April 29, 2016 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #260

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.

687417“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.

drucker-youngman“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

fivel-smallFievel 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.”



  • Surprised how Anson Williams (“Potsie” Webber) who was part of Happy Days wasn’t part of Fonz and The Happy Days Gang or did a animated version of Potsie. After Fonz and the Happy Days Gang was cancelled after one season both Fonz and his pooch Mr Cool joined up with Laverne and Shirley for the second season of Laverne & Shirley in The Army. At one time Happy Days, and their respective spin off series Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy (animated by Ruby-Spears productions) had their own animated series including the parody on the Fonz Hey-y-y-y It’s the King.

  • I had heard that Fonz & The Happy Days Gang was made because Hanna-Barbera couldn’t get the rights to do a cartoon of “Doctor Who.”

  • Batman‘s real harm has been to negatively influence the character designs for 20+ years of superhero cartoons, which at best are run of the mill, bland, and boring. Hexagonal heads, skinny necks, no variety or original ideas. Superhero cartoons now are where Hanna Barbera was in the 70’s, and they’re just as mediocre and dull as their rice paper poster book literary counterparts. They need to wipe the slate clean and start over entirely with an artist like Des Taylor. Make the women hotter and get rid of the angular fetus look.

    • Even Chuck Jones started doing those nonviolent network specials like Raggedy Ann.

      Also Batman was not for kids. It’s like Beverly Hills 90210 on that same network. Fox was always for teenagers only.

    • I would disagree with that as I found the animations works done by folks such as Bruce Timm and Paul Dini some of the best super hero stuff out there. Matter of fact, I wish those guys were consultants on the live-action DC films. They know the difference in tone between Superman and Batman unlike some people.

    • Hi Nic,
      I agree that Timm and Dini have talent, specifically when Timm worked for Bakshi and Dini worked for Lucasfilm and Filmation. The inability to distinguish between one “dark, brooding” superhero and the other doesn’t begin with those two guys though, and is a result of what the John Byrne refers to as the “fans-turned-pro” scenario. It’s what turned comics into a flailing niche market and took them out of the supermarkets and gas stations. In the case of Batman this began with Batman #253, where because at the time DC held both rights to The Shadow and Batman they had him confess to the Shadow (making a pointless guest appearance) that he had always admired and emulated him. Before this, Batman wasn’t easily confused with Superman, but he definitely wasn’t “dark, brooding” version every other costumed hero including Superman today aspires to be. The Burton movies, the Timm cartoon, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, the Nolan films, et al are all symptoms of the marketing decisions which created the comic book niche market that ruined the industry, and didn’t do animation any favors either.

    • Ugh, I’m getting tired of these pointless rants.

    • Timm and Dini know the difference between Superman and Batman, but they might not know the difference between Batman and Batman is all I’m saying. It’s probably some animators union thing started by Chuck Jones to keep Song Of The South out of circulation.

    • Having just re-read the issue, I think DC’s point was to glom Batman onto the Shadow mythos while they still had rights to the character.  This changed the tone of Batman, which was emulated across the board, comics went public, the speculator market crashed, and comics became a niche market the titles of which became movies and television shows.  Cartoon Research is respected by many in the industry and if by a slim chance analysis in these articles and in their comments had a positive impact on future creative decisions, I think it would be infinitely more beneficial to the art form than reading “I love Batman! More Batman!” The average comicon eunuch would never understand that concept because they can’t look at art objectively and glom onto the art of others at a personal level much like Batman did the Shadow. Their lowered expectations only fuel mediocrity.

    • Sounds like something from “The National Enquirer”.

    • The designs for Batman the Animated Series was good. I suppose in the wrong character designer’s hands who mistakenly believe Bruce Timm’s designs to be about angularity, imitators might do a bad job.

  • Batman: The Animated Series and its direct successors were non-kid shows, in the manner of Futurama and, yes, The Simpsons. They may have finessed the sex and violence to some degree, but they were as clear as a pre-code movie.

    I always felt the character designs purposely echoed the hard-edged Filmation versions of the DC heroes, which — at the time — felt slicker and way cooler than HB. And that the true audience for Batman: TAS was aging boomers. It delivered what we always wished the Filmation product would deliver — fleshed-out stories, more lavish animation, some character depth and, gasp, implied sex.

  • “I guess it gives people, network officials, a feeling of security to work with something familiar.”

    Does that summarize almost all Hollywood blockbusters?

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