Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Flintstone Flyer - Carlo Vinci

Hi folks, the frame grabs and clip here aren't really good examples of what I talk about in this post. We just haven't had time to grab them all yet. If you have the cartoon go watch it!

Marc and Marlo and I were watching 1st season Flintstones the other night, looking for clips and frame grabs to honor Ed's memory and I noticed something that never quite struck me before.

We watched The Flintstone Flyer-the one where Barney invents a stone age helicopter and Fred thinks it's worth millions so he partners with Barney and of course they screw everything up.

The plot is a perfect combination of a live action sitcom and a cartoon. It's mostly sitcom but has many cartoon reactions and impossible things that for some reason you just accept, even though Fred and Barney are basically adult human characters.

The whole episode is animated by one guy-an amazing feat!

Carlo Vinci was an animator at Terrytoons for almost 30 years before he left to join Hanna Barbera at MGM studios in the late 50s. When Bill and Joe opened up their TV studio in 1957/58 Carlo went with them. Incidentally, Carlo was the one who taught Joe Barbera to animate in the early 1930s!

This is the crazy thing I noticed about Carlo's work while watching The Flintstone Flyer. I know his work really well. He did great unique full animation at Terrytoons for decades. The directors always gave him the difficult scenes. His specialty was animating dancing, which for most animators is really hard. Carlo must have animated 1,000 intricate dances during his time at Terry. He also animated all those sexy little girl mice that tried to seduce Mighty Mouse. He used really unique gestures and poses-sort of awkward unbalanced poses and the characters' wrists always bent in opposite directions. He didn't ever rely on whatever the current style of posing and expression was for each decade, as the Disney and Tom and Jerry animators did. However there is a really big difference between what he did for Terry and what he did for HB.

Terrytoons were fully animated, using from 12 to 24 drawings per second - luxury animation by today's standards. Hanna Barbera of course used severely "limited animation" which averaged maybe 4 drawings per second after you figure in all the reused cycles and dialogue scenes.

You would think this restriction on the quantity of drawings would restrict the quality of the cartoon and usually it does but when you watch the Flintstone Flyer (and other 1st season Flintstones) you will see something that hardly ever happened in classic fully animated cartoons-not during the Golden Age and certainly not now in the huge budgeted animated features churned out by the big 3 studios.

Natural, believable acting:
Fred and Barney act like real people. They make expressions that real people do. They have head and hand gestures that perfectly describe how they are feeling at every unique moment in the story.

Carlo doesn't rely at all on stock animation acting. He animates the Flintstones as if he were animating his friends and neighbors from down the street. This is an incredible feat! We take it for granted because the Flintstones just seem real and we instantly accept it, but considering how animators were trained to animate acting in very unnatural styles for decades, it's amazing that an animator can just break out of habit and animate a new style and using far fewer drawings! At Terrytoons he was never called upon to do any real acting.

I can tell you I know from 20 years of experience that very few animators can draw natural expressions or draw in different styles. Disney animators draw Disney expressions and animate Disney gestures. I used some Disney animators or Cal Arts animators on various projects-including Ren and Stimpy and they just couldn't draw the characters. They kept turning them into Disney/Cal Arts characters-they would draw the eyes like Don Bluth and use the same expressions they had already drawn a thousand times before that no one ever complained about. "No no!" I'd say, "This is Ren, not Mowgli! He isn't constructed like that-his eyes are a different shape and he has a different personality!"
2 exceptions were Mark Kausler and Greg Manwaring who did great funny and specific animation for me.
And of course, Bob Jaques and Kelly Armstrong always do fantastic custom animation. But these people are rare.

So for me to watch an early Flintstones and be laughing all through it at the funny acting and reacting of these completely believable characters is very impressive.

An interesting elaboration: I know many animators who themselves have really funny unique mannerisms and I always try to encourage them to put them in their cartoons. You would think this would be an easy and natural thing to do. It isn't. Hardly any animators can draw what they actually feel. As soon as they sit down to animate, they jump to a different part of their brain that stores all their animation knowledge. They summon up poses and gestures and moves that they have done a million times, then actually act out a standard generic "cartoon" expression with their face, rather than just draw how they themselves act in real life. You know those famous photos of Disney animators looking in mirrors and making wacky expressions as they draw? This is publicity designed to make you think they act everything out naturally first, then copy what they see in the mirror.

It's actually the opposite situation. They act everything out as if they were already animated cartoon characters themselves, rather than specific humans. Watching grown men act like Mickey Mouse is the weirdest thing ever.

Carlo Vinci was a middle aged fat guy when he animated the Flintstones. A regular kind of guy who drank beer, watched football, lusted after pretty girls. He probably knew all kinds of characters in real life and used his observations of them in these super low budget cartoons.

The Flintstones is to me by far the best animated sitcom in history. The characters are completely believable. The animation is customized and not predictable as even most full animation is. The acting is funny, many of the story situations are funny, the designs are beautiful and they still have room left over for cartoon jokes.

Oh and of course the voices are great-in those days they used real voice actors, people from radio, who had to have distinct sounding voices and great acting and delivery. That certainly helped the animators.

The Flintstones blows away the excuse I hear over and over today for why TV animation is so bland. The excuse of not enough money. Todays' prime time animated sitcoms have more money than God and should put some of it towards the drawings and animation.

Ed Benedict , 1912-2006

This looks like a caricature of Ed. So does the guy in Tex Avery's Field and Scream.

It's amazing to me that a guy with such a crusty exterior can make drawings this cute!

Well I have some really sad news today. Ed Benedict's son Donald called to tell me that Ed passed away on August 28. He was 94.

Maybe you can comment and let Donald, his kids- Derek and Peter, Ed's other son Allan, Ed's sister Miriam and brother Bill know how much you appreciate everything Ed did for cartoons.

Ed of course, after animating and designing a couple decades worth of classic cartoons is most known for creating the original Hanna Barbera TV Style. Ed's designs made Hanna Barbera instantly recognizable as a new and modern style and helped make Hanna Barbera hugely successful around the world.

These frame grabs are from the original 1960 season of the Flintstones. Ed did all the character and background layouts. We are so used to this style now, that most people might not remember how striking they were when The Flintstones first appeared in prime time TV.

By the way, these background paintings are great, aren't they? I think they are painted by Art Lozzi. I wish I knew more about the guy. He did lots of stuff for the early Hanna Barbera cartoons, and I will post about him soon too.

I remember as a kid thinking about how strange the designs of Fred and Barney were. They were futuristic even though they were cavemen. Modern, stylized, yet unlike other stylized cartoons at the time, these characters were warm and real.

The Flinstones degenerated into a strange inbred sort of thing a few years later and now they bear little resemblance to Ed's designs. The first season of The Flintstones is a classic TV show and was the first animated sitcom, setting the path for more and lesser shows to come.

I have a million funny stories about Ed. I first met him in the mid 80's when Lynne Naylor, Bob Jaques and I went on a trek to northern California to meet him. He was a super curmudgeon who couldn't believe anyone even knew who he was, let alone loved his cartoons. We brought up tapes of his work for Tex Avery, his Hanna Barbera cartoons and he was completely disgusted by them! But then he demanded copies of them all so he could write me letters telling me everything that was wrong with them.

Over the last couple decades I kept visiting him and rifling all his files of fantastic cartoon drawings he did for cartoons, commercials and comic strips. He also would show me lots of photos he took of the MGM studios in the 1950s. He would point to an animator and tell me all about him. "See that guy with the suave mustache? That's Ken Muse, a nice guy, a real slick operator. Couldn't draw worth a crap! Hanna loved him cause he could really 'pump out the footage'! But a good guy to go bowling with, one of the guys." (By the way the animation in this clip is by Ken Muse! Ken really watered down Ed's designs and poses-I remember recognizing his style as a kid and thinking of him as the 'bland animator'.)

Ed had a great collection of Golden Books and magazine illustrations and we would pour over them and he'd give me all kinds of design theories.

Every time we visited we would watch old cartoons. Ed loved UPA and Disney (he pronounced it "Dissney".) He didn't think anyone else did anything else worthwhile and we had some great arguments. He would sometimes put his fists up and threaten to beat some sense into me. He had a huge pointy tuft of grey hair sticking out of his chest and it would stand erect and fill with blood when he was in scrapping mode.

It's funny, 'cause he would crab all weekend about everything and then when we'd leave he'd be all choked up, which would always kill us. He was the soft-hearted curmudgeon.

I showed him a bunch of Clampett cartoons and he was amazed at how wild and inventive they were. "Damn ugly though!"

He could still draw really well into his eighties and I got him to do many background layouts for Boo Boo Runs Wild and Day In The Life Of Ranger Smith. After we finished the cartoons and brought them up to show him, he stared at me for about five minutes getting madder and madder. He said, "Well there was some funny stuff and really inventive things in there, but why in Hell can't you draw on model?!"

Ed and his wife Alice (who passed away a few years ago) used to watch Ren and Stimpy together and actually became big fans of it to my surprise and delight.

Ed is one of the true giants of animation. I think he was the greatest character designer in the whole history of the medium.

He was a wonderful guy to boot and always lots of fun to hang out with. I had an awful day yesterday after I got the news. I sure am gonna miss him.

Uploaded by chuckchillout8

I have lots of interviews I did with him on tape. I need someone to transcribe them though. Anyone out there do that? Preferably in LA.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

JB and KG, 6

Sorry I haven't said much in the last posts and haven't put up much variety. I'm busy on a music video. I'll put up more animals soon and some Chuck Jones scenes with an explanation of what makes a good layout: How to compose characters and backgrounds together. Jones was the best ever at this, I think.

Tenacious pencil roughs, 3

Friday, August 25, 2006

more animal crowds

Thursday, August 24, 2006