September 18, 2015 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #230

Scheimer on Overseas Animation. Lou Scheimer was the President and Founder of Filmation Studios in 1987 when he talked to “Daily Variety” entertainment newspaper:

“In the 25 yeas since I founded Filmation, the cost of producing a series has doubled, then tripled to the point where only the highest rated domestic production stands a chance of showing a profit.

“But is sending work overseas the answer? I think not. Doing so creates problems of its own. It not only puts skilled, dedicated Americans out of work, but the relinquishment of creative responsibilities to foreign studios—no matter what the apparent economic advantage—ultimately carries in it the seeds of its own destruction.

“The prices now being charged by Japan for this artwork are almost the same prices being charged in this country. It doesn’t always stop there. I’ve seen the work is going from the U.S. to Japan, from Japan to Korea, Korea to Taiwan and sometimes even the Phillipines.

“Because our programs are primarily addressed to children, I have always felt a sense of responsibility as to their content and quality. In order to honor this responsibility, we need to control each and every step from script and storyboard through final editing and first-answer print. This is not possible when a large amount of the work is sent overseas. If you are going to do it right, you’ve got to do all of it right.”

Shaky Robot. Randy Thom, the sound effects person for Pixar’s “The Incredibles” (2005) always found creative ways to find unique sounds for the film. For Syndrome’s evil giant robot, Thom recalled, “Long before I was working on ‘The Incredibles’, I had recorded a real robot on a much smaller scale doing pretty much that same thing at the UC Berkeley robotics lab. This poor student had designed and built a robot for his class project. A day or two before his robot had to perform for his professor, I happened to show up wanting to record anything robotic. When I walked into the room, the robot was having some kind of electronic feedback problem and shaking like mad. I turned on my recorder immediately.”

Peter Chung. “Reign: The Conquerer” (1999) was a Japanese anime Cartoon Network/Adult Swim television series re-imagining of the life of Alexander the Great. Character and setting design for the show was done by Peter Chung, the Korean-American animator who created “Aeon Flux” (1991).

castIn a March 2, 2003 “Los Angeles Times” interview, Chung stated, “I came into the series as a character designer, but I ended up doing background and prop designs, as well. Rather than doing clean model sheets, I did a lot of rough conceptual work and their artists went over my drawings, showing the characters from different angles and in different poses. They needed me to generate ideas, and since the show had so many characters and locations, that kept me busy.

“I think they had trouble adapting my designs for the faces. I tend to draw more structure in the face, using lots of lines and very few shadows or highlights. The Japanese tend to draw faces without lines, using shadows and highlights to create volume. They ended up using both.

“One thing I tried to do in my designs was give Alexander more of a range of expressions. I did drawings of him smiling and laughing, which they never used. He never really changes expression, but that’s part of the Japanese approach to animation. A lot of strong Japanese lead characters are very reserved, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot going on inside them. Sometimes you can get more involved in a character’s inner state if you have to put some effort into reading it.”

Mexican Animation. In their later years, animators Milt Schaffer and Leo Salkin had a little office in a building between Vine and Cahuenga (that smelled of garlic from the restaurant on the first floor) where they were doing commercials for a Mexican advertising agency. The agency would send a simple storyboard for a bank or an oil company and Schaffer and Salkin would gag it up, have Rosemary O’Conner or Bob Dranko lay it out and then call in some animator like Dave Brain. Usually, there were only minor corrections (like size or placement of copy). Schaffer and Salkin were paid well and had the admiration of the agency.

Termite Terrace. Movie director and cartoon fan Joe Dante early in the 1990s wanted to produce a biographical comedy with HBO called “Termite Terrace”. It centered around director Chuck Jones’ version of his early years at Warner Bros in the 1930s with movie stars walking around the lot. Dante offered the project to Warner Bros and according to a 2007 interview Dante said he was told “Look, it’s an old story. It’s got period stuff in it. We don’t want that. We want to re-brand our characters and we want to do Space Jam.”

Whatever Happened to Disney’s The Secret Lab? Originally called Dream Quest Images, Disney bought that studio in 1996 while the film “Dinosaur” (2000) was in production and tried to merge it with the CGI unit working on the film. Dream Quest had received Academy Awards for its contributions to the films “Total Recall” (1990) and “The Abyss”(1989).

That merged group was dubbed The Secret Lab (TSL) in October 1999. Primarily Dreamquest had done effects for live action films. After “Dinosaur” under performed at the box office, the next film on the slate “Wild Life” (the odd story of an elephant who became a sensation on the New York City club circuit) was cancelled as well as a sequel to “Dinosaur”. When Disney needed effects work for films like “Pearl Harbor”, they went to ILM.

TSL was supposed to be able to take on Pixar that was poised to leave the Mouse House. It became clear that Disney had no intention of keeping the division alive with in-house work so they finally shut it down. The last film TSL worked on was “Kangaroo Jack” (2003). Disney walked away from over a hundred million dollar investment in hardware and talent.

So the only reminder was the joke that was made in The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) where a vengeful Yzma has her own secret lab.



  • The two Mexican firms that Mitt Schaffer & Leo Salkin provided for were Banco Serfin a major banking firm in Mexico and Bardahl a international automotive products firm which was famous for their Cars like commercials and that was way before The Chevron Cars commercials and the movie Cars came out.

  • Filmation did outsource animation for one cartoon: “Zorro” (to TMS).

    • Pretty much the only show simply because they were flooded with work that year.

      Watching a few episodes, it’s very clear TMS didn’t try to WOW Lou over any more than they had to in getting the show done on time, still, for an outsider effort, I wonder how much it inspired FIlmation to try a few things down the road? I always wondered if there was one or two guys at the studio who explored what was coming out of Japan at the time and wanted to incorporate/experiment such ideas in their work.

  • Lou Scheimer’s philosophy of keeping the animation domestic if possible is admirable, it’s just too bad all of Filmation’s shows had bare bones animation.

  • On some level the Zorro cartoon’s animation is superior to other Filmation productions. Mainly, I feel the Japanese animators had no fear. They would animate several people in a crowd running around, etc. I feel the American animators were too conscious of being limited in their animation, and things could get terribly stiff at times. While every Zorro shot isn’t great, they often had more life than what the American studio was doing. To be clear, I don’t believe this is because of talent, but because the limited process Filmation employed (which I certainly don’t mean to demonize), was unconsciously robbing animators of their gumption.

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