Monday, March 19, 2007

Writing For Cartoons 4 - Ideas: The Origin Of Cecils

The Premise:
A premise is a quick and short explanation of what your cartoon is generally going to be about.

What is a premise for? It helps clarify the purpose and intent of your cartoon for you. You can also use it to hand to other artists to get them thinking up gags and bits to add. Your premise should be crystal clear so that anyone reading it instantly gets it.

You also use premises to sell the executives on your idea.

Some history:
1987: Bakshi's New Mighty Mouse Adventures Premiers
It causes a big splash.

It is the first cartoon made in at least 25 years that allows the cartoonists to completely create the material.

I hired people to write who had never written cartoons before, but were funny cartoonists: Tom Minton and Jim Reardon.
We also had a comic book writer, who had a lot of trouble writing for cartoons. Non-stop verbal obscure superhero type dialogue.

Tom, Jim and I wrote most of the cartoons: On scripts. We wanted to write on storyboards but that was too radical a concept at the time.

The show came out and had cartoonist humor all over it. And all kinds of "plots" that didn't follow the 12 legal ones all the regular cartoon writers had memorized. No skate boards, no celebrity cameos, no "parodies" of Spielberg movies. We did have a cheesy kid character and we made Pearl Pureheart feisty and liberal, I guess to appease the Network, but we made fun of these contrived elements all the time.

Cartoonists are basically artists with a sense of humor. We make fun of everything and everyone all the time.

The show influenced the whole TV business.

The following year, the Scooby Doo writers at HB copied the superficial elements of it and offered up A Pup Named Scooby Doo. All of a sudden they were doing things that everyone told me you couldn't do in cartoons a couple years before: "Breaking the 4th wall. Takes. Wonky backgrounds. Satire. etc."

in 1988, Bob's wife Sody Clampett (who I love a lot!) told me she wanted to develop Beany and Cecil for Saturday Morning TV. I said "great!" and started writing up story ideas.

She was surprised when I started pitching them. She said "But John, you're an artist. We need a writer. You do the pictures!"

I said, but I wrote the Mighty Mouse stuff and she didn't believe me. "You just directed it, didn't you?"

I said, "Didn't Bob write a lot of his cartoon material?" "Well, yes but that's different. He's Bob!"

I didn't wanna fight with Sody, so I got her to also hire Tom Minton, who himself was a storyboard artist before I hired him as a writer on Mighty Mouse. We agreed not to tell Sody, that he could draw.

She loved all the stories when he pitched them. Whenever I did, she kinda didn't take it seriously. Irony of ironies!

Where do I get my ideas, people ask me. From everywhere. Anything I notice in life that's interesting, I laugh at it.

I always liked nature shows and evolution. I think evolution is funny, Nature is the greatest comedian of all time. Naked Mole Rats, Liver Flukes, Tarsiers, Axolotls and Lemurs all had made appearances in my cartoon pitches that never sold.

I was thinking about what kind of oceanic adventures Beany and Cecil could have and It thought. Hey! Maybe they could go to the Galapagos islands and see variations of themselves, each adapted to the different environmental conditions of each separate island.

Tom and I brainstormed the idea, then I wrote up this premise to pitch Sody. It's a much longer premise than the kind I wrote later for Ren and Stimpy, but I just wanted to get all the ideas down.

I hadn't discovered computers yet! This was prehistory. We did everything the caveman way. By hand.

When I pitched it to Sody, she looked at me like I was some poor dumb crazy artist. She loved me too though, so had Tom talk me down gently.

2 years later I rewrote it (on a storyboard) with Jim Smith and we made "Untamed World" for Ren and Stimpy.

Win a piece of Jim and cartoon history here!
Jim's Guitar




Anonymous said...

In your version of "Pie Pirates" you changed everything and the premise was still there. They are hungry (Yogi and Boo Boo, Ren and Stimpy,...etc.)and they have a obstacle (Bulldog, Baboon, Rabid Platypus...etc.) to get to their goal (Pie, Hog Jowls,...Etc.)

Very crystal clear, and then you can throw in the gags.

I was trying to find a similar premise to "Pie Pirates" in other cartoons, Tweety and Sylvester cartoons are similar.

One cartoon called "Ain't She Tweet", Sylvester tries to get Tweety in a ocean of Bulldogs that Granny cared for. Sylvester even uses wooden stilts to get to Tweety, Like Yogi to get the pie. But, The Bulldog set Yogi's stilts on fire.

In yours I think you had Ren and Stimpy dress up like the wife of Mr. Pipe.

I can see having a crystal clear premise can let anything happen in a cartoon.

Thanks John

Once again.

Mr. Semaj said...

If you were dealing with a writer who couldn't draw, would writing up premises be more suitable for their verbal sensibilities?

Anonymous said...

Why did Sody think Bob could do it and you couldn't? Did he have a doctorate in Cartoonography or something? He did it a lot in the past, true. But, why didn't she believe in you doing it. Very strange.

It seemed like a very good show to me. It's good you had it for your show, at least it got used.

The crocostimpys (I hope I spelled it right.) are so funny. Mindless creatures getting on a bus to go to work.

Their call, "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy.". Was it a call for help out of their mundane life or a mask to hide their true fillings of going to work and facing the executive world? Or am I way off?

PCUnfunny said...

I thought Sody whould have more faith in you. Anyways, I see what you mean by the permise. You leave don't put in any gags and only explain the story and it's execution.

Anonymous said...

Keep them coming!

Gabriel said...

haha, I love the McGuffin bird idea. I don't think i've seen Untamed World, though. I wonder how much of the original story went there.

John, I wish you'd tell more about Mighty Mouse. I remember watching as a kid and being baffled by some stuff on it that i found ugly as hell. But i also felt it was done on purpose. I think it awakened my love for funny/ugly stuff. I'm waiting for that post on Basil Wolverton too, speaking of that.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting story. Geez, I hope I don't have to face any of that crap.

Did you name your character Sody Pop after Mrs. Clampett?

tedrex said...

Awesome! Thanks for posting all this gold, John. I am in the middle of storyboarding my own short and all of your posts lately have been so helpful. I was getting caught up in character arcs, complex plots and crazy-ass feature film crowd/downshots. Your insight was just what I needed to get real, and create something that I wouldn't get frustrated with half-way through.
More please! I'd love to see the story stuff for Man's Best Friend ( one of the best cartoons ever!)THANK YOU!

S.G.A said...

John, is there any where online where they go through the old Hanna Barbera
one animator Tv animation process, any articles or something? I am sure I am not the only one who would love to learn more about it..
I t would be a great way for animators to make their own cartoons.

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

Enlightening and inspiring. I was frustrated on your behalf however over Sody's "but your an artist, we need a writer" reaction.

Vincent Waller said...

Great stuff. Keep'em coming.

Tim said...

I noticed you mentioned computers, would you say hand-writing a premise and passing it along is somewhat more inviting than an email or print copy? I'm no gagman, but I imagine I'd come up with better material working with the type of sheets in your post as opposed to lifeless print, or a Word document.

Anonymous said...

I noticed that some of the old George Liquor outlines you posted months ago had alot of talking, especially the one where George goes to the bar.

Is it beneficial to write the main dialogue in a "script" format on the outline, but leave the everything but the talking to the storyboard? Or do you usually write the dialogue as you storyboard?

Mitch K said...

Fantastic posts on story, John! Thanks a lot!

Kali Fontecchio said...

You're such a great educator, John Crick-Fallujah! Not only letting us (the dirty unshaven heathens with our dirty bits exposed) in on your creative process, but being concerned for today's youth. The children need you. I will write a blog post about how I learned about evolution because of that Ren & Stimpy Untamed World episode. You are up there on my list with Charles Darwin, and Buster Keaton. You give a good name to education, John. Hip, hip- hoozah!

Link to the Galapogos show! said...

John K. Huge Fan...Always have been. I grew up in a very musical house. My father being a professional Jazz musician, and i followed in the path, now a working class RnB and hip hop producer and writer. My parents were very strict and stern and serious, but my father LOVED Ren ad Stimp. As you moved on, and it died off, there were somber times in the house. Years later the GD George Liquor show was found. Any chances of that coming back...I vividly remember the bacon grease scene....Can i find them anywhere.


brian said...

Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom is where the outline of Untamed World came from.

Wikipedia page quote: "There were two amusing features in the format of the original show. One was the "sneaky commercial" segues, tying the commercials to the subject of the show. These would have (Marlin) Perkins saying something like "Just like the mother lion protects her cubs, you can protect your children with an insurance policy from Mutual of Omaha..." The other was the flat off camera narration by Perkins describing the plight when (Jim) Fowler was engaged in something dangerous such as wrestling an angry Boa Constrictor."

The show was a ready made cartoon, I'm tellin' ya! :)

brian said...

Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (credits):

Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom - Mammals of North America (trailer)...

Scot said...

You were responsible for the ABC "New Beany and Cecil?" I wasn't huge fan of "The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse," but "The New Beany and Cecil" was very entertaining.

Any chance of that making it to DVD?

glamaFez said...

It's heartening to discover that somebody recognizes the mind-numbing "celebrity cameo" phenomenon for what it is: A cancer upon cartoons. It screams "we're out of ideas".

Thanks, John.

Kain said...

These are pretty useful stuff to know now that I started learning animation. Kind of reminded me of Scott McCloud and Aaron Diaz, but for animation instead of comics.

May I ask though what the 12 legal plots every cartoon writer has memorized actually are? Might come in handy the same way TVTroped does.

Waqas Malik said...

her name is Sody!!! :D did you name Sody Pop after her? :3