Thursday, February 15, 2007

Yogi Bear "Pie Pirates", 1958, Frank Tipper, Yard To Far, Bob Camp and friends, Story Structure

Boo Boo had a different voice in the first cartoon. It was nasally.

Watch Boo Boo with a cold....

During the summer break between season 1 and 2 of Ren and Stimpy, I asked the Nickelodeon folks to let me keep my key artists on so I could have some training classes to improve all our skills, so that we could up the quality for the second season. To my amazement, they agreed!
One of the classes I had was on Story Structure. I firmly believed that cartoonists should write cartoons and had convinced Nickelodeon of it. Not every cartoonist can write of course, but only cartoonists should write cartoons - just as only dancers can "write" (choreograph) dances, musicians can write music and sculptors can "write" sculptures.

I had a few cartoonists who were really funny, and those were the ones that had written the first season of Ren and Stimpy, because they could come up with a lot of gags. I found, though that I ended up having to structure all the stories, making them make sense, making them build, making the characters seem motivated and writing the dialogue so it seemed like each character spoke in his own style.

Some of the funniest cartoonists at the first Spumco were Bob Camp, Jim Smith, Jim Gomez, Vincent Waller and Rich Pursel. That was my main writing team, but almost every other artist contributed gags and ideas all through the production (almost all cartoonists are funny and I never turn down a good gag if it's in character), and now and then I would let an artist from another department do storyboards. BG painter Bill Wray did the board for Powdered Toastman and added lots of gags that weren't in the outline; "Cling tenaciously to my buttocks!" made me fall on the floor laughing. Chris Reccardi killed me with "You're next! Meeester Doggie Treeeeat!" in Man's Best Friend.

So even though you might have raw story and gag talent, you still need to know the skills of writing. Some are general, and some are specific to cartoons. Sometimes my writers would have Stimpy do things that were more suited to Ren, or the dialogue would seem just expositional, or the gags would not build, they would put the best gag first and follow with weaker gags of the same kind, I wanted to develop everyone's technical writing skills.

During the first class I held on story structure, I picked a cartoon to screen that was very simple and direct. It was the first Yogi Bear cartoon: Pie Pirates. I made everyone watch it and then write a story outline of what the point of the story was, what the characters' motivations were, what their personalities were and then to list each story point and gag in order.

IMPORTANT POINT: I didn't choose this cartoon because it was the funniest cartoon in the world or had the greatest animation. I chose it specifically because it was so simple that it was easy to analyze. The story is clear and doesn't have random twists and turns. All the gags are true to the premise of the cartoon and they build. Period.

I believe when you are learning anything, you should start with learning the simplest fundamental steps. If you want to dance, you don't start by studying Fred Astaire. You study Bill Robinson with a teacher who can break down his steps for you.

That's why I recommend Preston Blair to everyone who wants to draw cartoons. It has the same fundamentals that Bambi or Sleeping Beauty has, but they are easier to see in simple characters. You can't learn to animate by starting on a walk cycle using Aurora's design! (I know this from direct experience!)

"Pie Pirates" (1958)

The story was about a big conniving, lazy but lovable bear and his nervous goody goody sidekick who are hungry.
They smell a freshly baked pie,look over a fence and see it cooling on a window ledge. Yogi wants to steal it, Boo Boo thinks it's a bad idea, but goes along with it.
The only problem is, there is a big mean guard dog in the yard and Yogi will have to get past the dog to get the pie, and most of the gags are about Yogi trying to outwit the dog to get to the pie. A typical situational short cartoon premise with an easy motivation that you can build gags on.

"A Yard Too Far" (1993)

After everyone wrote up their outlines, I think I then asked them to come up with a simple structure of their own. I actually don't remember. I do remember this whole exercise studying a Yogi Bear cartoon tortured Eddie!

At a story session later, we were talking about Pie Pirates and I said, "Let's take the plot of Pie Pirates and just replace all the elements but leave the same structure!"

We replaced Yogi and Boo Boo with Ren and Stimpy.

We replaced the pie with a plate of steaming hog jowls.

The bulldog was replaced by a baboon in the yard.

Bob Camp did hilarious drawings of the baboon!

Bob Camp did the storyboard and this was a cartoon at Spumco, but it got produced at "Games" the first version of the Nickelodeon studio.

Here are more images from Pie Pirates.
I think we left this guy out.

It's a very limited animation cartoon-not even any inbetweens! But it's animated by Mike Lah and looks very Tex Avery-ish. Mike was an animator for Tex at MGM and when Tex left, he became the director for his unit. I don't mind limited animation if it has good posing, and I have a special affection for this cartoon. I love the rings around Yogi's eyes too!

And more images from A Yard Too Far.


Pat McMicheal said...

Hog Jowls...who ever thought of THAT...the visual(on the plate) from that episode still crax me up!

Jeremy said...

the simplest stories seem to be the best!

Paul B said...


Never relate the cartoon of yogi with the ren and stimpy, now I realize.

just in case, the pie pirates cartoon is in you tube, there is also more yogi cartoons




Sean Worsham said...

Whoa John,

What did you think of the results Games came up with in the end? Did you at least think the drawings were good? I remember liking bits and parts of "A Yard Too Far" (I especially liked the part where the Baboon marries Ren's hand and does indescribable things to it behind closed doors). But the result felt uneven in the end for some reason.

It's been a few years since I last viewed it (make it nearly 13 years) but the short did have it's moments.

John_Fountain said...

See, this is why I like to refer to myself as a 'cartoonist' as opposed to 'director' or 'animator' or any of the more specific titles... to me, 'cartoonist' implies that you are a storyteller in the cartoon medium. At it's core, that's what animated filmmaking is: storytelling. Everyone involved in the animation pipeline is a part of the storytelling process. For example, a designer might give a character five-o'clock-shadow and that design element helps tell this guy's story. Few people appreciate what it means to be a good storyteller. I've known great writers who were horrible storytellers. Learning to be a good storyteller is at the heart of animation.

JohnK said...

Hi Sean

I only saw the cartoon once or twice. I had mixed feelings about it.

The baboon drawings were great.

I had done a lot of the intial sketches for the Ren and Stimpy gags and thought the way they were translated looked mean, rather than funny-even though technically there was a lot of good stuff in it.

I like to draw the characters cute-even when Ren is insane there is a pitiful cute element in him and they never captured that at Games.

Anonymous said...

That shot of the baboon running always cracks me up. I never knew the story behind 'A Yard Too Far'. It's interesting to see how you guys took a generic cartoon plot, made it funny and totally bizarre.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Aaaargh! I can't stand this cartoon! Watching it is like having my eyes stabbed with icepicks!

John does terrific work in the Hanna Barbera style because he's making fun of it and because he's able to extract the structural gold from the ore. I wish I was able to look at it with the same innocense and enthusiasm. H&B looked great on cereal boxes, off-model toys and Golden Books and, yes, Ed Benedict and Carlo Vinci were brilliant, but the studio cartoons averaged out over the life of the studio were an abomination.

I apologize for not answering to the points John made in the post, which I admit were objectively valid, but this is a subject I simply cannot be objective about. I'll add that John paid us all a salary to study these cartoons and analyze the styles of artists like Milt Gross and Owen Fitzgerald. What other modern studio owner would have done that?

Max Ward said...

Who wrote the line "It's discipline that begets love!"

It was probably you. That line killed me.

Shawn said...

So when do we get to see Vincent Waller's version of this cartoon, "Hair Pie Pirates"?

Rogelio T. said...

My father and one of my younger sisters eat a lot of gross foods such as hog jowls. Anyhow when my younger sister was about five years old she saw "A Yard Too Far" and when those hog jowls appeared on the screen she looked at my mom, rubbed her hand on her stomach and said something like "mmm, that looks good!". She really wanted Ren and Stimpy to get them and could relate to their situation (she wanted some too). I'm sure that my mom still remembers this cartoon whenever she sees hog jowls.

Jordan said...


Thanks so much for this.

I know it may be a sore spot for you, but I am VERY interested in the Games episodes of Ren and Stimpy, and what you would have done different.

I remember when this aired, I heard that it was not done by Spumco (I was only like 11 years old but I was very well researched in what was happening behind the scenes) and it ruined any enjoyment I might have had.

Most of the Games episodes did seem really mean and without any fun spirit. I tried watching them as they first aired but I just couldn't sit through them.


ramapith said...

What most people don't realize is that PIE PIRATES is itself a remake... of Oswald Rabbit's WEARY WILLIES (1929). Hoboes Oswald and Pegleg Pete are trying to snatch a luscious roast turkey from the window, and a bulldog is once again on hand to stop them.
The shotgun-toting farmer in PIE PIRATES is a shotgun-toting sheriff in WEARY WILLIES.

Gabriel said...

I'll add that John paid us all a salary to study these cartoons and analyze the styles of artists like Milt Gross and Owen Fitzgerald. What other modern studio owner would have done that?

He PAID to teach you stuff?? I'm trying to hold back the tears.

JohnK said...

Hey Ramapithecus,

Where can I see that?

Is it a Disney? Or Lantz?

I've seen a few Oswalds that had stories that I thought were created 10 and 20 years later in other cartoons.

I bet even some Oswalds came from live action silent films.

APT said...

"Pie Pirates" is actually the third Yogi Bear Cartoon, after "Yogi's Big Break" and "Slumber Party Smarty."

rajesh said...

The asymmetry in this drawing is jarring. But it looks wonderful and hilarious.

I know you said asymmetry is essential to good design, but I didn't think it could be this pronounced. Why does it work?

Matt said...

I was just checking out some jobs. This position was for animators at a studio over in Venice Beach. This was the first requirement listed for the "Animator" position!

"Artists must submit show reel demonstrating their ability to animate a variety of characters/objects in a realistic, non-cartoon manner."

Non-cartoon manner? Thanks 3-D industry. You're really going places.

:: smo :: said...

wow! what a great exercise! i've been trying to come up with things to help my friends and i. one is sort of a takeoff on the PB exercises that involves breaking down and re-animating a classic cartoon scene, with the same timing and keys pulled, just filling it in. after studying a model sheet [like you suggest with the pb book] and animating walks.

that writing exercise is a great idea too, i hope you don't mind if we try and learn from your example here!

Marcelo Souza said...

Hey John
I have a question:
Were the Flintstones based upon the funniest sitcom ever made, The Honeymooners?

This is off topic now:
I've read on a old blog of yours that Royce Gracie created the "guard" position. That's a centuries old Judo and Jiu-Jitsu techinique.

Thanks for all the great stuff.

Mr. Semaj said...

Were Ren & Stimpy supposed to actually get the hog jowls at the end of the episode?

Most of the Games Ren & Stimpy episodes, like stories they did on their own, had very good concepts. The problem was, aside from ignoring many Spumco concepts, there were just some instances where it felt like more could've/should've been done with the story or character interractions, especially towards the 5th Season.

Anibator said...

Now on THIS topic, I could not agree with you more...

...what's great about this example is its SIMPLICITY.

The characters are hungry and want food. Bam. Nice, clean, simple, and clear enough to let the characters' personalities shine.

Every hack writer I've worked with in this industry always seems to want to write "A", "B" and "C" plotlines into every 11 minute cartoon and - surprise surprise - it always winds up being a confusing mess.

Most (if not all) of the current Nickelodeon shows suffer from this. It's really pathetic.

Crumpled Up John! said...

Just goes to prove that there aren't any truly original story lines. Only original execution.

Karley said...

That cartoon traumatized me when I was little. I couldn't stand gore- especially in my cartoons. So I asn't going to stand a cute cat getting his skin stolen by a baboon.

I missed out on a lot of good stuff until I finally (?) conquered my fear.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

"Where can I see that?

Is it a Disney? Or Lantz?"

Neither. You're not gooing to like this John, but it was directed by...(gulp!) FRIZ FRELENG!! This cartoon was made when Harmon and Ising were briefly producing Oswald cartoons.

(It's me again! Let's see if you actually post this message.)

JohnK said...

I saw another Oswald that Friz directed and it was great. He shoulda stayed that cartoony.

Sean Worsham said...

Off Key Note:

I noticed the name "Pie Pirates" has a dirty connotation. Perverts :)

Gavin Freitas said...

"A yard too far" is a great cartoon. I didnt know about the Pie Pirates episode reference but who cares you made it funnier! When ever you combine baboons with hog gowls, the cartoon should be great! Another reference was the puppet gag from Warners "Grusome Twosome", I think thats where got it from right John? Fun post.

NateBear said...

HAH! I was just watching "A Yard Too Far" with the commentary that's nearly the same as this blog post except for of course the side-by-side comparisons with "Pie Pirate."

I also here if you play any two Pink Floyd song during Pie Pirates it totally syncs up.

Charles said...

Actually the puppet gag's from The Hep Cat.

Matthew Hunter said...

I liked the Yogi cartoon better. And I saw both cartoons on Nickelodeon as a kid.

Rodrigo said...

>>I don't mind limited animation if it has good posing. . .

This brings Arj & Poopy to mind. The animation is primarily "key" drawings, but they're so solid and appealing that it's fun to watch. (The dance sequence in episode 10 kills me).

I'm sure you've seen these, yes?

And great points on writing--all very true. Cartoon writings is SO very atypical compared to most writing. I think that's why we have such sorry-ass children's cartoons today.

I'm writing some short story sketches, and if I find if I try to be funny, it doesn't work. If I set up a basic premise, like you did using "Pie Pirates", then the gags are much easier to concieve.

JohnK said...

Ted, your post is too good to waste in the comments section where it might be missed.

I'm gonna give you your own post, so every cartoonist who has had to draw a storyboard from a script written by a non cartoonist can respond.

I already have a very well respected animator who will share the post with you.

Thanks for the perfect topic to bounce off of!

Mr. Semaj said...

In "Yard Too Far", Ren wore the baboon puppet on his left hand. But in one of the pics you posted, notice how it switches to his right hand.

Kate said...

I like the butt ring on the baboon, and the fact that it says "baboon" over his baboon house. I also enjoy the personification of the baboon in general. I think baboons are generally under represented in the animation industry. Perhaps there should be a union for animated baboons.

qeshi said...

Somebody just posted the Oswald Rabbit's WEARY WILLIES (1929) on You tube.

Weary Willies

ramapith said...

The picture element of the WEARY WILLIES upload moves a little slower than it should... a problem with YouTube accepting RealVideo files. (You'll notice that the sound cuts out more than half a minute before the video ends.)
It's actually a slightly faster cartoon; the opening scenes are murder at the slow speed.

ramapith said...

Hmm... and sometimes when you watch WEARY WILLIES, the picture stops when the sound ends; apparently the sound ending throws up some kind of roadblock. You need to nudge the cursor forward on the sliding bar to get past the block; the final shot should NOT be Oswald and Pete walking down the street arguing. There is more to the story, resolving the sheriff and bulldog threads very nicely.

Adam G said...

Hey John,

Would you say that copying the story structure from a good and simple cartoon like "Pie Pirates" is good for learning cartoon story basics in the same way that copying the drawings in Preston Blair's book is good for learning drawing construction basics?

Kliph Nesteroff said...

"... just as only dancers can "write" (choreograph) dances ..."

The one major exception to this rule was the great Busby Berkeley who never danced a day in his life!

rodineisilveira said...

Johnny K.,

I'll be frank with you: Pie Pirates is among the anthologic episodes of the Yogi Bear's classical period (1958-62). And on this episode (which has the animation and the layout made by Michael Lah), Yogi sounds more Tex Avery-esque. I've been noted this detail when I saw this episode more and more times...
Well, this was what I've had to report here.


Rodinei Campos da Silveira (from São Paulo, Brazil)