Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Spumco Production System Step By Step

Of course, none of this will work if the people aren't qualified to do the jobs. You need talent, skill and experience doing functional jobs that complement everyone else's functions.
The director supervises and follows through all the steps below.

I use the classic method of writing for cartoons. My "scripts" are actually much more detailed than any modern animated script. They include, not only the dialogue and plot-but also all the staging and cuts and some of the acting. Cartoon scripts are called "storyboards". They are far more suited to telling a story than scripts are, because they use all the advantages that drawing has over live-action.


1 ) Story Premise

Someone comes up with a short basic idea for a cartoon and writes up a paragraph or 2 describing it. We send that to the network or I pitch it on the phone. Once it is approved, I assign the story to a writer to write the outline. The writers are artists who can write. Many times, the writer of the outline will also storyboard the cartoon. That's the ideal situation.



2) Story Outline




More often than not, as I have meetings with the story team, I draw lots of sketches of the gags and scenes. The outline writer collects the sketches, puts them in order and adds them to the written outline.

3) Storyboard

The storyboard artist is an artist who can tell a story in words and pictures. He takes the outline and fills out the details of all the gags and action, working with the director. He also adds dialogue.

He draws rough and reviews the material every couple days with the director. The director suggest changes, adds his own drawings and they build up the story bit by bit, sculpting it into a filmic story.

Once the board artist hands in his story, I usually finalize the dialogue and make changes to get all the characters in character.







Transcribe Dialogue from storyboard into a dialogue script.

I direct and record the dialogue with the actors. There is no separate "voice director".

Animatic -

Storyboard Assembly-

Generally I have been making the animatics once the cartoon is finished storyboarding, but I think it's better to make the animatic as the story progresses.

This should avoid writing and drawing a story that is too long.


I choose the music for each sequence as the animatic is being worked on the animatic person times the cuts and actions to the music with the director reviewing every couple days.


We also overlap the cutting of the sfx with the cutting of the music. This can either be done by the sake person assembling the animatic, or by a separate sfx person who has an ear for sound.

sample animatic: THE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE


During every drawing step of production, the artists have a tendency to tone down what the previous artists drew. This wastes a lot of money and time and needs a method to keep it from happening.

I need a person whose job it is to follow every scene through the production to make sure this doesn't happen.





Main Setups Designed - Supervising Layout Artist/Designer

These are designed by a supervising layout artist/designer. He takes the main sequences and draws a setup showing where everyone and everything is in relationship to each other.
(I'll have to find samples of these)

Director Layout Handout

The director hands out a sequence to a layout artist. He gives him the main setup. He explains the scenes and story and draws quick sketches of the actions and acting.
The layout artist then takes the director's sketches and draws the scenes.

Layout Artist- Plan Setups - Make Scene/reuse list


Before he starts doing the actual drawing, he plans his section for reuse. He separates the scenes in the storyboard into long shots, close ups, special angles etc. He makes a list of what scenes use the same setups as earlier scenes.



Once the L.O. artist has his scenes planned he draws them. He should be able to complete between 5 and 10 scenes per week if the section is difficult. If there is a lot of re-use, he can do more.




Layout Artist Adds Poses That Aren't In The Storyboard:


Inking / Clean up

If the production is to be finished digitally, it makes sense to have an artist ink all the layout poses on the computer.



Character Design:

Main Series characters are designed in pre production - but are constantly supplemented by the best layout poses as the series gets underway.


Main guest characters are rough designed before storyboard and layout.

Main guest model sheets are made from poses in the layouts.

Prop Design:

Only important props are designed before layout:
Like if a certain vehicle is used all through a cartoon, or a certain device.

Incidental props designed by Layout artist - and then P.A. collects layouts, finds props, has them inked and made into models.


Nothing drives me more crazy than seeing the production department compile 10 inch high stacks of model packs to send overseas or to each department. In general the layouts are the models for my cartoons. It's a waste of time and money to make giant stacks of model sheets.

Incidental characters per episode:

Main incidental characters designed before layout starts.

Some characters designed in Layout and then use layout poses for a model pack if we really need a model pack.

BG Design:

A BG designer designs key BGs in stages:

1) Roughs working with director
2) Finals- actual layouts to be used in the film. If there are characters in the scenes, he draws the BGs so that there is room for action.

BG Color Key


BG Painting




The biggest creative problem in animation today is that we don't do it. It's all done overseas (or in Flash) and both systems lead inevitably to cartoons that don't use animation as part of the entertainment. It's made the whole TV industry devolve into a visual art form that isn't visual.

Historically, when animation is done overseas it causes more problems and expense than it is worth.
90% of the studios throw out the drawings we send them and don't use the timing. Even when they use the drawings, they time them so badly that the action floats from pose to pose and you never see the poses.

All this causes endless delays for retakes and wastes the director's time and energy.

I would much rather use less animation and do it all here. All they really do in most service studios is inbetween the layouts anyway. There are a couple of exceptional studios but they are not always available.

Assistant Animation:

Same problems as above.

Flash style animation:

It stinks. No matter how you try to hide it, the animation looks like cut outs floating across the screen.


Post Production:

Final Edit





Title Sequence
sound effects-foley
learning curves


RooniMan said...

It's a good, sensable, production system, aside from the problems with the oversea studios.

Luis María Benítez said...

Thanks a lot for this post. I'll study it!

Scrawnycartoons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
He-Sick Sailor said...

I don't know why the studio system would skip out on the funnest part of the production system animating! It seems that the most popular cartoons are either sent overseas or abuse the limited animation technique. To me most studios have a twisted view on the production on how to make a decent animated cartoon.

Spumco's now defunct, and all the other companies aren't improving so when will their be another studio that finally gets it?

Guy Cx said...

Thanks a lot for the post, John!

The "Life Sucks" animatic looks absolutely awesome! I'm creating an animatic for a college work right now, and had very little idea of how to do it. Now I understand how it's done.

Iron maiden said...

hmmm I thought people say that its more expensive doing animation over here then it is doing overseas?

Ryan G. said...

Wow. This is great.

GoldDarkShadow said...

This is a great post, Mr. K , and I'll put these in my notes, but your right about flash and the line quality when inking animation. It doesn't work to well.

Martin Juneau said...

I hope to see more real cartoons done by real animators than machines like the ones from overseas studios we watch since years. Unfortunnately, too much peoples i know can't make the difference between a in-house animated cartoon and overseas TV stuffs made cheap and fast.

Even Japanese and Europpean animation have now their animations more cheaper and worthless, so it don't give a chance to animators and viewers to try enjoying their works.

Alberto said...

oh man... it's been an hour and i'm only half way done. Thanks so much for posting this, having fun reading all these articles.

kurtwil said...

Very informative and thorough post here, JK. Thanks for sharing!

Unfortunately, the computer's here to stay. The trick's to find software workflows that build on these concepts and processes.
Yet for most software vendors, animation remains a niche market and gets little support.
Unlimited Energee, the aussie house I helped, had a rough ride because while it could digitally ink/paint stuff some clients liked (SPUMCO was not one of them, unfortunately - yeah, we tested for them!!), major inefficiencies in the pipeline happened because the software failed at simple animation tasks (challenges: fill a shape without jags or halos. Time animation without an exposure sheet. Scan and pan an animation drawing 96 fields wide).

JK, you and associates should go to SIGGRAPH or NAB and talk your heads off to the few vendors actually making or sincerely interested in true animation software (Linker Systems, Toon Boom, etc.). I'll bet you'll find tools that will bolster your production processes and bring some of that runaway animation back to the USA!

J C Roberts said...

A very wise and learned system indeed. It's such a shame we'll probably never see it implemented in any mainstream productions. All the methods that ruin animation are either here to stay or destined to be replaced with worse. Artists and directors don't have a say in the process unless they're footing the bill, and when is that ever going to happen?

I do hope many of the people coming here to read these words or wisdom and sage advice will be able to make a dent in the industry someday, but after 30 years of watching what I aspired to cheapened, marginalized and shipped off to foreign service studios (not to mention how much live action is taking over the only channel that ever tried to showcase cartoons) I've got a pretty hard shell of disillusionment to get around.

I keep trying for some reason, but it feels like no matter what, I'll get no further than YouTube with it. For those of you filled with ideas and aspirations, pay no attention to that bitter man behind the curtain of grumbling. Go change things up if you can, you've got a great blueprint for how it should be done here.

drawingtherightway said...

I like these kinds of posts! It really goes into the way cartoons should be produced.

Anonymous said...

I like how sensible your production system is. It's unfortunate how so much animation has to be outsourced to either Japan or Korea though, especially when so much of it can be done in the United States or even just in North America. Just look at what Hanna-Barbera was doing for the first few years of making cartoons to see that idea in action.

Thiago Levy said...

Thank you!!! I was waiting on this one! They were there before, but you had then scattered around. Now I got to spread it out to my coworkers.

Anonymous said...

John, back when you were first involved with flash cartoons did you follow this or were there changes due to software? I've been curious to hear about your process on flash and maybe those would make good blog posts on here, especially now that it's gone a whole different direction from it's animation days. What is the future of animation today? Does flash still hold up? I've actually been experimenting with html5, javascript and CSS to produce animation on the ipad/iphone.

JohnK said...

I think Flash is doomed to extinction. I like Harmony/Toon Boom a lot better. It makes more sense and is easier to use.

Elana Pritchard said...

This post is AMAZING. Thank you so much for breaking it all down. You rule so hard.

BTW flash IS doomed- just watch. It is a trend that simply won't be able to stand up to quality (if and when it is presented).

nick said...

If studios choose not to redraw things that isn't because flash won't let them.

Rob Mortimer said...

This is great stuff to read for someone who loves cartoons and animation but didn't know much about the process until recently.

It's interesting how I see comments about studios cutting costs by sending animation abroad like it is only a modern things. It's as if the Gene Deitch Tom and Jerry shorts never happened.

Paul B said...

Hi John!

I have a question: Do you use the X-Sheet in the Layout process or after?