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.