Tuesday, November 11, 2008

L.O. 11: Layouts Spumco History: 1985 Jetsons Layouts

I was really excited to get to work on the Jetsons in 1984 and '85. Most of what I had worked on before that was really horribly designed 80s style shows.

All I wanted to do on the Jetsons was design character models, but Bill and Joe sent me to Taipei to train a crew of Chinese (Taiwanese) assistant animators to do layouts.
Doing layouts on a show that has appealing designs is where the fun is anyway. The studio I was at (James Wang's Cuckoo's Nest) gave me a young crew of artists that had only a little experience so far on production. They were assistant animators on crap. Luckily they didn't have more experience. Had they been in the crazy 80s cartoon system for a few years before I got to them, it would have been impossible to break bad habits.
These guys were naive and believed anything I told them. I was the western expert on animation. So I told them everything that completely went against the 80s system. I told them hideous lies like "Drawing cartoons should be fun." and "You should listen to the sound track and then custom design each pose of the characters to match the sound of the emotions. Don't merely trace the model sheets".
When the studio heads introduced me to the artists, I asked each artist what his name was and they looked frightened. The translator took me aside and whispered to me "We no give you their Chinese names. We give them nice Western names. Make it easy for you to remember!"

...Names like Ronald, Oscar and Bin. There were about 9 in the crew, but I can't remember each western name today. These 3 were all very good cartoonists. Years later I hired Bin and some of the guys to animate some of my Bjork video.
Bin was especially eager and had a style that reminded me of Carlo Vinci. What's really amazing about this experience was that all these guys had no real exposure to classic American cartoons. They didn't grow up with them, yet they picked up the style really fast and all laughed at each handout I gave them and rushed to their desks to impress me. These guys never went home. They slept overnight on their desks, were always cheerful and couldn't wait to get their next scenes.

I would screen old cartoons and 3 Stooges shorts every Friday night in the cafeteria and everyone would come in and laugh their butts off. They couldn't believe how magical the animation and timing was in the old days and would ask me later to explain what happened to American entertainment. Why wasn't it good anymore? There was even a crew of Japanese artists working on some Anime show and they loved the old cartoons. They really went nuts for the 3 Stooges. They would all imitate Curley's laughs and woo woos. No one understood the words in any of the shorts, but the visual humor and storytelling was so strong in the 30s, 40s and 50s that everyone could understand most of what was happening.

The Chinese artists had funny habits. They used to chew on this sick smelly gooey stuff and it would rot their teeth. They would burp and fart during the pitches and not even blink an eye. These were stinky burps and farts too, believe me. No wimpy western gasses there.

When I would hand out a section to one of the artists, all the other artists' heads would pop up behind their desks to peer in on the pitch. I would sketch stuff out, play the cassette recording of the voices and then jump around and manhandle the cartoonists, while acting out the scene. Then the translator would have to repeat what I just said in Chinese to the artist. He would do it with a completely straight face and the artist would always look confused, then make me act it out all over again and all the heads would pop up again and bop up and down to a chorus of burps, giggles and farts.Anyway, these are some sample layouts that may look conservative today, but at the time were considered completely wild and "off-model" just because each artist drew the characters slightly different from each other and with some style. Style was considered evil in the 80s.

The crew at Hanna Barbera in California would see this stuff coming back and flip out over what a deranged radical I was. Bill loved the stuff though, and used to call me all the time to tell me how lively he shows looked compared to the garbage they were producing stateside. He would put artists at HB on the phone with me and make me tell them how to make their stuff look better, while he yelled at them.

Bill came to visit a couple times too and that was great fun. He would sing and tell jokes. I would remind him of all his old cartoons and how much I liked them and he would get all sentimental and cry.

Typical 80s cartoons I worked on before the Jetsons:

You can see why what I was doing was considered "wild" back then - and why I was desperate to work on something even mildly cartoony. Yeesh


RAAA said...

Thanks for sharing that story. Sounds like a great time apart from the smells. Did these guys have any animation schooling or were they learning on the job? How long were you there? Thanks

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

These are good war stories!

shreyas51283 said...

hi john,
thanks to your blog i was able to track down the lovely looney toons cartoons i loved as a kid

do you still have the animation schooling thing going on?
how can i participate in that?

Larry Levine said...

Great story & images, thanks for sharing 'em.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

H&B should have done better by you when you returned to the States.

Gajonauta said...

That Mr. Spacely is awesome! So squishy, and look at the agony in his face!

By the way, was Richie Rich's readheaded friend related to Daphne Blake?

Kali Fontecchio said...

This is the Jetsons I grew up on as a kid- I think...

1985 was a good year, hwa!

Mike Tucker said...

Now I know why Gary Coleman is such an angry little S.O.B. now a days, they put his name on this crappy cartoon.

I can sorta handle the old toons of the 70's now as part of nostalgia, from being a little kid. But I can't in no way sit through a few seconds of those old ones from the 80's. I thought it was bad even then.
The 80's Jetsons I'll have to give another go, knowing you were behind it.
Why the golly heck do they not just bother to animate state side these days... you'd think it cost MORE $, to have done over seas.

Trevour said...

An '80s Jetsons came on Boomerang a while back (can't remember which episode), and I was about to flip the channel. Then I could see some of your influence in there, definitely! So I watched the whole thing and it was actually fun. It really contrasted from the typical boring look of the '70s/'80s H-B cartoons.

HemlockMan said...

Great Jove! I never even HEARD of any of that 80s stuff! Too bad you won't let us curse here!

I never knew that there was Richie Rich cartoon. It looks hideous. Why did they make him a young adult? That capitalist jerk.

A Gilligan's Island cartoon! Good grief. The Gary Coleman toon looks especially impossible. He'd definitely be in Hell.

Funny tales about the Jetson's work. Where did it air? Was it done for American TV?

trevor said...

So while working on all this drivel and then later the Jetsons stuff, when did you find time to hone your own personal drawing style?

- trevor.

JohnK said...

I don't really have one. I just draw each scene the way it seems right to me.

Deniseletter said...

John,Many thanks to share this with us!

1 This characters modelsheets look very fine! With life.How they were traced by pencil or ink?

2 One can know always something new:Chinese are curious people to us,they really have other value scales and other viewpoint.In this case it was great.They had more sense of humour than we thought.For working with creativity the motivation is the best thing.

3 I saw the Filmation’s New Adventures of Gilligan, about The gilligan's planet I think it comes next.Particulary In this cartoon I like the backgrounds,with the houses the characters and situations their designs are good,maybe because are based on real actors but they were static to see what happen.If you want to copy them from TV without VHS it works.I think they are capable to have more life (in animation)to enhance their humour.

4 After the Gilligan’s period.I was bored to see on tv screening Richie Rich and some of the other cartoons because the drawings you know better adding the plot were the same you can predict.

trevor thompson said...

I don't really have one. I just draw each scene the way it seems right to me.

Well, then why is it that I can tell your drawings apart from every single other Spumco artist, let alone anyone else? Even on the Mighty Mouse show, your stuff stands out.

Does that not constitute a 'style' of sorts?

- trevor.

Chris_Garrison said...

I enjoyed this post a lot, but my favorite part was when Bill cried. I want a whole post on that! Please include legal pad storyboard roughs.

Mitch L said...

Awesome story and these layouts are really great (damn I really hope I can draw a bit like that one day), thanks for sharing.

Did you work on other things at HB after youre work in Taipei? Or went you right after youre work in Taipei to go work with Ralph Baski?

jesus said...

I remember now why I'd sleep in on Saturday mornings back in the 80's. Look at the stuff that was being shown.

They would play the Jetsons Revival on Sundays with the old school Jetsons and these I would watch.

Anonymous said...

Here is a video on youtube of the Jetsons scene John is referring to.


Caleb said...

Good stuff, thanks for the reminder that humanity and physical comedy are universal.

Frank Macchia said...

great post John

really sounded like an interesting time for you.

love the drawings too.

Gilligan's Planet???...good god.

Grant said...

1985 is when i was born. Heck.

Nicol3 said...

It's times like this I wish I was old.

Uh.. I mean.. Old..ER. Older.

I'd have freaking amazing stories to tell about my experiences to tell to my hundreds of children that I'd been conceived with in the nutty 80's.

The only experiences people want to talk about today is how much period sex they've had. And we all know how entertaining THAT is.

the plummer said...

maybe this explains why I recently realized I hardly watched any 80's or even early 90's cartoons growing up.

Ryan G. said...

Wow! That was hillarious! I bet its hard to send over layouts to Korea or China and have them come back correct. Cultural differences seem to great for them to know whats going on..

Vanoni! said...

Thanks for sharing these one of a kind stories, John.

I landed in Los Angeles in 1999 and immediately and naively began shopping a portfolio around to whoever I could.
I remember turning in a portfolio to Disney TV by taking an elevator up to a very corporate looking hallway and handing my drawings to what looked like a security guard - and being terribly excited to visit Hanna Barbara only to find that they then occupied the top floors of an old bank building on Ventura and handed my portfolio to a secretary.

I was so disappointed to not meet any cartoonists.
I would have LOVED if someone had welcomed me and told me how FUN cartoons should be!

Actually. . .later I did have the opportunity to meet Fred Crippen (who I wasn't familiar with), who gave me a short tour of his 'studio', Pantomime Pictures. He showed me someone working with a voice track and explained how it worked (which all went over my head) and walked me through a small trailer in the back with artists toiling over drawings of Scooby Doo for a video game (I think).

THAT was a fun 20 minutes. Thanks, Fred!

- Corbett

Raff said...

These drawings with Spacely are really, really good. Amazing to see they made it into the final cartoon.

Short characters with short tempers work.

perspex said...

yikes! you actually worked on teh Richie Rich cartoon? that was so AWFUL, i ache for you...

Super Wu-Man said...

awsome post, i had no idea you work on the jetsons and richie rich cartoons, i liked both....

but the cartoons that i loved in the eightys were smurfs, heman, scooby doo, did you by any chance work on these?

look forward to more stories like this, awsome stuff, are you working on any cartoons right now?

great blog!

Annie-Mae said...

Gilligan's Planet!!? What the F*ck? I'm glad I wasn't born when that was made. I was a much happier person knowing that show didn't exist.

What a treat to totally reinvent the animation style of the 80's by going to the animation crew in china and teaching them a classic method. Even though I was born in the 80's most of your cartoons during that time I never got to watch. Those Jetsons cartoons I got to see mainly because Cartoon Network reran most of the Jetsons up until 1999.

Elana Pritchard said...

wow. amazing story.

dv_girl said...

To paraphrase the cat from Hummer Time:

No! No!!! Not The Gary Coleman Show!


Anonymous said...

'Tis a tragic story if I ever done heard one.

Stories from the great war of the 80's when cartoons weren't cartoony. We need someone like you (OR EVEN YOU) to influence this age of non-cartooniness. We're repeating the mistakes of those before us and we're in an even worse hole after the greatest period of our time.

Just like the other war we're in right now. "The one with the brown people blowing themselves up".


John Young said...

Thanks for being such a deranged radical. You inspire the hell out of me!

Amir Avni said...

That's the post I was waiting for

Happy To Be Alive said...

Why on God's Green Earth did they take every good thing Harvey Comics did and toss it out the window when HB designed Richie Rich? Was it too hard to animate stubby legs? I used to watch it every week hoping somebody would realize what a horrible mistake they made and actually fix it by next week's episode.
No wonder Harvey Comics folded as soon as that show started.

SoleilSmile said...

John, I'm curious to know how many projects you had to work on before you were finally considered an A-list animation artist. we all have to pay our dues before we get to work on the sweet stuff. Although, I must admit that there is one B-show you worked on John, that I would've loved to have been a part of: The Smurfs. I loved them.

The only project a novice or B-list animation artist can work on in LA now is Family Guy and the other Adult Swim shows. How discouraging. It's a pity that beginners are stuck with such a limited range of genres for their apprenticeships. What's worse is if they're not clever, Hollywood will pigeon hole them into a limited range. One has to be clever in LA and choose project carefully, even if it means not working in animation for a while between projects.
In regards to my own expertise, I think Canada has the most endearing shows this season. 6teen, Total Drama Island, and Grossology are my current favs. I love to draw teenagers and fashion. Oh, you lucky Canucks you! I hope LA gets a clue and realizes that there is a large group of its audience that are sick of lookin' at ugly. Hollywood needs to diversify the output or concede to lose more viewers to anime.

Wicks for Candlesticks said...

Those are some cool layouts. I like the stories as well. Really vivid descriptions. Seems like it was fun. I'm sure the people there appreciated you bringing the real cartoon studio spirit to them.

-David O.

P.S. More posts about essential 40's cartoons. I'm really enjoying reading those. Thanks!

BadIdeaSociety said...

This is the kind of post I have been wanting to read for months. I am really interested in kind of putting a chronology to your participation in the animated junk of the past.

I don't really understand why the animation industry runs as poorly as it does. I see the output and, by extension, the evidence that the suits don't really care... but I really don't understand what the real issue is.

What I find interesting is that you seem to like the "50s-era-boys-want-to-grow-up-to-be-cowboys aesthetic," yet you hate the blandness of Filmation. The Filmation aesthetic is conducive to bland, personality-free cowboy adventure. I am not defending Filmation, but gee-wilikers...

Dan szilagyi said...

i find it more sad that no one nowadays can really "animate" anything anymore since it is all shipped overseas.
sure up here in canada we have 6TEEN and Total drama island but have you seen how shitty those look?

Seems like if i want to animate something on good old paper i have to fly over to asia and get paid peanuts!

personally American cartoons after the 50's weren't all that good anyway, have you seen what they've been busting off in europe? and even as cheesy as japanese anime has at least "tested" newer styles of animation.

come on america! get your head out of your greedy ass and make something decent! ( other then pixar)

The Butcher said...

It could be worse. You could have worked on the Rubix cube cartoon. Or maybe you did? Jesus!

Niki said...

I remember the jetsons from when I was little, the 90's. they showed them and looney toons a lot, and you and some other crazy people.

Chris said...

Reading stories about you trashing 80s cartoons is great therapy for me. I was a child of the 70s and 80s and watched the cartoons get worse every year. Of course, the cartoons I loved the most in the 70s were actually made in the 60s, but I was too young to understand that. I remember watching a Flintstone Christmas (1977) and seeing a poorly designed Santa Claus with tiny eyes standing next to Fred Flintstone – one of my favorite character designs of all time - and not understanding how the same studio could turn out both of these characters.

Chip Butty said...

Amazing story John!

I love the construction of Big Byte, even though it's the kind of thing HB helped turn into "wonkiness" within a few years.

How do you feel about Japanese animation cliches? There were some actually cartoony series being done in the 70s and 80s - Lupin the 3rd and Urusei Yatsura - while American cartooniness languished.

Plus those toy commercial cartoons like GI Joe and Thundercats actually seemed to benefit from Asian outsourcing as far as basic skill levels went. At least, they were more appealing to me more as a kid even if they were all pretty bad.

Jonathon said...

A few years ago I had crippling insomnia.

Then 6am would run around on Cartoon Network....and The Gary Coleman show put me to sleep each time.

I still can't believe people watched things like that. Ever.

PCUnfunny said...

Like I have said before, this was my favorite episode of The Jetsons and I'd prey for it to come on every time I saw the show. I wasn't an animation fan like I am now but I did take note of the energy that lacked in the 80's series.

"There were some actually cartoony series being done in the 70s and 80s - Lupin the 3rd"

Yes the secound TV series had some very good cartoon character designs, most notably between 1978-1980. However the pinnacle of the character designs came from the pilot film in 1969:

Scroll down a bit.

Chris E. said...

I know that Jetsons episode from the layouts you had shown. It was always memorable to me and now I know why. Thanks, John.

Good god. I always hated the Hanna-Barbera Richie Rich. And why is Gary Coleman an angel?

Oliver_A said...

I just love the stories you have about your days at H-B! That's why I am still waiting for your second Joe Barbera tribute.


Would be cool to have some kind of comparison of the Jetson episodes you worked on against the original ones and the ones created by the other teams.

Vince M. said...

Wow, those clips at the end reminded me of why I never pursued a career in animation. I'd forgotten how bad animation had become in the '70s and '80s.
Makes me prouder of my "Lucky Charms" days in advertising. At least those assignments were over in a few weeks. This stuff probably dragged on for a year or two.
You deserve your success, John. You've really paid your dues.

The Gary Coleman Show?
You really suffer for your art.

Vince M. said...

P.S.- I can still remember watching your Jetson's episodes while vacationing at a hotel on the Jersey Shore and loving them.

TIM said...

Not only was the animation done
cheaply and restricted in flavor,
the stories starting from the early
seventies began to reflect what
the Networks wanted to see, so
most shows had to go with a
moral tale & non-violent or