Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Most Important 80s Rule

"Fat Albert Surprised"

This is from a Filmation layout manual but it represents the philosophy of every 80s cartoon studio that I worked at. Boy the requirements to be a layout artist sound hard!

That sounds like you'd have to go to art school in France for 10 years before you can get a job at Filmation.

And here's how they want you to apply all those skills

This instruction means: only use 2 poses for dialogue. A front or 3/4 view. That's it. That way you can keep the rest of the drawing completely still- and don't forget to trace it! But be creative like the manual says.
Be creative, but make sure if you make a radical "extreme change" like evening out the arms above, that you get official permission from the foreman.
Test: name each of their emotions.

Thanks to Jeremy for uploading the whole giant manual. There are more gifts of wisdom in it.


Nicol3 said...

Oooh man. I can tell 'someone's' gonna have a field day with these.

ardy said...

First Quote:

"The poses will... [retain] the proportions and appearance of a model sheet."

Second Quote:

"The Artwork must reflect enthusiasm and creativity."

If they really wanted to save on production costs, they should've hired one of their brilliant writers to make the manual contradict itself mid-sentence.

Elana Pritchard said...

High, retarded, stupified, constipated, downs syndrome

Taber said...

Barf! These just get worse and worse!

xynphix said...

Been waiting for this subject to come up for a long time!!!

Fat Albert could have been the most awesome thing ever if it was done by good animators. Imagine The Cosby kids done Clampett style.

I don't believe I've ever read John K give his opinion on the designs of these characters. I dare anyone reading this to say that the fat Albert kids are poorly designed.

The style of course is a matter of taste but I've always personally thought the Fat Albert kids were the most creative and original designs on TV at the time. I'm dying to know what John K fans think without first hearing John say his thoughts. I hope this subject gets a lot of responses and hopefully John will give his opinion in a couple of days after more comments are built up.

xynphix said...

1 more thing to add......I fully expect to get lynched by people on this blog for praising the fat Albert kid's bring it on!!

Diego said...

The emotions are: Stoned, stoned, stoned, stoned annnd... stoned.

Ryan said...

Okay, on page 3 it says,
"The most important thing to keep in mind are the 'Hook Ups' from one scene to another. (Hook Ups are the even poses from a full shot to a close-up or mid-shot.)"

Can somebody explain those words to me? Are they basically trying to say, "If your character ever strikes an interesting pose, be sure to return them to a bland pose before you cut to a new scene?"

Johnny said...


1. Stoned

2. Stoned

3. Stoned

4. Stoned

5. Stoned

6. Stoned

7. Stoned

8. Stoned

Fat Albert rolls a mad fat blunt

coolhand said...

this seems like it has got to be a joke. but i know it isnt

Chris_Garrison said...

Name their emotions? I think they're all exhibiting the same emotion in that drawing, so I'll just say one for the whole group: Wearily happy.

Guy said...

And people will actually try to defend these things. Ain't that beautiful?

Guy said...

xynphix: I have a very important rule. If I can draw better than something, it is the poopest poo. This is the poopest poo. Also, everything else on television since then except Ren & Stimpy.

Niki said...

I bet you $100 that there were some really great artists who quit working and got a banking job or became a cop, all because of these rules of the 1980s

Dorseytunes said...

Those poor kids look like they just rolled out of bed. Get em a Red Bull or something.

dan said...

- I dare anyone reading this to say that the fat Albert kids are poorly designed.

The Fat Albert Kids are poorly designed

James said...

Im not gonna lie, Fat Albert is very bland, but in that period, mid 70's to mid 80's, what wasn't? I think, in mainstream animation, Fat Albert was the closest thing to actually caricaturing real life than anything else, but still in a very plain boring way.

That manual is terrible though, no wonder the shows always ended up the way they did.

K. Nacht said...

Thanks, now we're getting into the meat of it.
Though you can't deny me a nostalgic love for Rudy and Mushmouth's walk cycles.

Y'know, I can understand Eddie and the gang getting thrilled to be able to draw their favorite Golden Age characters, and yourself when you were given a shot at resuscitating The Jetsons, but the result is such a distorted rape of the past that I believe they do more harm than the Fat Alberts and the Groovie Ghoulies of the medium.

Your later riffs on HB are, of course, all you, running rampant with their vocabulary. And I think some of your best stuff.

Ryan said...

...on a completely unrelated note... I just watched the SPUMCO flash video that John and crew did for Quaker Oats' Quisp cereal. Why am I not cool enough to know about this until I buy a box 'o cereal? By the way, who did the actual comic printed on the back of the box? (To be honest, I had assumed when I saw the comic that its relation to SPUMCO was too good to be true so I complained that whomever ripped you off; glad to see you still get paid to do real cartooning)

Brett McCoy said...

I always liked the design of these characters, each one was distinct and had lots of character (and of course Cosby did a masterful job on the character voices). It's too bad the actual animation was so crappy. I would love to see someone take these designs and do something for real with them.

Martin Juneau said...

"That sounds like you'd have to go to art school in France for 10 years before you can get a job at Filmation."

Oooh, that's why i often hate the TV cartoons shows made in France. They are naturally crap, no sense of the volume and they believing it's made by Art!?! Gosh! They are really delayed from our continent!

I must admit that this Fat Albert pics aren't so great. What's the fun to liked generic characters with re-used animations anyway? Bob Clampett mocked of the re-used animation conducted by Warner artists at his era.

Saskia said...

Ahahaha, wow ! I had no idea....

Whit said...

The original "Fat Albert" series designs were done by Don Bluth when he worked at Filmation to pay his rent. He also designed the "Groovie Ghoulies" characters and those for the cast of "Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down?" Bluth's style is distinctive and is the best part of any of those programs. The animation is sheer bowel blockage. This version of the Filmation layout manual may be a later one because xerox machines could not enlarge prior to about 1985, though they could reduce.

murrayb said...

I saw a clip of the 1969 fat albert pilot one time, and it was suprisingly good.I wish I could find a copy of it. It had photo backgrounds, sketchy grease pencil animation, and Herbie Hancock did the original score:

when fat ran down the street, all the brick buildings would collapse with each step!(stock footage)
It was cartoony if I remember. Good thing filmation toned it down.

Jeremy said...

Always follow the model sheets, trace whenever possible...

DO IT!!!

RooniMan said...

Thier emotion: they're high. too many joints.

Funny thing though, the manual says to be creative, but tells you to only use two poses for dialouge, trace the model sheets, and have every single scene in a completely different camera angle.

How delightfully horrific.

HemlockMan said...

Caption: "We're here for yo' momma."

Will Finn said...

This reminds me of my days working on HE-MAN, as a clean-up assistant. One day the P.A. system told me to report to one of the directors offices. My supervisor told me I was in trouble.

I went to the office to meet an angry director and a scowling old animator who were furious that I had not explicitly enough traced the animator's rough of 'Orko's eyes and that the work would have to be re-done and re-shot and that I was a very bad boy and that I'd have to learn to respect the animator's work or I would be jobless.

I pointed out that I had followed the animator's work, but (and I had the roughs with me) he had drawn two completely different eye expressions on two different pieces of paper, but both using the same number. Since we were never to question the animators work, and were not allowed to speak to them without a congressional permit, I cleaned both drawings up and left it up to camera to decide. The animator in question was a notorious hot tempered old drunk who lived in his car and he probably made mistakes like this all the time.

They both stared at the proof of his error for a minute, but then continued to lecture me about my tenuous position and my lack of respect and blah blah blah blah BS blah. They didn't deny that I hadn't done anything wrong, but the point was to put me in my place. I had been working as a full feature animator for four years prior to this and they really wanted to make me sufficiently cowed to the authoritarian strictures of their inverted madhouse rules.

"Orko", by the way, was invisible.

A.M.Bush said...

I like the way fat albert characters look, I think they would have been cool if they were actually animated good. I think their eyes should be more expressive and functional (cartoonier) though, and the designs could be pushed a little.

Namowal said...

Oh dear...
I feel bad for anyone growing up watching Warner Brother cartoons and thinking I want to be an animator!...
...only to find themselves tracing model sheets. I'm surprised nobody went postal.

.M. said...

The only reason I watched the show was because of Bill Cosby's live segments.

Granted, Fat Albert and his homies were a bunch of poor kids making the best of what they had, but the budget animation made it too depressing to watch.

It's one of the many things I'd like to see done right, even as a ten minute clip, but seeing how the reinvigorated interest in the Cosby kids resulted in their appearance on urban wear a few years back, I may as well give up on that hope.

At least they were spared the unfortunate "hood cred" treatment the WB characters got.

Ryan GUH Golden said...

"and don't forget to trace it! But be creative like the manual says."

Bwa hah hah ha

Ryan said...

The fixation on different "camera angles" is, I think, a mis-guided attempt to compensate for using the same three traced poses over and over.

Will Finn said...

i gotta add one more memorable moment that's relevant to "on model" dogma:

my first week on HE-MAN, the cleanup crew were given model sheets of "Ram Man" where the designer had drawn his thumbs on the wrong side of his hands.

In his "full front" pose and side pose, the thumbs were right, but in the rear pose, they were drawn incorrectly, it was an obvious mistake.

When we pointed this out to the clean up supervisor, she went ashen and told us we had to follow it anyway, until the proper protocol had been addressed to look into the problem. Whenever he turned his back, we had to have "Ram Man's" thumbs inbetween around to the wrong side of his hand to be perfectly "on model."

I swear to God I am not making this up.

It took a couple of weeks, but we were eventually given new "corrected models" and the crew went into overtime to re-do all the incorrect clean up we had been doing in the interim.

If Kafka had ever written pure farce, even he could not have topped FILMATION.

P.S. the original FAT ALBERT characters were done by some very good artists for 2 TV specials that were not done at FILMATION. These are for some reason not available and have not been aired in nearly 30 years. When the subject was sold to TV FILMATION, bastardized the models and the results were...well, typical.

shermboy said...

I worked at Phlemation in the early 70's when things were a hell of a lot looser than they seem to have been in the later years. The animators were all up on the second floor and the writers were on the ground floor right next to the camera room. It was a wild place. When I was there we were on 2 shifts--night and day. I used to rummage through the presentation artwork. It was beautifully drawn stuff. Jim Backus would pull up in front of the building in this old Caddy to record "Gilligan's Planet".

talkingtj said...

ugh! i hate looking at fat albert-those designs were painful to mine eye-i was a ghetto kid and they didnt appeal to me-still dont!

drawingtherightway said...

Hey John I found these Hanna Barbera Layout Notes that are from the 80's.

Steve Hogan said...

Fat Albert has such a serious case of camel toe I feel like I'm looking at "PRECIOUS: THE ANIMATED SERIES"

Whit said...

The original Fat Albert special was animated by a small crew of artists in Bill Cosby's house, where he spent his own money to produce the thing. The designs were so rough and alive they do not resemble anything else ever done anywhere, certainly not what Filmation later did to them once the project went to series.

xynphix said...

It's great to hear these stories from Will Finn about working at Filmation. Thanks.

Besides Bakshi and anything Don Bluth had his hand in, and also maybe a few Nelvana movies, I wish someone could name a cartoon that was better than Fat Albert in the 1970's. It was Bill Cosby in his prime and the man was a comedy genius. Even though the animation was cheap, it surprisingly had a lot of personality compared to anything else from it's time, look at the individual walk cycles.

The premise of the show wouldn't have been acceptable at any other time in history.

Imagine pitching the Fat Albert show to a studio today:

"It's a cartoon about a group of black kids, Dumb Donald, Bucktooth, Mushmouth, Weird Harold etc. they live in a junkyard and the leader of the group is called Fat Albert because he's morbidly obese" then imagine how they'd feel about the drawings, tell me that the network wouldn't be scared to death to put it on TV today, even if it had the most positive message for kids.

I've been hoping that those original 2 non filmation Fat Albert specials would pop up on youtube but no luck so far. Anyone know where to find them?

JLG said...

I've always thought most of the Fat Albert designs are ugly as sin. Fat Albert himself and Russell are okay, but the others---eesh. I can't even recognize them as kids. There's nothing kidlike about them.

But yes, they all had these great walk cycles that are oddly out of place among the stiff, unmoving nature of the rest of the series.


One studio that I've never seen brought up around here is Murakami-Wolf. They made a lot of specials during the 1970s like "The Point" (which I've never seen, but it was a very unusual project). Their animation wasn't the greatest in the world, but it had infinitely more soul than anything the Saturday morning grindhouses were cranking out. Plus there's free agents like Paul Fierlinger. Independents like him don't often come up around here.
Will Finn:

You HAVE to tell us who that cranky old animator was. C'mon! XD

litlgrey said...

I'd like to see you dissect "King of the Hill," John. To me, it was one of the most visually unappealing animated series I have ever borne witness too. I was shocked it ran for eleven years. I've never encountered a series that, if it had been shot live action, would have made no difference at all.

Pokey said...

First, Greetings Will Finn. There was one Fat Albert special and it was released by Warner Bros. IIRC, in any respect they did the similiar 1967 project by the indie studio, "The Door". [NOT a Doors film, though their label Elektra fell under WB umbrella.Speaking of which, Bill Cosby's involvement was same as Paul Stooker of Peter Paul & Mary in the similiar in-house "Norman Normal" - Warner Bros.-7 Arts disc involvement. Don't know if WB released "The Door" to TV after its June 1,1968 theatre release or if they distributed the Fat Albert special. That was done by Ken Mundie, who's noted on 1978's Hanna-Barbera Ga;lxy Goofups.

I've said it before & I will say it again about Filmation: They can be EXPECTED to mess up everything they touch. Like the Care Bears getting early work as posing as Reggie Mantle and Veronica Lodge in the Archies.

xynphix said...

Thanks JLG, I've just found "The Point" on youtube:

Hope John checks it out too. I don't believe he's ever commented on that style.

I remember seeing the Nilsson record but it's the first time I've seen the cartoon. I'd completely forgotten about that style, sort of somewhere between Yellow Submarine and school house rock but more creative. There were some strange animated music videos around at that time too.

JLG said...


At first blush, "King of the Hill" would seem to work in live action, but anyone who knows the series well would tell you that it really wouldn't have. They put across a lot of things on that show that that wouldn't have gone over so well in live action, or would have completely changed the tone of the humor.

Visually, I think they made a mistake early on when they began tp drift away from Mike Judge's drawing style. The first season has a raw, rough charm that's directly reflective of Judge's designs. I can understand why they refined them though---Judge draws these tiny little eyes that are very funny, but that you can't get too many expressions out of. So they refined the faces to get more acting possibilities out of them. Problem is, it took away the visual quirkiness.

I would have been bored to tears if I were an artist working on that series, but I love it to death. It's one of the most well-written series ever to air on TV.

litlgrey said...

Thanks very much, JLG, for engaging me on this topic, and for your insights.

Overall I maintain that the series is more stiffly conservative in its themes and in in its execution than even some live action series on Fox, such as "Arrested Development" and "Married, With Children" in its glory years. There are some aspects to "KOTH" (as [adult swim] calls it) which to me make it visually unappealing, such as in the repetitive limited movements - such as Sgt. Friday-style head nods - and in the peculiar attraction they seemed to have to teeth. I have never seen a cartoon with such weird and meticulous detail to well-defined and delineated teeth. Also, you are are correct about the eyes.

The conservative cartoon style fits the conservative bent of the program: The largest guy is always right, the largest man usually wins, even given his prickly prudishness about physical contact and emotionalism.

The character of "Lucky" was physically grotesque - how that ever got approved beats the hell out of me.
And there's more... I just don't want to hijack this thread unless John starts one on the series himself.

Also, unlike a lot of you here, let me make clear I am neither an animator nor an art student. I don't claim to understand technical ins and outs the way many of you do.

Again, JLG, thank you!

JLG said...


"...such as Sgt. Friday-style head nods"

That reference went over me wi'l head. What are those?

I never noticed the teeth in particular, but thinking about it, they do rather delineate those choppers, don't they? I recall JohnK saying once that he can't fathom why anyone would NOT individualize teeth and opt instead for depicting them as a simple white block (guilty of that over here!), but in this case it might contribute to what he would probably call the "itchy" look.

"The largest guy is always right, the largest man usually wins, even given his prickly prudishness about physical contact and emotionalism."

I wouldn't call Hank the "largest" guy, more like the "control" guy--he's the standard of normal that everyone else gets measured against. Sometimes the show's values get on my nerves, particularly when Hank is shown to be right about issues of emotional propriety, if that wording makes sense. (It's interesting that in the earlier seasons, he was usually shown to be on the WRONG side of those issues.) But when his prudishness is played for laughs, and it usually is, it's one of the funniest things about him, combined with his hopelessly incurable naivete that everyone else is as grounded as he is.

Lucky's grostesqueness was kind of the point---he was supposed to be the guy you don't want your daughter (or niece) bringing home, but turning out to be a "don't judge a book by its cover" case.

My own opinions aside, I can definitely understand why some people would find KOTH visually unappetizing.
(By the way, I wouldn't worry too much about thread hijacking. Seems to me that things often go off on mini tangents.)

litlgrey said...

Okay, JLG, let me just go over your two questions.

The head nods... all the dialogue in "Dragnet" was of a very stylized shorthand. A few things were constant, such as exchanges like "I'll tell you one thing." "What's that?" (Answer was a Webbian platitiude). In normal speech, there would be no unnatural break for the other party to say "What's that?"

The head nods... in the 1960s series, a nod of the head between Friday and Gannon meant they morally approved of something; conversely, a shake of the head meant they disapproved. Hank Hill nods in exactly that same stiff, unatural way.

About being the large guy... check it out sometime: With the exception of the character John Redcorn, every character is depicted as physically shorter than Hank Hill. It's kind of like every movie Ashton Kutcher ever appears in. It strikes me as a kind of a subliminal moral message from the show's producers that the central character - the one most commonly associated with being right at any given time - is the most physically imposing as well. The shorter a male character is in that series, the more they are likely to be a buffoon, from Dale Gribble to Bill Dautreive on down, of course, to Cotton Hill. My contention is, there is an intrinsic value judgment there that I think the producers felt that show's conservative audience would respond to.

John! Feel free to step in and stop us at any time!

JLG said...

Ah, now I know what kind of nod you mean. You know, I never have actually seen "Dragnet." I was, however, a member of the "Mathnet" generation.

Now that I think about it, you're right--Hank is taller than almost everyone else. I'd be surprised if there was any intentional message behind that, though. The somewhat built-in bigotry people tend to have in favor of tall people is a pretty unconscious thing---or at least, it has no allegiances to a conservative worldview, in particular.

But if it bugs you, look at this way---even if Hank's the tallest, he isn't good-looking in your conventional hero sense. As Cotton undiplomatically pointed out once, "Mah GOD, boy, you've got a fat neck!!!"

Whit said...

The one animation studio ideally suited to have done a Jack Webb Dragnet cartoon series - Filmation - never did.

ca60gregory said...

It would have saved them even more on production costs had they simply stopped production altogether!

A lot of this stuff reads like a mission statement from some kind of repressive Dilbertesque telecom company,

if not in content, the tone is close enough to make my skin crawl.

Mykal said...

John: I have been enjoying the 1950s comic book work of Otto Feuer. I notice in his bio that he worked for Filmation during the 70s and early 80s. I know that your opinion of Filmation is (ahem) not high. I was wondering if you had an opinion of Mr. Feuer and his work, realizing that he may have been just before your time at the studio. Thanks. -- Mykal

Pokey said...

xynphix said:

The style of course is a matter of taste but I've always personally thought the Fat Albert kids were the most creative and original designs on TV at the time. I'm dying to know what John K fans think without first hearing John say his thoughts. I hope this subject gets a lot of responses and hopefully John will give his opinion in a couple of days after more comments are built up.

1 more thing to add......I fully expect to get lynched by people on this blog for praising the fat Albert kid's bring it on!!"

Was this an April Fool's joke Xynphix?

They were without a doubt the most STUPID designs Filmation or ANYONE EVER came up with.

Rationalizing ANYthing [=sic] Filmation is like defending a dog turd. I hated the Fat Albert designs then and I hate them now.


wendog said...

Hey y'all. I think somewhere here said it, but one of the original artist's was Ken Mundie. You can see his work from his latest film here:

In his 80's he is about as anti-establishment as you can get and a true inspiration.