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.