Sunday, October 11, 2009

Storyboard Slug Stimpys Invention

This is how we used to do the preliminary timing for a cartoon. It was called "slugging". To slug a storyboard was to time the cartoon on the storyboard.
You can see that we used to get pretty detailed about it. Bill Hanna showed me a couple ways he used to do it, first on Tom and Jerry, and then a short-hand approach he adapted for his TV cartoons. I adapted it again for my own purposes. I timed not only from the storyboards, but from the layouts - which had many more poses. You can see above that my notes refer to pose numbers; those are the layout poses that you can't see on the SB.
These drawings are mostly by Bob Camp. He did the tighter, more confident ones and I did the scratchier quicker ones as I did the timing and added actions.
Bob is a great draftsman and cartoonist who can do pretty tight and solid constructed drawings right off the bat. I can't. When I storyboard or doodle, I just try to scrawl out the essence of the idea and save the construction and polish for when I (or someone else) does the layout.
When I timed this stuff I'd really get into the scene and wouldn't tolerate distractions. I'd turn the lights out except for a table lamp so I could really focus on all the actions and acting. I didn't ever rely on formula - because I didn't know any. Inevitably, there was always someone standing in my doorway holding some papers and watching me wriggle around in my chair, jumping up and down and making crazy faces into a mirror or the computer screen. I never did figure out why people stood in my doorway when I worked, but it all seems part of the Spumco ritual.
I always acted out the scene myself in chunks, and then I'd analyze what I was doing and how long it took. And whether the action called for a slow into a stop, or an overshoot, stagger or whatever. What I was actually doing physically was what I tried to translate into the timing, so the cartoon would feel real, instead of using a set of stock timing tricks. It didn't always work. Sometimes I would time pauses too long and that's where you get those standard pauses in Ren and Stimpy that many fans thought were on purpose, but drive me crazy.
The panels above and below (except for the first one) I just added to punch the gag that was already written. I thought a beaver wasn't enough. You had to follow a beaver with a duck in cartoon logic. The Nickelodeon executives disagreed, They sent a note: "Lose the duck. Make it a woodpecker" or something, but I stuck to my guns. I know when a duck is called for, so I just added a little tuft to the top of the duck's head and said it was a woodpecker. You can imagine how crappy the cartoon would have been if I hadn't made that important network change.
Here's some great Camp panels below and my scrawls underneath, adding actions.
After the board slug, the timing wold then go to an animation director like Bob Jaques, Doug Frankel, Tony Fucile, Greg Manwaring - all animators who would transfer the timing to exposure sheets and refine it even further - or change some things if they thought it would work better in animation.

I used to call what I (or other directors) did on the boards - "Exterior timing" and what the sheet timers (animation directors) did "Interior timing". The exterior timing set the pacing of the whole cartoon and each sequence, and the interior timing refined the individual parts of the animation. It's structure first, details last - hierarchy as always in my world. They are both important and require thoughtful, custom-made, non-formulaic approaches to make cartoons like "Stimpy's Invention". Bob Jaques did the final animation timing and gave it all he had and his animators knocked themselves out.

BTW, did you know this cartoon almost didn't get made? The execs hated it so much they told me to throw the whole thing out and draw a new cartoon over the weekend to replace it. They thought it would scare kids because it was about "mind control". I made a compromise and went through the board with the main exec and toned down a bunch of my favorite "scary" Bob Camp drawings of Ren - or just removed them entirely. But by then they had held up the cartoon for months and so it was late being finished. The whole story of and some missing drawings will be in the book. I was at Asifa yesterday and Steve scanned a bunch of Bob's funny drawings that were cut. We also found stuff from lots of other cartoons that had been cut, including a heartwarming and funny scene from Visit To Anthony that fancypants Jim Smith drew.




O gato said...

I admit, when I was 6 years old I was a little scared of the Ren and Stimpy show, hahaha. But, now that I'm older and re-watching the episodes I did as a child, it is the funniest God damned show I have ever seen. In my opinion, Ren and Stimpy didn't need to be redone to be aired on Spike TV, it was crazy enough as is!

Niki said...

John, what do you mean by stock timing? I didn't think that could be stock.

Dan szilagyi said...

I remember seeing this episode when i was younger and then again not too long ago when i re-watched all the original Ren and Stimpy episodes on DVD.
It's great that you show the timing/slugging on the boards John...i'm pretty sure most shows these days don't even time them anymore and since most of the humour now is not physical comedy but rather relies on talking how good can they be?
speaking of modern cartoons i saw there is a few new ones coming out, i'm curious on your thoughts if you have the time.
thanks for putting up some great memories here though


Iron maiden said...

a heart warming scene in anthony that was cut from visit to anthony

was that the scene they replaced with the belly button scene

JohnK said...

The belly button scene was part of it, but there was a lot more.

John Young said...

"Sometimes I would time pauses too long and that's where you get those standard pauses in Ren and Stimpy that many fans thought were on purpose, but drive me crazy."

I think this is one of those interesting instances when something really unique and special was accidental. I think some of the best things in films come about when super meticulous people screw up. Those are usually the things that make you think, how the hell did someone come up with that? It's too weird!

JohnK said...

Hi Niki

There are all kinds of stock timing styles.
When I started in the 80s, there was the Hanna Barbera stock timing style.

Now there is the prime time cartoon timing style. Everything moves the same way at the same speed.

Flash animation has developed a really irritating timing formula.

Even Disney is largely stock timing techniques, although they have a wider range of tricks than TV animation.

JohnK said...

LitleGrey said:

I first saw this episode when Nick finally ran it, in 1995, when they'd already given the series up for dead. This episode fell threw the cracks and they let it air.

From the first time I saw it, I knew that this episode was a real keeper, with a lot of deep, subversive diligence, and time spent on making it very very dark and tense. The tension in the final sequence before the Earth blows up was unbelievable to me. The blocking, pacing, music and cutting were tight as a drum.

I watched this episode over and over on VHS and marveled at the brilliance of that scene repeatedely. I remember thinking there were action directors throughout Hollywood who didn't have a **** clue how to build this kind of tension into a scene.

drawingtherightway said...

When you say that you acted out the scene for timing, did you use a stopwatch or something else to time yourself?

Trevor Thompson said...

Sweet! I've read a lot of your storyboards and wanted to know more about 'slugging'.

I can't wait to read about Gabe and the Jetsons project. The acting in that is so good because of the voice work influencing good artists. I love the high level of really unique and fun poses in that cartoon.

I'd love to see how you slugged a Flash cartoon that was THAT good.

Paul B said...

I think I can't wait for the book.. mmmhh.... yep, I can't wait

This is my favorite episode, I remember the crazy secuence of Happy Happy Joy Joy at the end, It blew my mind, it left me without air in the end, those "happy, Happy, HAPPY!" when Ren was giving himself blows in the head, everything was growing in an astonishing crescendo...

Simply GREAT!

John: will you explain to us some day what all these numbers mean in the notes?

ThomasHjorthaab said...

I can't wait for the book man!:D

JohnK said...

"John: will you explain to us some day what all these numbers mean in the notes?"

Hi Paul

which numbers?

the ones that have an x next to them are amounts of frames

the ones with circles around them represent the layout poses

the ones that say 2 "feet" mean 2 x 16 frames

a "foot" is 16 frames or 16x

nktoons said...

Slugging....I always wondered how about the process from storyboard to screen.

Iron maiden said...

hey john I found a deleted scene from the big house blues that never been aired its a deleted opening ?

do you know what this is?

R.A. MacNeil said...

Do you still work this way, or would figure out the timing as you made the animatic?

Do you ever use barsheets to time things?

JohnK said...

I started using bar sheets and timing to beats around this time.

Now, I'm not sure if there is a need to do any of this anymore.

You can make animatics pretty easily now and time as you go.

It used to be harder to time cartoons (well).

However the ease that software has brought us allowed lots of non-animators and cartoonists to get in and do this formula stuff I talk about, so there's a down side to computers.

I keep wondering when they will invent a cartoon-writing program: Adobe SoccerMomShop or something, since writing cartoons is the easiest most formulaic part of the process.

Maybe we could have Adobe Note-Giver too and replace executives.

Mitch L said...

Great information, thanks!

Anonymous said...

John, John, John, we LOVE this episode. We really do. We think it's great. But we do have some concerns.

Ok, "Stimpy's Invention," that's great! It really, really is. But does it have to be STIMPY'S invention?

And instead of an invention, can it be an evil twin?

Does it have to have Ren AND Stimpy?

Instead of a cat, can Stimpy be a 10 year old skateboarder with a helmet?

Look forward to meeting with you earlier about He-Hog later one. Just one concern, buddy, does he have to be a pig?

Trevor Thompson said...

What are your thoughts on Digicel's Flipbook, John? It employs the use of bar sheets.

JohnK said...

Well, I haven't tried it, but Eddie says he likes it.

Have you used it?

Ricky Earl said...

Fascinating behind the scenes. Bring on the book! (When is it released?)

Trevor Thompson said...

I downloaded a trial version, and I'm learning to use it. As soon as I can afford it, I'm buying it for sure.

I'm positive you would benefit from it. You can look at these tutorials for more info.

This one is by Jason Ryan and is a lot more in depth with animating.

- trevor.

SoleilSmile said... do realize that your face changes while you draw and act out characters don't you? When you drew a crowd scene while coaching me on a board, you made a different facial expression for every character in the crowd. Thererfore, people stand at your door because it's well as awe inspiring.
I think all animators have the face twitch habit. The producer I worked with after I left Spumco pointed out that I do the same thing when I board during pitch meetings.
We animators are kicky curiosities, aren't we?

Brian said...

Really great to see some stuff on timing, I always find it the most difficult thing to get a handle on. This was a really great episode too.
I use Digicel Flipbook to try and work on my timing, what's cool with that is that you can move drawings up and down on the X sheet and see how that affects things in almost realtime.

I'm curious to know would most of this have been animated on 1s or 2s? I notice some of the moves are listed as '2x' which seems really fast if it's just 2 frames on 1s.
Sorry if this is a dumb question, I'm trying to learn this stuff on my own..

Niki said...

Oh so by stock timing you mean like in Family guy how everything happens kinda like in snaps? My dad still watches it so I sit with him and every time something important is supposed to happen you can snap your fingers and it's done. It gets pretty annoying after a short time.

Ollie said...

Hi John, a few posts ago in the comments section you said you liked Mike Mignola. I'm a big fan of his too. There's not that many modern artists that you say are great so I'd love to see you do a post about him sometime.

Keep up the great work!

bergsten said...

I'm still trying to wrap my mind about "executives" complaining about a duck. I've seen a lot of aberrant corporate behavior over the years but this really tops it. Did these petty, small-minded "people" really have that little to do? Thank God I've never met them (or perhaps, thank ME as God would have had to deal with them that much sooner).

Still ruminating on this distribution business. Seems to me, if "they" can "start" animation studios, "you" could start your own channel(s)...

How about 24x7 Three Stooges? Laurel&Hardy, Fleischer, etc.? I'd watch that over ANYTHING that's being broadcast now. I'd even pay for it, and if there were no alternative promise (but lie) to even watch the commercials... Baby step to your own animation channel, etc. etc.

ncross said...

Haha I remember standing in the door to your office many-a-time...I think I stood there for a half-hour once...

Anonymous said...

Hey, John K., if this is your address, what do you think of the old Paula Abdul video "Opposites Attract"?

That's the officially-uploaded version by the record company.

I always thought the animation in it was so good. The cartoon guy seems more alive than Ms. Abdul. And I was reading some of your articles on your blog about the abstractness of today's cartoons, and I came to your blog from reading some controversy about it at Harlan Ellison's message board,, from a couple of weeks back, when some guy or two were complaining that you said words are a primitive medium.

- Matthew

p.s. LOVE the episode "Space Madness" (ren & stimpy)!!! Just love that episode.

Vincent Waller said...

Ha.Great post John.
As one of the people that would stand in your doorway. I can tell you that we were usually there with a question that only you could answer. So we would wait, knowing that the Saint Vitus dance you were performing under the spotlight in the corner was very important to the show. Not wanting to disrupt your train of thought, but unable to move forward on the scene we were working on. We'd stand there until you surfaced enough from your creative deleriums to notice us silhouetted in the doorway of your office. We knew you had noticed us when you'd give us what became known as "The Chicken Eye"* (I'll draw this for you some time if you want.) we'd ask the ubber important question.
Then you'd gaze at us like we were some odd and possibly retarded creature from another planet, answer the question and turn back to work under your tiny spot light. Question answered we would get back to it, and move forward on our scene.

*(I've noticed almost every show runner/director or what ever you want to call it. Has some version of the Chicken Eye.)

JohnK said...

Ha ha. I never realized how odd it must be. I've never been on the other end of the chicken eye.

:: smo :: said...

this means something. this is important.

Jeff Read said...

These are amazing.

I showed the ones from "Big House Blues" to a friend of mine. I said, "Look at this, this is genius. He knew exactly for how many frames the old man had to hold his teeth on Ren's belly, in order for it to be funny.

Getting a cartoon nailed down to that level of detail in the storyboard stage was, for me, mindblowing. Now, any other way seems haphazard.

Coyote Cereal said...

you know i left you some bad comments the other day because i was mad at you bad mouthing modern entertainment.

but goddamn, when i see storyboards for a cartoon that shaped me...

i orgasm inside.

congrats to spumco

Isaac said...

"Flash animation has developed a really irritating timing formula."

God's truth. Why does everything has to STOP, JIGGLE, CHANGE DIRECTION? It drives me crazy.

Neutrinoide said...

About why corporate work that way and kill creativity. In short, they get money by failing instead or producing something poeple want. It called corporate wellfare. To know more about this I invite you at ( This isn't for comment but for you John The guy prove that you can make money only by providing a product people want.

Geneva said...

Great post! Bob Camp is awesome!

John said...

Beautiful. I'll be boarding my own film soon enough - but this post makes me wanna start NOW!

Anonymous said...

Great! The hierarchical approach & successive refinement makes perfect sense. Very enlightening!

Those Bob Camp panels are superb & i think they go some way to illustrate your point about my TC studies - (thanks for that btw, it sure is a great exercise!)


nothing said...

By the way, Tony Fucili's name is spelled correctly as "Tony Fucile".

JohnK said...

Got it. Thanks!

Sven Hoek said...

I'll teach your grandmother to suck eggs.


The little creatures of nature....they don't know that they're ugly.

Stinky Wizzleteats

Jessica said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thiago Levy said...

Dear Master.

I would like to understand more about "bar sheets and timing to beats". I don't think the way I learned in school is the most efficient. I just got a book called Timing for animation, and it didn't help me much on that. I looked on your blog for some timing sheets examples, and I couldn't find it. Maybe you already have it. If can please help me on this one.