Sunday, March 08, 2009

Goals of A Shorts Program 4 - Experience and Logical Production System

Presentation Bible 1985

Experience and study is as important as talent

When I was young and ignorant, I was like everyone else who is young and ignorant. I thought I knew everything. So because I thought I could just sell my own shows and produce them without knowing how things worked I was developing characters on the side constantly.

In the meantime, while nursing my dreams of grandeur I amassed lots of experience in every department in various animation studios.

I inbetweened and animated on commercials, did storyboards for Filmation, layouts for everyone in town, wrote shorts and movies for Ralph Bakshi and designed characters for different studios. I devised a new layout system while working on the New Jetsons, as a way to get more acting and life into the Hanna Barbera factory system.

I designed character models on crummy shows, then got into the development department at TMS and Hanna Barbera where I would see how the ideas we thought were good would come out on screen later:Not only that, but I was inspired by all the classic cartoons and studied them frame by frame, copied them, analyzed them and read everything I could about how the cartoons were made.

Before I ever got to make one of my own series, I learned how each department worked (or didn't work) and how they all fit into the overall production. Plus I met and worked with many talented artists and learned what people's special talents were.


Know How Animation Production Systems Work - good and bad

I had worked on bad cartoons for years in a bad production system, but studied the good old cartoons and mingled with the classic cartoonists and learned as much as I could how they made their cartoons the right way.

TV production systems were creatively inefficient in the 1980s (as they have become again in the 2000s).

They were designed to undo anything creative that might have accidentally appeared in any of the assembly line departments.

what race is this guy?

The Looney Tunes production system on the other hand was extremely creatively efficient. It was designed to take advantage of talented artists and to get their best work on the screen.

from Dave Monahan's scrap book

It was built to evolve and improve. Watching cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s, you can see them get progressively more sophisticated and funny almost month by month.
On the other hand, Cartoons from the 60s to the late 80s stagnated or got worse with time - not only because of conservatism at the top, but because of the way the production system was set up. You could have had an army of super talented cartoonists on staff (as Filmation did for a short period in the early 80s) and still not produce anything that reflected the talent or individuality of the contributors.

I'll go into this more in its own post.

A studio and a shorts program needs more than just talent in order to succeed and produce stars. Both star characters and star talent. They need to give the talent an environment where they can thrive and get experience and have some room to experiment.


to be continued....


Amir Avni said...

Great GREAT post, Thank you!

Elana Pritchard said...


nktoons said...

Great characters! I love cat drawing in the 4th set, very funny! The last drawing of the post is begging for a caption.
You have inspired me to go back and study the classics frame by frame, thanks. Your experience is appreciated.

Dave Jacob Hoffman said...

These posts are gripping. Keep 'em coming.

MasterK said...

that may be true of some of the shows that you see in places like Nickelodeon, but Cartoon Network's cartoons continue to feature storyboard driven, creator-driven production processes. For example, their new show The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, features no such creativity filters as mentioned in your post as far as the art is concerned. The show consistently goes off-model, and is full of life. Before you criticize modern cartoons, you should watch more of them.

on a side note, heres a fan art for Flapjack from a young animator (not me) which displays a lot of talent in acting and posing and expressions

JohnK said...

Well you're right; I haven't seen EVERY show, but I talk to many of the artists that work on them and they pretty much confirm that it's not as creatively organized as it used to be.

There may be a couple of exceptions; I hope they succeed then.

Are they doing layouts? Did the creators have a lot of experience before they sold the shows? Are there good drawings?

Do the directors supervise all aspects of the creativity? Directing the voices? Story editing? Timing?

do the shows evolve? Stay tuned for more posts on this subject.

Deniseletter said...

Your experience is very important.Thanks for share!!

Alex I.R., Esq. said...

That's great to see Ren and Stimpy in their pre-air state! Turns out Ren really did look insect-like. Stimpy's close to his final incarnation, though.
Looks like those nine years of development really paid off. Ren and Stimpy became full-bodied, hot blooded characters as a result.
(you should see the way MY characters have evolved over 5-10 years! It's not too disimilar from this)

HemlockMan said...

For many years I didn't look at cartoons. Not because of snobbery (I was reading plenty of comic books during that same period), but because I couldn't see myself writing cartoons.

When I finally did watch some cartoons, I was utterly and completely horrified. I'm talking typical Saturday morning toons. The ones I watched as a kid may have had their shortcomings, but at least they were fun.

I can see where the production line could cause the production of the crappy material I was seeing.

SoleilSmile said...

Bravestar is Native American.

Brubaker said...


If you'd like, here's a journal entry from Thurop Van Orman that describes what the domestic crew does with his show "Flapjack".

So the closest we have to layouts are "character and prop design".

Meh, I still love the show anyway. Makes me laugh.

Monk-of-funk said...

Great post John. I'm a student of animation in Toronto, and i'm slowly learning the ropes. Couple questions regarding layout: in what way did you change things up? Was the layout dept. different than it is now?

I appreciate all the suggestions to improve cartooning; it's one thing i struggle with, but i've been drawing the comic covers and improving slowly. I'm an everyday subscriber to this blog, it has a lot more to say than my school more often than not.

BONE said...

Cartoon Cavalcade 1985 - Pee Wee's Great Adventure?

JohnK said...

"Couple questions regarding layout: in what way did you change things up? Was the layout dept. different than it is now?"

We used it to do key posing. Lots of key posing, not tracing the model sheets.

Shawn said...

The industry needs more cartoonists who can draw satisfactory ischial callosities.

Niki said...

1) OK, the first weirdo I thought he was black, then I thought he was an American Indian.

2) What the heck is that last thing

3) What kind of info did you find on the production system? Or could I find it somewhere on your blog, because if so, I haven't made it that far but I still need to know whether it be futile to search for.

4) I'm starting to learn to paint from Mary Blair's, then I'll move to Art Lozzi painting, then Mel Crawford.

5) I don't think Cartoon Network has any restrictions on most things, maybe they'd like your pitch ideas there?

6) Read about the "Life Sucks" episode of Ren & Stimpy, but I haven't seen any new info. Is it produced? Cause I'm trying out Mary Blair all Spring Break in hopes that it isn't.

Rick Roberts said...

"Before you criticize modern cartoons, you should watch more of them."

On a whole modern cartoons suck, but there are always exceptions though. I am a Flapjack fan as well.

Also since you brought up TMS John, I always thought the talent of that studio was never truly exploited in this country.

Niki said...

Oh umm I want to ask, Mr. K, do you watch Mad Men on AMC?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post you I have done it all in various departments learning and doing and have seen a lot of poor production Vancouver on Class of the Titans when I directed I was allowed to change the system to what I knew what worked and got great results...I worked hard at getting good drawings out etc...and I know about trying to sell a show...not many people out there are guys like us who know the business,,,love yer blog, always a good read.
I'm still down here trying to get a show sold.You are an inspiration.Thanks John.

MasterK said...

regarding your questions on the other shows

layouts, no. Cartoon Network is the cheapest network around, so I would say no.

The creator of this particular cartoon started out as a cleanup intern on The Powerpuff Girls, and then became a storyboard artist on two other shows before creating the cartoon. he was also fairly old when he started cartooning, and had spent his time beforehand travelling the world as an "adventure hobo" other artists are vets from Spongebob and other shows, however, there are a bunch of unknowns too, unfortunately, but also vets

Yes, there are tons of great drawings. The facial expressions range from hideous to adorable, and it is filled with hilarious walk cycles. The way it is animated is undeniably cartoony and fun to look at, even if some of the drawings get over the top ugly.

Director-driven? Sadly, not really. Its not assembly line though, since basically, the creator/executive producer supervises everything along with a "creative director"
On a side note, the creator is the main voice, and many of the other voices are provided by crew members.

I would definitely encourage you to keep watching cartoons. While the scene with big-time networks like Fox and Nickelodeon seems to be geared toward stiff, writer-driven shows, Cartoon Network is still producing a lot of fun, cartoony shows in addition to numerous bad action shows. The 12 minute TV shorts are the closest thing to real cartoons I can get, so I watch a lot of those, and there is a lot of good stuff, and a lot of bad stuff, but its definitely something that needs to be recognized.

The show definitely evolves in that the characters change a lot. Unfortunately, the change is inconsistent, as though they are developing, but the development is unstable. However, the characters show a lot of different sides throughout the episodes, and there is more depth to the show than meets the eye.

I'm looking forward to further posts, since I'm not saying "like this, like this, like this!" I'm just hoping you could critique more modern cartoons since thats what's on nowadays, and you can't base all your criticism on 5-10 year old shows. I think that the formula has changed up a bit, and it will hopefully give you some fresh insight into the trends of animation and its current state.

Brubaker said...

MasterK pretty much summed up. Alot of Cartoon Network comedies are supervised almost entirely by the series creator.

On average, the CN creator goes over the storyboards with the story artists, directs the voice actors (sometimes they get assistance with the casting director, but the show creator is always on their side), works with the BG and prop designers, and tells the composer/music editor what kind of music is needed.

The only thing they don't really do are the sheet timing, since the workload is heavy enough as it is. On some shows the timers usually gets the "directed by" credits (since the credit going to the show creator can get redundant).

This doesn't apply to ALL shows, btw. Just on some that I'm familiar with it.

So yeah, not a director-unit system, but not like the seventies system either.

Alex I.R., Esq. said...

"On a whole modern cartoons suck"

But what can WE do about it? It's ideas like this that make one lose faith in the industry they want to have a stake in.

JohnK said...

>>On average, the CN creator goes over the storyboards with the story artists, directs the voice actors (sometimes they get assistance with the casting director, but the show creator is always on their side),<<

That's hopeful.

Do they write their own stories? As opposed to having a story editor and scripts?- do the writers draw?

Brubaker said...

"Do they write their own stories? As opposed to having a story editor and scripts?- do the writers draw?"

Depends on the show. On some the creator writes/boards a handful himself (the first episode is almost always written by the creator).

The creator almost always writes the story-outlines, though (where they describe the story and what goes on, etc.), leaving the writer-artist to come up with the dialogues, jokes, etc. The show's staff members (including the board artists) would also contribute to the story-outlines to punch it up.

If the show is board-driven, then yes, the writers have some level of drawing skills.

JohnK said...

Sounds like a better system than the 80s, but still considerably less efficient creatively than what he had for awhile in the 90s.

It's what I call the "thumbnail art system".

Where the finished cartons end up looking like our first tiny thumbnail continuity sketches - basically stick-figure versions of the drawings we later draw bigger and with more solidity, detail and extra poses.

With the thumbnail system, you have to use Flash animation type tricks to snap from one disconnected pose to the next and then just wiggle the mouths and use stock actions.

It forces you to be extra simple. Basically colored animatics of thumbnail boards.

Rick Roberts said...

"But what can WE do about it? It's ideas like this that make one lose faith in the industry they want to have a stake in."

See that's the huge misconception, you think you NEED the industry. Go out and make stuff on your own by using whatever you can buy, download, and such.

JohnK said...

Well you can learn to draw well on your own, and if enough do, things will change for the better all around.

Rick Roberts said...

Personally,I think the whole industry deserved to be abandoned. No it's not a safe route to go but dammit, I have no intention on working on Pixar's next talking trash can film. :P

What I plan on doing is raising funds to make my own work and sell it to film festivals, just like Bill Plympton. In the meantime, I am sticking with a 9-5 job so I won't starve to death.

David Germain said...

An animator friend of mine once gave me a tip about pitching show ideas to executives. This is a big NOT TO DO.

If they reject one or even all of your pitches, don't (out of frustration) ask, "Well then what DO you want??!!" They won't answer that question. They'll just show you where the door is. I'm not sure if he learned that the hard way or not. He didn't say. Either way, it's a good thing to remember.

introvert said...

David, If I were talking to an executive and I was frustrated. I'd definitley have something much chocier to say than "What do you want?"

I don't know if I could pick just one thing to say either. I'd probably have to spit out one after another while we all wait for security to come and escort me off the premise. They can walk me away while I recite the rest off the written list I prepared beforehand.

I won't even need a pitch. I'll just say I'm there to present one and them let loose once I'm finally on the inside.

MasterK said...

>It forces you to be extra simple. Basically colored animatics of thumbnail boards.<

but also in this system storyboards are almost equivalent to layouts as far as sophistication, so that sometimes allows the artists to have a bit more influence

JohnK said...

I have to disagree with you there.

Storyboards are never the equivalent of layouts - especially thumbnail style boards. Not even close to the control you get when you allow storyboarders to write and layout artists to refine.

Storyboarderss need the time to concentrate on story. Layouts spend the time on big drawings and more drawings to develop the details of the acting and story.

Those cartoons you mention are like Flash animated stick figures. They may be wacky - which is better than Dora the Explorer or some pseudo educational nonsense, but to me, they look like ideas for cartoons, rather than finished ones.

We need to go back to good custom drawings and a system to allow for them to happen.

Not drawings that look like anyone could do them.

Cotton Gin said...

"With the thumbnail system, you have to use Flash animation type tricks to snap from one disconnected pose to the next and then just wiggle the mouths and use stock actions."

What about a show like Superjail? Its the only cartoon I have seen in a decade that really tries to utilize it's cartoon format in a way unlike all those other Cartoon Network shows, where it is more important to get a disjointed joke across then it is to make an actual funny cartoon. Superjail is visually interesting, gritty and detailed (although sometimes maybe cluttered) and takes advantage of the fact that its cartoon doing cartoony things. Superjail's animation and voices are done by its writers and although it is done on flash it does not recycle animation often. It has a very organic and smooth look/feel to it.

Brubaker said...

Superjail is probably the only Flash show done right. In that it doesn't LOOK like it was made in Flash.

I found it refreshing, personally. It's nice that there's at least one TV cartoon in America that features hand-drawn animation that's NOT outsourced (it was animated entirely in New York). I wonder how they managed to afford that, considering that Adult Swim's is VERY cheap(so low that Filmation would've cried).

My guess is that the studio that made it wasn't unionized.