The Universal Animation Studio Tour That Never Was. In 1966, Grantray-Lawrence studios produced 195 six minute shorts featuring the Marvel superheroes Iron Man, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Captain America and Thor. (Previously they had done animated commercials and assisted on animation for other studios like Hanna-Barbera. The studio was run by Grant Simmons, Ray Patterson and Bob Lawrence.) They also produced the first animated Spider-Man television series for ABC in 1968.
Ray Patterson remembered, “Spider-Man was different. It was completely drawn from the beginning, just like a regular show. We had around eighty people working on the show so it was a pretty big deal. Thirteen half hours for ABC. We took over that old hotel across from the Universal Studios entrance (in California) and remodeled the whole thing, made it look all cartoony with different colored doors and everything. As a matter of fact, we had a booth all set up on the Universal tour that would have animators in there and girls painting cels. We were all set up to do it, but then we closed the studio in 1968, after the first season of Spider-Man was finished, and that was the end of that. We trusted the wrong people.”
Making Ends Meet. Animator Bob Givens said that he loved doing animation and it wasn’t because of the money. “We weren’t making that kind of dough, just an average salary. In 1938, Dave Swift, Rich Hogan and I (along with two others) were living in a single bedroom apartment. One guy slept in the bathtub, two guys slept in a bed, another slept on the couch and one slept in the kitchen. That’s how we were able to pay the rent.”
Why You Should Love The PJs. Whether you liked comedian Eddie Murphy’s The PJs (1999) clay animated television series or not, it was definitely groundbreaking in a major way. Thanks to the aggressive advocacy of producer and writer Steve Tompkins, after weeks of negotiations and discussions, the Writers Guild of America signed an agreement with Imagine Television in May 1999 to cover the series under the union’s Minimum Basic Agreement. Basically, this meant that for the first time ever, writers on an animation series were given the same salary, rights and benefits that live-action writers had enjoyed for over half a century.
Did Don Bluth Inspire Joss Whedon? Don Bluth in 2009 stated about his unmade Dracula feature (planned to begin production for Fox in 1998): “Dracula was a very interesting project. It was shelved because of story problems. The first pass at the story played Dracula as the hero – a not too sympathetic one, you can imagine, since he went about the city biting people on the neck. We originally thought we could find some form of redemption in this infamous vampire, but we failed. I couldn’t help notice, however, that a vampire series called, “Angel,” appeared on TV shortly thereafter. Scripted by Joss Whedon. Wait a minute, Isn’t Joss Whedon the same writer that sat in on the story meetings hired by Fox to write the Dracula script? Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” Whedon did contribute to the script of the Bluth animated feature Titan A.E. (2000).
What’s In A Name? The wonderful animated feature by Brad Bird, The Iron Giant (1999), was inspired by a British sci-fi novel, The Iron Man, by writer Ted Hughes published in 1968. When an American book edition was printed later that same year, the publisher changed the title to The Iron Giant to avoid confusion with the Marvel Comics superhero character, Iron Man, who was soaring in popularity. Hughes wrote a sequel in 1993 entitled The Iron Woman.
Charlton Heston Animation Reference Model. Kristof Serrand was the supervising animator of the older Moses in the animated feature The Prince of Egypt (1999). “I tried not to look at Charlton Heston’s performance (in the 1956 film The Ten Commandments). When I did look, it was to try to avoid doing the same thing. The challenge was to make him believable and alive. In every scene, I was thinking, ‘What would an average person do when put into this kind of situation?’ or ‘How would I react?’ This is kind of difficult when you think of meeting God. You can’t really rely on your own experiences.”
The Mr. Hankey War. Trey Parker of South Park fame talked in 1998 about the controversy surrounding talking poo generated by the December 1997 episode Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo.
“When we were getting courted by all the networks, for people wanted the show, I remember I sat down with (Comedy Central executives) Eileen Katz and Debbie Liebling at our first meeting like two years ago, at dinner. I said, ‘You know, one thing I have to know before we really go any further. How do you feel about talking poo?’ And Eileen, I remember, just was like ‘I love it’. We had the idea for ‘The Mr. Hankey Show’ even before South Park. It’s what we originally pitched to Brian Graden (who became the president of MTV) and he was like, ‘Sounds great. Let’s NOT do that.’
“John Kricfalusi, the guy who created Ren & Stimpy, after the Christmas show had aired was making some big noise about the fact that Mr. Hankey was rip-off of some character he created on his website (Nutty, the Friendly Dump). It really pissed me off just because I actually wrote him specifically saying ‘Mr. Hankey has actually appeared on the opening sequence of South Park since it aired in August and even before that when we made the pilot a year before that’. Like I said, we pitched that to Brian years ago and before that Mr. Hankey was something I did in college.
“And so, you know, Brian Graden was the first one to come out and say ‘I was pitched Mr. Hankey four or five years ago’. (Kricfalusi) wrote a letter back saying ‘oh, okay, I see how it could just be a coincidence but you should admit to the press you are a big Ren & Stimpy fan’. I’m not a Ren & Stimpy fan. I have nothing against it. I saw an episode or two but that’s about that.”