Frederator Studios is at the end producing the 39 original shorts that will make up the Random! Cartoons series on Nickelodeon. We started making original short cartoons in the early 90s at Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network with 48 What A Cartoon!s a.k.a. World Premiere Toons (six series were spun off from those shorts), then with 51 Oh Yeah! Cartoons (plus another 51 shorts and three series) and now these 39. Occasionally in this space I’ve been recounting how we got here. When we last left off the new Hanna-Barbera production team of 1992 (under Ted Turner’s recent acquisition of the studio) was busy putting together a production team for these cockamamie shorts.
When I first joined the studio, completely ignorant of the process of making commercial cartoons, I’d talk to anyone who could give me a clue (and quite a few who couldn’t). John Kricfalusi introduced me to the artist/writer Pat Ventura when I told him I’d asked Joe Barbera to include an update of Screwball Squirrel in his new Fox Kids Droopy series (he rightly pointed out Pat, a Tex Avery fan, was already on the Tom & Jerry Kids Show writing staff, why start searching for someone new?). Along with John, Pat’s inadvertent influence on our future shorts would be incalculable.
As a little background, Pat graduated from CalArts in the 70s and proceeded to work all over the business as an artist, storyboarder, writer (he quickly found out that “writers” were in demand, writers-who-wrote-on-boards were not) and had done a great stint as a gag man at Disney features during their 1980s revival, writing many of the Roger Rabbit shorts. He left for the Tom & Jerry Kids Show because he had the great and rare insight to realize the opportunity to work with an old master of the shorts form was virtually extinct; working every day with Joe Barbera was too great to pass up. Which is when we met.
I took an immediate liking to Pat and he was one of the few people I took into my confidence about the looney idea of reviving the cartoon form through shorts. He was a great film historian and student (particularly the silents) and would patiently give me instruction. He’d tell me about his preference for Keaton, Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy. And why he preferred the composer Scott Bradley to the more revered Carl Stalling. He did his best to show me how gags were set up and staged and why, while he thought Looney Tunes were OK, he liked the Fleischers.
And we talked incessantly about short cartoons. Why they were good, why they weren’t. Why writing on boards was good and what you could learn from them. Because of Pat we started a weekly screening series at Hanna-Barbera where we could share some of the great shorts (animated and live action) Ted Turner had in his vast library with the studio staff who cared.
When I started talking to John and Pat I came at everything like a studio head. (It would take me a little while to get smarter.) How do I find hit shows? Shorts seemed like a good idea since we could get 25 “at bats” for every series we’d try the old way. So when I first broached the idea with Pat I said I wanted to do as many shorts as possible; I suggested that a bunch of three minute shorts would give us an idea of what characters we liked.
“No, not three minutes. Six, seven, eight,” Pat told me.
My logical “Why?” was answered that if I wanted to make cartoons then they needed to be made with artists who loved cartoons. And if I was going that way then the cartoons needed to be, well, cartoons. And cartoons absolutely were not three minutes.
Pat was so certain I just agreed on the spot. It took me a long time to realize just why his instinct was so right on. But from then on that was it. All our shorts, well over 100 by now, are seven minutes long. It drives some of our talented creators crazy (of course, we realize no matter what length we set, someone would be annoyed) but seven minutes it is. A real legacy of short cartoons. Shaped in part by our friend Pat Ventura.
Now, if only I could convince the folks at Cartoon Network.
(More next time.)