Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Depressing 80s cartoon studios 2 - Hanna Barbera - The Style Of FEAR

I worked on this crap.

How the Hell did this style happen????? This is Hanna Barbera?
Well, obviously I loved the early Hanna Barbera style - Even if you hate these cartoons, you have to admit that the style is at least instantly recognizable.
The best thing about the early HB cartoons is the characters themselves. They have a very distinct look and each one has a distinct voice to go with it.
They are iconic characters within an overall iconic cartoon style - created by Ed Benedict.
Here's Gene Hazelton drawing in Ed's style.

Here are fun colors from a super-cheap Quick Draw McGraw cartoon from 1958.
The characters are cartoony, likeable and visually appealing. Maybe you hated the animation because it is cheap, but even the animation is stylish and every cartoon had individual touches - according to the animators who did the work.
Personally I loved H and B when the cartoons were cartoony, but in the mid to the late 60s, right after Filmation started to see some success in Saturday Morning cartoons, Bill and Joe must have seen them and said "Hey, we're working too hard!" And so they started imitating Filmation.
At first, it wasn't so bad. "Frankenstein Junior" had a less cartoony look than the Flintstones, but it was still professionally designed at least. It's not as cartoony as Yogi Bear, but it looks like actual artists designed it.

But after the Archies and Scooby Doo, all standards went out the window:
Now, everything was not only designed to be ugly on purpose, but the drawing standards themselves - layout and animation, were lowered. You could get away with the worst, most awkward drawings - as long as they were bland.
Even Ren and Stimpy backgrounds can't save these awkward Superman cels.
Nice legs on Wonder Woman there.
Swell proportions.
Everyone seems to love Alex Toth and it's obvious that he himself has some drawing skill - but he's the last person who ever should have been designing cartoons. First of all even his own drawings are stiff and lifeless and the opposite of what "animation" is about. If you have to animate realistically proportioned characters (even though it's impossible to do so) you should at least get an artist who has some guts and can draw strong action poses, like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. It still wouldn't work, but at least you wouldn't be starting the whole process with deadness.

This deadness just got worse over the years - to the point where the "realistic" and "cartoony" shows began to blend into each other. And that's about the time I started working on this horribly depressing stuff.
The voices, by the way had degraded in exactly the same way that the designs did. Characters no longer had distinct cartoon voices. Now they had indistinguishable voices - even when they used live action stars to voice them. Most stars don't sound any different than your neighbors and add nothing to the characterizations of the animated characters. It's just more blandness heaped on to blandness across the board. You may laugh at this terrible 80s stuff, but the effects of it have never gone away. For the last 25 years, big budget animated features have followed 80s Saturday Morning cartoon techniques and traditions. Bland stiff semi-realistic designs, bland live action voices and fear of doing anything that is fun or creative.

I had to draw not only "The Fonz" but that damned ugly basketball headed dog. We used to draw this stuff and shake our heads in disbelief. "They're actually paying us for these drawings"?
This is a style that has evolved out of fear. Fear of standing out from the other artists. Fear of executives. Fear of style. Fear of making a statement. This fear wove its way into the very fabric of the whole business and each animator and cartoon artist. To this day, when I draw in my own style, I have a nagging guilt that I must be doing something wrong - that the very act of making a funny looking or unique drawing is somehow undermining every rule of modern animation. Like there is an invisible Ranger Smith looking over my shoulder every minute and grunting each time I do something fun. In the cartoon business, it is considered irresponsible to do anything fun or natural to cartoons.

This was truly the case during the 1980s. It was so wrong to make not only a stylish drawing, or an expressive one, but even a decent one! A pose that was well-constructed would have been considered completely radical and you could get fired for it. Everyone lived in such fear of standing out that they succumbed to the ridiculous practice of tracing model sheets. Model sheets that were ugly drawings to begin with. - and no one was doing anything to change this crazy situation!

80s "cartoony" cartoons.
There were a few cartoons that were designed in a supposed "cartoony' style, but the production system was not altered for them. We had to use the exact same stupid methods we used on the so-called "realistic" series. We had to draw everything straight up and down, no line of action because that would be too radical. So even though Joe would sell the networks a cartoony cartoon, we were so conditioned by fear of creativity that no one did what would have come naturally 2 decades earlier.

A big cartoon genre in the 80s was "small" cartoons. Little magical creatures that lived in fungi or peat moss and had magical properties - but they had to be "believable" so couldn't squash or stretch or do anything that looked funny.
This series was about a bunch of tiny poos that lived in a poo world and had magical stinky adventures standing around vertically and moving their mouths to inane writer-dialogue.Here's the bland adventures of Jesus and his badly drawn mythical friends.
There was a lot of this standing up and down next to each other in the 1980s.
Not much of striking a pose or making an expression. That would be way too radical, because real people don't ever make expressions or have interesting poses.
The bible has some of the craziest stories ever invented so it's a complete irony to give it such a bland "realistic" treatment. Did everyone have the same face and body 2500 years ago?
Another stupid thing about the 80s was the idea of "quality". When a producer thought he wanted to make his show stand out from the competition he didn't try to make his drawings better, or have more interesting characters or better stories. Instead he called for "more". More details. More characters also equals better quality. The irony of this theory is that in practical reality, the more characters you draw the less time you have to spend on each character because the budgets remained low no matter what.

So when you drew a crowd scene you spent 2 minutes on each character instead of 10 minutes for a scene with just 2 characters. That amounts to characters that are 1/5th as well drawn as in a show that had a more practical amount of characters.
This was the era where absolutely nothing made sense. People today blame budgets for the poor quality of Saturday morning cartoons, but that's not the total story. Impractical decisions are the real reason.

Even with a low budget you can have:
Good design
Distinct Voices
Strong poses
Pleasing colors

None of those things cost any extra money.

The last things you should be animating on a low budget are crowds and realistic characters.

No one has ever been successful animating realistic human proportions. Ever. Not even with big budgets. The best I've ever seen were the 2 main characters in Sleeping Beauty. They cost a fortune, had at least professional design, needed rotoscoping to aid in the natural movement and took forever to animate. And with all that, they're still boring. If Disney couldn't do it with all the money and talent in the world-how can crappy low budget TV cartoons with bad design pull it off?

But no one ever learns and they keep making the same impractical decisions that hamper the progress and potential of animation.
Saturday morning cartoons and their philosophy of creativity by fear eventually poisoned even big budget animated feature films and we are living with the consequences to this day.

Fear of drawing an expression or pose:

Fear of appealing non-generic characters
Fear of everything cartoons can do
Thanks to Saturday morning cartoon practices