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