Saturday, November 22, 2008

L.O. 10: Acting: Jetsons 1984 - George Ghoul and Trends

Ed Benedict had a way of designing characters so that they were instantly "iconic". There was no vagueness about them as there is in most character designs since the 70s.

In most cartoons dating back to the 70s, the animators are expected to draw "on-model". The modern meaning of this is to not ever make up any original poses or expressions for your characters. You are only allowed to use the poses that the character designer drew. So if he only drew 3 poses, you are stuck with that. You could have a cartoon series that goes on for years, but your main character can only have 3 drawings. Do you know anybody in real life that only has 3 poses or expressions? (excluding cartoon production managers)This George model is at least very well drawn. It looks like it was roughed by Ed Benedict, then slickly cleaned-up by Dick Bickenbach. But you would get pretty tired of seeing the same drawings over and over again in a half hour show. A lot of cartoon producers haven't yet figured that out.

Here is a strange "turnaround" drawn by someone other than Ed years after the original Jetsons appeared.

Elroy also looks like a combination of Ed and Dick's work.

On this model sheet, Elroy can only smile. Even if you kick him.

What happens if the writer writes a sad scene into a cartoon and you have to follow the studio's rules of drawing "on-model"? Which of the poses above would you use to have Elroy say "Mom, my baby duck died."? This used to happen all the time. You'd get a scene where there was no appropriate corresponding expression or pose on the model sheet that would match it.

Then you would have to go up through the bureaucratic chain of command to get permission to make a new expression, A committee of 50 managers, executives and front-runners would ponder the new expression, argue amongst themselves about it, then have you change it about 10 times.

Then the model department would get wind of the outrage that someone who isn't a character designer drew his own expression, throw it out and come up with their own (without having read the story, without knowing the context or having listened to the voice track) and what you'd finally get would be an official crummy new face, but it would have a studio stamp on it and it would be lifeless. And the new expression would have cost the studio $15,000.

Those who haven't worked in the cartoon business yet probably think I'm making this up, but you'll find out once you get a job.
One of the first cartoons we did in Taipei had a scene where George is telling ghost stories and scaring the kids. Of course there were no model-sheets of George making scary faces and the producers expected me just to send drawings of George smiling to the animators. The actor, George O'Hanlon wasn't expected to act without emotion though and on the soundtrack, I could hear him hamming it up and trying to make the scene come to life - funny and scary. For some reason they didn't have an equivalent "on-model" theory for the good voice actors. Like "here are the 3 vocal inflections that George is allowed to do".

Being naive, I still didn't believe the "on-model" rule of never veering from the model sheets-even though I had been told the rule a million times by every producer at Hanna Barbera and Filmation, Marvel, Dic and the rest. I never thought they really meant it. It's just too bizarre to believe.

This scene was layed-out by a young Chinese cartoonist named "Bin". That wasn't his real name, that was the western name James Wang assigned him for me. I wanted the studio to give me and the western crew Chinese names to make it easier for the Chinese crew to remember who we were too, but this seemed to outrage the management. The manager of the studio was called "Mr. Fat" and the artists made fun of him all the time. He was only mildy plump by our Carl's Jr. diet standards, but in Taiwan he was considered a total blimp.

Joe Barbera had created a character named "Orbity" to update the series. We all hated Orbity and everyone tried to talk Joe out of it. But Joe always wanted to make sure the latest generation of kids had whatever the latest trend was jammed into the shows, whether it belonged or not. "The kids love that ugly little Spielberg character - the one that looks like a turd with big wet eyes", he said.
When I handed out scenes to the layout artists, I acted them out and did quick scribbles to give them the idea of the scene.

I thought Bin did an excellent job on this scene (especially having never been asked to draw cartoony or act before in his life), and if I remember correctly, after it was animated and colored -with moody shadows and everything, it actually came out pretty good for 1985. I can't remember if I got yelled at or not.

A Filmation storyboard artist begs for the Layout department to draw a scene without tracing the model sheet. Maybe the model sheets didn't have a perfectly symmetrical pose like the storyboard.


Mr. Semaj said...

I seem to recall an episode where George was experimenting with a set of dentures, where the first pair were dog teeth, and the second pair were vampire teeth.

You wouldn't know anything about that?

Niki said...

I just read it, but that can't be true. All that crap for a face lift? you have to be joking, if that's true the only ones who could possibly be following it to a 'T' would be those idiots from "Aqua Teens!"

Paul B said...

Terrific Drawings!!

wow! what's the name of that chapter?

is it on youtube?

Mattieshoe said...

"The kids love that ugly little Spielberg character - the one that looks like a turd with big wet eyes"

Which Character was that?

I could never really be thoroughly entertained by The Jetsons.

It's just so dead and lifeless compared to what HB was doing 4 years earlier.

You might as well just turn off the screen and hold up the model sheets to go with the Audio.

Also, do you think that "Only draw an expression if It's on the model sheet" rule applies to shows like The Mighty B?

Do they just have a vaster library of expressions on the model sheets?

Zoran Taylor said...


Mike Tucker said...

To be quite honest, I don't think the kids liked those cuddly characters that those studios added either. The baby versions and such as well. And everyone knows what they thought of Scrappy, now.
Growing up in that time, I know the exec's had our "best interests", but it backlashed big time.
It was like they were cramming it down out throats.

Grant said...

Wow! I love the behind the scenes history and politics, thinking about this all going on while I was just a wee lad watching this stuff is incredible.
Thanks John!

Frank said...

i would like to see that scary stories episode.
anyone know the name of that episode or where it could be found and watched...?

Toncho said...

Mr. K, you did it again!

This chinese guy is amazing, I love the expressions and the drawings!!
Actually, I might not have seen this episode since I can't recall of any REAL emotions being portrayed by George J.

Loved the post, best animation school ever, and it's free (hey for those of you who can afford it, DONATE instead of saying "we should pay you").


Super Wu-Man said...

your last five posts have been fantastic, keep up the great blog.

i love hearing the behind the scenes ideas.

and i have a question too. since almost every thing in cartooning can be done with a computer(referring to the Bakshi interview comment )

why arent more animators making independent cartoons? if all the coperate bull shit is out of the way that you had to deal with, like rediculous rules about only having 3 expressions, shouldnt this be the new "glory days" of animation...where everyone can afford to buy almost everything they need to make animations without any managment telling them what to do? .....aside from a few small websites i havent seen anything?

do you think that in the near future large animation studios will be over with and everythign will move into smaller independent animation studios....will the quailty be better?

i loved the 80's cartoons, but if your saying the could have been more alive and better produced, then i cant wait to see what the future brings with smaller studios...doing what they want...

Oliver_A said...

Dear John,

while I was reading this post, my spontaneous reaction when I came to picture Nr. 6 was "holy crap!" followed by laughter. So much more alive than the stock expressions of the model sheets! George's expression in drawing Nr. 5 actually looks a bit like the "bum eagle", threatening the turtle in the Ren & Stimpy episode "Untamed World".

What I still don't get is Joe Barbera's mindset. You described him as knowing exactly H-B was producing inferior crap compared to their earlier stuff, getting sentimental when talking about the earlier years, yet why didn't he invest some money in more ambitious projects?

Or do I overestimate Hanna Barbera's resources in the 70's and 80's? Because they kind of seemed like the largest television cartoon studio at that time, so it seems they could have afforded taking some "risks" by putting more creative value in some selected cartoons.

Or did Bill and Joe lost any power to make creative decisions in their own studio? But that again contradicts what you are saying in this post.

This all doesn't add up to me. It's so schizophrenic.

Will Finn said...

"Those who haven't worked in the cartoon business yet probably think I'm making this up, but you'll find out once you get a job."

John this brings back some funny memories. I remember doing assistant work on HE-MAN and one of the characters had a model sheet with the thumbs shifting from one side of the hand to the other in the turnaround poses. I jokingly asked the supervisor what I should do and she said I'd have to inbetween the traveling thumbs until they got an act of congress to update the model sheet. It took weeks. Then all the previously done work had to be re-inbetweened. Time and money well spent, following all the rules.

Elana Pritchard said...

Those drawings of psycho George are probably the most entertainment I've ever gotten out of the Jetsons

WPCoder said...

"The kids love that ugly little Spielberg character - the one that looks like a turd with big wet eyes"

That would be E.T. I imagine. :)

Devlin Thompson said...

I was in my late teens at the time, but I can tell you that I NEVER watched that series of Jetsons (and still haven't to this day, though you made me curious about them now) specifically because of the presence of Orbitty. The mere sight of him on the opening title card was to my eyes a warning that the new series must be an evil, wrong-headed turd of a show on par with Filmation's various revivals (which I now know you were implicated in, but I don't hold you responsible for). And that was at a time in my life when I was vastly more forgiving of crap, just because it wore the clothing of something better. For god's sake, I watched the KID SUPER POWER HOUR WITH SHAZAM because it still vaguely resembled Captain Marvel! Yet Orbitty was one step too far.

David Germain said...

Those are some great spooky George poses. Did they make it into the show? Or were they replaced with model sheet drawings.
I'm also curious as to why that Elroy model sheet is dated 1966. I've read that the Jetsons only lasted the one season in 1962-63 but then subsequent Saturday Morning viewings gave it a following and thus the show went back into production. Were they back in production as soon as 1966?

Roberto González said...

Those scenes look really funny. Please someone find the episode online. Do you remember the title?

I even enjoy Orbity's scary expression there. He looks much better than usual.

Emmett said...

Those George expressions are fantastic! My god, how I would love to see to those animated. The Jetsons revived is one of the few 1980's HB shows I'd like to see on DVD. And what's wrong with Orbity exactly? He was pretty cute, and made a nice addition.

And that rule about not creating your own expressions is ridiculous. What kind of legal bull do you have to go through for something as harmless as drawing an expression? Were there any loopholes that you could get through?

Disposable Ninja said...

I was born in 1985, so I was about at the right age to have watched old reruns of the episodes you worked on, and I have to say: I avoided The Jetsons like a plague because of Orbity.

Larry Levine said...

"I'm also curious as to why that Elroy model sheet is dated 1966"

Perhaps it was for the cartoonists drawing the Charlton comic book.

I remember there were character model variations from story to story--including George occasionally having the curved lines in his hair.

HemlockMan said...

I swear I have never seen this Jetsons. It wasn't that feature-length movie, was it?

The George looks wonderfully demented in those sketches. Too bad he didn't eat "Orbity" as it looks he's about to do on that one sketch page.

Deniseletter said...

I love "Bin's" work!

mike f. said...

That pretty much sums up my experience working on The Simpsons. The character layout crew was prohibited from being visually creative in any way. "Too cartoony" was a phrase I heard the directors use every single day. It came straight from Matt Groening, who was never there but who oversaw the production from his mansion or private island or something. "Too cartoony" was his favorite phrase.

I was fresh from having worked on Ren & Stimpy - where it was impossible to be too cartoony - so it was like working in the salt mines for me, even though I liked the crew and the directors personally.

I remember laying out a scene with Homer eating a doughnut, and being chastised for drawing Homer's eating poses off-model and (inevitably) too cartoony. I was handed a model chart of "correct", pre-approved Homer chewing poses! Amazing. I just shrugged; the whole thing seemed so anal-retentive to me.

It was a struggle to keep the characters on-model - but I needed the gig and figured I'd lose it unless I got the hang of it. I remember taking the model pack home and analyzing it - that's when I realized they all looked like cadavers to me. That revelation saved my job. The next day I laid out a sequence with the whole family, drawing them as lifeless zombies. "NOW you've got it!" exclaimed the happy directors.

I drew the characters as corpses for the rest of my time there, and everyone was pleased. I never got chastised again. True story.

Zoran Taylor said...

The weirdest thing about The Simpsons, as far as production went, based on what I could see, was the heirarchy WITHIN the animators - there were crazy overshoots and wild distortion in those early years, all right, but the new guys were never the ones who got to do it. Matt was a paranoiac, there's no question about it. He only trusted about three guys enough to let them be creative. I honestly feel that most of the problems with The Simpsons were his fault. He should've left in seasons two and let Sam Simon take over instead of firing him over "creative differences". Yeesh.

Shawn said...

Mike F., that's a hilarious story. "Corpses"! I'm sure it's funnier to you now that it's over!


Mattieshoe said...

>>that's when I realized they all looked like cadavers to me. That revelation saved my job. The next day I laid out a sequence with the whole family, drawing them as lifeless zombies. "NOW you've got it!" exclaimed the happy directors.


What year was that, Mike?

I recall watching an episode of the simpsons from 1992, and being surprised by how full of life SOME of the poses were (At least by simpsons standards) while the rest of the cartoon was really pretty boring and "On Model"

I think it was the "Krusty gets Kancelled" episode. just watch the pose at 7:00 before that European cartoon parody. The lively poses all seem to be plastered between really boring flat Cadaver drawings.

Any insight in as to why only SOME drawings were allowed to be fun and lively?

mike f. said...

Mattieshoe - I remember the production being distracted by the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase on live TV, so it must've been 1994. I also remember the crew creating a card for Groening, celebrating the 100th episode. That would put it in or around the 5th season, I think.

BTW, it goes without saying that my comments are meant as NO reflection on the many talented cartoonists who worked on the show - like Jim Reardon and David Silverman, among many others. All the artists' creative hands were tied, as far as I could tell.

Personally, I don't recall any fun or lively drawings being allowed after the first season - except maybe in the Itchy & Scratchy sequences, or the Halloween episodes. It could just be my faulty memory, though; I haven't watched the show in years.

David Germain said...

It came straight from Matt Groening, who was never there but who oversaw the production from his mansion or private island or something. "Too cartoony" was his favorite phrase.

And yet, on the dvd commentaries for those earlier seasons, he laments that "Aw, we don't see facial expressions like that anymore". Gee, Matt, I wonder why. ;)

Zoran Taylor said...

"Any insight in as to why only SOME drawings were allowed to be fun and lively?"

I refer you to my last post. Also, I think David Silverman was covertly anti-Groening. I remember him saying something to the effect of "I'm proud of every off-model drawing I see, we need more" on the commentary for "Lisa the Beauty Queen".

Rudy Tenebre said...

A continous meditation on the decay of the industry has been the tabletalk for 50 years.

It's morbid.

Oliver_A said...

The only time one character of "The Simpsons" approaches acting is one scene of the Season 1 episode "Some Enchanted Evening".

Watch the episode until roughly minute 11, when Bart and Ms. Botz are arguing about the "Happy Little Elves" tape. The drawings I am referring to are animated to the following dialogue:

"I said you're gonna watch this tape! And you're gonna do what I say or I'm gonna do something to you. And I don't know what that is because everybody has always done what I say!"

If you have this episode, watch this segment, it's amazing! It really stands out from the rest of the animation, and shows how the Simpsons COULD look like!

This is one very rare case where the animation is not only fluid, but constantly adapts to the inflection of the voice actress! Exactly what John is teaching on this Blog.

I wish I could upload some pictures. I wonder who animated this segment.

Zoran Taylor said...

Oliver A - I have a strong feeling it was Brad Bird. He also did Krusty's heart attack in "Krusty Gets Busted", a few frames of which look kind of Vince Waller-ish to me, mainly because of how the jaw is emphasized. Killer stuff.

Brubaker said...

Oliver A.

True story about that episode of the Simpsons you're referring to. Even though it was the first episode in production, it was the 13th to air. The reason is the Korean footage came out too "cartoony" for Matt G's taste, so they made them redo about 90% of the animation.

That scene is probably one of the few original footage that made it to the final cut of the episode.

Kent Butterworth was the director of that episode, but David Silverman supervised the "retake" version. That's why both Butterworth and Silverman was credited in that episode.

Butterworth was fired from the Simpsons not long after. Supposidly this episode was the reason

Taco Wiz said...

"This would have been a wild take here for Scooby Doo, a show that today seems to have a big fan base. Someone explain why to me!"

The writing. Cartoons are all about the writing these days for some reason. However, this raises a question that nobody can answer.

Why are these shows animated?

If you're still in touch with cartoon executives [not toy/car company executives], you could try to find some answers.

Brubaker said...

"Why are these shows animated?"

I've heard many reasons. For one thing, the characters won't have to age in longer-running sitcom animations. Bart Simpson can be 10 years old forever if animated, for example, and keep the same voice actress throughout the run.

If it was live-action, Bart's actor would age and they'll either have to write that in the show or replace the child actor every few years.

Zoran Taylor said...

"The Korean footage came out too "cartoony" for Matt G's taste."

No, it just sucked. I've seen it. "Squishyness" is not the same thing as good animation. There was no form, It wobbled like Jell-O for no reason and the one moment that was sorta creative just didn't read, because Homer's eyebrows didn't wrap around his head, so the little twitch he does with them doesn't look lewd and sneaky like it's supposed to. Just floating lines. Bland looseness that's no better than bland tightness. Nothing like the cool Tracy Ullman stuff.

Silverman's own animation (especially Ullman-era) is often MORE exaggerated than the first take of "Some Enchanted Evening", the difference being that it actually reads and it's funny for the RIGHT reasons.

Zoran Taylor said...

Sorry - I know I glossed over the fact that Botz's threatening speech is from the original version. Yes, obviously that is amazing and I would never deny that. However, the REST of the animation does not live up to that or any real standard. The bit of Homer and Marge dancing about halfway through is a perfect example of something that got a hell of a lot FUNNIER in the second take. the original animation looks like a cheap spoof of Fantasia - "LOL, high-class dancing is too slow and gay." Meh.

perspex said...

Hey Devlin its Brian Horst. I knew you'd read this blog.I just KNEW IT!

StudioRisingStar said...

First off I loved the Jetsons and Scooby Doo as a child born in 1982.
It's great to see your animation work before Ren and Stimpy. Yeah as much as you don't like certain things the bosses do you gotta do it.

Delaypat said...

Yeah totally John. This is really cool! Thank You!!

<< Grant said...

Wow! I love the behind the scenes history and politics, thinking about this all going on while I was just a wee lad watching this stuff is incredible.
Thanks John!>>

Pokey said...

That turd=ET.

Scrappy made a horrible cartoon even worse. Scooby sucked even back in Sept.1969 when it first aired!!!!

First said...

I don't know what the hell they were on, I hated Orbity. It was one of those characters that as a child even I got satisfied with the idea of it getting hurt. Not funny entertainment, but satisfaction.

And I LOVE seeing George become more dynamic. So many well known cartoon characters become much more interesting when you see stuff like this.