We just waste most of it.

Storyboard theory today, thanks to Dic and some other studios in the 1980s developed storyboard practices that are not only creatively preposterous, but also way too ambitious for how much money they actually had to put into the cartoons. Downshots, crowd scenes, 3/4 animation and other expensive practices that are difficult to pull off in even fully animated features became standard practice in the 1980s. Many producers feel cheated if you use actually practical common sense thinking when planning your cartoons. Executives tend to like storyboards that look like the animation will be very hard to do. They want to imagine they are getting Sleeping Beauty when they look at the storyboards for their low budget kiddie cartoons.

They had crazy rules in TinyToons from what I hear from the artists who worked on it. Everything had to be hard to do, or it wouldn't get accepted. Something simple and entertaining was cheating. So the board artists developed tricks to fool the execs into thinking that their cartoons would call for the most expensive and time consuming techniques. Techniques that do not add up to entertainment or good drawing, acting or story.

The ugly result of this is that all this ambition upfront ensures that the cartoons will have to be animated overseas at lightning speed and the animation coming back will look like hell and disappoint everyone back in the states who worked on the cartoons.

The amount of money that is spent on cartoons today could easily bring back animation to our shores. We'd have to eliminate a lot of wasted money on this end-on market research, development, executives, crappy scriptwriters-believe me there is a ton of wasted money that never makes it to the screen.

And we'd have to plan our cartoons efficiently and logically. Then we'd have to train the artists to follow simpler staging procedures. We wouldn't be making Bambi, but we could make Ren and Stimpy quality this way.

I made a manual for artists that had worked on these crazy cartoons that all started with a downshot, just to try to cure them of irrational practices and concentrate their staging on telling the story in the simplest, funniest and most effective way. You get it for free.

Using simple staging buys you more time and money that you could use to put some animation and maybe even acting in the cartoons.

More to come....


LFW said...


Finally someone articulates something that I felt I knew but couldn't put into words.

You are a godsend Mr K.

your fan


Gabriel said...

is there any book that tells of that stuff? That's quite new to me. I mean, we notice it when we watch cartoons, but it's the first time i've seen it articulated. Nice post!

bc3 said...

Here here!

The design department will also praise you when you actually use the background supplied and not create these crazy upshot, down shot, reverse crap. If you're lucky enough to work on a show where the design dept. goes off your layouts they'll love you even more when you hand them one drawing for half the show. You can actually make very sophisticated choices with limited options. Your end result is efficient and tells a much better story.

Once again thank you for your wealth of knowledge!

Bob Harper said...


I've been trying to apply these HB principles without knowing exactly what they are.

Thanks for illustrating them - I will be putting them to good use!

Anonymous said...

That really helped me understand how to use setups effectively. With your Blog and the videos you recommend it really helps. I see the things I missed before.

Well, back to work...

sean said...

I couldn't agree with you more on all the notes above. I don't like recycling facial expressions all that much but planning is key for the backgrounds. I can't tell you how many times I've received a BG and ad it intereferd with the characters.

Most of this stuff can be identified and planned out at the storyboard stage without too many problems. I think a major problem is having separate departments that don't really talk when going through the process and because of poorly planned schedules that are so crazy the everyone's work has to overlap. I've seen boards that were still being done while principle animation had started. What's so hard about a little planning?

It's nice seeing it all layed out like this. Your notes will definitely come in handy. Thanks again for all the amazing tips and inspiration on your blog.

Piotr said...

just what im working on now, perfect timing John. thanks:P

Ian M said...

This might be one of the most useful things you've ever posted here. I always figured that straitforward is usually the smart way to go.
I'd rather a cartoon do something simple well than something extravagent poorly.

katzenjammer studios said...

Great! Spend less time on more shots and more time on acting. Seemingly simple and common sense, but I didn't really think of making it a huge point.

I gotta make a plug here: These boards are at the ASIFA archive. For this short, the other Ranger Smith one, and the one that never got made. If you can, drop by, say hey to Steve, and watch out for my saliva.

NateBear said...

whoa! this is amazing information. The crazy thing is that just watching Boo Boo Runs Wild last night for the first time in about a year. Wutter da chances!?

Having a year's worth of this blog I in me, I was noticing all the recycling and amazed at how expressive everything was. Great posing really does go long way in limited ani.

stiff said...


I can't believe you don't charge for this.

Thank you.

Paul B said...


Really! when you see a cartoon from early HB you didn't realize that actually they use few bg's, that's beacuse the characters and his performances keep us entertaining. this confirms moreover that to have little money it does not diminish the funny in a cartoon, but on the contrary, it should to increase it!

this is use all the resources to entertain! even up to the edition!

the early yogi's do not use a full animation and nevertheless they are full of life. and they are really funny!

thanks again john!

Raff said...


Don't draw the background first, eh?

Do you mean, when you're initially staging things, you should draw the characters first and then draw the background?

applepwnz said...

I totally agree with the point that you make about how it certainly does not make a cartoon better to just put in a bunch of really complicated scenes, I tend to agree with a more minimalistic point of view for all types of art, cartooning is no exception. Point in case, look at a PSA from the 1950s, now look at a show like catdog or something, which is more entertaining? the PSA of course because they used simpler staging for their scenes which were able to look good without being overly cluttered.

Lion_0 said...

Wow this will come in very handy. Thanks for this info Prof.K. Funny you mentioned Dic....Their scripts are sooo dry, It's a challenge to come up with character buisness with such dry script. I'll do my best to impliment what you teach into my work and I'll put it to use right off the bat. Looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Mad Taylor said...

I'm on a project now where everything you are talking about is happening. They expect a cartoon done in 6 days. Yet storyboards need to look "finished." Then someone thinks up a complex camera move, a crazy perspective, an insane effect to pull off, and sometimes crowd shots or mostly just over abundance of details. Like they forgot they had to do this stuff in 6 days. I wasn't sure if I was in the wrong for presenting simple staging and funny drawings. Well guess I know my answer now THANK YOU!

Brett W. Thompson said...

Wow!! Excellent manual, very clear. I love it when you post stuff like that!! :)

Thanks SO much for this blog!

David Germain said...

Some of the commentary on the Wacky Races dvd pretty much sums up the problem.

Some of the old veterans who worked on WR like the now late Iwao Takamoto and Jerry Eisenberg talked about their experiences at these modern studios. They'd say "What's with all these complicated angles and whatnot? Just a straight-ahead ground level shot would do just like we did on the old cartoons." And the usual response from these people would be "Well, we don't want these to look like the old cartoons." Yeah, those old cartoons had QUALITY. We can't have that. ;)

Rafi said...

G O L D D U S T .

Amblagar said...

An old master once told me: "if you wanna teach something, teach simple things... that is true knowledge...
but if you don`t want to share knowledge, teach complicated things..."
so thanks for all

Tibby said...

Wow! Great stuff! I'm gonna use these lessons and advice in my current project. I'm making some storyboards for a piece I'm doing. And the only refference I've had are some animation books and some stuff I got from AKA Cartoons Inc Storyboarder's "test". Eh - it was free material to say the least. This is wonderful and golden stuff! Thanks lots! And now I can agree with your advice to bring back animation to local shores. ;)

Trevour said...

This was a very informative post, and thanks for these notes!! I think I've watched "Boo Boo Runs Wild" more than any other cartoon Spumco has ever done, even more than Ren & Stimpy. It's just such a masterpiece and you maintained that entire Jellystone spirit. I'm going to print these out and add them to my binder, and watch the cartoon again, just to study how this all comes together.

John, any way you could post sheets from the Ranger Smith/Yogi fight?

dave said...

thats the sort of information you only get from someone grizzled by decades of production work... so thank you!

what if you were to develop a new technique with backgrounds, one that used paintings mapped onto very simple geometry that would be constrained in some way to camera, so that a 3/4 down shot would be no more expensive than any other shot? its all do-able now, and im surprised that no one really wants to be totally free in terms of layout. im not sure that simplifying as a whole is the answer. we ought to have every tool that any other filmmaker has at his/her disposal.

here is a good example of it in practice.


what are your thoughts john?

Mebbo said...

I LOVE your little lecture notes, John, thank you! Layouts are definitely my weak spot, so anything that explains how to do them simply and effectively is very much appreciated!

I think there is a place in Tv animation for more sophisticated cinematography, but only used sparingly.
Not to mention, animators LOATHE upshot-downshots. Perspective, argh!

Adele K Thomas said...

Wickity Wack, thats right on track!

Maaaann, i just read your notes, and I am aware of this stuff...using the knowledge in my own storyboards...BUT GUESS WHAT?!
My partner goes and tells me yesterday that he has some bgs for me to colour for his next episode...I ask how many, he says 30! I instantly ask, didnt you have any re-uses?! WHAAAAAAAA!
Im just glad they are simple ass backgrounds and like him and the series so much :D

Freckled Derelict said...

Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge and making our lives better.
This blog is more valuable than a green haired fred flintstone toy!

Hector Cortez said...

Thanks, this helps. :)

John Pannozzi said...

"They had crazy rules in TinyToons from what I hear from the artists who worked on it. Everything had to be hard to do, or it wouldn't get accepted. Something simple and entertaining was cheating. So the board artists developed tricks to fool the execs into thinking that their cartoons would call for the most expensive and time consuming techniques. Techniques that do not add up to entertainment or good drawing, acting or story."

Didn't know that. Then again, Tiny Toons had a much bigger budget than most other TV cartoons, so they could get away with animating more stuff.

Gavin Freitas said...

John you are the BEST!!! I am bringing this into my storyboarding for Saturday morning cartoon class at the Academy. Thanks for the freebees...

Jeff said...

When I supervise layout and posing, I go through the whole board myself and do a fairly close analysis to troubleshoot each sequence and find as many setups as I possibly can. Each artist on the team gets a copy of my analysis. Every reuse is clearly marked including its field size and its cropping in relation to the master scene.

The board artist works quickly and lays down the broad strokes, often without working out the setups in any detail. I'll take a day or two to take in the big picture and find the most efficient path through the board. I encourage my layout artists to further refine my work, and do their own troubleshooting and analysis.

The layout artists may not read the whole board like I do, but they get to spend hours on a sequence to which everyone before them could only devote minutes. It's tremendously important that they identify and correct any remaining errors in the board and find the most efficient use of setups. Mistakes past this point will be expensive and time-consuming to correct.