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Fred Seibert's Blog

Smile! (more postcards from Frederator)

December 27th, 2010

Frederator Postcards Series 11
Frederator Postcards Series 11 [soundly rejected]

Frederator Postcards Series 11.1 Frederator Postcards Series 11.2 Frederator Postcards Series 11.5 Frederator Postcards Series 11.5 Frederator Postcards Series 11.3

We’ve been so incredibly busy this year, especially in the last couple of months, I completely forgot to post about the latest Frederator postcards, Series 11. Sorry about that. So instead of putting them up as they go (went) out, here’s the whole kit and caboodle, even the unpublished ones.

A new series timed with the official release of our title cards book will be out soon, chock full of cartoon images familiar to Frederator Blog readers, but for this one I was hoping to get at the essence of why we even make cartoons here. When people ask me about my work I pretty much tell the that my job’s the greatest in the world because we get to make people happy. What’s better? Really.

And to answer a question already received, no, none of these pix is me or my kids.

Be happy.

Book> The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip Hop by Dan Charnas

December 26th, 2010

The Big Payback

“The young … have no reference for the time before hip-hop: when rappers couldn’t get their records played on radio or show on TV; when Black artists of any genre were asked, literally, to make their music sound and make themselves look Whiter; when Black actors and actresses didn’t star in summer blockbuster films; when Black women who actually looked like Black women didn’t grace the covers of magazines; when Black men and women didn’t own multimillion-dollar companies based on selling their own culture to the nation and the world.”  
–from Dan CharnasThe Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip Hop

Most of the books I post about here are about the cartoon business, though on rare occasions I’ll let you in on what’s on my personal bookshelf. Rarely, seeing as my reading tastes are often off the beaten path of cartoons; fiction-wise I read mysteries almost exclusively. But in non-fiction I spend a lot of time (too much time) reading about pop culture (including a lot of animation), with a lot of focus on the behind-the-scenes machinations on the business behind the culture. (It probably explains why, when I stopped playing piano, I flipped onto the other side of booth and started recording music, which eventually led to producing television and film.)

Today, a twitch from Mark Zuckerberg makes headlines, but back in the day a simple rock star’s simple statement could shake the world. Before internet philosophy came to dominate world thought, music culture –more than movies, television, and yes, sadly, cartoons– defined American culture and therefore, at least in our last century, world culture. And, of course, to anyone who’s paying attention, whether one loves The Beatles or Megadeth or Josh Groban or Fela Anikulapo Kuti, or even the Monsters of Folk, the defining force in music (and back around, for the whole world’s culture) for over 100 years has been American black music.

Last year, my obsession was Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneers (Music in American Life) by John Broven, about the indie pop record business in the second half of the 20th century, which, along with Arnold Shaw’s Honkers and Shouters, gave me a thorough view of the cutting edge of pop culture. Both those books trailed off before hip hop, the last defining black musical –and cultural– explosion of the century.

Dan Charnas has done a great job reporting the cross currents of “joy and pain, triumph and failure, grace and greed” (Jeff Chang) that created, nurtured, and eventually, got the better of hip hop. I’ve tried to read a lot of hip hop histories over the years, but inevitably been turned away by the terrible writing, editorializing, and inaccuracies. But the final chapters Tony Fletcher’s excellent All Hopped Up and Ready to Go: Music from the Streets of New York 1927-77 and Jay-Z’s Fresh Air interview last month whet my appetite for more and Charnas delivers the first book that makes me want to get over my listening limitations (after Rapper’s Delight I was a big fan from “Sucker MC’s” through the mid-90s, but I pretty much got lost at Wu-Tang).

Whether you care about hip hop or not, if you’re reading this blog you’re involved with pop culture. If you want to know more about what makes it what it is, read The Big Payback. If you like to read, you won’t be disappointed.

Bonus track: Here’s what started the whole thing, the Sugarhill Gang’s original 12″ of Rapper’s Delight.

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]

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

51y0juyzqjl_ss500_.jpeg

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.

Bad Dexter!

October 26th, 2010

Last night, at my annual visit to Jim Arnoff’s senior animation class at SVA in New York, I got a question about a mythical banned episode of Dexter’s Laboratory. Since it happened after my time on the series I called Genndy during the class.

“Actually there was one episode that they didn’t air. It was called ‘Rude Removal.’ Dexter made foul mouthed duplicates of him and DeeDee. Everytime they swore we bleeped them but standards didn’t like it.”

Marc Chamlin: Behind the Scenes @ Frederator

October 23rd, 2010

Marc Chamlin

Kevin Kolde calls Frederator attorney Marc Chamlin the “King of Cartoons” in honor of his TV animation client list. But that only scratches the surface of his amazing career as the Chair of the TV Practice Group at Loeb & Loeb, one of America’s premiere law firms. Marc and I met when he was an associate at Phillips Nizer in 1983 and it sure didn’t occur to me we’d be traveling companions for over 25 years.

We’ve worked together through great successes and devastating failure, through my independence, corporate employment, and back again. No matter what the circumstance Marc’s been a loyal, inspiring presence, with smart advice and encouraging words. More importantly, he’s been the kind of person that keeps a producer grounded. Not the kind of lawyer who grinds the other side for every point and every penny, he’s a guy who feels like a negotiation’s been successful only when everyone at the table, on every side of an issue, feels like they’ve won.

I’m always skeptical when business people tell you that all of their work colleagues are “friends.” But, in the case of Marc Chamlin, one of the two most constant companions throughout my work life, we’ve definitely become friends. What a pleasure.