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Archive for November, 2010


Coming for Christmas?

November 28th, 2010

Book cover illustrated & designed by Carlos Ramos
Original Cartoon Title Cards from Frederator Studios [cover]The latest from Frederator Books, Original Cartoon Title Cards, should be out soon. Eric Homan and I have chosen a subjective compilation of 200 of the title cards from our productions over the years, including some of the best from The Fairly OddParents, ChalkZone, My Life as a Teenage Robot, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!, Ape Escape Cartoons, The Meth Minute 39, What A Cartoon!, Oh Yeah! Cartoons, Random! Cartoons, and the first season of Fanboy & Chum Chum and Adventure Time. You’ve probably seen some of them here or here, but I’ve got to say, seeing them printed large size (the book is 8 1/4″ wide by 6″ high), is pretty darn cool.

“Official” publication should be in January. But, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to offer it early (maybe as soon as next week) to Frederator blog readers. Stay tuned here for more information as it comes. In the meantime, here’s a preview of the essay at the beginning of the book.

…..

The unconsidered art of the cartoon title card.

I started searching the internet for someone who could write an essay to introduce this book of Frederator Studios’ cartoon title cards. Surely, someone with an writer’s eye had a few choice words to say about decades of cool graphic design.

Nothing.

There were several places where beautiful vintage cartoon cards are displayed, usually for filmographic or historical purposes. But, for all the pages devoted to critical analysis and display of another pop culture icon, the movie poster, there wasn’t a full paragraph of consideration I could turn up about the kind of art we’re displaying in this book.

Well, I’m no art historian, so they won’t be any scintillating examinations here. But, just let me point out that it might be worth checking out the dozens of talented artists and creators who have shared their work with us here. All sorts of styles are represented, from homage to the one and two color cards we saw in the silents, to sumptuous, nuanced illustrations that are hard to appreciate in the 10 seconds they’re usually displayed on television. Breadth of craft is also demonstrated here, from simple typography, pencil on paper, computer generated images, even paper cut outs.

Within minutes of ruminating about cartoons for the first time –professionally, that is; they probably started dominating my mind as soon as my parents got their first TV– there was no choice. The model for my productions needed to be the great shorts during the golden age of the early, mid-20th century: Looney Tunes, the Disney’s, the MGM’s, even the first TV shows of Hanna-Barbera. And there was no joking about the template. Our films would hew as close as possible to these classics from front to back. Studio logo, character name, episode name, seven minutes of squash & stretch hilarity, and “The End.” No deviations, please.

It took a few years to get anyone to agree that we could even make these kinds of cartoons (thank you kindly, Scott Sassa and Ted Turner). And, among the creative posse making the first 48 shorts there wasn’t one push back about the idea of the title cards, they loved everything cartoon. It helped that I was the president of the studio, but that really had nothing to do with it.

The talent we’d lined up were chomping at the bit to reintroduce –no, reinvent– the very idea of cartoons, since the production industry and the networks had almost completely abandoned the form almost 30 years before. Disney had long seemed embarrassed by their ‘cartoon’ roots, but even the 1980 revival of the famous Warner studio couldn’t admit their strength and named itself “Warner Bros. Animation.” Our team trained themselves in a business that had turned its back on their love, but they were undeterred. When we announced our complete dedication to the form, they lined up in force and embraced every aspect of our program, eventually creating a tidal wave of success that made cartoons the dominant form of animation throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

The networks were another story. It’s fair to say that we’ve had resistance to title cards for almost everyone one of the almost 20 series that have been sprung from our three shorts series of the last 15 years. It’s never the budget issues, which would have been my first arguments against them, if I’d been so inclined; it is not inexpensive to make between 50 and 150 of illustrative, finished artwork per season. No, unfortunately, there’s probably a failure of imagination. “Other series don’t do it.”

Cartoon title cards indeed seem to be an unconsidered art. Everywhere but here. Feast your eyes for as long as you might wish, I guarantee some gorgeous rewards.

Fred Seibert
New York, 2010
Original Cartoon Title Cards from Frederator Studios [back cover]

Get the f*** out of the way.

November 21st, 2010

Three Little Bops” directed by Friz Freleng, jazz score by Shorty Rogers

Jazz musicians taught me how to produce funny cartoons. Seriously.

There are a lot of parallels between cartoons and jazz. They’re both distinctively American art forms, incubated towards the beginning of the 20th century, hitting their first artistic and popular peaks towards the end of the 1930s. And they’re both a lot of fun.

For me, it’s is a lot more personal. My life in jazz uniquely prepared me for the thrills of being involved in cartoons.

My producing career began by making jazz records –it was supposed to be a stepping stone to pop music– which usually prompts quizzical stares from the folks who know I’m now in cartoons. But, spending every weekend of the last three years watching my older son play his clarinet and tenor in the Jazz Standard Youth Orchestra (my longest extended live jazz exposure in 35 years) I’ve had a lot of time to consider why these two experiences have been hand in glove for me.

It probably comes down to my ignorance and fandom. As an 18 year old in New York, I recorded my first jazz session after six years listening and playing pop music of the 60s and (barely) six weeks of jazz listening. The first release from one of my recordings was made six months later. It’s fair to say that for the next decade, every record I participated in was done with world class musicians at least 10 (sometimes 20 or 30) years older than me and who had forgotten more than I would ever know. I mean, what could a white suburban kid in his mid-20’s going to tell world class musicians about making their music? Ultimately, it became my job to figure out who I wanted to lead a session, who would record it, and get the f*** out of the way. When I was wrong, the records were just OK (when one is working with the world class, it never was less than OK). But when the magic was there…

More than two decades on, cartoons (and California) beckoned, and a similar dynamic played itself out. A huge fan as a kid (who wasn’t?) all I had to go on were the emotions the best films had stirred in me. There were no skills or talents in me to speak of. 15 years in television had me making hundreds, thousands, of commercials –many animated– but it wasn’t like I could draw or write (still can’t), I’d no idea how to put together a schedule or budget, no real ability to “produce” fiction films. I fell back on something Rudy Van Gelder, the world’s most important jazz recording engineer, had taught me at our first session in 1976. “Your job is to figure out what you want to hear, and find the people who are good enough to accomplish it.” To the point, I wanted to make cartoons, as opposed to animation, let’s make people laugh. If you want to too, let’s try it together.

So, instead of trying to learn skills I would never master, my concentration immediately turned to “Who wants to make cartoons?” In retrospect, my role is exactly the same as with the jazz musicians. Identify world class talent, new and veterans alike, and once again, get the f*** out of the way. If the creator needs help, give it him/her. If he/she needs “protection” from useless, uneducated, executive opinions, give it. (And if the creator is ignoring good advice from the network –hey, it happens– try and help there too.)

Jazz or cartoons, for me it comes down to the same stuff. Find talented people who are worth supporting, and get the f*** out of the way.

On the road again.

November 14th, 2010

419 Park Avenue South, #807, November 2005
419 Park Avenue South #807
Frederator moved into its current New York digs on Park Avenue South in the winter of 2006. And now, almost five years later we’re moving down the block to 21st Street.

New address:
Frederator Studios
22 West 21st Street (between 5th & Avenue of the Americas)
10th floor
New York City 10010

Carrie Miller’s been doing all the hard work of packing us up and arranging the actual move (partly done last week, the rest this week), but, I thought you might want to chart some of the progress in pictures yourselves.

A lot went on in this space, with over 100 people working in and out of the place over the years. Animation folks are most familiar with Dan Meth’s projects, The Meth Minute 39 and Nite Fite. But, we’ve also incubated a number of other projects and businesses, notably Next New Networks, Ed Levine’s  Serious Eats, and David Karp’s tumblr. It’s been an amazing ride, and I got more out of hanging out with all of these smart, talented thinkers than you can imagine.

As a parting shot, I thought I’d (partially) answer something we’re often asked about. That is, exactly what are 104 pictures (by count of Time Out New York; we’ve been too busy to notice) on the walls. So, here’s a photo taken from the same angle as our first one (above), and below it, the key to the art. (And, for those wondering, yes, the hanging red cubes are coming along with us.)

419 Park Avenue South, #807, November 12, 2010419 Park Avenue South #807

office key

1. Photograph: Earl “Fatha” Hines by Dennis Stock
2. Animation cel set-up: Dexter’s Laboratory by Genndy Tartakovsky
3. Wubbzy Ride-alongs
4. Poster: Bob Dylan by Tony Clough
5. Poster: Frederator 10th Anniversary by Adams-Morioka
6. Poster: 2008 Election by Yee-Haw Industries
7. Paintings: rough comprehensives for Oh Yeah! Cartoons by Todd Frederiksen
8. Painting: Tim Biskup
9. Photograph: John Coltrane (cover, Blue Train) by Francis Wolff
10. Animation layout: Tom & Jerry by Hanna & Barbera
11. Blackboard: Pink Panther
12. Poster: My Life as a Teenage Robot (by Rob Renzetti, designed by Jill Friemark) launch
13. Sculpture: Fredbot by Frank Olinsky
14. Bowling Ball: The Fairly Oddparents by Butch Hartman
15. Posters: hundreds of them
16. Animation sericel: Mike Fontanelli for Spumcø
17. Animation production cel set-up: Lupo the Butcher by Danny Antonucci
18. Photograph: Sonny Rollins (cover, Sonny Rollins Volume 2) by Francis Wolff
19. Lamp: The Fairly Oddparents by Butch Hartman
20. Totem pole: The Fairly Oddparents by Butch Hartman
21. Poster: ChalkZone (by Bill Burnett & Larry Huber) wrap party, by Hatch Show Print, Nashville, Tennessee
22. Monoprint: Bill Monroe, by Jim Sherraden, Hatch Show Print, Nashville, Tennessee
23. Poster: “The Future is Now!”, Rosie the Robot (Jetsons), in-house Hanna-Barbera meeting

Author? Animator?

November 1st, 2010

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David Levy has proved it over and over again. Being a talented artist and animator doesn’t prevent anyone from being a good writer. Case in point, Dave’s third book, Directing Animation, where he easily brings us through story after story of success (and sometimes, not so much) from the trenches of our business. (Full disclosure: there’s a chapter on internet cartoons, featuring the Frederator production of Dan Meth’s “The Meth Minute 39.” Alas, no embarrassing, humiliating stories this time.)

If you’re looking for some of the best reading to be done from the inside out of the animation industry, you’d do a lot worse to check out all of Dave’s library, from how to break into and thrive in the business, to getting a show on the air.