Tuesday, March 16, 2010

80s Development Liar

Here's Percy Pimplepuss from a presentation I drew for TMS thousands of years ago.
Percy has a condition. He tends to swell and fill with viscous fluids.
But then comes release.

And relaxation.THE 80S WAS A BIZARRE TIME
I worked in just about every animation department in the 1980s but the job I liked best (before I ever sold my own ideas) was being a "development artist". This job is kind of a lie because you are doing drawings mainly to impress someone into buying a show. You don't have to do the drudgery of drawing every pose in a storyboard or layout on a boring show - or have to waste hours unscrambling some sloppy writer's ill-thought out script before you even start drawing.

A development artist makes a few drawings and renders them up all nice (these are crappy color xeroxes so you can't really see the details) in a way that they will never look on screen. This is to impress the network execs into hopefully buying the show. Once they do, then the studio redesigns everything stiffer and blander, and ships all the work off to a third world country who burns it out as fast as possible. When it comes back and the network sees it, they ask, "Why doesn't the show look like the presentation?". The studios never say "Because you can't do rendering on cels." or "Because you paid us so little we had to ship it to the cheapest fastest animation studio on the planet" or "Because we have a different department called 'character design' whose artists are not as good as our presentation artists, and they redesign everything to make it 'animateable' and stiff."

Anyway, as development artists, we didn't have to worry about practical realities. We were just supposed to trick someone into thinking a show might look good if they paid for it. We did a lot less drawings than production artists, but spent more time on each one and actually got to be somewhat creative- although we knew not to expect the shows to have anything to do with what we drew. That was baffling to me, but at least it wasn't so stressful as working in a studio on what should be a real job and knowing it's all going to end up awful anyway.
These were from a presentation for a cartoon show based on "The Garbage Pail Kids". I knew from the beginning that even after somewhat toning down all the gross stuff that the show would never sell, but CBS really wanted to develop it - because the bubble gum cards were a huge hit with kids.

In the 80s, networks would only buy new cartoon shows that were based on already-successful characters in other mediums. They wouldn't buy brand-new creations from cartoonists. - That was considered "too-risky". This was before Ren and Stimpy, Rugrats and "Doug" established the trendy "Creator-Driven" fad of the 90s and put Saturday morning cartoons practically out of business.

When the kids in the 80s went nuts for Garbage Pail Kids cards, the networks had just discovered that kids liked gross stuff. Amazing.

But they couldn't really bring themselves to take the money by doing the show. They paid for the development and then rejected the show and the potentially huge ratings that were sure to come.
These look so mild to me now, but were considered really radical in the 80s.


The SM execs of the 80s never understood why the finished shows had nothing to do with the presentation that tricked them into buying it. They were at least smart enough to see the difference. But they were ignorant of the actual production process at an animation studio, so had no idea that every step of the assembly line was designed to tone down and blanderize the idea.

I knew what was happening because I saw it ever day. I realized that it didn't matter what you started with on a cartoon. It only matters what you end with.

Most people think a show is good or bad based on how good or bad the "idea" is-whatever an "idea" is. Ideas are only good if there is a production system that not only allows them to end up on the screen, but encourages them to improve and evolve along the production line. That didn't exist then, existed for a short time here and there in the 90s and has since disappeared.

Well that's a subject for another day.


Toby said...

Whenever I hear someone promoting this 'idea'-centric view, how their theoretical, thumbnailed vision of this project was so, so great and now they can boo hoo hoo about its execution, I always go to the same example:

Terry Gilliam was the man that J.K. Rowling wanted to make all the Harry Potter movies.


Can you imagine the beautiful junk-things? The talking pianos? the crumbling mansions?

It would have been the great masterpiece of art direction, so we can stand and weep for all the great ideas we ever had that never made it into the real world, or get on to the next thing, and try to actually ship something brilliant.

drawingtherightway said...

My brother and me used to have some Garbage Pail kids cards when we were kids in the 80's. According to wikipedia, the makers of the cabbage patch kids sued Topps. Topps had to change the designs of the characters so that they didn't look like the cabbage patch kids.

Elana Pritchard said...

Wow that is amazing about the Terry Gilliam thing...what a shame.

John- that job must have been fun, even if the whole system was screwed up.

Austin Papageorge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iron maiden said...

hey john

are network executives more skeptical on buying shows now ?or back then ,since you said that the creator driven cartoons lasted for a short time In the 90's what made them changed there minds?

Craig Something said...

They did make a live action Garbage Pail Kids movie though. Haven't seen it yet but its probably hilariously bad.

Kevin said...

Hi John,

I was wondering if you'd still be interested in starting a
private animation school? I have a meeting with the Irish Enterprise Board
and they would like to discuss possible proposals to launch an
animation industry in Ireland again,especially after the success of
"The secret of Kells" getting nominated at the Oscars.

I was originally proposing the idea to make more 2d animated feature
films,but then I rememered your posts on your blog.I
know I don't know you,but would it be ok if I mention your name and
what you have been writing on your blog?If they like the proposal,free rent for a premises is not uncommon.

looking forward to hopefully hearing from you,

Kevin Harte

RooniMan said...

Indeed, the 80's we're a bizzare time.

Clean3d said...

This post makes me curious... did you ever start off with a really bad idea and make it into a good cartoon? (when you were creating Ren and Stimpy that is - I gather this didn't happen in the situation you describe here...)

JohnK said...

It takes a lot of good ideas, not just "an idea" to make something good.

Then it takes intelligent coordinated execution.

Now that Networks are allowed to have their own in-house studios- an idea that should be and used to be illegal, we'll never have either.

Chip Butty said...

I adored Garbage Pail Kids. These are a treat to see.

yawn said...

Too bad the garbage pail kid's cartoon, they did eventually release didn't look anything like the cards. Had the show used those conceptual drawings, it would've just as succesful as the bubblegum cards.

Mykal said...

I still think Johnnie Outie and Lynie Innie look pretty radical. -- Mykal

fruityth1ng said...

Wow. Blast from the past, I grew up with those, had the t-shirt and, at 12/13 ish, me and my buddy even drew our own set of (even grosser) garbage pail kids, on cut up snippets of paper an inch square. We ended up with quite a pack, and quite low grades for the classes we were supposed to follow :D

Your idea VS production chain observation rings golden true for game development, too, by the way. Though I've been lucky to work with game designers that listened fairly well (fairly... ;) to input from Quality Assurance or User Interface colleagues, I can really relate to the need for an open structure in any collaborative creative process.

Freckled Derelict said...

Oh Man the weight lifter she-male is fantastic!
BTW I LOVE that New adventures of Mighty Mouse episode where you make fun of the current Saturday Morning stiff junk on tv. "Nothing Rare or Well Done" So great!
I'm so amazed you got away with the stuff you did on that show.
Genius. You should do an entire animated movie based on all your Ralph Bakshi Stories,(Like Firedogs 2) It would be phenomenal!

John said...

I remember seeing the commercials for The Garbage Pail Kids Saturday morning show for a month! I was so excited to see it, considering I was 8 years old and an obsessed Garbage Pail Kids collector. Then, when scheduled to premiere, in the TV Guide and everything, it did not happen. There were even commercials for it that morning before the scheduled slot, but something else aired in its place. Always a huge mystery to me! Thanks, John!

JLG said...

You know, I actually really love that color xerox look. Sorta like getting an "aged film" look for your drawings without using Photoshop.

"They were at least smart enough to see the difference."

Kinda surprising, but mildly cheering. Mildly.

"...the networks had just discovered that kids liked gross stuff. Amazing."

Nah. It just finally stopped being possible to deny it anymore. XD

"a presentation I drew for TMS"

I'm a little confused. I thought that foreign studios like TMS were just the hired animation hands who carried out the Americans' orders, so to speak. I would have thought American development artists would have been drawing presentations for American companies, who then shipped the watered-down blandstrosities TO places like TMS.* (?)

*Speaking of TMS, John, I'm curious if you've ever seen any of the 1971 "Lupin III" series, and if there's anything about it you like.

JohnK said...

TMS was trying to break into the American market in the 80s. They sold a couple original shows: The Mighty Orbots and Galaxy High. I'm not sure if they sold any more.

Trevor Thompson said...

Hey John, what do you think of the quality of MAD Magazine in the 80s?

BadIdeaSociety said...

Hey John,

I rather liked TMS's productions in the US. I know they weren't all that cartoony, but they seemed to be creating a lot of "original" material in a decade where -- as you said -- every production had to be an existing brand.

If only they were allowed to animate violence. How could there be decades of superhero and scifi cartoons where nobody ever lands a punch on each other?

I'm sure people have suggested this idea before, but you should write a two part book:

Part 1) Autobiography about your life as an animator. Introduce your influences, your ambitions and the reality of the industry when you started working for the big companies.

Get people angry about the studios and excited about cartoons so they are ready for

Part 2) A Somewhat Detailed How-to Design Cartoons Guide.

I suppose this content has been on this blog for free, but organizing it into a book could make it textbook-ready and distributing it as a coffee table book could make your animation theories more widely known and understood to the people who grew up loving the Looney Tunes and Popeye cartoons and hating feature-length Disney cartoons, this could reignite their passions.

James said...

Just saying, I loved the garbage pail kids as a kid. I still do. The art was really interesting, and once in a while, you'd come across a funny one.

Tim said...

Galaxy High turned out very well, and that was an original concept, was it not? I would love you to do a blog-post on your Galaxy High experiences, Mr. Kricfalusi.

Very interesting story about Garbage Pail kids. Thank you for yet another insightful post.

Kawks! said...

If you hate it, more then likely your kids will love it.

Good read, thanks. I believe I could be developing some class because of your posts....

Maybe not..

pappy d said...

'Sorry if that was inappropriate to the venue. I'd fix it but the metaphor is just as nasty with asterisks in it.

John Pannozzi said...

"Now that Networks are allowed to have their own in-house studios- an idea that should be and used to be illegal, we'll never have either."

But the glory days of Cartoon Network (and even a few of their more recent shows, like Chowder and Flapjack) are something of exception, right?

ca60gregory said...

I never saw anything about a Garbage Pail Kids cartoon in the 80s, But I clearly remember the live action movie they tried to make.

I wonder if anyone else ever saw it, one of the most remarkably terrible things I'd ever experienced, and that includes all the filmation stuff John has posted.

champloo said...

cartoon network had the "What a cartoon! show" and that was amazing

Kristen McCabe said...

I LOVE all the artwork in the post. You just made my day.