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Archive for the ‘World Premiere Toons’


An interview with director Robert Alvarez.

December 17th, 2010

Photograph of Robert Alvarez @ Cartoon Network by Steve Hulett, 2010    Robert Alvarez

Listen to Robert’s two part interview here and here.

Director & artist Robert Alvarez is one of the great ones, and incredibly important to me (and Frederator). So I was very pleased to listen to the oral history interview posted this week by feature film writer Steve Hulett of Hollywood’s Animation Guild.

As you can hear in the interview, Robert’s wanted to be in the cartoon biz since he was in the 8th grade, he succeeded in getting into the industry very early, and he’s been a thriving, creative stalwart for over 40 years. His imdb page has its first credit as 1969’s animated Winky Dink and You, and he’s worked on the full range of projects from The Smurfs to Samurai Jack (where he got his first Emmy®) right through to Regular Show.  You really can’t keep a good man down. Every new generation of talent is eager to make their own mark on the business and looks skeptically on the people who came before them, as if they’re somehow not good enough for their masterpieces. After initial doubts, Robert has won over every new group of creators that have invigorated cartoons for the almost 20 years I’ve known him. He’s done it with his skills, certainly, but it might be his patience, excitement, and generosity that have most triumphed.

When I arrived at Hanna-Barbera in 1992, Robert was one of the veterans who’s respect I seriously desired. He was the real deal, a talented, serious professional who was also a complete animation fanboy. If only I could convince him that my plans for the studio weren’t frivolous or mercenary. We had a minor tussle early on, when he thought I might be treating the characters recklessly and I think he was convinced my love for them was genuine. But, it was after he started working with Pat Ventura on his first short for us that we really bonded. I was extremely proud that Robert went on to create Pizza Boy and Tumbleweed Tex for What A Cartoon! (He’s nice enough to mention moi in the second part of the interview, talking about the changes we brought to Hanna-Barbera.)

I want to put in a word for the Animation Guild and its Business Representative Steve Hulett too.  There’s probably no institution more dedicated to keeping show business animation alive than the Guild (no, not Disney or Pixar), and Steve’s right at the front of the line. I was once a Doubting Thomas having grown up throughout my life in management (my parents owned their own business, and I’ve been running companies for quite a few years) and having had a few particularly unpleasant run-ins with a past Guild president. But, now I send every single new Hollywood animation arrival straight over to Steve. I know he’s there to make everyone’s entry into the industry as smooth and productive as possible, and that the Guild runs classes and events designed to broaden everyone’s skills and networking possibilities. They’re a bunch of solid citizens over there, and I encourage everyone with an interest to check out their site and blog as often as possible. We’re all indebted.

And I love these oral histories, four of which are posted on the blog now. Keep ‘em coming Steve, we’re all waiting.

Available on Amazon.

December 15th, 2010

Book cover illustrated & designed by Carlos Ramos
Original Cartoon Title Cards from Frederator Studios [cover]

OK, here ’tis on Amazon.com, Original Cartoon Title Cards from Frederator Studios, before Christmas, as we hoped. Not sure if they can actually deliver it by next week, but you can check. The official release date is in March, so at least you can get a head start on everyone else. In the meanwhile, you can preview the whole book below to see if it’s worth it to you.

Here’s the blurb (and here’s the entire introduction):

Please, consider the unconsidered art of the original cartoon title card.

For almost a century, the art of the cartoon title card has not been disparaged, disregarded, or dismissed. It has been completely ignored. And by the 1970s it had almost completely disappeared.

Over 200 full color original title cards from hit Frederator cartoon series, including The Fairly OddParents, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!, Fanboy & Chum Chum, Adventure Time, and eight more.

Frederator loves you.

Original Cartoon Title Cards from Frederator Studios

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]

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 22.

October 25th, 2009

Dexter's Laboratory in
Video frame grabs from Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Dexter’s Laboratory in ‘The Big Sister‘”

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21.

A server failure at our website caused the loss of our frame grab gallery of What A Cartoon! shorts. It seemed like a good push to add a post to our history.

What A Cartoon! was still an unnamed project of 48 “Looney Tunes length” shorts with more hope than actuality when we started taking pitches in earnest in 1993. No one had attempted anything like this before in the television animation era, and I wasn’t sure that anyone else shared my optimism at the beginning.

The Hanna-Barbera development team, led by Jeff Holder and Ellen Cockrill, with significant input from production head Buzz Potamkin, dug right in. They got the word out, literally all over the world, that the studio had entered an unprecedented phase, and that we were looking for the ideas from all corners. No longer would ours be a top down studio; animators had a better idea what cartoons should be than executives and we were out to support them in every way we could. Eventually, we received storyboards from all over the world, thousands of them. Many from within the studio and from the Los Angeles industry, but from also from schools and international centers of animation. (Occasionally, we even used the then brand new technology of video conferencing to take uncomfortable pitches from Turner Broadcasting’s London office.) In all, the development group estimated we received over 5000 pitches for the 48 slots we were planning.

I was hoping for an idealistic diversity in our filmmakers that could solve the inequities of our business overnight. It wasn’t just a uptopian hope either; I’d seen the direct benefits in other creative businesses like movies, television and music. The wider the palette of creative influences, the wider and bigger the audiences. It was time for cartoons to go in the same direction. And while we received a smattering of pitches from people of color, women, and international creators, it would take us at least 15 years before I really started seeing a clear progression. But, as it was, we had creators from Europe and Canada (like Bruno Bozetto), Asia (like Swamp & Tad), the heartland of the US (Jerry Reynolds), and colleges (like Seth MacFarlane). There were plenty of young series first timers (like Genndy Tartakovsky, Craig McCraken, Rob Renzetti, Butch Hartman, and John Dilworth), but veterans too (like Don Jurwich, Jerry Eisenberg, and Ralph Bakshi).

All in all, it was an incredible process with amazing results (yes, I’m aware of my justified hyperbole). 5000 pitches begat 48 shorts and seven series. No studio had attempted this scale in 30 or 40 years. Each creator was treated just so, as a filmmaker, not a factory worker with hands to do the bidding of management. And though our ends were definitely commercial, I think the results were almost like art films. Not too many voices in the mix, just one creator (or creating team), one film.

I’m very proud of the work everyone did on the What A Cartoon! shorts (eventually promoted as World Premiere Toons on Cartoon Network). Whether it was the development and production groups, marketing, PR, even accounting, we were all there to support the creators who put their asses on the line, pencils on the paper, and came up with original work in a business that hadn’t been interested for a very long time. Viva cartoons!

Video frame grabs from What A Cartoon!
What A Cartoon! titles The Powerpuff Girls in Courage the Cowardly Dog Yucky Duck in Jof in

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21.

Another year, a bunch of cool cartoons.

August 21st, 2008

1997 Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Calendar

By the time this calendar was published in late 1997, I’d left Hanna-Barbera for Frederator. But, not without a lot of pride in the great, original series that were finally getting under way from our first shorts program, like Dexter’s Laboratory, Cow & Chicken, and Johnny Bravo. And, lo and behold, to this day Cartoon Network Studios has kept up my tradition of cool calendars for their friends.

…..

1997 Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Calendar

Credits from the back cover:

Concept/Art Direction/Design: Patrick Raske / Barbis & Raske

Creative Directors: Julie Prendiville Roux /Jeff Gelberg

Contributing Art Directors: Mardel Castetter, Jim Scott / Night Network, Inc.

Production Manager: Ken Weisbrod
Production Coordinator: Karin Kittel
Production Artist: Andrew Theo
Executive Assistant: Dennis Delrogh

Printing: ColorGraphics, Jon Sobel

TM & ©1998 Hanna-Barbera Inc. A Time Warner Company. All rights reserved. All characters and related elements depicted herein are trademarks and copyrighted by Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc. or Cartoon Network Studios, Inc.

Cow and Chicken
Created by David Feiss

Johnn Bravo
Created by Van Partible

Dexter’s Laboratory
Created by Genndy Tartakovsky

“What can you say about Ralph?”

April 6th, 2008

The Complete Ralph Bakshi

There’s always someone who blows up the conventional wisdom and then the world is never the same. Ralph Bakshi is the one in animation, and we can all thank him every day.

Jon M. Gibson and Chris McDonnell have written Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi and filled it with insights and tons of art that will remind a lot of people why they thought it would be cool to be in the cartoon business, suggest to others why they wonder why they got in, and introduce everyone else to the person some of us always describe by “What can you say about Ralph?”

I should add I was thrilled Jon & Chris mentioned the couple of shorts of we did with Ralph in the 90s at Hanna-Barbera. It was an honor he chose to work with our then experimental program (I guess it’s in keeping with the man) and helped introduce our wacky idea to the world. Thanks Ralph.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 21.

January 6th, 2008

Pat Ventura

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20.

So the Hanna-Barbera shorts program –still unnamed– was off and running. Everyone in development, and the production department leaders, was out beating the bushes looking for animators who wanted to make their own cartoons, their own way.

As we were out in the world trying to convince creative folks that Hanna-Barbera was serious about doing original shorts (remember, the animation industry had made it clear that original ideas were not to interesting or, for that matter, commercially viable), our hardest immediate job was convincing people already working at the studio. For years there had been almost no history of taking an idea from a staff member for a show. Everyone thought I was just spouting a line, or at the very least naive, and most of the company went about their daily jobs not paying too much attention to my call for shorts.

If I remember correctly, the first person who started a short was Pat Ventura. We met through John K while he was a writer on Tom & Jerry Kids (he wanted first hand experience working with a master like Joe Barbera) and struck up an immediate sympatico. He helped me often in my thinking about the shorts program, and his original style and excitement (tinged with a shade of cynicism) made me want to start a project with him. Since he was a Tex Avery fan I thought maybe launching him with one of Tex’s characters could make a smooth transition into the program, and when he suggested George and Juniorwe gave him the greenlight.

Of course, any short we began with would start a ruckus, and Pat was the perfect guy to help us through the muck.

From the very start there was a huge, tremendous positive. Basically, the feeling among the artists was, “If he’ll give that guy a short, he must be serious. Or crazy. Maybe both.” It was clear to everyone that Pat was a complete original who would never get a chance to do his own thing anywhere in the Hollywood commercial animation establishment. He was obviously a talent who would get a chance to contribute to some studio project (he’d worked on Aladdin and Roger Rabbit at Disney, for instance), but really, wasn’t he was too out there? Once it was clear that Pat was a ‘go’ lots of the folks, newbies and veterans both, started working on their own boards.

Once work started on the short the shit really started to cascade.

A little background you might already know: the real revolution at Hanna-Barbera was the ability of Bill Hanna to create tightly organized productions that could be systematized, reducing costs enough to be affordable for television stations. Everything –art & models, layout, directing, animation, voice recording, etcetera– was split up into departments, all controlled at the top by Bill and Joe. Decision making was highly centralized into as few places as possible, reducing waste of time and money. It worked great at the beginning, when the whole staff was the cream of the world class folk who made the great theatricals of the first half of the century, but began breaking down into merely hack-like efficiency as newbies came into the industry during its 30+ years. By the time Ted Turner bought the company in 1991 there were decades of rationalization piled on convenience, the famous system was spiritually, not to say creatively, broken, and existed merely for the sake of inertia.

Everything came to a head most clearly over voice acting and directing. My head of production, Buzz Potamkin, assigned veteran Larry Huber to supervise all the shorts production. Larry had been in the business since 1969 and had seen the transition from full to limited animation, from full on American production to overseas animation, and was comfortable with his superiors, his peers, and the young turks invading. But, as much as we insisted we wanted a return to a unit system of individual responsibility for a cartoon, Larry had to get along with the still powerful vestiges of Bill’s system.

Voice directing had become centralized with a “real director” who “understood actors,” like there was a big secret. Pat’s short was plugged into the game and his script was given over to one of the “voice directors” who “allowed” Pat to sit in on casting and recording, as if it was their right to decide. When I asked Pat about the session he told me everything was great, wasn’t that just the way it was? I realized what was going on and ordered everyone in the production line that from then on each of the shorts creators was to have final cut on all casting and would direct their own voice actors. If there was a disaster, so be it. To this day, I’m sure there was some weaseling going on around the edges, but all in all it worked OK. No actors refused to act, no voice sessions ended in horror, no cartoons were harmed.

When it came to directing, Larry assigned another veteran, but someone who’d been a young turk when he entered the biz 20 years before, Robert Alvarez. Robert did a pass on the exposure sheets, and this time Pat did come by my office to complain.

“He made the eyes blink!”

So?

“Tom and Jerry never blinked. Touché Turtle did. I don’t want the eyes to blink.” Pat filled me in on the directing compromises needed in TV animation, and keeping the eyes blinking while nothing else in the frame moved a hair was one of them. It wasn’t what he was looking for in his cartoons.

I called Larry and he patiently explained to me that Robert was directing on the very strict rules he was told to follow if he wanted to keep his job. And who didn’t want to keep their job? It was the same at every studio in town by then, and if a director directed by their own instincts they wouldn’t be working for long. I told Pat to tell Robert what he wanted, and that he’d be happy with the result. Robert was not only a pro, he wanted to involved with wonderful cartoons. Follow the creator.

Next thing I knew I was face to face with Robert. Scared to death I might add. Who was I, with no animation experience whatsoever, to question the wisdom of the best system ever devised for television cartoons? But Robert, a good man as well as a talented one (to very roughly paraphrase an old blues) shook my hand instead. He thanked me for trusting talent like Pat’s and trusting Hanna-Barbera to make great cartoons again. Soon, Robert was the go-to guy for everyone who wanted great animation direction in the short program, as well as creating two wonderful shorts of his own (Pizza Boy and Tumbleweed Tex).

Creators started to rule again.

(More next time)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 20.

September 16th, 2007

Organisational-Development2
We’d finally gotten the “shorts” program approved by my Turner bosses Scott Sassa and Ted Turner, and convinced the person running Cartoon Network it was actually her idea to produce 48 ‘classic length’ cartoon shorts over two years. If only I was right and the talented people in animation really wanted to make cartoons.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19.

Everyone at Hanna-Barbera Cartoons and Turner Broadcasting who cared fanned out across the globe to spread the word we were serious about making cartoons. Serious in every way. We were making 48 short cartoons over two years in a back-to-the-future kind of unit production way. Each “classic length” (7 minutes) short would debut, by itself, as a stand-alone cartoon on Cartoon Network. Each one would be a product of one cartoonist’s vision (or a self-selected team), produced the way the creator saw it. There was no concern on our part what an eventual series would be “about;” the short had to be great on its own without any allegiance to some preconceived “bible”. We didn’t care what the sitcom trends were, what Nickelodeon was doing, what the sales departments wanted. Even the music would be individually crafted scores, individually tailored to the film at hand, no stock library, pre-fabbed “beds” here. We wouldn’t ‘develop’ them; we wanted to make the cartoon the creator(s) wanted to make, not some executive idea of what they thought kids would like. And we wanted them to be laugh out loud funny.

We wanted cartoons.

Getting original cartoons into the studio and onto television required an army’s worth of work to begin with. Even those who thought this might be a good idea were hard pressed to explain it outside our BS sessions, and since not one person in the world had exactly been waiting for us to show up (at least, not consciously) it was going to require us to explain what we were talking about, explain it again, call back to cajole, convince artists that had never put together one classic cartoon idea from scratch (remember, studios and networks thought cartoons were hopefully passe´, animated sitcoms were where it was at) to put together a pitch storyboard. And, oh yes, the odds, as always in any entertainment project, were we were going to say “No” to their idea.

My closest studio co-conspirator during the run up to the shorts was the studio’s new head of production, Buzz Potamkin. We’d worked together on MTV in New York when he was an independent producer and he’d given me years of Hollywood cartoon biz insight which helped me get started at HB. Buzz could articulate better than I our strategy of re-creating the unit production system that had fueled the golden age, and suggested Larry Huber as the supervising producer for the new shorts unit (a role, among others, he’s successfully navigated through all 138 Hollywood based shorts we’ve produced). Buzz unsuccessfully suggested we make a short with Bill Plympton (it took me 20 years to get smart/brave enough to do it), but brought dozens of other creators to the table. Later, we’ll tell the story of how he convinced Ralph Bakshi to join our group of first-timers.

At Cartoon Network, founding programmer Mike Lazzo rallied his troops behind our efforts. He’d been managing Turner’s cartoons at Superstation TBS and TNT since he was, I don’t know, maybe two years old, and a uniquely brilliant blend of creative thinking and analytical programming. Mike was the person I turned to for inspiration, network thinking, and plain old jawing about cartoons.

The Hanna-Barbera development department (after slashing and pruning of about a dozen staff development writers –an extremely painful task– it was now primarily Jeff Holder, Ellen Cockrill, Margot McDonough, and Dan Smith) had a tough task. They needed to persuade folks that Hanna-Barbera was earnest about giving creative people a chance to do their own work. For decades HB had been a shop where you started or ended your career, but if you had creative ambitions you steered clear. I knew that to reverse the fortunes of the place, to keep Turner from closing the production studio altogether, we had to change that perception. Our shop had to become the place talent was clawing their way into. Hah!

And I was making the development job even harder. I didn’t want “development,” at least in the way they’d been trained, I just wanted them to go out and find hit cartoon creators (much easier typed than done, of course), people who could make a hit and sustain it no matter what happened to the executives or networks who discovered them in the first place. “Development” across television had become a haven for executives who had never produced anything themselves, or had washed out of the dog-eat-dog show biz environment, to take a fairly risk-less path to getting their own ideas out. A D-exec could lean back in their salaried chair and bark dictums (”make it funnier!” was a favorite of mine from an HBO executive) until an exciting, original piece of material resembled nothing more than a piece of product for the junk heap. When instead, they tried to bring me around to their point of view –why were they being paid as ‘development’ execs if their input wasn’t needed– I asked them a couple of simple questions.

“If there’s a successful cartoon series, who deserves the bonus? The creator or the executive?” “Both of us,” was the reply. Fine, and if there’s a failure, who gets fired? That wasn’t a question anyone wanted to answer. I was interested in a clear path back to a successful film, I wanted to know if the credit was “Created by Ray Sturgeon” it didn’t really mean “Created by Ray Sturgeon and a pack of execs.” Besides, I knew the average life of a development executive at studios was actually shorter than the time it took to get a hit series to air. If that was the case, and the exec was partially responsible for success, we were screwed if key members of the creative development worked for the competition by the time of the show. It had always struck me as a bogus approach anyway. William Shakespeare, Leonardo DaVinci, and Duke Ellington, had all made great, popular art with a singular vision. We could do it too. (Please don’t ras me with my artistic comparisons; I aim high.) When it was all said and done, our development folks bought the program, for as long as they were with us anyhow, and walked the walk and talked the talk.
So, anyway, all of us fanned out everywhere we could spreading the message, telling our story. Any way we could, we tried to put our money where our mouth was. We went to schools, we started a high visibility storyboard contest, we talked to union groups. We all had individual meetings with every artist in the studio who would be patient enough not to laugh in our faces. (Not a few came in ready to participate only to find out they wouldn’t be paid to create their storyboard. After all, all across the world entertainment business a creative idea was developed in free time, the creator got a royalty participation in all future success after all; no risk, no reward. But in animation, where it had always been “we have the ideas, you be the hands” it was pretty confusing to a lot of veterans.) We placed stories in the press in the US, Europe, and Asia. We were relentless in looking for talent. After all, we had 48 cartoons to make from a dead stop.

(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 19.

September 2nd, 2007

The Powerpuff Girls storyboard
Convincing the Turner Broadcasting powers that be that Hanna-Barbera could lead the way in creating cartoon shorts as seeds for hit series took almost two years.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18.

The question now was how do we actually make cartoons? Real cartoons, not animated sitcoms. Not shows that looked and sounded like cartoons, but were conceived and executed exactly the same way as animated sitcoms.

When I’d first started thinking about using authentic cartoon shorts as springboards for successful animated television series it was a blinding glimpse of the obvious that only the very best creative people could produce the best creative result. At the time, the late 80s, I’d only worked in live action (excepting things like the MTV network IDs) so I thought the answer was finding the best writers. I hadn’t yet heard John K’s Spumco admonition, “If you can’t draw, you can’t write.”

But, once I got into the business, it did strike me as odd that it seemed like the lowest people on the creative totem pole in animation were the artists, the animators, and the directors. Above them were network executives, studio management, development executives, writers, and producers. Jeeez, that made no sense, did it?

History and practicality had come to dictate to the cartoon biz that using writers in the same way as live action industry did. After all, there were more ‘writers’ coming to Hollywood to work than cartoonists, probably on a ratio of 100:1, and starting in the 60s it was easier to recruit trained television writers than re-train cartoonists to story. John K made it a crusade to reverse the tide, and I recalled my conversations with Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna, and Friz Freleng about making the great cartoons that defined the form I realized there was only one way for us to go if we were going to be successful.

There were a few times in the past where I’d try and institute a change in how creative productions were approached, and succeeding required what looked like a complete break with the status quo. Trying to straddle the old and the new had never worked for my groups and it didn’t look like it would work at Hanna-Barbera either. When I tried (with 2 Stupid Dogs and SWAT Kats) the old guard openly rebelled. Clearly a new approach was required.

So, for our new, unnamed, shorts program I laid down the law.

All pitches would be in storyboard form only. No pitch books, no ‘bibles’, no treatments, no episode ’springboards’. I wasn’t interested in what the show/series was going to be, I wanted to know exactly what film the creator was going to make. When we gave a green light, I wanted “development” to be over. We would start the actual production as soon as possible after “Yes.”

We would not take a pitch from a writer who hired an artist to make a storyboard. This project would be proof of (to me) a given. Cartoons were an aritst’s medium. If a writer originated a project, he/she would need to find an animation artist not as an employee but as a partner who was an integrated part of the project. From my perspective I would pay a lot more attention to the body language of the artist than the writer in making my final decision; I’d be looking to the artist as the leader of the project. Was I cutting noses off to spite our faces? Were we in danger of losing the opportunities wonderful writers might bring our way? Probably. Could artists really ‘write’? Who knew? The only thing I absolutely knew for sure was that most ‘writers’ couldn’t ‘write’ either. It’s really hard to create characters that the audience loved, and it didn’t matter a whit to me whether the originator used a pencil with drawings or a word processor. And for our cartoon studio the bias was always going to go to the artist/creator.

Lastly, and probably the most confusing to many, I wanted every final pitch to be in person. I wanted the board to be pinned up on the wall and the creator up in front telling us about the film he/she wanted to make. It was fine for a bunch of executives to read the board in privacy and then discuss it among themselves, but I wanted to see the creator, see the fire (or water) in their eyes, judge for myself exactly how much they cared about making cartoons. If they couldn’t prove it in person, with their film right in front of them, I wasn’t particularly interest. We would only win with the passionate filmmakers who had to make cartoons.

I guess the hard part to come would be in who would decide what cartoons to make? There were a number of interests to satisfy. Our studio development executives thought it was their job but our production executives thought it was theirs, the network wasn’t going to put up with anything it wasn’t completely satisfied with, and certainly there were my corporate financial overseers who were skeptical of the whole thing. And hey, there was me!

(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts. Part 18.

September 2nd, 2007

Obstacle Course
It took a long time, at least three or four years, to get from the idea in my head to actually getting a ‘green light’ to think about making cartoon shorts in the old school kind of way.

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17.

I’d worked at Hanna-Barbera Cartoons for less than a year when I passed the first big hurdle to getting my shorts idea going. But once I’d been able to convince the woman who ran Cartoon Network that doing 48 shorts was actually her idea, there were still quite a few obstacles remaining. In no particular order:

Ted Turner wanted to make stuff –TV movies, feature films, news shows, cartoons, whatever– he just wanted to make the stuff on his own terms. Meaning without unions, residuals, and royalties. His thinking, actually prevalent in old Hollywood, was that if he paid your salary he’d taken all the risk and he should own all your ideas lock, stock, and barrel. Theoretically, I didn’t blame him; they’re a nightmare costing millions over the years of people administering them and all that, but hey! that’s the way of the world, right? Eventually, Ted relented and approved sharing success with talent, but it took a year and a half.

A lot of other folks at Turner were confused by the whole thing. Not cartoons, per se –they didn’t care a whit if something was a cartoon, a movie, or a steel factory it seemed– it was just that the company was in the TV network business, and up until that time they’d only licensed shows and movies to run, never made them. So when we were suggesting spending a lot of money on completely risky productions (when you license a movie already made, you know whether it’s successful or not) and couldn’t accurately predict how much money would be made in advance, well, they stay confused. Somehow, over a two year period we wore them down with financial analysis and they eventually, grudgingly capitulated.

Then there were the folks in the TV animation industry, our competitors and friends. They completely thought I was nuts. It just wasn’t the way things were done. Shorts were so …uh, yesterday. It was the way the old guys did things in the old days. Well, duh, yeah. The way they did them when they made the greatest cartoons of all time, you jerks. (To be fair, there were a couple of people who were amazingly supportive. Particularly, Warner Bros. Animation President and former Hanna-Barbera executive Jean MacCurdy, and director/producer Phil Roman. Both of them made me feel emboldened and confident to go on.)

Probably the most disheartening were some of the creative people in the industry, both in and out of Hanna-Barbera. Some of them were folks who’d been entrenched in the way the system had operated for the 20 years before. Efficiency was all that mattered, and the only management worth listening to was the most senior person in the room, be they from the studio or, better, from the network. Development executives were committed to the status quo; after all, cartoon production had morphed into an aping of live action television, the place all of the D-execs aspired. The others who thought I was an idiot were the ones who already had ‘good’ jobs on shows like The Simpsons, Animaniacs, or Batman (we weren’t even a tiny blip on the feature films radar; they could care less about anything in TV); why should they care about what their inferiors were up to, they were being paid well for a long period of time? Well, the only way this thing was going to work was to ignore them all, so, I did.

So where’d our continuing faith and confidence come from? It was all the cartoonists who flocked to our doors with their ideas.

(More next time.)

Blog History of Frederator’s original cartoon shorts.
Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17.