Mort Drucker and TV Animation. From Shazam! The Wonderful World of Comix fanzine issue #7 (1972), artist Neal Pozner got one of my favorite cartoonists of all-time Mort Drucker to talk about his work in doing animation for commercials.
“For example, let’s take the Vote toothpaste commercial. The art director had drawn three pictures of different stages which he gave me to work with. These comprehensives (“rough sketches”) had no personality. They were rough stick figures. This was the direction in which the client wanted me to go and I was to establish characters and a sequence of drawings. I had to break it down to six pencil drawings.
“When I submitted these six drawings, I hadn’t heard any voice tapes. After those drawings were accepted, I did twenty more drawings in various stages. When they were accepted, two of them were done in a final, color version. All of these drawings were given to Focus, an animation house, who gave them to a staff of illustrators.
“They don’t create anything, but just fill in the steps in-between on cels. They don’t necessarily all have to be full drawings. Some can be one part of the body moving. They’re traced over a light board. For a one-minute commercial like this, about eight hundred or so drawings are required.
“A good commercial depends wholly on the animators. They can ruin it or make it successful. It’s very important that a cartoon flows well. There are some animators who try to cut corners and ruin the flow. The finished version looks choppy and the animators do a poor job in copying the artists’ style. As a result, the commercial becomes hacked up. Focus is a top animation house and I was pleased with the finished version in this case. The actual commercial was run on Joey Bishop’s old show and couple of other places. It did very well.
“I did one for Utica Beer. (Comedian) Henny Youngman’s voice was used and they wanted me to come up with a caricature that would portray him in simple form. My intricate style had to be simplified for TV animation. The more intricate, the harder it is to animate.
“I met Youngman at a MAD magazine party and that was the only association I ever had with him. I remember he made a big fuss over my wife. The final was very successful. The client really liked it. It plays in upstate New York, where Utica Beer is very popular. Because of this, I’ve never seen the final version.
“They have a way of testing commercials, using a rating system from one to fifteen. This commercial got the highest rating, fifteen.
“I did another commercial for Arm and Hammer. We animated the hand on the package. A little germ ran across the screen and the hand stomped it. These were two thirty-second commercials like that done by the same animation house. They also did pretty well, from what I understand.
“I was working on a Saturday morning cartoon series that fell through for Steve Krantz Productions, under Ralph Bakshi. It was supposed to be all about animals. They’re a good and successful outfit but the show was never bought.”
Not a Batman Fan. “I know TV has an impact on children. I’ve seen the animated Batman series turn my three year old into a little monster. Now, he’s not allowed to watch it,” said actor Billy “Lost in Space” Mumy to the National Enquirer newspaper July 6, 1993
Fievel Fan. According to Leah Adler, Steven Spielberg’s mother, her famous filmmaker son called her one day and asked, “What was Dada’s (her father’s) Jewish name?” She replied, “Fievel” and then didn’t hear any more about it until An American Tail (1986) came out with a little Jewish mouse named Fievel. Adler told the story on an episode of the TV show Only In Hollywood on July 31, 1993.
Bob Godfrey Remembers Terry Gilliam. Bob Godfrey was an English animator who worked in the business for a half a century and was responsible for Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit (1961) that featured some cut-out animation among other techniques. In 1990 while teaching an animation Master Class sponsored by BAFTA, he remembered, “Terry Gilliam when he used to do cut-out animation for Monty Python did a lot of the animation at my studio. He would turn up with boxes of arms, legs, bodies, and a rough storyboard idea. He used the storyboard as a guide but under the camera is where it came alive.
“Once he had those bits and pieces on the animation stand, he made it all happen. Things came alive. We once left a tape recorder running when Terry and his assistant were working on a session. On playback, it’s very funny. ‘Where is Number Two foot? I need Number Two foot!’ ‘I think Number Two foot is stuck to the bottom of your shoe, Terry’ “So it is”. I wish Terry had stayed with animation as I think this is his best work. The live action stuff is just out of control in a different way. But I don’t think Terry has the patience anymore for animation.”
Cats That Never Were. In 1990, it was announced that Steven Spielberg and Andrew Lloyd Webber would make a full length animated film of the Tony winning musical Cats. It was to be produced by Amblin and released through Universal. MCA Motion Picture Group chairman said he expected Cats to take between eighteen and twenty-four months to complete. It was expected the film would open in late 1991 or sometime in 1992. No screenwriter had been selected and there was no decision on whether celebrity voices would be used.
Wisdom of Joe Barbera. In the Los Angeles Times June 17, 1990, animation producer Joe Barbera said, “Our major success for years was with original characters. Today, you have to either get a comic book that’s working somewhere, or a superhero that’s established a track record in comic books, or a take-off of a character that’s in a hit prime-time show. We did a Laverne and Shirley cartoon series; we did a Fonz cartoon series. I guess it gives people, network officials, a feeling of security to work with something familiar.”