Saturday, August 05, 2006

Milt Gray on cartoon timing past and present

I asked Milt Gray to compare the way they timed cartoons during the Golden age of cartoons (1928-1960) to the way they do it now.

He's the perfect guy to do this comparison. Milt has researched and studied classic cartoons since the 1960s. He used to study them frame by frame on little film viewers-long before VCRs made that so easy to do. He interviewed countless classic animators and directors about how they did what they did.

While learning about the forgotten secrets of the past, Milt worked in the modern business (the dark ages of cartoons), first at Disney's, then at many Saturday Morning Cartoons, so he knows how full animation worked in the 60s, how limited animation worked at the Saturday Morning studios. He currently works on the most expensive per minute cartoon in history. He is a timing director on the Simpsons and has directed many other TV shows as well.

This is the guy, folks, who can tell you both systems, old and new. He talks a bit about old cartoon timing in general, and then more specifically about how Bob Clampett did it.

I asked him to give you his invaluable insights and knowledge for free. If you see him on the street, kiss him. Or get your sister to.



Milton Gray On Cartoon Timing Past and Present
Hi John,

You asked me to write about timing for animation, with an emphasis on
comparing the timing done for today's standard television cartoon
shows to the timing that Bob Clampett did on his 1940s Warner cartoons.

Actually, all that can be commented on are the differences, because
those two subjects are complete opposites. Bob Clampett's timing was
always creative and intuitive, and an integral part of the very
conception of his cartoons, whereas the timing in nearly all current
Hollywood television cartoon production is at most an afterthought
and completely mechanical.

CURRENT TV CARTOON PRODUCTION

Nearly all current television cartoon production is done one step at
a time, completely separate from every other step, and by different
people who are not allowed to have any contact with each other;
consequently, there is usually no artistic vision guiding the
production of these cartoons.

Typically, as you know, each individual television cartoon episode
begins with non-artists writing scripts. Even though there are some
writers in the business who love cartoons and respect the input of
artists, those writers are usually never hired. Instead, the
Hollywood suits usually hire writers who have no knowledge of cartoon
production and no interest in cartoons whatsoever; these writers
write mostly dialog -- usually hackneyed dialog, reflecting their
contempt for the medium they are working in. The only thought of
timing is to make the length of dialog fit the length of the show.

Then copies of these scripts are sent, simultaneously, to voice
actors and to storyboard artists. The storyboard artists are usually
under strict orders to not add or subtract anything, but to
illustrate the script in the most literal sense.

On a few shows, the storyboards are then handed to other artists (who
have no contact with the storyboard artists), to make layout drawings
-- and like the storyboards, the layouts have to follow the scripts
to the letter.

Finally, almost as an afterthought, the timing of the scenes -- by
people called "animation timers" -- is done by still other people.
The timing is mostly dictated by the length of the recorded dialog;
beyond that, there are strict rules, of a very mechanical nature, for
handling the few actions that take place between lines of spoken
dialog. A shocking fact is that most so-called animation timers
these days are people who have never animated, and therefore have no
real understanding of timing. But perhaps no matter -- the
relatively few people like myself who do have years of experience as
animators are forced to work in a straightjacket of restrictions --
of adhering to a small set of very mechanical "rules" (usually in the
name of "cost control" or "efficiency") that we are not allowed to
depart from.

Then everything done so far is sent halfway around the world, usually
to countries that do not speak English and have cultures of body
language completely different from our own, for other artists to do
the so-called animation. No wonder these cartoons come out stiff and
wooden, with no soul whatsoever.

CLASSIC CARTOON TIMING/BOB CLAMPETT

At the total opposite extreme is Bob Clampett at Warners in the
1940s, not just directing but really creating cartoon movies -- with
timing an integral part of his creative thinking from his earliest
inceptions.

It is said that in comedy, timing is everything, and I know that Bob
Clampett thought about timing all the time, always looking for new,
inventive uses of it.

The other directors at Warners, such as Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones,
also thought a lot about timing as a key element in their cartoons,
so it would seem more useful to compare Clampett's timing to that of
Freleng and Jones rather than to typical present-day television product.

In general, the most common thread in the 1940s Warner cartoons was
their very fast actions, broken up occasionally by the characters
pausing to make some wise cracks. This is where, superficially,
Clampett's timing will seem the most similar to that of Freleng and
Jones. But this is pretty much the entire range of the timing of
Freleng and Jones, whereas Clampett explored timing far beyond this
narrow area.

But first, let's look at the differences within this area. John, you
wrote recently about the differences in character acting, comparing
some of the best of Clampett in Falling Hare (a scene animated by Bob
McKimson) to some of the best of Jones in Rabbit Punch (a scene
animated by Ken Harris). In both cases, the respective directors had
a lot of input, so it wasn't just the animators flying solo. And, as
you articulated so well, the Jones-Harris scene was comprised of very
broad, general cliches of movement, while the Clampett-McKimson scene
was a masterpiece of precise, original acting, every nuance unique to
that exact moment of dialog and character emotion. Such a precision
performance requires not only a deep, careful analysis of physical
acting but also of timing. The real tragedy is that because such a
great accomplishment -- of draftsmanship, gesture and timing -- looks
so natural, it is taken completely for granted -- meaning, the
accomplishment goes by completely unnoticed -- by most cartoon fans,
critics and historians, resulting in the director and animator
receiving no credit at all when in fact they deserve to be lauded as
geniuses.

Unlike Freleng and Jones, Clampett's cartoons typically went far
beyond just fast character actions and character dialog. Among other
things, Clampett loved the medium of live stage theater, and because
of the extreme limitations of that medium (compared to movies), live
shows had to be very inventive in their staging and lighting, to
conceal this and reveal that at different times -- things that were
unavoidably on the stage all the time. Plus there were certain mood
effects in the use of colored lighting, and sometimes an actor would
unexpectedly swing off the stage on a rope, over the heads of the
audience. Bob was very impressed by this, and he wanted to inject
more of that into his cartoon movies, to make the entire picture come
alive on a kind of magic screen, rather than only the characters
moving on a static background. And timing was always central to his
thinking. Bob was also something of a hep cat, very interested in
the latest popular music, especially black jazz, and so his sense of
timing of the more abstract elements almost always included matching
actions to a specific rhythm.

Instead of simply cutting from one scene to the next, Bob would
sometimes move the characters and the props around, at the same time
as doing an iris wipe from one scene to the next, all with a very
specific rhythm, sometimes to suggest increasing tension in the
plot. Bob told me that on occasion, when he had a specific
syncopated rhythm in mind that didn't adhere strictly to a regular
beat, he would run blank film through a movieola at full (normal)
film speed, and tap on the film with a grease pencil the syncopated
rhythm he had in mind, and then take the film off the movieola and
count the frames between the marks. He would time his actions to
those numbers of frames, and then give that information to Carl
Stalling, who would compose music to fit that timing. I should have
asked Bob which films he did that in, but I didn't so I can only
guess, but a very likely candidate is the scene in Wagon Heels, about
5 minutes and 15 seconds into the cartoon:

Injun Joe has just fired (out of his mouth) a giant gun shell at the
circled wagon train, which blows everything off the screen (including
distant mountains). Then, in rapid succession, the wagon train's
wheels fall down to the ground, then the wagon train itself, then a
large foreground cactus, then the distant mountains, then there is a
quick iris wipe to the next scene (which is almost just empty
ground), then a white settler zips into scene, then Injun Joe zips
into scene to confront the settler, all in the space of about five
seconds. This is just a "quick transition" from one scene to the
next, but the timing and sense of energy is thrilling.



Another example in the same cartoon, but using only the wild actions
of one character, but with a very jazzy drum and percussion
soundtrack, is about 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the cartoon:
Sloppy Moe has just screamed into Porky's ear that he knows a
"SEEEEEE-CRET!", and then he bounds all over the screen and off into
the distance to this wild drum and percussion rhythm.



One can be very literal minded and say that these two scenes don't
make sense, but on a purely emotional level they feel so right, and
are absolutely surprising and thrilling.

Bob gave his cartoon timing a lot of importance. He wasn't just
frivolous about it. At the beginning of making each cartoon, once he
had the basic story gags worked out, he would spend one or more
evenings just walking alone on the beach, running the imagined
cartoon through his mind, as if he were seeing the finished cartoon
on a kind of magic screen in his head. The purpose was to envision
not only the staging of the gags, but all the little gestures and
nuances of the characters' acting, as well as the broader actions, in
his mind -- with special consideration of the timing of all these
things. When something wasn't quite jelling, he knew that there was
a problem, of writing or staging, that needed more thought, and he
would go over that in more detail the next day with his gag man.
Ultimately, all the details would be worked out in Bob's mind before
even the layouts were begun. Bob was very sincere about making the
best cartoons he could.

It's really hard to talk about good timing just in words; it's
something that has to be experienced and felt. Every individual
scene requires, for its best effect, a sense of timing unique to that
scene, which requires a very intuitive approach, and it has to be an
almost holistic, organic thing in the mind of the creator of the
scene, not just something imposed later by someone else. I don't
feel I've done justice to the subject here, but I think it would
require a whole book of examples of individual scenes to adequately
cover the subject. Short of that, a person who wants to learn good
timing should stop watching Hollywood television "product", and turn
off that part of the brain that is so accustomed to watching cheap
stuff, and expand your senses while submersing yourself in the best
of the Golden Age theatrical cartoons, and try to absorb a sense of
the beauty of motion, the ballet-like elegance of even Daffy Duck at
his elegant craziest.

Clampett's sense of timing was so sophisticated because he thought
about it all the time, and felt it in his soul. Plus the fact that
Clampett was so much more inventive visually, and adventurous in his
range of subjects. These things cannot be separated, they all need
each other for their full effect. The key to all of this, Bob
himself once said, was that he took an active interest in everything,
especially the arts -- he fed his mind with new ideas and experiences
so that his mind would always have lots of resources to draw from.

Well, John, I don't know if this really addressed what you were
hoping for. If not, maybe we can keep adding to it in the future
until we get a better handle on the real issue. But for now, you're
welcome to use this.

Your pal,
Milt

I'm gonna follow up this article with stuff Clampett, Hanna and Freleng taught me about timing and also with clips from cartoons...to be continued!


WARNING!
If any of my favorite hecklers comment and say that their favorite modern cartoons are timed mechanically on purpose and real comedy timing would ruin the jokes, I'm gonna copy and paste it into a whole new blog post where everyone can see you all together, naked.

114 comments:

Jeremiah said...

Thanks, this is great stuff!

When watching a Clampett cartoon you really get the sense that you're living in somebody else's head. This is rare enough in live-action, and it's tragic that it should be so rare in animation.

Art F. said...

great stuff John! i feel like we should be payin' ya!

Anonymous said...

A couple of things:
It's true that it's been more often "a few" shows that bother to add the extra step of character layouts--but there have been those few, and at those studios where this was done we always had total contact with the board artist(I've been both a layout and a board artist, and it was true in both jobs; I was usually very close frienda with the entire crew, we all knew each other and talked about the board and layouts all the time, with the director).

Also, it is true that (to me, incomprehensibly), the director of the episode, whose job and/or choice it is to do the timing themselves, usually farms it out to someone they barely know or speak to, a sheet timer. There are talented sheet timers/animators who know how to look at the character layouts and time them--even charting them, depending on how good the scene is(which serve as key animation drawings, just like in the WB days--that's the idea, anyway)...then there areor were some do-it-by-rote types. I have been shocked to work with directors who never took an interest in the sheet timeing of their own cartoons when they had that choice. It's not helped by the studio "system", but it sure isn't ALL the fault of the "execs" that it's done somewhat as Milt describes.

floyd norman said...

Thanks, John and thank you Milt for such an insightful commentary on animation timing.

Danne8a said...

Wow....
Thank you John, and thank you Milt Gray.
This is the stuff that needs to be taught in schools but is not for some reason.
Great article.

Transient Analecta said...

i spent friday night watching an hour of the classics on my looney toons volumes. good stuff.

and i will kiss milt twice if i see him. once for me, once for my sister.

max ward said...

When Clampett put all this thought into timing, how long did it take to complete on of his cartoons?

Adam B said...

How come hardly any proper animated cartoons are made nowdays compared to all the multitude of crappy script written ones? Is it faster and cheaper to knock out a script
(like Futurama,Simpsons,FamilyGuy,South Park,Drawn Together etc) and then send it over to India or Korea to be animated?- is that why the networks like funding them? If it isnt cheaper, what is the reasoning behind it?

makinnita said...

AWESOME POST jk

Julián höek said...

thanks milt!!
i'll be wainting for the "to be continued" part john!
this blog is a school for me!

DanO said...

he can relate everything he knows about timing and even draw a diagram for us, but people who have no sense of comedic timing will still crap all over the cartoons they work on.

you can't teach comedic timing.

Anonymous said...

Danne8a,

It isn't taught in schools because the people teaching animation don't have the skills. Mediocre timing is tough enough for current industry hacks to figure out (one major Burbank cartoon factory promoted several of its non-artist production assistants to timing jobs a few years ago) but personal timing, the stuff Bob Clampett and Tex Avery did, comes from the soul.

paul etcheverry said...

Thanks, Milt! Thanks John! This is the kind of film history writing I go for. Clampett's wide-openness to influences outside filmmaking and comedy (the inspiration and impetus for Coal Black and Tin Pan Alley Cats, as I understood it, was the L.A. stage show of Duke Ellington's Jump For Joy. . . don't know if Bob caught Fats Waller's Broadway show, Early To Bed ), contributed much to his original approach to timing.

And Milt, if full transcipts of your interviews are available, I'll buy them.

Jorge Garrido said...

Great post! I never noticed Bob's transitions before!

Each clip posted is completely gripping. When you're watching ca Clampett cartoon, the cartoon is the most important thing in the world at that moment. Few others cartoons achieve this.

Jorge Garrido said...

> There are talented sheet timers/animators who know how to look at the character layouts and time them.

I was thinking today about Norm McCabe being a sheet timer at Tiny Toons, and what his role would have been. The poor guys deserved to be working on better cartoons at that point.

Clinton said...

i copied all of Tex Avery's timing tricks to learn the trade. I was happy to get props from my animation teacher who said that i was one of very few students at AI who understood how important timing was in a pencil test. *noise!*

Anonymous said...

great post john! keep 'em coming

Kevin W. Martinez said...

Frankly, i'm not that surprised that timing is so undervalued by modern cartoons. The people behind today's cartoons has demonstrated time and time again that they don't care about any of the qualities that make for good cartoons (of any stripe), whether they be good character designs, acting, or anything else. So them treating timing as an unnecessary process in cartoon production is sadly not that shocking to me.

Now that cartoons today are commonly half-hours of badly designed "characters", walking, talking and making scatological jokes and pop-culture references, you would think that more people would wonder just what's going wrong with all this, but since today's execs are lining their pockets with the dough, kids love the puke, fart, snot, poop and booger jokes, and college kids guffaw at the pop-culture references, animation is allowed to remain at such a decrepit level.

The old WB crew (Clampett, Avery, Freleng, Jones, Tashlin, McKimson)had the right idea, and it's sad that today's animation is stumbling with mediocrity.

JohnK said...

>> but personal timing, the stuff Bob Clampett and Tex Avery did, comes from the soul.<<

It actually comes from skill, knowledge and a good common sense system first, then from the soul.

Skill first, creativity second.

Allison said...

This has got to be one of the best, most informative posts I've read in a long while--we need a book from you. Though, while I love Clampett, I can't deny the fact that some of Jones' more limited animation that he produced later on in his career was very funny, limited animation has its place, and when used well, it can be very appealing--UPA created some wildly unique and original movements that benefited all the more from their economy of gesture.

Acting in modern TV animation seems better suited to a Bresson movie than to comedy; which brings up a good point, why isn't there such a thing?

Allison said...

"Skill first, creativity second"

You make a good point...I saw Martin Scorsese say this recently as well, you have to have the drive, talent will only get you so far...

J. J. Hunsecker said...

These are my favoirite type of posts on this blog. I love the analysis of the great animation directors like Clampett, and the comparisons to todays lackluster animated tv shows. Keep up the good work, Milt and John K.

Stephen Worth said...

Milt Gray is my latest hero. That essay is brilliant!

See ya
Steve

Anonymous said...

It's incomprehensible to me that anyone could do "timing for animation" if they don't know how to animate. Clampett, Jones, Avery and all the directors in the '40s & 50s had all animated for years before they were able to tell other animators how to animate their scenes. Not just at Warners, but Lantz, Columbia, Trans-Lux --- Animators in those days worked to a "beat" - established by the director working with the composer to set the tempo for the scene. Short cartoons traditionally started with a moderate tempo, and then built to a faster tempo in the climax. Even Hanna Barbera TV cartoons of the 60s & 70s used this. Directors like Nick Nichols were grinding out several shows a week according to a formula, but at least they had the experience to know what they were doing. That's why some of the cartoons on "Boomerang" play better than the new, "edgier" stuff. The kind of "pose to pose" animation that is used in most contemporary TV animation is used to play to dialog - It's illustrated radio. Scripts are written so that the dialog carries the story (just like in radio - if you turn off the picture you can "get" about 90% of the Simpsons or South Park - They're well-done radio shows that just happen to have pictures) - Once the dialog is edited to create a performance, the timing of the animation follows the dialog. Any "comedy timing" is in the actors' performance (and the sound effects) The animators are adding pictures to fit the dialog and an occasional scripted sight gag. A good "sheet timer" is one who can "hit" the poses properly. This is a completely different form of filmmaking from what Bob, Tex, Chuck & the others were doing. They made short movies where the music, the action, the dialog and the acting (both voice acting and animation acting) all worked together. Most "Directors" today don't have the skill set to pull this off.

Kent B

PS - John, I got the "Lost Episodes" DVD this weekend. "Ren Seeks Help" is the best cartoon I've seen since "Man's Best Friend"! It's gut-wrenchingly honest! You, sir, know how to direct a cartoon!

Alex Whitington said...

I kind of of zoned out halway through but I think I gor the gist.

Old = Good
New = Bad

Everyone who ever put a pencil agasinst some paper after 1965 should just shoot themselves right now blah blah blah...

JohnK said...

Hey Kent,

thanks for the added info!

I think I will use some of it for my next timing post, if you approve.

John

Roberto González said...

Uh, this is getting pretty technical. I could translate and understand the majority of it, though, and the visual examples were good. Incidentally I have always LOVED this particular short. I think it's one of the most surreal Clampett did (and every cartoon he did was surreal), but that Sloppy Moe guy is one of the weirdest characters I have ever seen.

I'm getting even more surprised now that I knew these details and I was already very surprised by how great Clampett's cartoons were just looking at the entertainment value.

While you are clearly making justice to Clampett's skills, I think some posters here in the comments are exagerating a little about modern cartoons (I guess they look pale in comparison to Clampett's)...but I don't want to be in the heckler's corner so I'll shut up now;)

Kevin W. Martinez said...

This post has made me more interested in timing. I want to learn more about how to make timing more effective. Are there any books or articles on it?

Diego said...

I loved the "Warning" message, and I'm crazy about this blog, uh..

Okey, I recognise it, I'm not too good on writing comments, in fact: I'm a piece of shit doing it.

But I tried.

Rob Bodnar said...

Yep, they don't make 'em like that anymore. Most modern cartoons lost the "FUNNY" along with the "DESIGN PROCESS" you are describing.

David Germain said...

i copied all of Tex Avery's timing tricks to learn the trade. I was happy to get props from my animation teacher who said that i was one of very few students at AI who understood how important timing was in a pencil test. *noise!*

I had a similar experience back in animation school. We were all doing a lip sync assignment. The teacher said that I managed to hit the accents in the dialogue. I didn't even know dialogue had accents at the time let alone that we were required to hit them. I just did what I thought looked good.
I would love to put that film online someday, preferably before Sept. 11.

C. A. M. Thompson said...

Wonderful post. Thanks, Milt.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Milt and John.

It's a struggle teaching myself how to animate 3D characters, without some input on timing.

Hasdrubal

Anonymous said...

I've got my latest toon on You Tube at the address below. What could I have done to improve the timing?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWKVmCX6SKY

You can probably copy and paste the address to your address window if this blog page doesn't recognize the address.

Hasdrubal

I don't really care said...

The real tragedy is that because such a great accomplishment -- of draftsmanship, gesture and timing -- looks so natural, it is taken completely for granted -- meaning, the accomplishment goes by completely unnoticed -- by most cartoon fans, critics and historians, resulting in the director and animator receiving no credit at all when in fact they deserve to be lauded as geniuses.

Just wanted to see it again.

Anonymous said...

Jeeesus...that 3d animation of yours rates a 10 on the CRRREEEEEPY-meter. BTW your animation totally has that 1980's 3D "underwater robot" motion to it. Even today's high-quality 3D animation still suffers from this, but yours takes me nostalgic for the "Money for Nothing" MTV video :). "I want my...I want my...I want Ren 'n Stimpy" :)."

Shawn Luke said...

This was one of the best things on animation I have ever read and I went to animation school for 3 years!
I just thought of something though. Maybe they teach us the way they teach us at school because they are preparing us for the way the animation world is now days. The animation industry doesn't want creative people making cartoons. They want mindless people who will draw and make "cartoons" like machines would. It was the shock of my young life when I discovered how modern cartoons are made and I shudder just thinking about it.

My favorite part of Milt's post was

'One can be very literal minded and say that these two scenes don't
make sense, but on a purely emotional level they feel so right, and
are absolutely surprising and thrilling.'

That sentence sums up the difference between todays cartoons and yesterday's.

To me those are the qualities that make a cartoon a god damn cartoon!

Anonymous said...

Is creepy bad?

Hasdrubal

Anonymous said...

Hi John.
Sorry to post a bit off topic...
I am planning on buying the Preston Blair book "Cartoon Animation" which comes recommended by you.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1560100842/ref=pd_rvi_gw_2/002-3006884-1995227?%5Fencoding=UTF8&v=glance&n=283155
In the listing the book "The Animator's Survival Kit" by Richard Williams is also recommended.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0571202284/ref=pd_bxgy_text_b/002-3006884-1995227?ie=UTF8
What do you think of this book?
Do you think it is worth buying on top of the Preston Blair book?
Thanks for your time.
Marc.

Shawn Luke said...

Hey! Doesn't Injun joe look just like The Old Man in the Mountain from Betty Boop?

There's a great jazzy song in that cartoon, by the way, sung by Cab Calloway. Ironically - though very visually creative - the animation is rather mechanical.

Anonymous said...

"Skill first, creativity second."

Esteemed cinematographer Gordon Willis made the same point about filmmaking. Having your craft down is what you have to do first before you can begin creating anything worthwhile.

Fantastic post, by the way. Posts like these on animation history are why I keep coming back to your blog.

Whiggles said...

"Scripts are written so that the dialog carries the story (just like in radio - if you turn off the picture you can "get" about 90% of the Simpsons or South Park - They're well-done radio shows that just happen to have pictures)"

I remember reading an interview with one of the writers of The Simpsons, and he was actually proud of this fact. That just strikes me as horrible: any time you say "you can take X away and still enjoy it", you're effectively saying that it's not needed, and in doing so are crapping all over the hard work of the people involved in that side of the process.

Joel Bryan said...

What's cool is, Cartoon Network here in Japan actually shows these cartoons every night! They show stuff I haven't seen in YEARS.

Charles Brubaker said...

That's an imformative post on the subject. Couldn't have said better than myself...

This is OT, but I read somewhere that you're working on a cartoon for Teletoons in Canada called "Zodiacs"...tell us about that.

Hammerson said...

Excellent post, especially the part about Bob Clampett's approach to timing. It's great to learn something about Clampett's creative process and his way of thinking. Nice choice of clips... "Wagon Heels" is an excellent and rather underrated Clampett cartoon. Also, the article contains a depressive reminder of how the cartoons are made today.

On another topic... I finally received my copy of R&S Lost Episodes. Easily the most impressive and creative cartoons of the last decade and more. Brilliant stuff, and I hope there will be an opportunity for more episodes to be made. In the same package I received the Film Noir vol.3 box set, so last evening I had a double bill of "Ren Seeks Help" and "On Dangerous Ground" (with Robert Ryan)

David Germain said...

I'm quite glad that John and Milt made this post. Ihave an idea for a film I'd like to do someday, hopefully in the near future. I want to make a film set to Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Chile (easily the greatest song of all time). This information will help me out quite a bit.

But, I'm still confused on how to storyboard such a film. "Panel 3B happens when the song goes 'doo dee doo dee doo'"? How did Clampett's team storyboard Coal Black or Corny Concerto?

heckle said...

Here I am, you're favorite heckler.

jeckle said...

Me too, chum.

Craig D said...

QUOTE: Bob told me that on occasion, when he had a specific
syncopated rhythm in mind that didn't adhere strictly to a regular
beat, he would run blank film through a movieola at full (normal)
film speed, and tap on the film with a grease pencil the syncopated
rhythm he had in mind, and then take the film off the movieola and
count the frames between the marks. He would time his actions to
those numbers of frames, and then give that information to Carl
Stalling, who would compose music to fit that timing.


What an ingenious solution to what could have been a complicated problem! It sounds to be the exact inverse to the projected bouncing-ball "click track" that the early 30s soundtracks followed.

Thanks, also, for the insight as to what an "animation timer" does. Does this person also "read" the dialog soundtrack or is that yet another disembodied function?

Jeremiah said...

I heard Freleng timed his cartoons using sheet music, so there was a cleanliness to his timing that at times became monotonous ("Isn't it?"). When I think Freleng I think of characters thumping around, with the music thumping along with them.

But Clampett's technique of marking film in real time sounds wonderful, keeping his timing spantanious and natural.

JohnK said...

>But Clampett's technique of marking film in real time sounds wonderful, keeping his timing spantanious and natural. <<

He didn't do that for the whole cartoon, just for the parts that needed timing NOT exactly to the beat.

He timed most of his stuff on bar sheets with Carl Stalling right there at the piano, scoring to the storyboard.

Jeremiah said...

He didn't do that for the whole cartoon, just for the parts that needed timing NOT exactly to the beat.

Got that. It just seems like a technique that would be very applicable now, using digital technologies. Running a cartoon through ones head and placing marks on a timeline at key moments. I've never done digital animation so I'm not sure how it's typically worked out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the essay! Please continue your teachings, both John and Milt. The education here is truly priceless.

Working on a computer, what would the modern equivalent of real-time greasemarks on film be? It would be a terrific experiment of timing for some select scene.

Brian

David Germain said...

He timed most of his stuff on bar sheets with Carl Stalling right there at the piano, scoring to the storyboard.

Oh, so he boarded first and timed it to music later. Gotcha.

Corey said...

man that's awesome thanks john

Clarke (Csnyde) said...

Thanks for posting and sharing this invaluable info John.

even in this day and age of useless information overload on the internet there is still a huge void when it comes to these sort of "lost" nuggets of golden cartoon information.

Thank Milt for me. He's another amazingly generous cartoon genius.

Why doesn't he have a blog of his own yet?

Stephen Worth said...

Michael Lah told me that he would use the Moviola grease pencil technique too.

See ya
Steve

cemenTIMental said...

Acting in modern TV animation seems better suited to a Bresson movie than to comedy; which brings up a good point, why isn't there such a thing?
Such a thing as what?

Ohjeepers said...

This is a GREAT Post, thanks for all the insight Milt!

This is such an important issue I really look forward to future post on the subject.

Thanks,
James.

Louisa The Last said...

I know Wagon Heels is a remake of Injun Trouble, also a Clampett cartoon...I haven't seen the original. Any idea why Clampett wanted to remake it? Is the timing considerably better in Wagon Heels?

-jabajaw- said...

Timing to me is the most difficult concept in animation to fully grasp.What tips do you suggest on learning to understand timing for animation?

-jabajaw- said...

Thats why i think Family Guy, American Dad,etc..suck ass.Besides the lame "edgy" jokes.

Donald S. said...

Its sad that new cartoons aren't using timing to tell there stories. (if you call them stories) My nephews and nieces don't know a thing about timing but when they watch a classic cartoon timed by say, Bob Clampet or Bill Hanna, they definitely know the difference.

Modern companies seem to believe the youth are stupid and will buy into any brainless cartoon they put in front of them. Though it may work temporarily, we all know wich cartoons will remain classics. I dout the family guy will be remembered while Clampet's Fat Elmer will continue to entertain children around the world.

-jabajaw- said...

Family guy and American Dad are shows that would be ten to a thousand times better if they where live action.I feel this way because the purpose of cartoon comedy is to see the chacracters behave in phsyicaly exaggurated comedy that no comedian or actor can perform, because its inhumanly possible.But with these two shows, they do LESS than what humans are capable off.Humans are capable of moving while talking and they fave facial expressiosn, etc..blah blah blah.Anyways,I agree with John and Milton and I wish theere was some way to preserve cartoon animation.Especially with younger generations(born in the 80's) who dont even know who Quick Draw or Secret Squirl, or Screwball Squirl, or hard luck duck.etc.....

Jorge Garrido said...

>>Hi John.
Sorry to post a bit off topic...
I am planning on buying the Preston Blair book "Cartoon Animation" which comes recommended by you.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1560100842/ref=pd_rvi_gw_2/002-3006884-1995227?%5Fencoding=UTF8&v=glance&n=283155
In the listing the book "The Animator's Survival Kit" by Richard Williams is also recommended.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0571202284/ref=pd_bxgy_text_b/002-3006884-1995227?ie=UTF8
What do you think of this book?
Do you think it is worth buying on top of the Preston Blair book?
Thanks for your time.
Marc.

Lordofdapuppyz: What's the difference between the Preston Blair book from the 40s and the one with the elephant on the cover by Preston Blair?

John K.: Simple. The elephant one is no good, he did that when he was over 80 years old. Get the one he did when he was young. It's in every art store in the Walter T. Foster section. The Preston Blair book CAN teach you, if you actually do what he tells you to do. The Richard Williams book is a confusing mess.
baronvonjosho: does it help though, for basic movement?
John K.: it's anything but basic. Preston Blair is basic. Throw the Williams book out, unless you want to work for him.

Nathan Jones said...

This stuff is so inspirational, thankyou John and Milt. Its great to hear from such a legend what is was like back in the day!

more, more, moooooore

Freckled Derelict said...

At last animation history from the knowledgeable! I hope seeing how many people are hungry for this type of Clampett animation analysis will fuel tons of similar posts. Maybe even a book of compiled wisdom? Still hoping for you to come out with a Classic Clampett DVD compilation in the future with tons of commentary. I'm sure animators along with cartoon lovers would buy that DVD the moment it hit the stores! Right Gang??!!?

Andy Harwood said...

I'd love to see some new cartoons with timing as great as Clampett's but I think there's a place for "well-done radio shows that just happen to have pictures". The Simpsons and South Park and King of the Hill, as visually uncreative as they may be, are all really really funny. That's not even up for debate. Sure they're writer driven, but that's not such a bad thing when your writers are some of the funniest people in the world (go see Dana Gould's stand-up or read 'The Time Machine Did it' by John Swartzwelder).

JohnK said...

>>The Simpsons and South Park and King of the Hill, as visually uncreative as they may be, are all really really funny. That's not even up for debate.<<

It isn't? Everyone here debates it.

I know lots of people who don't think that stuff is remotely funny. Some do and it's unexplainable to me.

If I want sitcoms, I'll go for the real ones that have lots of jokes and real performances to make the jokes even funnier.

The best cartoons have great art, animation, timing, writing and comedy-particularly the classic Looney Tunes.

Chuck Jones' The 3 Bears cartoons are far funnier than any you have mentioned and they are sitcoms too. They have better writing and great vocal and animated performances which no cartoons today have.

Foghorn Leghorn is hilarious and has appealed to wide audiences for decades and is superior by miles in every way.

Diana and Kelly said...

maggie simpson is cute.

Valerie said...

I agree with you BUT there is more than one way to use the visual aspect of animation. One common way of using animation is to create a unique alternate reality that's impossible in live-action.
Most TV series make very little use of their visual aspect in any way shape or form.

Anonymous said...

>>>It isn't? Everyone here debates it.

I know lots of people who don't think that stuff is remotely funny. Some do and it's unexplainable to me.<<<

Yeah, it IS debatable.

Long before I ever even knew what John thought about shows like this, I watched them and never thought there were the least bit funny.

I can watch any single episode of South Park (even the newer ones) and not laugh. Sometimes, the little morals they have are slightly entertaining, but the show is bad to look at, and it dosn't bring up a single laugh. It's just not funny.

The Simpsons hasn't known how to get a laugh for the last 6 years.

And King Of The Hill.... well, it never did. Mike Judge should go back to Beavis and Butt-Head becuase that show was laugh a minute stuff. Literally.

JohnK said...

>>I agree with you BUT there is more than one way to use the visual aspect of animation. <<

Yes there is. From the 20s to the 50s they explored tons of them. Sadly, since then we practically stopped.

Louisa The Last said...

I think what was meant is that the fact that many, MANY people DO find these shows funny is not up for debate. The fact that some of you don't doesn't change the fact that lots of us do. People have highly variably senses of humor. Some have a very visual sense of humor and enjoy slapstick the most, some have a more verbal sense of humor and like wordplay. Some of us can enjoy both.

JohnK said...

>>People have highly variably senses of humor. Some have a very visual sense of humor and enjoy slapstick the most, some have a more verbal sense of humor and like wordplay.<<

I think if people knew where everything came from they'd be more picky about their entertainment.

People's senses have been horribly blunted in the last 40 years.

You could condition people from a young age to only eat rotten vegetables, and then I'd be stuck with the task of convincing them that ice cream and salami tastes better.

And just because something has lousy art and sound, doesn't make it have good "wordplay" by default. Just words alone doesn't equal quality words.

Diana and Kelly said...

i kinda feel the same way about visual art, paintings i mean. i think it's strange when there are words on the canvas.

thomas kincaid rocks the fc-k out like that.

Louisa The Last said...

And just because something has lousy art and sound, doesn't make it have good "wordplay" by default. Just words alone doesn't equal quality words.

No...but I daresay I'm pretty well-read and have read and watched quality entertainment from a young age. I grew up watching Looney Tunes and Marx Brothers; Monty Python and Benny Hill. My parents took me to the theatre frequently, and I've probably read/watched/performed ten times the Shakespeare of the average 23 year old. I was a theatre major in college. And...I like Family Guy.

Now, I'll agree there are a ton of shows out there that really do have crappy art, sound, AND writing...largely in children's television. I just disagree that Family Guy is one of them...largely because the creator has retained creative control and the show has a strong voice, whether or not you happen to find it funny. Now, The X's...My Dad is a Rock Star...Kappa Mikey...god yes. Utter crap...and my 5 year old son can tell! He dislikes the same shows I find awful and soulless.

Maybe I come at this with more of an actor's perspective, since I haven't animated but I have done a lot of acting. And...once again, I've contributed to the blog comments going off-topic. Sorry!

Back to the topic at hand...I am really curious to know what problems there were in Injun Trouble that Clampett decided to remake the cartoon as Wagon Heels. Since Milt said he was a perfectionist about timing, was that the issue? Anyone have a copy of Injun Trouble to compare it with?

JohnK said...

Hi Louisa

I guess you just like everything. There's no argument against "everything is equally good."

I only like things that are hard to do and impressive and truly entertaining. I have no interest in amateur stuff. But that doesn't mean you can't like it.

You could watch basketball teams of middled aged fat white guys instead of super fast and strong pros too if that's to your liking.

If you are an actor you should be reaaaaly mad at those cartoons.

Those are voices and acting that your neighbor could do.

Crumpled Up John! said...

In respect to shows relying on 'wordplay' for their humor, I believe that really good comedies use more than just one outlet for humor, many layers. A good joke is hardly ever funny for just one reason, it's good for many reasons. If you only rely on one type of humor then it'll stale and the audience will get bored fast. The real talent lies in mixing styles and forms of gags.

For example a classic show like 'I love Lucy' relied on many things. There was slapstick, there was wordplay, and there were visual gags along with many other layers. If you weren't laughing at something someone was saying you were laughing at someones reaction, and so on. That's why shows like the 'Adult Swim' group can never compair to the classics. Also because they work in a niche and don't expand their humor outside of their own self perscribed boxes.

So saying that a show simply relys on a different type of humor is a cop out excuse, because good comedies should rely on all types of humor. What sets them apart is how they do it.

k9_kaos said...

John K said:
"I know lots of people who don't think that stuff is remotely funny. Some do and it's unexplainable to me.

If I want sitcoms, I'll go for the real ones that have lots of jokes and real performances to make the jokes even funnier."

I won't deny that shows like South Park make me laugh. But often after a gag I am a bit disappointed, thinking "That could have been so much funnier if the characters were more visually expressive." Many fans of these shows might not care, and that's fine, but I think that since they've never seen a cartoon with both clever writing and beautiful drawings and animation, they don't know what they're missing. It reminds me of a line in an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants that went "The only people who don't like Krabby Patties have never tasted one!"

Gabriel said...

Now, I'll agree there are a ton of shows out there that really do have crappy art, sound, AND writing...largely in children's television. I just disagree that Family Guy is one of them...

You mean you like even the art?? I don't like that show, but most people focus on defending it by saying it's well written. Not many people try do defend the way it looks...
But yeah, Louisa, you seem to be a smart person with an above average education. I know some people like that who also love those shows. Whenever I think about it my head starts hurting, maybe it's something wrong with me, I must have been born in the wrong dimension or with distorted tastes...

David Germain said...

Now, I'll agree there are a ton of shows out there that really do have crappy art, sound, AND writing...largely in children's television. I just disagree that Family Guy is one of them...

The art on Family Guy is quite crappy. I mean, I drew about at that level BEFORE I went to art school. Not only that, I read some testimony from someone who worked there that they are very restrictive about how much expression to put in the faces and/or body positions. Any Chuck Jones-ian "soliloquay-with-just-an-eyebrow-twitch" type expression would be strictly forbidden there. If Seth would only flip-flop that mindset, FG would improve 500% immediately.

As for writing, there are many funny little jokes here and there, but that does not a good narrative make. They rely to much on writing crutches such as those cut-aways wedged in about 3 or 4 times a scene, dragging out a silly sounding noise (always good for padding), or just having Stewie or Brian say........ well........... anything. There are people that burst out laughing everytime those two open their mouths.

In summary, Family Guy isn't completely horrible.....

(Brian: Mr. President, many people have been left homeless because of Hurricane Katrina. It's time to take action.

Bush: Please don't make me do stuff.)

.......but there is definitely MUCH room for improvement.

I'll definitely take the classic Looney Tunes any day.

Matt J said...

Pure gold - thanks Milt & John.

Elroy said...

Are the Ralph Bakshi live-action sitcom intros hidden as easter eggs on the Lost Episodes DVD?

John a said...

Louisa--there is a very simple explanation why Injun Trouble was remade as Wagon Heels. One was in Black and White and the other was made in color. The color remake has a more sophisticated design for Porky Pig.Remaking cartoons or reusing storylines was a pretty common thing, because at the time, the cartoon would play for a few weeks, if it was really good it would run for months,but after that, it would just disappear. Most studios would reissue a few cartoons a year to fill out their schedule, but until television came along, I doubt most of the people involved in making these cartoons even considered the longevity of their efforts.

JohnK said...

>>Are the Ralph Bakshi live-action sitcom intros hidden as easter eggs on the Lost Episodes DVD?<<

No. There was no room left to put all the stuff we wanted to on the 2 dvds.

I think it will be on the Ultimate Set.

inkyhack said...

Fantastic post. Thanks! This is sort of unrelated, but reading the post and watching the clips reminded me of something Miles Davis said about one of his drummers; "That kid could syncopate a stumble and fall."

Anonymous said...

Milt: Thanks for the post. Especially the grease pencil on the film anecdote. Real creative problem-solving there!

John: Thanks so much for your Looney Tunes commentaries. (Piggy Bank Robbery in particular.) They're the best of the lot because, aside from being informative, you aren't afraid to come off like a starstruck fanboy who hasn't lost the feeling of seeing that animation for the first time. I love 'em and I hope you got more coming.

Now I'll raise my lightning rod.

I agree with a previous poster that this thread has
devolved too quickly into a "New vs. Old" debate, and I wish more would be said about the importance of slow timing vs. fast timing to create good entertainment.

Excellent timing abounds in Nick Park's " the Wrong Trousers" It's hilarious when it's slow and Hitchcockian (witness the penguin's tape-measure scene ending with the wonderful sight gag of Gromit's eyes peeking through the carton) It's also got a perfectly-timed climax with the Train chase finale that made me wonder if it was really plasticine animation when i first saw it.

Pixar also takes timing seriously, even when you aren't aware of it. Elastigirl's rendez-vous with the guards and the security doors in The Incredibles has a definite rhythm to it, which makes it elevates it to something more than a mere gagfest. It's not the fastest scene in the film, but it's arguably the cleverest, and very dependent on good timing.

P.C. Unfunny said...

"People's senses have been horribly blunted in the last 40 years."


Probably because all the dope being done in the 1960's.What ever the reason is,quality entertainment is a rarity today because so few people demand it. "Okay" seems to be the highest standard of entertainment these days.

Mr.Alarm said...

'Pixar also takes timing seriously, even when you aren't aware of it. Elastigirl's rendez-vous with the guards and the security doors in The Incredibles has a definite rhythm to it, which makes it elevates it to something more than a mere gagfest. It's not the fastest scene in the film, but it's arguably the cleverest, and very dependent on good timing.'

I was with you on the Nick Park thing, but this is just a stretch.

Anonymous said...

But I don't have a sister! Who's gonna kiss him, my mother?

Davis said...

>"Now that cartoons today are commonly half-hours of badly designed "characters", walking, talking and making scatological jokes and pop-culture references, you would think that more people would wonder just what's going wrong with all this, but since today's execs are lining their pockets with the dough, kids love the puke, fart, snot, poop and booger jokes, and college kids guffaw at the pop-culture references, animation is allowed to remain at such a decrepit level."

You can argue that the golden-age cartoons were full of pop-culture references. They were contemporary then but since you are seeing them more than half a century later you don't notice that as readily. As for booger and fart jokes, these things really are funny and not strickly low-brow, Shakespeare used plenty of them.
I think the main arguement isn't New vs. Old; when we compare crap from modern kid cartoons and then gems from Clampett and Co., we are picking the worst of our time versus the best of their time. Certainly there were horrible cartoons made in the beginning and good ones made in the present. The course of the discussion is that in today's climate, the horrible cartoons outweigh the good and that a lot of that stems from being driven by profit as opposed to creativity or a love of the medium (see the 1980's).

JohnK said...

>>that a lot of that stems from being driven by profit as opposed to creativity or a love of the medium (see the 1980's).<<

I wish profit had something to do with it.

If it did, there would be more Ren and Stimpys and Bugs Bunnies.

Those cartoons made billions of dollars.

:: smo :: said...

hey john and milt!

thanks a lot!

at my current job the most direction i get is "this character needs MORE ACTING," timing isn't involved at all...

what would you recommend one do to buff up their timing if they're stuck at a shitty job and can't learn anything there?

watch these cartoons frame by frame? try to animate them? just keep animating on your own until you hit it? or is it more a matter of personal observation?

any suggestions on how to tackle timing to music and x-sheets, etc?

The GagaMan(n) said...

There is still great animation out there, just don't expect to find it on TV. You can't judge the state of the entire animation industry on just the stuff coming from America, really. Try looking for animation somewhere other than Fox or Comedy Central, and you'll see that there is probably more styles of animation made now then there ever was before, and we're not talking character animation here. Not ALL animation has be just like the classic golden era stuff, although it is a shame there isn't so much stuff like that going on anymore.

Need examples? Anything by Aardman, Massaki Yuasa's Mind Game, Belleville Rendez-Vous, Asterix and the Vikings, Studio Ghibli. I could go on. None of them involve Bulldogs chasing cats, but what are you going to do?

Yes there is a lot of shit with the TV studios paying too much money for crappy cartoons by people who have no idea how to make cartoons, but then again TV cartoons were never exactly on par with the big-screen shorts that came before it. You only need to see the drastic quality change from Hanna-Barbera's work from Tom & Jerry to their TV cartoons to see that.

I’m not really getting anywhere with this post, so I’ll just say that this post on timing was a fantastic read. Thanks for posting another wonderful insight into how the old masters did it.

Anonymous said...

This post wins the Most Informative Blog Post of the week!

- Toren (blogger doesn't seem to be logging me in for this entry)

Anonymous said...

I think what Louisa the Last is saying is that I could take a radio play full of hilarious jokes, and then I could animate it. If the animation was terrible, it would still have the hilarious jokes.

-Toren www.thickets.net/toren

Jorge Garrido said...

>maggie simpson is cute.

She looks exactly the same as every other character on that show. If she's cute, so is Mr. Burns and Barney.

>I can watch any single episode of South Park (even the newer ones) and not laugh. Sometimes, the little morals they have are slightly entertaining, but the show is bad to look at, and it dosn't bring up a single laugh. It's just not funny.

As I'm writing this, I'm watching Sven Hoek and laughing my ass off. Before this I was watching South Park and laughing just as hard. Chock it up to low standards.

>The Simpsons hasn't known how to get a laugh for the last 6 years.

Well, everyone, even us fans of that show, know that it went downhill in 1998.

>I just disagree that Family Guy is one of them...largely because the creator has retained creative control and the show has a strong voice, whether or not you happen to find it funny.

What voice? The man doesn't understand basic comedy! THERE ARE NO JOKES ON SHOW. SP, Simpsons, and all the other crappy looking shows at leat attempt to hvae jokes. FG has no jokes, only pop culture references. Jaime can put it alot better than me, so google "Why I Hate Family Guy"

>You mean you like even the art?? I don't like that show, but most people focus on defending it by saying it's well written.

I still can't belive people say that about FG! SP, Simpsons, and especially Futurama are well written. FG IS NOT.

A joke on Futurama: Scruffy: "I've never seen him lke this before. Or at all."

That, my firneds is treu wordplay. Futurama has tons of puns and wordplay. But it looks like shit ans would be WAY better if visually interesting like a 50's cartoon. EVERYTHING WOULD BE BETTER, NO AMTTER SHOW GOOD IT IS, IF IT LOOKED LIKE AN OLD CARTOON.

A joke on Family Guy: "This is like that time I watched Bewitched"

>In summary, Family Guy isn't completely horrible.....

Yes it is. Worse than anything ever made. EVER.


EVER. It's the wort in all areas, writing, visuals (below SP), and peroformances. The only things that show does good is music, episode titles, and ignoring continuity.

Right now I'm watching the Cripple Fight on SP. It'd got surpringly good animation. There's no cycles on this thing. No twins. Varied tempos amd hee hits looks painful. This is one of the few visuals things I've ever seen on SP.

>I think the main arguement isn't New vs. Old; when we compare crap from modern kid cartoons and then gems from Clampett and Co., we are picking the worst of our time versus the best of their time.

Ok, do thr opposite. Compare the best of our tiem to the worst of the old stuff. Compare Ren & Stimpy to the worst cartoons from the 40's.

Or, compare The Incredibles or Batman to the wrost superhero cartoons from those times. See a connection? The best of our time is influenced by old stuff.

Waffleboard said...

Any of you folks out there who want to get good and work on cool stuff should pay attention to what's being discussed here. I've been in animation for 20 years and have worked on pretty much all the types of shows mentioned here. I was lucky, when I was a mere pup, JohnK offered me a job on Beany & Cecil (that didn't pan out), but I got to animate on the GREAT Ren & Stimpy episodes that were done up at Carbunkle in Vancouver. I got to work with really good guys and learned a lot. I have also seen the other side of things working as a layout artist on The Simpsons and a Director of some Futurama episodes. In my experience the way R&S and Futurama were made was similar, but for two very, very different reasons. On the R&S shows we had to ahere to very strict timing direction, many times down to the frame, including the placement of eye blinks. Some may think that as an animator, this sort of thing is too restrictive, but I don't think it is restrictive at all. Trust me, there was enough work just getting some of that crazy stuff to move right (ever animated full lip sync on a mouth that looks like a stretched anus? I have.) It is absolutely essential that the timing and pacing of a show like R&S be bang on or you risk losing the gags. The director needs to be in complete control of the action to get across not only the exact comedic timing of the funny stuff, but everything else as well including areas of fast intense action and times when things need to slow down and be more "tender". And believe me, those comedic "tender" moments between Ren and Stimpy were just as important as the gags, because it set up their relationship and their personalities, and made you give a shit about them. It's really hard to be funny if your audience doesn't care about your characters. Those shows were great because talented, artistic, funny guys had total control over over how the shows were paced.
On the other hand, The Futurama shows had a set of very strict restrictions too. Most of the movement was based on timing formulas developed on the Simpsons. What Milt wrote above was very close to my experience too. There were times when the writing staff would supply me (as Director) a dialogue tpe that was already cut and paced to the shows length, before any artwork had been done for it! There were times when I was instructed not to alter in any way the timing between the lines. There was rarely any recognition of the director having any story or dialogue input, and at the risk of offending the guilty parties, a feeling of an immense ego surrounding the writing staff. Now, I think that while you may or may not like the show (I was treated very nicely and worked with a really good bunch of artists), Futurama wasn't a huge hit, but the Simpsons sure was, and I'm sure that cemented their proccess of doing things. I think personally it is a very flawed way of making an animated show when you get very little real creative input from the crew working on the show, and I think the shows suffered greatly because they were writer based and not visually based. In fact, in almost every case the biggest laughs in a show would come from the odd slapstick gag; no one lauchs at the writing until a character gets hit in the head with a suitcase and everyone cracks up.
On Ren & Stimpy, if somebody thought of a funny addition to a scene or a part of the show, it usually found it's way in there, and thats what makes you laugh at it more than once. You can watch it over and over and still laugh.
As I said erlier, I've been lucky enough to work with some great talents and on a wide variety of stuff fromm super cartoony to full disney feature stuff, in traditional and computer animation. If yo pay attention and learn the stuff thats here, you'll be working on a lot of cool stuff too.

JohnK said...

Hey Jorge,

Tip: Use spell check!!

Anonymous said...

What happened to my comment? Which book should I buy?
Marc.

Matt Greenwood said...

I don't believe it's true about Seth McFarlane retaining creative control to the show. He obviously watered it down visually. Just look up the short 'Life of Larry' to see the original Peter Griffin, called Larry in that. Same voices, but the visuals are completely different. Much more personal.

Jorge Garrido said...

>Hey Jorge,

Tip: Use spell check!!

HAHAHAHAHA!!! I just notice that. I'm a good speller but a horrible typer. Trust me. What about the content of the comment?

>I don't believe it's true about Seth McFarlane retaining creative control to the show. He obviously watered it down visually. Just look up the short 'Life of Larry' to see the original Peter Griffin, called Larry in that. Same voices, but the visuals are completely different. Much more personal.

Agreed. The 7 minute What-A-Cartoon "Larry & Steve," as visually shitty as it was, had more animation than the entire run of Family Guy. I have a feeling it was against Seth MacFarlane's wishes, since he says animation is funniest when the characters don't change expressions. (100% true, he actually said that.) He doesn't belong in the industry. None of these assholes do. Futurama's writing saved it, but at least they did some cool retro sci-fi designs and stuff. Moreso than The Simpsons at least.

Remember when John said he wanted to write an episode of The Simpsons? Go with Futurama instead, you'll be able to do anything. Wanna do a cowboy story? Make them go to the Cowboy planet or something. The Simpsons's setting are burdened by the idiotic and arbitrary rules of "cartoon reality"

Scungilli said...

Great article! Dang, I miss that well felt timing...
love to see those that argue naked too.

Tyler said...

-jabajaw- said:

"Family guy and American Dad are shows that would be ten to a thousand times better if they where live action.I feel this way because the purpose of cartoon comedy is to see the chacracters behave in phsyicaly exaggurated comedy that no comedian or actor can perform, because its inhumanly possible.But with these two shows, they do LESS than what humans are capable off."

There's one thing you left out; human actors have to worry about things like political correctness, being typecast, etc. While I agree with the rest of your comments, I think the only purpose the animation serves is to write whatever they want without those pesky actors.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong, just an observation.

Anonymous said...

I was just last night watching a Japanese animation called Azumanga Daioh that is a great illustration of comedic timing in animation. Normally wacky Japanese humor doesn't do it for me but this show has beautiful pacing that alternates between quick wit, repetition, and very drawn out pauses to get to the punchline. I can't quite explain it but it's really unlike anything we see in American animation except maybe The Simpsons (think of the Rake Sequence for an idea of what I'm talking about).

Caduceus said...

Last week I witnessed the power of timing when I saw a Harmon-Ising Barney Bear cartoons back-to-back with a Dick Lundy Barney Bear cartoon. The H-I had timing of a sort if you consider the slow and deliberate motions of six eyebrows timing but the Dick Lundy cartoon just wowed me. He has this sort of weightless energy that really sold this cartoon. (BTW, to those who have access to Turner Classic Movies I saw this on Cartoon Alley, a show that they show on Saturday mornings that shows old cartoons including a lot of more obscure MGM stuff that is hard to see these days. I saw both the Harmon-Ising and Hanna-Barbera versions of Peace on Earth on that show.)

Anonymous said...

Family Guy sucks. Here is an average joke from that show.

"Blah Blah Blah Blah Melrose Place."

And that is supposed to be funny.

Stephen Worth said...

I just posted a full set of bar sheets by Rudy Ising from a 1933 Merrie Melodies cartoon. This important document outlines in detail how directors timed to a musical beat in the golden age. Check it out...

http://www.animationarchive.org/2006/08/media-musical-timing-rediscovered.html

Stephen Worth
Director
ASIFA-Hollywood
Animation Archive
www.animationarchive.org

RussellC23 said...

Once in a great while we get to work on something great.

I am one of the geezers who actually started in this bizniz polishing cels before they went to camera. I too learned all about making cartoons the full, old fashioned way. I used to watch cartoons through the moviola, and tap out rythms on 35mm leader. I actually remember working on bar sheets. I think I still have a partial pad of these lying around.

Flash Forward past the years 1970...1980...1990... 2000... when you hear the tone, the year will be 2006 AD...

It's amaaaaaaazing that I am currently directing a show that has everyone on the crew communicating with each other and really being creative to make a funny cartoon.

As a director I can change storyboards, add lot's of extra poses on the sheets, edit dialogue so it's consise & funnier and add gags.

Except for the animation being done overseas (ugh... The REALLY FUN part) this show feels kind of what like what it must have been like back at Termite Terrace.

This of course is one of those RARE occasions in this biz. I hope this is a turning point so we can have another Golden Age of CARTOONS.

®©

Matt said...

"Skill first, creativity second."

I'm not so sure about that. I've always thought Disney's animation was pretty and nice to look at. But what about their ideas, or rather the lack of them? Rank sentimentality and commercialism, but oh so skillfully made.

The idea is the thing. Content is king. Heart. Passion. Courage. Truth-telling. These things matter most in art.

In other words, I'd rather go see a Keith Haring exhibit than Norman Rockwell.

jpcline004 said...

Pretty ironic that so many people are criticizing the scatalogical humor of today's cartoons, considering Ren & Stimpy was the pioneer of gross-out humor comedy.

Its also evident that Jorge and the other detractors of Family Guy haven't seen many, if any, episodes. Sure the animation is stiff and mass produced, but the writing is damn good. If you look past the obvious gross-out and pop culture gags, there is a whole other 3rd level to the show that rivals the wit of any New Yorker cartoon. The characters of Stewie and Brian provide most of these jokes, and the result is the mass appeal that makes a show successful. Yep teens like the gross jokes, college kids like the pop culture stuff, and adults can enjoy the subversiveness.

and RE "there are no jokes on Family Guy", you might want to brush up on the elements of comedy. There are more ways to write a joke than just set-up and punchline.

http://www.uoregon.edu/~jlesage/Juliafolder/screenwriting/comedy.htm

jpcline004 said...

Let me just add one more thing because I don't want to seem like I am sh*tting in John's nest because I am a huge fan of Ren & Stimpy and have been since it first came out.

I just find it really ironic when fans of cartoons like The Simpsons, South Park or Ren and Stimpy have the nerve to criticize Family Guy for the same things those shows have been criticized for. All 4 of these shows have a surface layer that can instantly shock, offend or annoy people; and they all have been criticized by religious and parent groups as being juvenile, crass or bad influences. I would love someone to pull newspaper clips reviewing all 4 when they premiered. I guarantee you would find people saying they were crap compared to the older cartoons and were somehow symbolizing a new low in American culture. However when someone actually takes the time to watch these shows and see the underlying product, they are all quite brilliant in their own right.

Anthony Cromartie said...

Beautiful post/article!

Good to see Hannah mentioned-the timing in the Tom and Jerry cartoons is pure genius (or was..w/e I still watch them now so I say is :-)

I see what you're saying. In a lot of Animation today the musical tracks are just "laid" over it instead of timed to the actions or vice-versa.