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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Favorite Newscaster

tell you why, later...

Space Madness Gets Extra Credits

This was an episode where I had to go back to Vanessa and ask if we could give more credits upfront. "Oh, John...This one time only!" was the response. Then later I did it again for a couple other eisodes.

Original notes from lunch with Jim and John about space episodes above, then turned into a simle premise below:

I had to rewite the "crazy talk" speech about 5 times to get Nick to approve something. This is one attempt

Jim Gomez wrote up a more detailed premise, then I fleshed it out to a long outline and went through many passes and revisions with Nickelodeon. It's a particularly long detailed outline or I would scan it to show you.
I wish I could find the notes where they told us to "drop the space eisodes. We don't like space." Richard, do you have them?Jim designed the look of the future for the show studying old Popular Science pulp magazines and books about the Streamlined decade and 40s vacuum cleaner catalogues. The Spumco book will have lots of his art.

Chris did some great designs while he was storyboarding at the same time. he did the long vertical pan of the weird machine in the History Eraser Button room for one.

Oh, and David Koenigsberg did the cool waving credits and fx at the beginning of the cartoon-the old fashioned way, under a camera with ripple glass!

Henry Porch picked out Dvorak's "New World" for the opening music, which lent the cartoon a very serious ominous atmosphere.

Bill Griggs did a phenomenal job editing the music and Tim Borquez killed himself coming up with all the cool old style science fiction sound effects.

Mike Fontanelli did the layouts of Ren and Stimpy at the end for the History Eraser Button Sequence. Maybe I have some frame grabs somewhere.

A lot of other good artists all worked on the show. A cartoon like Space Madness could never be made as an independent film - or even at another studio with all the same people. It took a lot of top talent, a production system designed for talent and a sympathetic creative director and who urged the best from everyone - oh and a network executive who allowed it to happen. More than what we all thought we were capable of, I'm sure.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Artists Finally Win Some Respect and Credit

The kind of animation I like is studio cartoons as opposed to independent animation. I think you can make much better stuff if you work with people who have talents you don't. I don't believe one person is completely responsible for every creative act in a cartoon, although one person should oversee it and make it all work together.
beautiful title card rendered by Bruce Timm, but the credit goes to some writer

Like I was saying in the last post about credits, in the 1980s no one in the business thought the artists had anything creative to contribute to the cartoons. (I'm sure they still wish they didn't need us pesky artists and would love a computer program that could finally get us out of the way.) The studios gave the writers credit before the cartoon started, but not any artist, not even the director. Well maybe because there were no directors in the 1980s. Not until Mighty Mouse. Ralph Bakshi was the first guy to open a studio and put the artists totally in charge of all the creative aspects of the cartoons. I instituted a "unit system" inspired by the old Looney Tunes system, where each unit had a director in charge who followed the whole production through from start to finish. We even had to bring back a whole job category - Layout - a job that the other studios didn't deem creative and were shipping overseas. This created at least 20 new jobs for American artists that did not previously exist.
But still no one got credit upfront-not even the writer this time (maybe because we were cartoonists too.)

The first time I was ever able to credit an artist on a title card before a cartoon was amazingly on Beany and Cecil in 1988. ABC hated artists, but the Clampetts and Richard Raynis supported me giving at least the directors credit on some of them. Quite a breakthrough.There was a lot of visual fun in Beany and Cecil and I wished I could give more of the artists credit - especially the storyboard artists and the key layout artists - the ones that were making the show have at least some interest.

But like 80s shows, they just piled everyone's credits together like cattle at the end of the cartoon and ran by them so fast that you couldn't even read them, let alone know which artists worked on which episodes.
I always liked reading the credits on old cartoons and trying to figure out who did what and seeing the different styles. I wanted to bring that back (while also bringing back the whole concept of cartoonist-made cartoons).
When we did the pilot for Ren and Stimpy I made sure everyone got prominent credits. I didn't ask for permission; I just did it.

I even painted the end credits myself and hand lettered them (well Libby Simon inked my hand lettering).

When we started the series I had to negotiate the amount of upfront credits. I had given an animation history lesson to Vanessa Coffey and explained the old unit system to her, and that old cartoons were not "written", they were drawn on storyboards. She agreed to this system. At last!
So I got together the funniest artists and we came up with story premises that we'd pitch to Vanessa. Once she OKed them, we'd then write an outline that was 2 or 3 pages long. Whoever physically wrote up the outline is who I'd usually give the "story" credit too, even though all of us helped gag each other's stories up.
I also negotiated for an upfront storyboard credit, which was unheard of at the time. The storyboard artists at Spumco were generally the same group of artists who came up with the premises and outlines but we would add a ot of gags and story material in the storyboards-the way cartoons should be written, and used to be.
I also wanted to credit key layout artists, animation directors, designers and background painters but couldn't get permission. Just getting a couple artist credits at all was a real victory in 1990.

Nurse Stimpy came out so ugly to me, that I didn't give myself credit on it as director.

I seem to be missing the storyboard credit, but am pretty sure Jim, Bob, Vincent and I did it.

Firedogs was written in an afternoon to replace a George Liquor cartoon that got rejected.
Jim and Chris made a very lively and funny board and added more gags.

This story came out of a deal I made with Vanessa. She didn't like the booger, fart and gross jokes we wrote, so I asked her if I could trade them for something she wanted. She wanted heart.
I was listening to the classical music in our APM stock music library and put on Clair De Lune by Debussy. I started picturing a sad scene with Stimpy in a fairy tale setting and that became The Littlest Giant. I pitched the story idea to Vanessa while playing the music for her and tears welled up in her eyes. She loved it! I tell you, that's a way to work with execs. Trade 'em. Find out what they like and meet 'em halfway. Not by eliminating or toning either of your tastes down, but by taking turns doing the kind of thing each of you like. This was very easy with Vanessa. Many times I would make up story ideas on the spot after asking her what she was looking for. Stimpy's First Fart was one of those.

Once more executives started to get involved, this became harder to do. There were too many "no"s coming from all directions and the idea of being fair and trading was harder and harder to achieve. Even people who weren't executives started sending us notes! Vanessa's secretary, a month after we had shipped the first couple of episodes to be animated, sent us a 30 page list of changes she wanted on our storyboards! Stories that were being animated and had already been signed off on by Vanessa. And what were the changes about? 90% of them were to tell us that the scenes on the storyboards didn't "hook up". A secretary telling us that.

Once artists starting seeing other artists get credits at the beginning of the cartoons, more and more wanted them - and I didn't blame them. On certain cartoons, I went back to Vanessa to beg for some extra credits for certain people who had done outstanding jobs on particular cartoons. This got me in a lot of trouble since we already had a signed agreement for story, storyboard and director only, but when she saw Space Madness and a couple other extra special pictures I bent her to my will. Others above us didn't like this encroaching artist recognition though. Especially when the press started coming over to Spumco regularly and I would take them around to interview and photograph all the artists at work.

To be continued....

Thanks to David Shreve and his crew for the frame grabs from Ren and Stimpy!

The Good Movie

Kali dragged me to this movie on the weekend and I'm glad she did.

This is an actual "no-filler" movie. It's funny from beginning to end! I didn't spot a single executive theory in it.

The writing is funny (both plot and dialogue), the acting is funny and the direction is funny. Even the music is funny. And it's really clever. It's absolutely full of inventive custom touches in the actions, editing, actors' expressions and gestures. I couldn't believe it.

Seriously, whoever wrote the dialogue is a genius. This is real writing with skill, observation and a point of view.

The lead actor, Michael Jai White is perfect. He plays it straight but in a very funny way and has lots of other talents besides acting - which the producers are smart enough to show off to us.

It's eerie. I got all nostalgic for the 70s - which I hated living through. This felt even more like the 70s than the actual 70s and made fun of all the right stuff.

It also bravely brought back ethnic humor - which has been banned by white liberals for decades. It gets away with stuff no one else could today, making fun of white people, blacks and Asians all - oh and it's sexist too. In short, it's honest and made for real life humans - not focus groups and pseudo-psychologists.

Violence, some grossness but not for the sake of making you sick. It even makes fun or orphans which I didn't think anyone could do. The most amazing thing is that it breaks open a pile of modern taboos, and does it in a completely upbeat happy way.

I'm so used to modern entertainment going straight for the ugliest feelings possible, but I have to say this really lifted my spirits. I hope it makes a pot of money and wakes up Hollywood. I wish cartoons were allowed to be this inventive and whimsical. I'm super jealous.
But it does have some funny animation by my friends at 6 Point Harness.

Not for kids, unfortunately. Go see it and tell me what you think. Support non-filler entertainment! We're gonna go see it again and bring all our curmudgeonly pals.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I just Saw A New Movie

and it was actually good from beginning to end

Are Cartoonists Valued In The Cartoon Business?


Who should get credit for a cartoon's success?

When an average person thinks about cartoons, who does he thinks makes them? Probably cartoonists, right? I mean, they're called "cartoons", not animated scripts. Do they sell script pages at cartoon galleries?

I know when you get a couple cartoonists together drawing in public - like at a restaurant, they quickly amass a crowd of waiters and customers gushing over the funny scribbles we do, and making requests for us to draw them some cartoons. They ask us to draw their favorite characters and to draw their babies and pets. And they demand "funny". "Darw heem weeth a really beeg nose". And they have a million theories about the wonders of talent. Everybody enjoys a cartoonist. Well almost...

I can't imagine people crowding around cartoon writers and asking them to write them a funny paragraph, can you? "Excuse me sir, can you write me a funny Sponge Bob gag?" or "Write my baby."

Caricaturists are extremely popular at parks and parties. I've never heard of anyone paying to have a verbal description of their face written about them. ...Although Eddie is a great verbal caricaturist and I'd pay to read his descriptions of people's unflattering gifts from God, but I think he's the only one who does it so there isn't yet a market for it.

I know general average folks appreciate cartooning talent because I witness it all the time. Almost everyone. But when I got in the business I found out that the business itself didn't appreciate the people who are the reason the business has a market at all.

Cartoonists were at the bottom of the totem pole. Executives confer with "writers" and gave them the sole upfront credit for each cartoon.


Now when I think of writers, I think of people who have something original to say and the gift of verbal communication to pass on their unique points of view to the public. Novelists, maybe some old time poets, journalists, people who have a burning desire inside to share their thoughts about subjects of which they have personal knowledge - like Ted Geisel, have a great imagination and unique communicative skills.

There is a another kind of writer though who has no particular point of view, no knowledge of the subjects he writes about, no imagination and no love for cartoons - and not the least amount of skill or talent for communicating anything fresh or interesting.


These are "writers-for-hire" a kind of wimpy mercenary who will write anything for money on demand. This is what we had in the cartoon business in the 80s. A "writer-for-hire" would write a superhero story one day, then a Smurfs the next day and follow it up with a "Muppet-Babies". never- ever would they be caught dead talking to the artists about what they would like to draw or what they thought would be funny.

These parasites for some reason were the only people to get any credit in the title card before a cartoon.

Meet a writer for hire who explains arena to you. See her say these things with a straight face.

"I remember from being a kid are usually the ones that deal with things, like for example, in The Land Before Time, deals with the death of a mother figure"

Wow, that sounds pretty damn funny.

"If you're making a cartoon, you can have free range to put your story in where ever you want, because you don't actually have to make the place, rather than, you know, of course you have to draw it. You don't have to make it."

She means she doesn't have to make it. The cartoonists slaves do.

"So if you really want to elevate your cartoon into something more than just a "cartoon", incorporate these real life themes."

Or why not write something that isn't animated and see if you can sell it on the basis of your immense skill?

How to Write a Cartoon Script -- powered by

more rant to come and what changed all that...