Saturday, June 02, 2007

More Stylized Spumco 1990/91 and today


Design by Rex, drawing by me, inks by Brian Romero



Obviously I have contradictory feelings about "stylized" cartoons. I'll tell you stories about how I managed to bring the "UPA style" back against everybody's will and then paid the price. Sometime today....

All through the 80s I had a flat stylized kinda style-inspired by Ed Benedict and the 50s commercials. I didn't find UPA cartoons themselves entertaining, but I loved the idea of striking flattish designs.

Everyone else in the studios hated it! No one would let me do it.

I met Mike Giamo once while looking for artists to work on ...I think it was Mighty Mouse and I realized that he and a few other artists also liked that sort of thing. But they liked it in adifferent way.

Mike is probably most responsible for steering the Cal Arts students in that direction-they combine the flat shapes of UPA with Disney-style (Frank Thomas) eyes and expressions and that's basically the Cal-Arts style. Cruella DeVille's face on Gerald McBoingBoing's head.

George Lucas hired a bunch of Cal Arts guys and made a paper cut out movie (I forget the name-help me out!) that Amid and many Cal Arts fans folks love. It's extreme Cal-Arts.

I thought that Mike and all these artists were very talented, but I took the flat designy stuff in a different direction.

To me, the style is just a tool-not an end in itself. It has functions.

It's great for commercials. It doesn't lend itself well to "personality cartoons". Super stylized characters are more like general symbols, rather than detailed layered living characters.

That's why I like Ed Benedict so much. He took a graphic style but made his characters look like characters, not just symbolic representations of generic people types.


I grew up watching early Hanna Barbera cartoons, that are a somewhat watered down version of graphic character design, but they are real characters-they seem alive and they interact with other characters and with us in the audience.

The only problem I have with UPA and it's descendants is that it philosophically leaves out the audience. It's intended for artists, not for regular humans. I, like other artists can find a lot of good in it, but I wanted to use the ideas to entertain a wide audience.


LOG (character stolen from Marky Maypo)

When we did the fake commercials in Ren and Stimpy, the artists and I attempted to go with a real 50s retro look to contrast with the design of Ren and Stimpy in the story cartoons.

These commercials were not meant to be stories or personality explorations. They are bookends to the stories.

Prizes in the cereal. Window dressing.
Here's one that Bob Camp did the storyboard for. He himself is not a stylized designy cartoonist, but he is a great all around illustrator and good at picking up styles fast. LOG was the first fake commercial we did, so we just stole the design from Marky Maypo. Basically to get used to drawing in a retro style.



MY LITTLE BROTHER DOLL -designed by Dave Sheldon
I had met a really good natural retro designer named Dave Sheldon before we did Ren and Stimpy and it dawned on me that he would be good to design some of the commercials.
I had to "sell" the idea to Nickelodeon. They didn't understand why some parts of the cartoon would look different than the other parts, so I argued and they reluctantly gave in. Once they saw the cartoons they loved them and wanted more more more.
I had Dave design the first Powdered Toast commercial and he did hilarious 50s style versions of Ren and Stimpy, but Nickelodeon flatly refused to let me do it. They thought it would confuse the kids, so sorry folks you didn't get to see that. It was a real treat!

LOG FOR GIRLS - Dave Sheldon





An unintended consequence of including "UPA-style shorts in Ren and Stimpy is that, more than any other part of the show...that's what everyone copied and still copies 15 years later. They took these throwaway candy bits and decided to make whole shows with cardboard characters.

I should have known better. That's what happened with the real UPA. Everyone copied the wrong parts-the cold, sterile blandness and the seemingly simplistic looking designs. History repeats itself I guess.


I'm making a commercial now in Rex's style.
The king of Hollywood Flash Animators, the towering Pringle is helping me animate the thing.


Steve and Eddie have told me of a great controversy stirring over me analyzing UPA cartoons and discussing its historical impact.

They said some people are actually mad that I don't just say every part of everything everybody ever did was great. I just would like to point out, that I am one of the style's biggest proponents and am in awe of Hubley, Cannon and Scribner. I'll even bet a large % of the (younger) folks who are outraged at the idea of discussion and analysis would not even have heard of UPA had I not battled against the whole industry to revive an interest in it!

Soon, I will show you what I think is best about the UPA cartoons. Here to start....

1) It's not the individual character designs themselves-or any of the little details. It's the stage design-how the characters all fit and compose with the backgrounds and the colors.


COMPOSITION

The characters themselves are not usually impressive, they are basically stick figures and only work in the context of the scene staging. And this is the part that no one copies. Anyone can draw stick figures today, but I don't see very many people who can make a composition and that's a huge difference.

Here are cluttered non-compositions from a UPA cartoon and others. Superficial imitations of the good stuff.


CLUTTER
I'll show you more of what I mean soon...

30 comments:

Jim Rockford said...

I knew it!,the kid in the log commercial always reminded me of the maypo kid!
I thought your commercials in the flat UPA style were fantastic and funny,nobody else was really doing that back then,but I see your point,thats all we see now.
Its as though once you broke ground for that style again,then suddenly everybody started "aping" it.
Shows like "Two Stupid dogs","powerpuff Girls",Dexters Lab,"Samurai Jack",Foster's Home"
Thats the bad thing about fads,everyone gets caught up in them and creativity stops,everyone just does the same thing,instead of being original.
Hell,I'm suprised nobody has really ripped off your idea of using the Apm Production music to score their cartoons as well.
I guess that would be too obvious.
On another note,I really like the more abstract style used on the early Ren & Stimpys,especially "Big House Blues",Ren had a much more exaggerated and wild look about him,very thin lines,huge ears,razor thin neck.I really liked that.

Joe Henderson said...

These were the coolest comercials ever. I've had the log jingle stuck in my head since the early 90's. Imagine how much cooler TV would be if all of the commercials were done like this!

Jim Rockford said...

"George Lucas hired a bunch of Cal Arts guys and made a paper cut out movie (I forget the name-help me out!)"

John-The George Lucas animated cutout film you are talking about is called "Twice upon a time" from 1983. the one with Ralph the all purpose animal right?

Elliot said...

The cutout film you cannot recall the name of is Twice Upon A Time.

Jim Rockford said...

Twice Upon A Time,used translucent plastic cutouts for the characters,they were stop motion animated on a huge backlit table.
If memory serves me correctly Lucas called the process "Lumage"
I remember seeing it when it came out in the early 80's.Its very unusual for the time it was made.
Lorenzo Music,and Paul Frees do some of the voices in it.

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

I had to "sell" the idea to Nickelodeon. They didn't understand why some parts of the cartoon would look different than the other parts, so I argued and they reluctantly gave in...

...he did hilarious 50s style versions of Ren and Stimpy, but Nickelodeon flatly refused to let me do it. They thought it would confuse the kids...


It never ceases to amaze me that they have people on the payroll whose job it is to think about things like that. Then they actually say them to the person who created the only thing of value on their whole sorry network.

Then there are the regular people who actually believe that, without network interference, you would have had no sense of reasonable limits.

They believe that without people who should never be let out of the mailroom telling you R&S can't be flat, that the show would have careened wildly into excess and only God and the Devil know what you would have tried to expose our sweet little children to.

I think there are people who believe that, from what I've read around the net. That's supposedly the reason why the Nick show was good and the Spike show wasn't (as if that were even true).

I'm maybe on a tangent here, but I think it's a really important topic --the idea that cartoonists can't be trusted unless they are properly wrangled by some sort of authority.

Any kid who ever had his funny drawing of the teacher confiscated knows there is power in a drawing, and there is a great cultural subconscious fear of what cartoonists can naturally do. Nearly everytime they try to do it, sooner or somebody insists that they tone it down.

JohnK said...

I did exactly what the Spike execs told me to do. Maybe I should have argued.

peldma3 said...

I like the way this post was worded, you got your point across without bashing anybody in a way that would turn off the people who disagree with you.

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

Maybe I should have argued.

Interesting. Is there anything you think you should've argued for or about?

Jim Rockford said...

"I had Dave design the first Powdered Toast commercial and he did hilarious 50s style versions of Ren and Stimpy, but Nickelodeon flatly refused to let me do it. They thought it would confuse the kids, so sorry folks you didn't get to see that. It was a real treat!"

Are there any concept drawings of those ideas you could post so we can see what we missed out on?

Gabriel said...

I did exactly what the Spike execs told me to do. Maybe I should have argued.

Really? And what would you have done in another way?

Jim Rockford said...

"I did exactly what the Spike execs told me to do. Maybe I should have argued"

Network exectutives are morons,they are in the entertainment bussiness,but dont even have the most remote idea as to what is entertaining and funny.

based on some of the convoluted logic they handed you,I dont even think they have a sense of humor.
I got my hopes up when I heard that Spike tv was bringing back Ren and Stimpy with you at the helm,but once again it was too short lived,any time a good show comes along the powers that be kick it in the head.
I dont know if arguing with these idiots would do any good,how about clobbering them with a frying pan,or dropping a '59 Buick on them?

C. A. M. Thompson said...

I would also like to see Dave Shelton's version of Ren & Stimpy. I hope it's as good as that angular Mickey Mouse Disney made while UPA was popular.

By the way you can watch Twice Upon A Time, the whole movie, on Google Video here. It's pretty dated but it probably doesn't deserve to be as obscure as it is.

Sean Worsham said...

Great report on UPA John, I wish people would copy the best of it though (the Gerald McBoing Boing shot with the doctor and the parents looking over is a good example of great composition).

I actually saw Twice Upon a Time by Lucasfilm one time and all I can remember is when I watched it on HBO when I was about 7 or 8. I remember a Gorilla like monster that had a tv monitor on it and one of the images it showed to convey anger was footage of Darth Vader (sly one Lucas). I also remember a dog-like character that wore glasses. Other than that, nothing remotely funny about it, other than it being somewhat interesting when I was a child. I never saw it since then.

The Log commercial you guys did was one of the funniest things on Ren and Stimpy. I remember one time at San Diego Con someone had a real wooden log in their booth. It had a tag that read, "The Last One, $50 dollars!" A drunk man then walked by and yelled, "You mean there's only one LEFT!!!" The drunk man then took a wad of cash out of his pocket and gave it to the booth guy. Next thing I remember about it the man walked out with the log as everyone was leaving the convention.

Funniest thing I ever saw! :)

Joe Henderson said...

I couldn't agree more that UPA disregarded its audience. I've tested this idea with my parents,They're not artists at all, and I just ask them if they could name a UPA cartoon and they give you a blank stare, but ask them about Warner Bros. or Disney and they could go on for hours.But then again they liked "Wild Hogs".

I have a question though, I think that Shrek Movies completely disregard both artists and the general public, but then how do they still make money???

Gabriel said...

by the way, that commercial will be cool! I like Rex's style so much. Some times I try to copy it, but i bet you'd say i copy all the wrong parts, haha!

NateBear said...

http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a170/bizzlebear/ART/JKcolor.png

Brian Romero said...

I really like Rex's sketches. They have a lot of charm and energy. It's interesting to see how you're using his designs on this job.

Tibby said...

But - you and your crew made those fake commercials funny. And interesting. They are flat, but they are still dimensional. Maybe it's the whole picture - the log jingle, the funny looking kids, the concept of a big dumb stump being a toy ... that's funny and classic and original!

My thoughts on the UPA style controversy - I think that it came about more because artists where trying to impress and compete with each other and they forgot about their audience. Same with some of the stuff today - you've got top artists trying to impress each other with their nostalgia instead of trying to impress the audience with new stuff.

Steve and Eddie have told me of a great controversy stirring over me analyzing UPA cartoons and discussing its historical impact.
They said some people are actually mad that I don't just say every part of everything everybody ever did was great.


That's not as bad as what I did. I got a whole lot of flak for my musings and that little flash animation I showed. I have even been threatened by higher ups that if I don't start kissing more butts - I'm hereby now blacklisted from ever getting a job in the entire LA area. Good for me that I don't live in LA. Do I really have to start puckering up and kissing your butt Mr.K? Is that what you really want, and all those tight buddies of yours?

Yes - I'm just a mere hot-headed amateur. Because I made a cartoon, I am now banned from the cartoon world. How ironic is that? Blacklisted forever because I had something to say about someone's styles and Flash's flatness.

That's why as of now, I have decided to quit pursuing Animation as my main career choice. And re-train into either Graphic Design or Vet Tech. You guys can have your flat cartoons - I really don't care anymore.

Matt J said...

The whole UPA analysis strand has been really interesting-keep it going. Out of interest it would be great to see Sheldon's version of R&S- u still have the designs?

Brian said...

Your flatter style is my favorite stuff you do, John. To me, you seperate yourself from the crowd in a bigger way when you're doing this style than with the more three-dimensional cartoons.

I love the three-headed dino, btw.

Brian said...

The old Slinky jingle is exactly the same melody as the Log parody. You can tell this is where a lot of the inspiration came from (for those who may not have heard the vintage commercial):

"What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, And makes a slinkity sound?
A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing, Everyone knows it’s Slinky…
It's Slinky, it's Slinky, for fun it's a wonderful toy
It's Slinky, it's Slinky, it's fun for a girl and a boy.."

smackmonkey said...

"Steve and Eddie have told me of a great controversy stirring over me analyzing UPA cartoons and discussing its historical impact.

They said some people are actually mad that I don't just say every part of everything everybody ever did was great."

Even though the art world is supposed to be progressive and daring and shit, a huge number of "ar-teests" are insecure cry babies. No one likes having their precious artwork criticized but if people hadn't done it to me I'd still be doing paint-by-numbers. I've been stomped on by some of the best and, while painful, I'm always a better artist later (Uh..thanks, John...I guess).

Animation is certainly well represented by the vicious little art weasel with sub par skills and you commonly find them at the top. Talented and accomplished artists are usually too busy drawing to want any power over others. There's quite a number of artists who can't get work simply because of their talent. Too much of a threat to those that have made it to supervisor level, I guess.

Tibby - Don't give up because of some crap coming out of some artist's mouth (or his cronies) regardless how succesful they've become. While said artist has lost, fired, or just plain alienated some fantastically talented people in his day, no one has the ability to blacklist you.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I really like the dinosaur man thing-a-ma-bob-guy-creature. HE'S FUN.

And I really want a my little brother doll, or older brother would be better actually.

Jim Rockford said...

"Even though the art world is supposed to be progressive and daring and shit, a huge number of "ar-teests" are insecure cry babies"

I couldnt agree more!,the entertainment industy is rife with hypocrisy,for all their talk of being progressive avante garde free thinkers,if you dare to be creative and go against the current trend,you get branded a trouble maker and become an outsider.
The whole situation is ludicrous,John K. had to butt heads with the powers that be to get the flat UPAish Log commercials made,then they fall in love with the style and everyone copys them for the next 15 years!
Real creative,huh?

glamaFez said...

Now I wanna see the hilarious 50s style versions of Ren and Stimpy, if you haven't already posted them.

Max said...

Nice article, but I thought the stylized shorts were from 1991-2? Or were 1990-1 the production years?

rodineisilveira said...

Johnny K.,

I remember very clearly of these satyrical commercials which appeared between the shorts from The Ren & Stimpy Show,, specially these ones from the log being used as a toy for the kids.
These satyrical commercials are quite funny!

Cheers,

Rodinei Campos da Silveira (from São Paulo, Brazil)

;-)

Doodlebomb said...

SO John, If Cal Arts is no good, where do you suggest I go? I am an Illustration Major in Michigan right now, and have been contemplating transferring to Cal arts for Character animation.
Thats when my instructor gave me a link to your blog. Now I don't know what I want to do...Could you help me out and give me some advice? thanks John.

Nicoli4000 said...

Hi John

I am a fan of "The Ren & Stimpy Show" and "Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon." I really liked the episodes that you did. I especially like the Associated Production Music and Capitol Production Music that scored the cartoons.

Nicoli