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.