Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gandy Goose's Sandwich Trauma

Here's a clip from a story Tom Minton wrote for Bakshi's Mighty Mouse. This scene foreshadowed some of what was to come in Ren and Stimpy.It's one of the first domestic squabbles I ever directed. It takes place in Mighty Mouse's apartment (where Robert Mitchum is praying in the hallway). MM has invited homeless Gandy to stay with him until he can find a job and get his own place.
There's one of those beautiful double frames I love on some modern DVDs.
Gandy is doing his best to be a doting companion to Mighty Mouse. Sound familiar?
Mighty comes home through the trap door. A lot of the visual gags like that were added either in the storyboard and some in the layouts. Jim Smith storyboarded this episode and you can see some of his boards in the supplemental side of the DVD.
MM looks around to see what Gandy has done to his apartment.

This was the first cartoon show in decades where the bosses actually encouraged specific expressions that weren't on the model sheets.
I stole those tit eyes from Chuck Jones. Couldn't resist.

When you watch the animation clips you can see that the execution is pretty crude - kinda like the first few Ren and Stimpy episodes. Part of it is because the layout drawings had to be sent overseas to animate and assist. Those 2 steps tend to lose something in translation.
Partly the crudity just came from the fact that we didn't have much experience drawing functional drawings that told a story visually and we were teaching ourselves. A lot of this scene was drawn by Lynne Naylor and I who at least had some practice on the new Jetsons.
Just for context...here's what was going on in the mainstream animation world around us:
Nothing was allowed to be remotely cartoony, let alone expressive
It was an era of pink and purple, and flesh colored eyes and bobbing heads
believe it or not, these 2 frames (above and below) are 2 different shows
There were a hundred shows with the exact same characters in them
Doesn't this look like fun stuff to animate?
Ralph Bakshi rescued the cartoon world from this stuff.

It took me awhile to get rid of the pink and purple color schemes too...one challenge at a time...
Here's a a little butt slapping action.
We had a lot of fun doing the layouts on MM because we did get to create at least some expressive poses.

An early stab at emotional tension
This kind of scene was not actually inspired by other cartoons as much as by my love for classic sitcoms like The Honeymooners and intense melodramatic live action movies from the 30s and 40s. It doesn't totally come off yet, even though we killed ourselves drawing very specific emotional poses. I realized that you needed more than just story and drawings to make emotion totally work in film. I had to squeeze some extra angst out of the voice actors who were not all used to doing anything but the driest formulaic 80s style Saturday morning cartoon acting. Luckily they all liked trying this new approach and were good sports about doing extra takes and having me act everything out and grab them and yank them around the recording booth to try to get them in the mood.
Here's an idea I'm pretty sure we added in the layout stage. I thought it would be funny to have MM try to restrain himself from beating his companion by rolling the sandwich back and forth on the table, while speaking patiently to him through gritted teeth. This is the kind of thing that would normally prompt executives to say "I didn't see that in the script." But Ralph somehow kept us from ever hearing that.
The other thing the scene needed beside stronger animation and execution was appropriately emotional music. Music that matches the mood of the scene. I didn't get to try anything like that till Ren and Stimpy. The music scores on Mighty Mouse were scored with a lot of purposely off-key parts, I guess to be wacky because everything in a cartoon is supposed to be wacky and grating. It irritated the crap out of me, but that wasn't my department.
Believe it or not, though it might seem mild now, drawings like these were completely radical in 1987.

This was totally my fault. I drew the mouth charts for MM, and for the "L" mouth, I drew the tongue sticking way out. The animators used it and never inbetweened into or out of it, so tongues are always popping and vanishing all through the series. Later, on Ren and Stimpy we added many more mouth positions, but after awhile I just drew lots of them right into the layouts because the whole idea of stock drives me nuts.

Here's a slight irony. Ren and Stimpy lettering on the DVD menu.


Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures - The Complete Series

More Saturday Morning treats:this was what the cartoon world was

the funny thing is that while MM and Ren and Stimpy chased this look away from kids' TV, it soon found a new home in fully animated cartoon features
that's some lively stuff, ain't it?