Sunday, April 29, 2007

Writing For Cartoons 10: Real Dialogue versus Cartoon Writer Dialogue -On Dangerous Ground

Here's a scene that's typical of what happened at Filmation's cartoon studio all the time.

I had just read the script for "Disco Droopy" and someone tipped me off on where the scriptwriter was hiding out.
I chased him down and began to deliver God's justice upon him I beat him within an inch of his cheap life
I felt the foul meat of his face tear off on my fists
in a flash my older wiser supervisor stopped me in my murderous rage
His knuckles connected with my skull and loosened my enraged flesh

When my brains stopped rattling, I woke up to have the harsh modern world explained to me in the coldest meanest wordsI felt the nastiness of reality ooze over me like fish vomit coating a fresh babe

reality sunk in slowly; it produced a last rebellious and futile spasmic outcrythis is what artists face every day of their lives in the terrible icy world of animation scripts.

The scene starts out with the evil writer's whimper.


How about the dialogue in that scene?! When you have great words to say and really good actors to say them, and great direction, you can get intense performances like these!

I've seen these same actors in movies with lesser scripts and they can't do as much with them, despite their obvious talent.

Compare that dialogue with the kind of dialogue animators today get to work with:

What can you do with this kind of dialogue??? Only what Robert Ryan did.

Try reading the lines out loud and see if you don't turn beet red.

Now you could spend 30 bucks and learn how to write dialogue like this:

Or, you can read my articles on writing cartoons for free and aim for something like this:


By the way,Evan Oliver did this great restoration of that Sven Hoek clip. That is a sequence that Nickelodeon kept cutting up every year until there was almost nothing left of it.

I found a 3/4" tape of the rough cut, made before before Nickelodeon destroyed the master. I cut the missing scenes back in, but they had timecodes on it.

Evan Oliver and David Mackenzie took the finished cut and using digital magic, erased the timecodes:



Kali Fontecchio said...

After watching that movie I've decided his mouth has a billion emotions, let alone his face!

And that excerpt from the Jackie Chan show- all I can say is- why would you animate Jackie Chan?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to make sure everyone knows that David Mackenzie (lyris) did retouching too for that restored clip, as well as doing much more to make the video quality match the rest of the cartoon as well. He's the video-master!

Great post, John.

Gabriel said...

And that excerpt from the Jackie Chan show- all I can say is- why would you animate Jackie Chan?

Good point. I heard someone made Mr. Bean cartoons, i hope i never see them!

Josel said...

That Ren & Stimpy clip is scarier than most modern horror flicks!

Anonymous said...

that clip is awesome! egad, the facial expressions are sublime. and i'm positive i like Jackie Chan better when he's jumping off the sides of buildings onto moving cars while kicking some guy in the face.

PCUnfunny said...

"I had just read the script for "Disco Droopy" "

I don't even want to know...

Charlie J. said...

Now we can compare the brilliance of " on dangerous ground" to what that writer you roughed up is capable of.

the goddamn studio producer did the voice of droopy!

Anonymous said...

Wow. This short post has alot to it. Here goes:

1. What is Disco Droopy?

2. You're an amazing writer with an great ear for dramatic description in your depiction of getting revenge on the evil writer.

"reality sunk in slowly; it produced a last rebellious and futile spasmic outcry"

That is poetry. Man! That was soooo good!

3. It was hilarious to juxtapose a great old film noir with your story about scripts, and the clip's lack of specifics made it work even better!

4. That Ryan clip is amazing!! I've got to see this movie!

5. I finally saw Sven Hoek for the first time yesterday and was amazing at how dramatic the dialogue was, but the ANIMATION and ACTING overpowered it. I can't belive what a good cartoon that is. Ren's final monologue in that cartoon was amazing, it was genuinely threatening.

"And then you know what? Iiiii'm gonna HIT ya, and yoour'e gonna fall DOWN."

6. When that timecode scene came up I was shocked. "Why is there a VCR timer on my DVD all of a sudden? Where did the picture quality go?" Now I know why and I'm glad to hear it will be gone on the Ultimate Set. Very coincidental timing on that.

And I'm not kissing your ass, this was a cool new genre of a post.

Tom A said...

d-destroyed the masters?

Jesse Oliver said...

That threatening Stimpy & Sven scene has got to be one of the best and classic scenes ever in animation history!

You should have won an award for that scene! It is so classic!

Lyris said...

Yeah, the Sven thing was my idea, but I couldn't have done it without getting Evan in on it too. 50/50 credit.

Great post. Scripts...yech.

Paul B said...

Yeah!!! that dialog on Sven Hoek is great!!!

it sounds great and funny!!!

thanks for all john!!!



Jim Rockford said...

WHAT CRAP!,"gnarliest tattoo in the history of gnarl??",somebody open a window in here!
This shit makes Gilligans Island look like shakespeare.
those scripts must have been written by maginally retarded chimps.
Stuck in that kind of cartoon hell i'm surprised you didnt kill someone!

PCUnfunny said...

That threatening Stimpy & Sven scene has got to be one of the best and classic scenes ever in animation history!

Yes sir. Right up there with the secne where Ren contemplates about killing Stimpy in "Stimpy's Fan Club". That scene scared the hell out of me when I was really young.

Mr. Semaj said...

They cut most of Ren's tirade from "Sven Hoek", but kept the equally-threatening monologue he did in "Stimpy's Fan Club".

The latter airs UN-cut on Nicktoons TV today. Hmm.

As for those terrible scritps, I have no clue what the hell is going on.

Try reading a piece of a fanscript I made two years ago, and see if that's more coherent.

Tibby said...

I guess the formal way to write a script - with camera shots, dialog margins - does get in the way of some of the creativity. In a writing class I had - we where expected to draw up a script with all the correct margins and camera call-outs. And we where graded not on the content of the script - but the official, fomal "look" of the script. To see if we got all our camra angles in the right lines. Formaly - many writers where taught that they had to produce a perfect looking script. Writers of screenplays looking for jobs try to follow every formality rule there is to script writing. There is a certain way we where taught to write scripts. Because we where taught that in order to suceed - the script has to look like a formal shooting script.

You can't harp on all writers just because they are formaly doing what we where told, and believed would help us succeed and impress the Big Guys in the Entertainment Industry - such as animation. (Directors/Producers). I know some very good cartoon writers on DeviantART - who write for the Ed, Edd & Eddy on Cartoon Network. And they write just fine - and it's thier job to know how to formaly write a script. But they are still cartoonists - maybe the last of the very few good ones out there.

I guess I'm jaded cause I actually paid attention to the Script Writing class I had. It was a very good class in fact. I learned all the names of the important shots. Most of the shooting scripts are written formaly like that because it comes years of screenplay writing habits. Movies, TV, and Cartoons are all lopped together in one big catagory. If you study how to write for movies - you are expected to know all the abreviations for cameraman shots there is needed. It's almost like being able to read L33t sp34k. And it became the rule and code for all entertainment writers to write in.

If we are allowed to break out of the strain of being expected to know how to formaly write a movie script. Then maybe we will start to loosen up about how it is written. But I have found in my career searches that many studios like to see that one can formaly write a script. Just because it is the inside way on how to do things in the biz.



Ecto said...

robert ryan fucken rules all the time.

and 'crossfire' !! all the roberts in one great film.

that r & S clip? John, amazing voice work. like, suprisingly funny, more than usual. haven't seen this episode in a couple years.

also should be pointed out, awesome voice work for ren in the adult party cartoon series. ren saying "he hit me, this man" and "he dunk me" - these lines run through my mind all the damn time. delivery!
ren seemed in his best form, extra extra funny, and all round good in 'ren seeks help'

JohnH said...

Oh wow. That Ren & Stimpy clip is absolutely amazing. That was always one of my favorite bits from the show, right up there with the Happy Helmet and History Eraser Button.

The most awesome thing about it is that Ren's anger is made hyperbolic specifically by -not- going to traditional jutting-inward eyebrows and harsh voice. Instead, his face is distorted, he shakes a lot, his animation punctuates his words in a slightly uncartoony manner (notice when he threatens to tear their arms out of their sockets, the arm motion shakes a lot but is more or less unexaggerated, while the background flashes as the moment of the tear), the backgrounds and sounds trip out, and, I think most importantly, Stimpy and Sven react with great fear. That reaction is what allows kids who might not read Ren's extreme anger to piece it together.

Anonymous said...

Weird that restored version is the only version of Svend Höek I've ever seen.

I've had it on VHS ever since I taped it from swedish TV back in the early ninties.

Ain't it the neatest!
Guess I was a lucky kid growing up in Demark.

Sven Höek to this day is still my favorite episode.

Just recently bought and watched the Lost Episodes.

Thanks for a great experience.
Ren seeks help was nothing short of incredible. I still get pleasurable shivers down my spine thinking about it.

Thanks John!

KieranM said...

I've actualy seen Disco Droopy, Luckily it was in Portugese so i couldn't hear the annoying producer pretend to be
I always thought you worked on that cartoon, there are some backgrounds in that cartoon with some Clampett style trippy looking characters.

Neutrinoide said...

The Cat Came Back

Jason Tammemägi said...

There are good writers and really, really bad writers. Kali's Jackie Chan question hit to one of the roots of the problem here in my opinion - even if they did find a good writer, a good writer can't write a good script for a bad show.

Writing is an art form and a talent, just as cartooning is, just as animation is. That there are godawful writers out there (and godawful shows) does not make the endeavour totally worthless in my opinion but you got it spot-on in a previous post (or was it Uncle Eddie?) when you questioned just how into the craft animation writers actually are. I would hope there are some that do love their work and try to improve and advance as they go.

But then, I can't imagine I'd be all that enthused to put my heart and soul into Jackie Chan Adventures no matter what end of the process I had. Shows like this are exercises in marketing.

The GagaMan(n) said...

I know others have already said it, but that scene from 'Sven Hoek' is probably the most powerful pieces of animation acting I have seen, and have watched it on the DVD set countless, until I can remember every last line and expression! I particularly love the "tear your arms out" bit!

Nico said...

When Cartoon Network showed Droopy cartoons they would quite often sneak in the ones like Disco Droopy.

Man... even as a KID I would get so pissed when those ones came on. "Why does Droopy not sound like Droopy? Why is everything so slow? Why is this cartoon NOT FUNNY?" I would change the channel every time.

Nate said...

John, where did you get that fantastic music for Sven Hoek?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

HAWHAWHAWHAWHAWHAW! What a post: terrific Robert Ryan poses, hilarious and literate dialogue (John's the best writer in the business as well as the best artist), and a restoration of one of the best Ren & Stimpy clips ever! Thanks to John and also to Lyris and Evan! This post is a keeper!

Mark said...

Jeez, John. Way to make a point. Take the worst animated show on TV and then use it as example of how all modern animation sucks.

Listen, all you folks, there's no reason for you to believe that nothing good (except Ren and Stimpy) has been done in the field of animation in decades. Its a rediculous premise. It's like idiots who cling to classical music as the last great aural art form. It's just not so.

BTW, the acting in that clip is lousy even by today's cartoon standards. Kevin Conroy could fart out a better performance than anyone in the pre-method days. It's like the fat one was reading the lines off the guy's face.

Lyris said...

>> Weird that restored version is the only version of Svend Höek I've ever seen.

I've had it on VHS ever since I taped it from swedish TV back in the early ninties.

Atta, are you totally sure about this? As John says there are so many versions of this scene that they can be hard to differentiate between.

American TV eventually got a REALLY cut down version but all international markets got almost all of it, the only missing bit being the scene I decided I would stay up all night painting over.

David Germain said...

Hee hee! That was a very appropriate clip.

You could do the same thing with the Rambo movies too. Just change "viet cong" to "animation executives" and there you are.

Bob Hell said...


What in the smelly hell are you talking about with that "pre-method" stuff? What's there not to like about that performance? Great dialoge delivered with some damn vigor, hard-boiled entertainment. Just because it ain't method doesn't mean it's worthless. Not by a long shot. I mean for god's sake, there's a whole history of great actors in Hollywood who weren't method or even actively hated it. Take Orson Welles for example. One of the finest who ever lived, and wouldn't have method on his set, (felt it got in the way.) I hate it when people refer to "non-method" or "pre-method" with disdain and venom. Drives me crazy. Like saying, "This is the one true CORRECT way, forever and ever, amen." Sure good acting has, at its base, solid, unshakeable principles (which is what John is trying to teach in animation form,) but to decry everything that came before your prefered way of doing it is damned silly.

Keep up the good work John.

David said...

Gotta say -- the sound and music in the Sven Hoek clip is truly genius: adds to the dark and disturbing feeling, and does so much more than simply provide appropriate noises to the actions: there are so many imaginary, purely psychological sounds in there!

NateBear said...


I kinda think you're missing the point of this post. Sure the film clip isn't the best piece of action ever. John posted it because he felt it was an example of how good performances can only come about through good material to perform.

"I've seen these same actors in movies with lesser scripts and they can't do as much with them, despite their obvious talent."

Moreover, I believe he chose to use a Jackie Chan Adventures script BECUASE it's obviously the worst possible cartoon in order to DRAW a CONTRAST between good and bad writing. He could have use d a script from say Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends, but then I bet a good 50% of the readers who do like the show would complain about John using it as an example or bad writing. Then there's be twice 20 comments complaining about how unfair John is. At least this way we can all agree because the examples are so cut and dry.

And finally, R&S definitely ain't the only "good" animation since 19XX. John'll be the first to point out everything wrong with it. However, it is the only cartoon I can think of to (or at least attempt to) employ specific acting, and it's probably got some of the best dialogue, posing, composition, drawing, and coloring of the last XX years. You know, all the stuff that John cares about most and writes about in the most detail. Yeah, it would be splendid and andy to hear all bout the stuff John likes about modern animation all the time ( and he does do that after every 1billion comments like yours), but that would hardly help us improve on the shortcomings. "Samurai Jack gets an A+ and gold star for having smooth motion and appealing colors. Hooray!"

JohnK said...

I didn't pick the Jackie Chan script examples. The writer who wrote the book on how to write cartoons did.

She put it in there as an example of good cartoon scriptwriting.

It's completely typical of cartoon writers. I've read a million scripts like that.

There might be the odd exception of slightly better stories and dialogue here and there, but this is the norm.

The Robert Ryan clip is briliant in every way. There is no cartoon that can touch it in terms of writing or acting.

Stephen said...

John, you are one crazy mofo.


Anonymous said...

Hi Lyris!

Sorry i think your' right. That eye gouging threat might actually be missing from my tape.

Guess I should have checked before commenting.

weird that this was the scene to end up in the cutting room floor. I find the arm pulling threat hell of a lot more graphic. Go figure.

Great work on the restoration. looking forward to seeing the final product.

Jeff Read said...

When she got mad at us, my mom would frequently become enraged and then clasp her hands together and do the I'm composed, I'm in control smile. Out of all of us, she laughed the hardest at Ren's famous tirade.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I like the use of Droopy. GOOD JOB!

Nelson C. Woodstock said...

Jerry Beck showed Disco Droopy at one of his "Worst Cartoons Ever" shows in San Diego.

Comon, John. You didn't like that porno soundtrack it had?

Lyris said...

John, I just found this Filmation Droopy cartoon on YouTube which is probably the most effective cartoon anti-script advertisement I've ever seen:

I honestly didn't know these existed, or that they could be THIS bad. Being a 90s kid I think I was saved from all of this by the likes of Ren & Stimpy.

Is this the kind of stuff you had to work on before the suits let you do what you're great at?

Oliver_A said...

This Droopy cartoon is one of the most dreadful animation I have ever seen. I can imagine the artists working on it had lots of fun... And there are people out there who actually think Filmation was a classic Animation studio....

Oliver_A said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oliver_A said...

Forgive me John, but to really appreciate your valuable knowledge you are spreading here, one has to see the horrible work you were involved with:

Oliver_A said...

The link seems to have been cut off. Here it is complete, you have to put it together:

I wonder if Lou Scheimer still can pass the street without being hunted down by an angry mob of animation fans... I mean, those Droopy Cartoons are not only bad, they are an outright insult!

Tim Kelly said...

I taped "Sven Hoek" the first time it was on, and am glad I did. Ever since then, it's had a lot of different music (I think even on the DVD), and the original broadcast was much better.

John, once and for all, please tell us: Did you draw that great line-up of animal girls in Disco Droopy? And do you know why the Wolf was named Slick?

Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott did the voices for the second half of Tom and Jerry & Droopy cartoons because of the SAG strike. Frank Welker couldn't work during that.

By the way, that cel of Droopy is from Disco Droopy, but the background is not from the series. Yes, I can actually tell! I'm just about the only one on Earth who loves the Filmation background music.