Thursday, July 09, 2009

What Is An Idea? - and is it important?

Arenas - who in God's name thought this term up?

Terms created in order to avoid common sense

Why does Hollywood avoid common sense on purpose? How old is the tradition?

"I HAVE A GREAT IDEA FOR A CARTOON but I can't draw or write" Is this possible? Can it be proven?

Looking for the next kid with a great idea. Does this mean anything tangible?

Is experience the enemy of originality?

Is originality as important as entertainment?

Is Bugs Bunny an "idea"?

Is Woody Woodpecker?

The Simpsons?

King Of The Hill?

I will try to answer these and other questions in another post


bloatedsackofprotoplasm said...

Hahahahaha. Goddamn, JK. This is an issue that I have been angrily pondering my entire life.

Brad said...

I've got tons of ideas, time machines, homework machines, the roto-scoping sandwich maker, but unfortunately I lack the skills, knowledge and tools to make these realities.

Corey said...

I eagerly await your answer.

Kali Fontecchio said...

What is life- and more importantly, is it profitable?

Can't wait for answers to the universe!

thomas said...

>Looking for the next kid with a great idea. <

Isn't this really a marketing strategy; trying to get a "read" on what the next generation of consumers will want?
What this strategy tends to produce, though, is regurgitated material.

movingchild said...

Incredible blog! Huge fan!

Have you seen this Stanley Steamer commercial? The kid reminds me of Anthony Raspanti,vocally and visually!

Toby's New trick:

Also,I'd Love to hear your thoughts (or rant) on the commercial!

Don B.

K. Nacht said...

"I've got a concept and with a little development, I think I can get an idea." remember that line (I'm paraphrasing) from Annie Hall, spoken by a classic So-Cal blond bowlcut gent with a blond mustache (you know the sort) when Woody goes to a Hollywood party? Still true today, no?

Reminds me of a prop master I was working with back in the late 90's, day trading close to 100k at the height of the dotcom bubble. All he could talk about was how cleaned up everything was in town, unlike the good ol' 80's when all he used to do was hang chandeliers for The Fallguy on huge amounts of blow! Yeee-haaahh!

brad said...

Can't wait to read more on this topic John!

Geneva said...

Seems like nonsense to me! Most of my favorite cartoons had no strong premise that could change the world of animation!

As an unrelated note, why is "family guy" apparently the most searched-for thing on your blog? Ha ha.

Rick Roberts said...

It doesn't take a Tex Avery to come up with a cartoony gag but it does to make it work.

Caleb said...

Some people don't have ideas of their own, but they know one when they see it!

Somewhere in the early 00's, everyone started putting ability at the end of ever word to sound more business savvy. believability, usability, abiladility.

Mr. Tat said...

"Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us
many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets.
Imagination without skill gives us modern art."

~Tom Stoppard

(I was searching for Larry and Steve.)

nktoons said...

Looking forward to the post!;)

Ted said...

"Arenas - who in God's name thought this term up?"

The Romans. It means sandy place. It is possibly of Etruscan origin, but for use as a place of a public display, it seems to be Roman.

diego cumplido said...

well, ideas ARE important, but not as much as everything else. Great ideas DO exist, but they come in a package with other stuff. The whole package is the important deal, not just the idea. For example, Ren & Stimpy is not a great idea by itself. But it is if you analize how you arranged all the elements to create the show. There are tons of great ideas there, but then, you're right, ideas mean shit without the required skill for the project.

Elana Pritchard said...

Creative freedom vs. funding! Grrrr....
At this point I think it is in everyone's best interest to scrap Hollywood all together and start over from scratch. I mean, did you see the new Dillinger movie? It was crap!

Joel Brinkerhoff said...

You should interview some 'Creatives' and see what their angle is...

Rick Roberts said...

"I mean, did you see the new Dillinger movie? It was crap!"

I saw it. I thought it was terrific. There hasn't been a film that fun for years. And I mean actual "fun", not mind numbing.

Zorrilla said...

Execs are always looking for "THE NEXT BIG THING", the show that will sell billions in birthday hats and towels.

But they have no idea what makes those shows popular, so they try lots of different stuff, praying that one of them will be a success.

And they look for young, unexperienced artists, so that they can claim they "discovered" them, and climb up the corporate ladder.

HemlockMan said...

Actually, yes, there are "idea" guys in Hollywood and even in publishing who are doing quite well. I once even wrote a brief essay about it. As society takes itself to new intellectual lows, it has reached a point where the idea is the thing.

I used to know a writer who is now nothing more than an idea man. He makes a good living at it. I'd mention his name, but I still like the guy and he'd get mad at me if he thought I was making light of him. One of his ideas was a huge movie hit in the past couple of years. It started out as a simple one-line premise and became a movie.

That's the way the machinery likes it.

People who can't draw probably shouldn't be working in animation. Are there any good writers in cartoons who can't illustrate? Who don't know anything about how to physically draw drama or fear or humor? I know that there are probably such people working in animation---I just don't know if there are any who do that who are "good".

I will say that there are writers in comics who can't draw worth a damn and create amazing comics work. Those Brit writers are all pretty good in comics--Moore, Gaiman, Morrison, Delano, Ennis, Ellis, etc.

But in animation? A guy who can't illustrate creating work that translates into funny or dramatic images? Clue us in, O Sage One...

Anonymous said...

I see King of the Hill as a natural evolution of Mike Judge's redneck-beer drinkin' character, a.k.a. Beavis and Butthead's old neighbour, Tom Anderson.

Kinda like Bugs Bunny evolved from the random rabbit character from his first shorts... or something. Can't wait for your toughts on the matter tough hehe.

Sorry I don't comment so often, John, but I read your blog every day. It helped me improve a lot on my drawings. I will try to write more.


Emily said...

'"I HAVE A GREAT IDEA FOR A CARTOON but I can't draw or write" Is this possible? Can it be proven?'

Haha. That's a good one. Look forward to your next post.

Pete Emslie said...

A cartoon series should start with a simple premise, but one that allows for all sorts of stories and gag situations. An ideal example is "The Flintstones", a show about (as it says clearly in the theme song) a modern stone-age family. Just specific enough to establish a time, place and core cast of characters, yet open to all sorts of story possibilities. Likewise "Yogi Bear" is a show about a conniving, freeloading bear in a national park trying to grab an easy meal without the ranger catching him.

I think that the problem with so many of today's cartoons is that they are too specific and limited in scope, as well as being too bizarre in concept. The more bizarre the concept, the less anybody on the show feels compelled to build real characterization. Since there is little characterization, the viewer may laugh at some of the humour, but will never become emotionally invested in the characters and will quickly move on to the next "flavour of the week".

I see this as a real flaw in the animation industry right now, as nothing seems to be built to last. There are no true personalities in which to become interested in, and thus the humour tends to be all in the form of cynical one-liners instead of humourous situations derived from character interaction. The fact that nobody really cares about the personalities on screen means that the series can't generate a dedicated audience and usually doesn't last more than a few months, only to be replaced by something equally bizarre and wretched.

That's my take, anyway. I look forward to reading John's thoughts on the matter.

Niki said...

Y'know I figured that I don't want to deal with too much of all the network nonsense! So I want to make an internet show, and deal with whatever crappy show they stick me on. But I want to know what they mean by arenas. and I want to know crazy term so that I can read Lennon's fave books and make some of my own to piss them back off!

Ryan G. said...

This should be good..

Rick Roberts said...

"I think that the problem with so many of today's cartoons is that they are too specific and limited in scope, as well as being too bizarre in concept. The more bizarre the concept, the less anybody on the show feels compelled to build real characterization. Since there is little characterization, the viewer may laugh at some of the humour, but will never become emotionally invested in the characters and will quickly move on to the next "flavour of the week"."

This is exactly why all the original adult swim programing is abysmal.

In general, modern animation is not ulitilized by anyone to tell life experience anymore. They either want to stick with moral cliches, socio-political issues, or what is popular in mass media. It's all just cheap filler.

Pilsner Panther said...

That Tom Stoppard quote is certainly interesting. I suppose that if you have both imagination and skill, but they're completely turned in on themselves, then what the artist ends up with is something like "Finnegans Wake," or Arnold Schoenberg's music... or some equally incomprehensible Stoppard plays.

That is,those profound-on-purpose "great works" that nobody understands except the authors, and professional graduate students who are, like, 38 years old and still in college, and show no signs of graduating anytime soon.

In this context, though (cartoons, comedy, entertainment), I'll take the position that the idea— whatever it is— has to be understandable to general audiences. That is, audiences which are at least somewhat perceptive, even if they may not have had a lot of formal education.

My theory is that an idea doesn't have to be completely "new," because there's no such thing, but if it's well-executed and seen from a different perspective from the previous idea that inspired it, then it is original.

Take the most recent subject in this forum, "The Dover Boys." How many of you knew that this cartoon is a takeoff on an adolescent boys' book series from the 1890's and early 1900's? But even if you didn't, when you watch the cartoon, you're going to say, "Wow, that's something!"

That is, as long as you have your eyes open. The satire of an old subject has been turned into a "new idea," thanks to the genius of everyone involved in the production. It doesn't matter at all if the audience has never read any of the "Rover Boys" books, or even heard of them. Which of course, doesn't happen very often— but when it does, there you have the true coin.

All this heavy thinking is giving me a headache— I think I'll go watch some cartoons!

Joseff said...

Totally agree with Pete there, the shows on TV right now, for example the Simpsons are too fast paced and crammed with many pop culture and bizarre jokes that we the viewers at home don't have the chance to connect with the character, and since i was a wee lad I used to Love the Simpsons, the same treatment goes to Family Guy only worse. These series throw jokes for the sake of cheap laughs. Also can you believe what i just saw, i was looking for some model sheets for my students when i saw a Stewie Griffin model sheet selling like for 250.00 dollars!! its INSANE!

Mr. Semaj said...


Many of today's shows do have an audience, only they're used to the lack of soul in them. You may hear some arguments like "But they're not supposed to have real stories or personalities, it's all about humor".

And they don't have to be bizarre to be limited in scope. Some make it their job to be as boring and politically correct as possible.

JohnK said...

Hey, looks like we have a good discussion going here. Maybe I don't need to answer all my questions (not that I had answers for them all)

Did someone say The Simpsons is fast-paced? That's the last thing I would think about the show.

Joseff said...

My bad John, i didn't explained it correctly, on the simpsons when I said the show was "fast paced" i meant it that they always trying to throw jokes and don't care about the personalities or sometimes even the stories, also applies to Family Guy.

thomas said...

Strange as it may seem, maybe the problems with animation go beyond animation itself. Its an overall cultural problem. Central to it is, is the mystification of the market, which, I think is more or less a synonym for "arena".

Also, The problems that are written about having to to with the animation business, seem like the same problems with any of the arts, or any job for that matter. Administration and labor are totally divorced from one another, Labor is regarded as purely a body, without a head a tool, and administration is the head, with the ideas.

I think its easy to get reactionary in discussions like these, like when things start getting into "my kid can do that" types of arguements about modern art. There's good modern art, and bad modren art. Its just too simplistic to paint it all with a Big "Bad" Brush. That in itself, sounds like bad modern art.

The "Golden Age" cartoons came out of a factory system. All the factorie have rusted, General Motors is bankrupt; what to do?

Pilsner Panther said...

Ideas? There are ideas, and then there are idealists:

Maybe, not exactly the same thing.

Guy said...

I will say that there are writers in comics who can't draw worth a damn and create amazing comics work. Those Brit writers are all pretty good in comics--Moore, Gaiman, Morrison, Delano, Ennis, Ellis, etc.

I can't see how they could be considered amazing by any standard but "it's not terrible like the usual stuff and oh wow this one has symbols in it"

Not to mention that they all use the medium as dialogue with awkward illustrations, which is what you'll always get with people who can't... y'know... draw.

When are we going to see comics that actually want to be comics again? Comics that look good would be nice too, but that might be pushing it.

David Germain said...

When pitching animated TV show ideas to executives, I've heard that you of course have to have the show's "bible" completely worked out and solid but not too solid because you should also leave some room for the executives to tweak it in order to support their needs. That's what I've been told anyway. Have you ever had to tweak ideas for executives John?

Will Finn said...

"What is life- and more importantly, is it profitable?"

Kali, you made me laugh for the first time in days.

Rick Roberts said...

Since you brought up Woody Woodpecker John, I cite him as a good example as in empty vessel in animation. Woody dosen't really have a personality but he is well designed character that can be taken advantage of by any good animator. I would say the same thing about Goofy as well.

RobochaoXX said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HemlockMan said...


You're right.

I was looking at some really old comics today. Stuff from the 50s and early 60s that I keep in boxes to take out and look at occasionally. In comparison, there really aren't any good modern comics. Alas.

Pilsner Panther said...

This topic is already getting left behind because Mr. K is always moving on to the next "scene," like Avery and Clampett did, hardly looking back, but what else would you expect from the man who gave us Ren & Stimpy?

However, there's a reason why I provided the link to the Rahsaan Roland Kirk website. Which is: if you tell yourself, "I can't do this, and I can't do that," maybe you ought to try it before you give up.

Rahsaan was blind, yet he mastered three or four reed instruments to the point where he could play all of them at once (and in tune!), sounding like a one-man sax section.

I knew Mr. Kirk (a little) when I was a kid, and there wasn't anything that was beyond him, musically. I swear, he could pick up a seashell from a vendor's stand at Fisherman's Wharf and blow into it, and the music would be absolutely gorgeous. Too bad I didn't have a tape recorder.

If you want an animation equivalent, it might have been Ub Iwerks, laying out and plotting the early Mickey Mouse cartoons more or less on his own, and making them look damn good, too.

Or, Avery or Clampett or Jones and some of the Fleischer and Disney directors in the 30's, 40's and 50's. For a lucky few, there comes a time when the ideas just flow, and nothing can stand in the way of pure creativity. At least until the vein of gold runs out.

As Rahsaan used to say, "Bright Moments!"

K. Nacht said...

Never thought I'd hear tell about old Roland Kirk on this blog! Far out. Volunteer Slavery, One Ton, goddamn! All you cartoony types which sit around listenin' to old Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington recordings had better look up Roland. Roland's got his hat!

Racattack Force said...

Bugs Bunny is an idea, in my honest opinion. He was a callaboration of the ideas of several people, and that created the wabbit we know today. Anyone can have an idea, but you need the skills (or a friend who has them) to make them reality.

Pilsner Panther said...

I'm sorry that 'Rol never got to score a cartoon. My gawds and little fishies, what would it have been like!?

If any animators ever had to keep up with him, they would have been sweating their asses off!

"A Crazy Blind Black Genius's Fantasia" would never have worked as a title, for one thing. No producer would have bought the "pitch."

Maybe Tex Avery and Preston Blair, or Bill Tytla, or Willard Bowsky or Art Babbitt or even Ward Kimball could have done something like that, but who else?

Not me, that's for sure.

My favorite photo of 'Rol is the one where he's standing in the center of morning rush-hour traffic on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, blowing his sax in the middle of the street, and wearing a battered top hat and tuxedo.

Right there, the difference between a human being and a cartoon character is erased. He's going to get flattened any second by a truck, right? No. He's as invincible (and unexplainble) as the Road Runner.

Only, 'Rol never saw a cartoon or any other film in his life, because he couldn't see anything at all.

Except from the inside...


Bright Moments!

Chickens_are_crazy said...

Cartoons ARE ideas.
Even the ones you suggested.
But yet I wait for your anwser....