Saturday, May 19, 2007

UPA - flat stylized cartoons I like




This Wally VS UPA stuff was all supposed to be the subject of 1 post, but I'm finding that to make my point is taking a lot more work than I originally thought it would. And some commenters are misinterpreting what I've been getting at.


I'm interrupting the thread to make something clear:

Probably many of you folks think I hate all stylized animation. Nope. I actually love the idea of it and love to see many styles of cartoon animation.
The best stylized cartoon animation was not in the UPA entertainment shorts for theatres, but in commercials and even TV for some reason.
Tom Terrific was a low budget TV cartoon that still used real animation, and didn't merely inbetween from pose to pose.


Just in case anyone forgot, I even brought back the "UPA style" or as it's known now "Retro Cartoons". So obviously I like it and think there is a place for stylization.
Dave Sheldon - one of my favorite cartoonists designed many retro tribute fake commercials for me.

http://www.dksheldon.com/detected.php?page=&pass=

I added these little shorts just to bookend and offer a contrast to the style of the Ren and Stimpy cartoons, never knowing what influence they would have on the next 15 years.

After we did these fake commercials in Ren and Stimpy, this became the dominant style of kiddie TV cartoons.

I remember all through the 80s trying to get my bosses at Filmation, Hanna Barbera and the like to let me do flatter more designy characters and styles. I would always come up against this argument: "John, these characters are too flat and cold. Nobody wants this old fashioned (old-school) stuff anymore. Kids won't be able to identify with the characters. They want round 3 dimensional characters like we draw here":


Anyway I like stylized stuff that's fun and animated, that isn't bland and stuffy. The UPA entertainment cartoons were to me, the least entertaining form of stylized cartoons because they were designed blandly and didn't animate very well. Meanwhile their industrial films were great and lots of animated commercials were done by classic full-animation animators who did very creative stylized ads.

Here's a real irony. Rod Scribner-who I think was the most talented and versatile animator in history did some stuff for UPA, but not for the entertainment shorts.

He did the title sequence for some of the shorts, and that animation and design was way more fun and interesting than the shorts themselves.

ROD SCRIBNER WAS THE BEST "UPA STYLE" ANIMATOR



He also animated some shorts for the UPA TV show- which would have been much lower budget than their theatrical shorts. His TV shorts are full of amazing design and animation- he figured out stylized ways to move the characters. He didn't just do keys and then evenly inbetween - them like in the award winning theatricals. Does this make any sense to you?

If this had become the trend for stylized animation, UPA might never have killed cartoon animation. It would have invigorated the medium and given us lots more variety and directions to go in.

Scribner also animated lots of stylized commercials:

http://cartoonmodern.blogsome.com/category/r0d-scribner/






NEXT: WHAT DID UPA DO THAT WAS NEW?

58 comments:

Kali Fontecchio said...

I love Scribner's animation in those commercials, he does it better than anyone.

The Fonz had his own cartoon? I can't even comprehend that. Let alone the globules with straws in their heads.

I loved those fake commericals on Ren and Stimpy as a kid. I wanted to eat Sugar Frosted Milk so bad. That commercial plus the My Little Brother Doll was the first cool looking cartoon idea that appealed to girls who thought their brothers were stupid!!!

Peggy said...

Jesus, I was talking about that horrible "Happy Days - but they're IN SPACE!" cartoon just yesterday. *shudder*

I was gonna say something about relating UPA to Cubism and all the other abstraction of the time when you started this cycle of posts but I think I edited it down to not actually leaving a comment. All the movements of art whose default message is "what IS art, anyway?".

I still feel like your unexamined thesis under a lot of your opinions on what makes for Good Cartoons is "animation HAS to be funny to be good". Unfortunately I can't think of anything that's both well-animated and serious - it's like people only throw themselves into the animation and timing when it's funny.

PCUnfunny said...

It kind of pains me to see Scribner toned down so much but I am amazed he did so much with these flat toons.

PCUnfunny said...

>>I was the one who brought back the "UPA style" or as it's known now "Retro Cartoons".

You sure did John but unfortunetly hacks caught on and shit like "The Fairly Odd Parents" and "Danny Phantom" came about.

PowerRangerYELLOW said...

Not really my cup of tea but these other upa cartoons are so much better than that bland unicorn and garden crap you shown from your wally walrus vs upa topic.

Mr. Semaj said...

Probably many of you folks think I hate all stylized animation. Nope. I actually love the idea of it and love to see many styles of cartoon animation.

I think your one post about composition in that old popcorn ad was a dead giveaway.

JohnH said...

Dear god, you found art from the old Happy Days time travel cartoon, Cupcake, Mr. Cool and all! The Fonz looks like he's forty in that image.

I feel soiled for having returned to this memory.

Callum said...

I'm no artist, just a casual fan of good animation, and after looking at Sheldon's site I have to say that the animation is really amazing- like "Foster's home for imaginary friends", but good. We need more people with genuine talent.

Callum said...

Sorry to double post, but I think it would be really great if you did a whole post on recent stuff that you do like (If anything)as you only seem to highlight what is bad, never the positive stuff.

Jim Rockford said...

"Just in case anyone forgot, I was the one who brought back the "UPA style" or as it's known now "Retro Cartoons"

I thought your point came across pretty clearly and I realize you dont hate all stylized animation,just how its used.
Your fake retro commercials like LOG used in Ren and Stimpy are proof of that,they were fun to watch and I liked the flat "retro" style of them ,"sugar frosted milk" reminded me a little of the maypo commercials.
the upa cartoons for the most part were dull to watch,many werent that visually entertaining just highly stylized,art for arts sake sort of thing,and the problem was that everyone aped the style of them and forced out the older cartoony cartoons for a long time after.
Tom Terrific was created by Gene Deitch who worked for UPA and and later took over the Terrytoons studio,supposedly Tom Terrific was a reworked version of Terr'ble Thompson a short lived comic strip created by Dietch that was done in the Upa style that he was forced to abandon when he was offered the chance to take over the studio.
Fantagraphics recently put out a collection of the Terr'ble Thompson comics by Dietch,if anyone wants to see its influence on T-T.
As you pointed out,though,ever since Ren and Stimpy used the style everyone has latched onto it(two stupid dogs,powerpuff girls,fosters home,dexters lab,kim possible,etc.)and its been taken to the extreme and in most cases been overdone by people who didnt understand the reason you used it in the first place.Kind of like the "Jackson Pollock" splatter backgrounds you used in R&S,I see them used a lot now.
Can you post more examples of the scribner upa style,those are really cool!

paul etcheverry said...

Greetings, John -
I'd be curious to know what you think of UPA's "Ham And Hattie" series. They are flat stylized cartoons that, like many of Gene Dietch's films (especially Tom Terrific), grow on me.

Two kick-ass animation artists directly involved with both Wally and UPA: Grim Natwick and Pat Matthews. Wonder what they thought about their stints with both studios.

Jim Rockford said...

(Shudder)I've been trying to purge that Happy days cartoon from my memory since I saw it.the Snorks,Smurfs,and those horrible Gilligans Island and Laverne and Shirley cartoons,such painful embarasing memories, man all the cartoons from that time just plain sucked.
I am sure that those shows run 24hrs a day on all the Tv's in Hell!
The only good thing about the 70's is that at least they still showed some of the older Woody Woodpecker,Warners and MGM cartoons on tv once in a while.
This is somewhat off the subject but I never understood the whole Happy Days thing anyway,I mean the first season started off pretty good,they actually put some effort into it,used arial camera angles, outdoors shots etc.
the Arnolds (called Arthurs in the early episodes) resteraunt looked fifties,and the "kids" all had their hair and clothes right.it was like a tv version of american graffiti,but it quickly went downhill,its like they forgot the whole premise of the show and 70's styles started creeping in.the cunnighams living room set changed for the worse,Fonz started wearing bell bottoms and became a teacher and role model,the hairstyles got the dry look,Chachis feathered 70's hair,Leather Tuscadero!?,Fonz developed almost supernatural powers,Potsie became an idiot,it was all too much for me.
Happy days has to be the greatest example of a tv show that forgot its whole premise and just morphed into something entirely different and unwatchable.yet it just dragged on and on and on.

Sean Worsham said...

"Rod Scribner: His TV shorts are full of amazing design and animation- he figured out stylized ways to move the characters. He didn't just do keys and then evenly inbetween - them like in the award winning theatricals. Does this make any sense to you?"

It sure does John,

Rod knew how to pose his character in a stylized way as to make the cartoon fun. He didn't simply thrown in a lot of evenly spaced inbetweens just to make it silky smooth, he knew something called timing. He did the kind of timing to make you feel how he wants his characters to feel so that you can follow the action without thinking. Each pose counts so he holds each pose as long as he needs it and makes sure the pose reads right (silhouette matters. On top of that each pose is entertaining which makes you want to watch the entire cartoon. Fantastic stuff, did you like Gerald McBoing Boing as well? :)

On the Hellboy DVD they included some of the Gerald McBoing Boing shorts. Did you like Mr. McGoo as well John? Did Rod have a lot to do with those?

Sean Worsham said...

Whoops I meant "Magoo" not "McGoo!" :)

It's late here, gotta sleep.

Jorge Garrido said...

Scribner was the king. These posts are getting bettre and better.

>You sure did John but unfortunetly hacks caught on and shit like "The Fairly Odd Parents" and "Danny Phantom" came about.

And by hacks, you mean hack. Singular.

Roberto González said...

Yeah, I was actually expecting something like this, cause I remembered you used to have a lot of flat style in those fake commercials. Billy the Beef Tallow was my fave one, though this one wasn't completely "flat".

Now, what's with all this hate to Foster's? I don't think it's terribly different than David Shelton's work, I'm searching his site right now. Ok, maybe his style seems a little more funny but not so different anyway.

I really like that Lost Duchess (is that the title?) framegrabs. Looks like a good cartoon. I like the stylized sexy girl and the Clousseau-like characters. The important thing is that characters look expressive, it doesn't matter if they are flat or more "organic".

Rafi animates said...

"he figured out stylized ways to move the characters.....Does this make any sense to you?"

Absolutely, right on the money again John! What a great example like Scribner to pick out and help highlight your point. Rather than have a cartoon that is "stylised" merely on a superficial level (and badly, I might add), why not go the whole way and stylise the movements, the compositions, cutting and even sound?

Surely in doing so you create a much richer universe - one that is designed with rock-solid principles that contribute to the end result being all the more entertaining, with self-evident rationale for stylistic choice.

That's such a strength of animation - particularly hand-drawn.

David Germain said...

Rod Scribner also did some flat/stylized animation for Jay Ward as well. One such scene that I believe was his is in the George of the Jungle opening where George is swallowed by the flower while the stamen spank his bottom.

It would be great if someone could post some other scene Rod did for Jay. Thad??

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Alex Whitington said...

awesome.

PCUnfunny said...

Jorge:I actually meant plural,this ugly "cartoon retro" stuff can be found in lots of how to draw books and more tv shows. I think there is one book out there called "How to draw characters with personality".

Jeremiah McNichols said...

Oh, man, the Snorks. Man, my childhood cartoons sucked.

Shirt Tails. You cannot get a more idiotic concept for a cartoon than that. Baby wild animals living in a tree being periodically harassed by what, a park ranger? And they all wear T-shirts somebody forgot to cut the tags off of? Grr, it just makes me want to shake that stupid tree just thinking about it!

I do hold a place in my heart for Muppet Babies, though. I don't know why more cartoons don't use old film footage.

Gabriel said...

i'd love to see tom terrific animation by jim tyer. I've seen a clip once somewhere on the web and i liked it. If anyone has more, PLEASE post them!

SugarPete said...

There we go. Much better representation of UPA vs that one boring cartoon you posted earlier.

It's a well known fact though that it was Genndy Tartatovsky and Craig Mccracken's cartoons that revived the flat retro look. They were huge fan's of the early HB cartoons and were rebelling against the Cal Arts disney style. The Dave Sheldon commercials, although amazing cool, were hardly the catalyst.

JohnK said...

It's well known that those happened 4 years after Ren and Stimpy and were completely influenced by it.

The retro look and shorts period would never have happened without Ren and Stimpy.Obviously.

I was the one who suggested the shorts for Cartoon Network in the first place and was one of the judges who picked Dexter's Lab.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"I was the one who suggested the shorts for Cartoon Network in the first place and was one of the judges who picked Dexter's Lab."

You were some sort of consultant, right? Too bad they didn't keep consulting with you.

Bob Harper said...

Now we're talking. When I first saw your UPAish stuff back in the day, it reminded me of the stuff I loved as a kid. This is the stuff that got me into animation - fun and energetic and well animated.

Fred Crippen was at Cartoon Network talking to us and showing his work the other day. He said that UPA was about experimenting and freedom, including the music animation styling etc. I don't feel they were searching for respect, more than they just wanted to do something that was different and what influenced them - like jazz and modern art. Some of the stuff they did worked some didn't - same can be said for every studio.

As far as respect goes, I think Disney was searching for it when he kept going for live action features - you know "real" movies. I thnk he allowed the guys to to the flat stuff to "prove" that Disney does it best and a "F-YOU" to UPA. Heck Tashlin and Avery wanted respect and to go into live action - of course we know which one did it.

It's a shame that Jim Tyer didn't work for UPA because his Terrytoons stuff under Deitch was pure F$#@ING GENIUS!

Jim Rockford said...

I like the stylized girl in the top photo (the one with the detectives) she reminds me of the "woman in distress" in the Barhdal commercials.

Bobby Pontillas said...

oh man the snorks were rad!

SugarPete said...

Of course you're right, John. Your Log commercials totally predate the early Hanna Barbera cartoons that both Genndy and Craig were influenced by.

JohnK said...

I'm sure they were influenced by many things I was.

But I brought it back and popularized it while they were in school. Then influenced them on top of what else they were already influenced by.

NateBear said...

Roberto:
>>Now, what's with all this hate to Foster's? I don't think it's terribly different than David Shelton's work<<

I don't thinks it's the designs that are hated as much as the way theyr'e animated. 90% of the animations in Foster's is done by slidign and roatiing shapes (like paper puppets). It drives me nuts that no characters (besides Bloo) turns their heads. It may save time and effort for them to cut and past the same drawings all the time but it sure gets old fast.

I think I'll writ emy own post on why i can't watch Foster's anymore. I used to love it when it first came out.

Jeff Read said...

I'd be inclined to know what John thinks of the many stylized foreign cartoons that came to Nickelodeon in the 80s, primarily through vectors like Pinwheel -- stuff like Bolek and Lolek and Professor Balthazar from Poland; and The Rabbit with Chequered Ears from Hungary.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! Great Scribner animation! I can't wait to study it!

Your point is well taken. Design cartoons work best with beautiful, stylized full animation. Without the animation the best you can say is that they're "interesting."

I.D.R.C. said...

He said that UPA was about experimenting and freedom, including the music animation styling etc. I don't feel they were searching for respect, more than they just wanted to do something that was different...

If Chuck Jones is to be believed, they didn't just experiment, they set about through press releases to get a reputation as superior to the "fuzzy little animal" cartoons. That is a dismissive phrase used to elevate themselves above work that is far more controlled and difficult to pull off.

That would be okay I guess, if something about it was actually superior, but what would that be?

Peter F. Bernard, Jr. said...

Sugarpete, those cartoons were produced by Linda Simensky AFTER she left Nickelodeon, AFTER the Ren and Stimpy era. I had been developing ideas with Linda, I wanted to mix what John K was doing with rock music and supermagical characters but was turned down (Nick at that time was convinced that magic would offend Christians, I forget why the music was turned down-- she just had me develop a talking goat idea that I didn't think was so great). I was interested later when the Power Puff Girls album came out with all the same bands I had wanted to use on my ideas, haha. All that stuff from my generation was as much inspired by John K's work as it was by mutual and individual influences. More importantly, nobody would have had the chance to even pitch ideas like that if it hadn't been for Ren and Stimpy being the most popular show on cable in the early 90s. John K's influence on cartoons from 1991 on can't be overestimated, the guy deserves alot more respect than he gets.

Hammerson said...

Gosh, those two Scribner clips are unbelievable! The animation in these brief clips has more invention than the entire UPA output (and I happen to like many UPA cartoons). Scribner was such a talent that he could adapt to any animation style, and make it his own. I would love to see more of his rare post-Warner stuff. He animated also for Bill Melendez on several Peanuts specials?

Hammerson said...

>> I'd be inclined to know what John thinks of the many stylized foreign cartoons that came to Nickelodeon in the 80s, primarily through vectors like Pinwheel -- stuff like Bolek and Lolek and Professor Balthazar from Poland; <<

Bolek and Lolek are from Poland, but Professor Balthazar was made in Croatia (then Yugoslavia) at the famous Zagreb Film studio. There was a great tradition of stylized animation during the studio's heyday (from mid 50s to late 70s). It was partially inspired by UPA, but soon it ventured into various original directions. One Zagreb Film serial that's quite interesting and more gag oriented than the rest was "Inspektor Maska" (Inspector Mask). It had some very interesting design and truly weird ultra-stylized animation, really worth checking out if you can find it anywhere.

Mellanumi said...

John, don't worry, man. I know you were the one that brought it back! And I use every opportunity to tell the masses that you did. It's not a far leap from Ren and Stimpty into Samurai Jack, and all that cartoon moderne -s people are eating up without any pretense why. R & S still stands out heads and shoulders because you had original and entertaining ways of telling cartoons. ONE huge difference I noticed about you and like-minded animators versus others is that, while you reference cartoons, your characters themselves are based on very expressionistic actors like silent comedians, Jackie Gleason, etc. People like the creator of Sam. J. tend to base their characters on artistic influences alone like Mary Blair et al. Maybe it's the sign of the times...you grew up when entertainment reached its apotheosis. There are far fewer luminaries today. On a side note, I think it's interesting people like Quentin Tarantino get so much praise for stuff people like you have been doing for a long time in other media.

Charles said...

On the Samurai Jack DVD they show some of Genndy Tartakovsky's early sketchbooks from Calarts in a documentary about him and I noticed there were a couple of drawings that were copied from Ren & Stimpy.

The Scribner stuff is amazing by the way. Just because you have limited animation doesn't mean you can't put a lot of invention what you do have. Such skill, it's incredible.

Mellanumi said...

One more thing...in response to the comment that cartoons have to be funny...the idea is that cartoons had their roots in humor. They were especially relevant for conveying a warped or exaggerated universe in opposition to the photorealism that was gaining ground at the time. I agree that cartoons can become broader and try their hands at different genres, but John K. is expressing the lament that the experimentation of these genres was fueled by nothing else than a desire to become "acceptable," when cartooning was a cheap, satisfying, and thrilling way to be irreverent. It was the battlefield of irreverence and that's where they derived most of their juice. Today, cartoons like cinema are constantly plagued by hacks who are drawn to the medium, but have no artistic merit of their own. They intend on telling us what's what, and yet they sit back and marvel that their product failed to sell or to gain popularity.

The people who make waves in their art, are those who can recognize a medium's similarity to other media, but MORE IMPORTANTLY, they recognize its difference. And they are able to push the boundaries of their craft in ways that have not been experienced before. That's how you get Hitchcock's, and Degas, and John K. For me, it's far more important that a film be CINEMATIC than logically coherent in its narrative. I go to movies for experience, logical or illogical.

So when I hear John K. lament the derth of talent, and the lack of originality in cartooning today, I hear what I myself am saying: "When will people stop putting the cart before the horse"? When will they stop with the style over subtance, with the fame and fortune before the feeling? They will when they start living in service of their art purely for the sake of their art and not for any reason other...

JohnK said...

Hi Charles,

>>The Scribner stuff is amazing by the way. Just because you have limited animation doesn't mean you can't put a lot of invention<<

That wasn't really limited animation, even in the short cartoon. There were a lot of drawings there!

I guess Scribner just couldn't help himself...

Bob Harper said...

If Chuck Jones is to be believed, they didn't just experiment, they set about through press releases to get a reputation as superior to the "fuzzy little animal" cartoons. That is a dismissive phrase used to elevate themselves above work that is far more controlled and difficult to pull off.

That would be okay I guess, if something about it was actually superior, but what would that be?


Yeah I guess Chuck showed 'em with Gay Puree that he directed for UPA in 1962.

I'll believe Fred Crippen who thought that the big studios animation was tremendous - it just wasn't what he really wanted to do.

Thomas said...

Chuck didn't direct "Gay Pur-ee"...he did the script and storyboard.

Kris said...

Hey John, here's a flat, stylized cartoon that I think you'll like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saWBtFmJBwE

Jorge Garrido said...

It didn't occur to me until now, but does anyone else think the best UPA cartons weren't made by UPA?

Dixieland Droppy, anyone?

Bob Harper said...

My bad - I meant to write boarded. Freudian slip since he's known as a director - he also did some designs on it as well. You get my point.

Horrrst said...

I always liked Terrytoons' "stylized" cartoons better than UPA because the Terrytoons guys were just catching up to the trend and adapting the gloss of stylization, but still doing utterly stupid and unpretentious slapstick. Any Jim Tyer bit from a SICK SICK SYDNEY short is worth a thousand "artsy-fartfests" like ROOTY TOOT TOOT. Elites always fawn over that cartoon because they shot footage of ballet dancers acting it out, but for all it's worth any physical gag in season one of THE FLINTSONES is more convincingly and gracefully executed.

BTW "john h" the real "Fonz" actually was pushing 40 around that time anyway, not that the accuracy makes the design less hideous.

I.D.R.C. said...

You get my point.

I don't get it. I'm not being flip. How is it relavant that Chucked worked on Gay Purree? Are you implying that was hypocritical?

I don't see how.

PCUnfunny said...

Thomas: I heard Chuck was fired from Warners for working on Gay- Puree, is that true ?

Bob Harper said...

I'm not accusing of him of being hyopcrytical. My point about Chuck was that his contribution to UPA was a cutesy animal piece which they tried doing in his style.

So it seems they weren't as dismissive has he supposedly let on - or not as near as dismissive that he himself was towards television animation.

Again, UPA artists that actually worked there have gone on record saying it was about freedom and experiementation.

Robert Hume said...

Interesting Post. I totally agree that your the one who brought the UPA style back. I think that's so widely understood by cartoonists at least, that it's almost not worth even mentioning though. However after reading some of the comments on here, maybe it actually was. ;) keep up the good work john.

I.D.R.C. said...

I've never seen a UPA press release, so I have no idea how they may have actually campaigned.

I only mention it because I had never considered the promotional aspect of it. I think more aboput people making cartoons than about how they are sold. It seems likely that somebody at UPA could have been responsible for some ballyhoo regardless of what artist x was in it for. It's not criminal, it's just salesmanship.

Bob Harper said...

If this had become the trend for stylized animation, UPA might never have killed cartoon animation. It would have invigorated the medium and given us lots more variety and directions to go in.

I would've like the trend to continue that way too and have been racking my brains looking at Scribner and Tyer to try and figure it out for my own stuff.

I don't blame UPA though. I blame the followers that looked at the bland stuff and said to themselves - "Hey that's easy or cheap, I can do that!"

Just like I don't blame Ren and Stimpy for the direction it tried to send TV animation in - just those copycats who didn't follow it correctly.

On both fronts those who came after dimissed the good stuff and clung to the superficial of what they interpreted as the "genius" of each movement.

We all gotta try harder.

Dan said...

On May 13th Adult Swim aired a pilot for a show called That Crook'd Sipp that looked a lot like this UPA style, and Jay Ward stuff. Visually it was kind of refreshing. The color palettes were interesting... no primary colors. The actual content wasn't that great -- just shock value and bigotry.

:: smo :: said...

i actually did a post on this on my blog a few months ago too. people now are drawing wicked flat and "designy" calling it UPA inspired, but they forget that UPA stuff was animated, by as you've shown, the greats!

drawn stylistically and animated stylistically, but not just limitedly! the budgets actually matched the WB budgets from what i remember.

even mcboingboing and rooty toot toot were animated well. although the commercials definitely had a ton of energy and a more experimental feel for sure!

my post

Jeff Read said...

Holy crap, I just realized that that Fonz cartoon looks pretty much exactly like the Bruce Timm- and Jeff Matsuda-designed stuff that the kiddies are watching today...

kindaused said...

>> 90% of the animations in Foster's is done by slidign and roatiing shapes (like paper puppets). It drives me nuts that no characters (besides Bloo) turns their heads<<

Well in fairness they're animating in flash, so it's pretty much cut out animation they're doing. Personally I think Foster's looks awesome!