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"What's New" Archives: October 2012

 

October 26, 2012:

Walt Kelly's Bridgeport

What You Probably Don't Want for Christmas

 

October 11, 2012:

Bob Clampett and "Tarzantoons"

Walt's People, Volume 12

 

October 26, 2012:

Walt Kelly's Bridgeport

Bridgeport Main Street

Harding High School

Bridgeport Hospital

These postcards from hand-tinted photographs were mailed in 1929, when Walt Kelly was a teenager enrolled in Harding High School, and they were presumably produced not long before that (the high school was built in 1924-25, just after President Warren Harding's death, thus its unfortunate name). The high school is still there, on Central Avenue, as is the hospital, next door— it fronts around the corner, on Grant Street—although its picturesque 1884 building has long since been absorbed into a modern structure. Both were less than a mile away from the Kelly home on East Avenue, and even closer to the General Electric plant where Kelly's father was a foreman for many years. There have been a number of books devoted to historic photos of Bridgeport, including at least two based on postcards from the city, but I'm not aware that these cards have been reproduced in any of them, and certainly not in color.

What You Probably Don't Want for Christmas

Filmation bookHere's how this book is described by the publisher, TwoMorrows:

"Hailed as one of the fathers of Saturday morning television, Lou Scheimer was the co-founder of Filmation Studios, which for over 25 years provided animated excitement for TV and film. Always at the forefront, Scheimer’s company created the first DC cartoons with Superman, Batman, and Aquaman,ruled the song charts with The Archies, kept Trekkie hope alive with the Emmy-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series, taught morals with Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and swung into high adventure with Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, and Zorro. Forays into live-action included Shazam! and The Secrets of Isis, plus ground-breaking special effects work on Jason of Star Command and others. And in the 1980s, Filmation single-handedly caused the syndication explosion with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its successors. Now, with best-selling co-author Andy Mangels, Lou Scheimer tells the entire story, including how his father decked Adolf Hitler, memories of the comic books of the Golden Age, schooling with Andy Warhol, and what it meant to lead the last all-American animation company through nearly thirty years of innovation and fun! Profusely illustrated with photos, model sheets, storyboards, presentation art, looks at rare and unproduced series, and more — plus hundreds of tales about Filmation’s past, and rare Filmation-related art by Bruce Timm, Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, Phil Jimenez, Frank Cho, Gene Ha, and Mike McKone — this book shows the Filmation Generation the story behind the stories!"

Or maybe you do want this book for Christmas? You say you have glowing memories of Filmation's TV cartoons? If that's the case, what in the world are you doing here?

Comments

FromThad Komorowski: The Filmation book looks beyond horrifying. It probably kills some of those guys that their names are being used to sell that book. The sad part is that hackwork actually carried on a lot of traditional classical animation principles, mainly the idea of real apprenticeship in animation. At that studio, one could learn the process inside and out, even if it was on garbage productions. Most of the pros realized it; many of the youngsters didn't, and in their haste to eschew any traces of Filmation in the modern era, they threw out the good with the bad. Now we have more animation superstars who can't even animate—mainly because their teachers couldn't show them how. And the seventies are back in commercial animation, with a vengeance! Nobody ever learns.

[Posted October 27, 2012]

From Don Benson: The story of Filmation is probably more interesting than anything Filmation actually produced. Going from Pinocchio in Outer Space to a bizarre Oz project that was scripted, scored, and recorded years before anybody got around to animating; a Potemkin studio thrown together to bluff some executives and get a Saturday morning contract; an empire that managed to license a lot of of big name properties; and the game-changing business model that was He-Man—first-run syndication and heavy built-in merchandise plugs (a sea change from when Hot Wheels reportedly went off the air because the FCC disapproved of a toy line's name and logo in the title).

As a kid with bad taste, I was intrigued by Filmation shows simply because they didn't look like the Hanna-Barbera shows that dominated every network. The heavy outlines (compared to the thinner inking at HB), the cut-and-paste walk cycles (my father thought this was the computer animation he'd seen mentioned in science magazines), the unfamiliar background music, and the signature shots where half the screen was filled by a character's profile. Fantastic Voyage and Journey to the Center of the Earth don't age well at all, aside from cool introductions and premises. Hardy Boys is a bit more entertaining because it's so oddball, trying to put a veneer of '60s hip (Long hair! Painted car!) on stripped-down versions of the venerable books (two per half hour, with a bland song in each). The animated scene transitions included imitation op art and a throbbing paisley pattern.

You could argue whether these were better or worse than contemporary HB product, but there was no denying they were different. I actually preferred Filmation's wooden take on the DC comics to HB's Super Friends, at least visually. Filmation felt a bit more like real comic books. Years later, when Warner did Batman: The Animated Series and its follow-ups, I looked at the solid lines and backgrounds and realized this was exactly what my younger self kept hoping Filmation would deliver.

[Posted October 29, 2012]

MB replies: I'm impressed that Don Benson could offer so substantial a comment about what I've always regarded as the most insubstantial of the TV-cartoon studios, the one whose shows were simply not very interesting even as bad examples..

From Kevin Hogan: I must admit that I will probably end up reading this, but I’m a completist. Even as a kid, I remember noticing that these cartoons were different from the Looney Tunes I loved (in a bad way), but I didn’t yet have the ability to identify why. I remember playing with He-Man toys as a kid, but have absolutely no memory of the show. However, I could quote Looney Tunes cartoons verbatim.

From Don Benson: Don't know if "insubstantial" is the word for Filmation. As a business it was pretty big, albeit never as big and lasting as HB, and it produced a ton of product that found a market.

A couple of times they did show real ambition. Filmation's reason for existing was the long-fermenting but never-quite-right Oz film (Tin Man and Lion as unsympathetic cowards? Scarecrow as a passive idiot? These are your heroes on all the ads, guys.). And the Flash Gordon series was almost pretentious. They even tried to aim a notch higher with Bravestarr (at least in the introductory movie).

Various of their shows linger as touchstones for at least two generations. Superman, Aquaman and Archie for my peers; Fat Albert and He-Man for a later cohort. Recently Warner Archive released their live-action Shazam series (Captain Marvel teaching positive values instead of beating up villains) to what was evidently a very eager fan base. They may well be the same fans who snapped up Inch High Private Eye, but still. Influence is rarely directly proportional to quality; nostalgia even less so. Pretty soon I'll be dragging out some Rankin-Bass Christmas specials and maybe Disney's Babes in Toyland as a matter of tradition.

[Posted October 31, 2012]

From Milton Gray: In the late 1970s, due to an accident of circumstances, I was working at the Filmation studio. They were beginning work on a new TV series, Flash Gordon, and they asked me to animate a stock walk cycle of the lead character. For reference they loaned me the drawings of a walk cycle from an earlier show, Tarzan. Just flipping those drawings, I felt that the Tarzan walk was awfully wooden, and felt that I could do a much better walk cycle for Flash Gordon, and so I did my own version.

A couple days later the production manager called me to come look at a pencil test of my scene, and he did not look happy, so I knew something was wrong. We ran the scene on the video monitor, and it looked fine to me. So I said, "I don't see what's wrong—it looks good to me." The production manager said, "Yes, that's exactly what's wrong. It is good, which will make the rest of our animation look bad."

So the studio threw out my scene, and actually paid me to redo the walk cycle, to deliberately make it as bad as the Tarzan walk cycle. And things like that happened to other animators at Filmation as well. As the saying goes, Filmation didn't want quality, and they didn't want it in the worst way.

[Posted November 1, 2012]

From Kel Crum: Actually, after reading about it on your site, I confess I'm a little curious about Lou Scheimer's dad decking Hitler. Perhaps if I'm good, someone will rip that page out of the book, stuff it in my Xmas stocking, and I can use it to wrap leftovers after I've absorbed the information.

[Posted November 3, 2012]

From Floyd Norman: I'm a little late with this but I felt I had to chime in on the Filmation book. I could never stand the Filmation product and I have no interest in the book. However, I thought Lou Scheimer was a stand up guy. Visits to his studio in the valley were always a pleasure and it was a delight to see a facility filled with talented artists even though the product was less than sterling. Scheimer managed to keep many artists employed while other animation houses chose to send their production off shore. I honestly can't think of one Filmation show I found appealing, but Lou Scheimer still gets high marks in my book.

MB replies: I'm reminded of what I've often heard about the other major TV-cartoon studio: that Hanna-Barbera, for all its deficiencies, saved the animation industry fifty years ago. Was that a good thing? I tend to doubt it, just as I doubt whether it would have been a tragedy if Walt Disney had shut down theatrical animation at his studio after Sleeping Beauty. In both cases, survival may have been purchased at too high a cost, in bad films and bad habits. Certainly Filmation was a major contributor to both kinds of badness.

[Posted November 4, 2012]

October 11, 2012:

Tarzantoons

Bob Clampett and "Tarzantoons"

If you're any kind of Bob Clampett fan, you know about his unrealized effort to make cartoons based on the Mars novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. But it's unlikely that you know how that Clampett project metamorphosed into "Tarzantoons." To read about that very short-lived cartoon studio—and to get the story behind the drawings above by John Coleman Burroughs, ERB's son—click on this link.

Comments

From Mark Sonntag: It's funny, I didn't hate the movie that was made [from Burroughs's Mars novels], but I always had the idea in my mind if I ever had the chance to adapt John Carter I would have gone the route of a 2D/3D combination. Stylized so as to reflect the era the original pulp stories were written, maybe somewhat art deco so as not to anchor it in our time. Really make it feel like a story book, a fairy tale. But that's me.

As far as the Bob Clampett test footage is concerned, it's available as part of the documentary on the John Carter Blu-ray, probably also on the DVD.

From Thad Komorowski: Fantastic article and brilliant presentation of this little-known chapter in animation history. My memory always involuntarily brings up this episode whenever those "Clampett's the king of cartoony cartoons" discussions pop up again and again. Perhaps the ordeal made a great impression on him and spurred his creativity in new ways that might not have happened otherwise. It's a blessing the deal never did follow through, otherwise Clampett's legacy as a filmmaker would have been confined to the esteem of something like the Paramount Superman series. In other words, nice special effects, but, so what? And hey, if he was possibly taking Chuck Jones with him, there's another blow to animated cartooning. Finally, we've figured out the one cartoon series that deserved to fail!

[Posted October 12, 1012]

From Robert Barrett: I just happened to remember another interesting story about Bob Clampett. Here is a quote from my article "Danton Doring: the Story Behind John Coleman Burroughs' Unpublished Novel."

"In 1936 while Jack and Bob Clampett were working on JOHN CARTER OF MARS animation project, they were able to sell the idea of adventures in the insect world to a film producer who had developed a new method of photographing insects with the clarity and quality that far surpassed any previously developed. But, like so many ideas proposed in the film world, the motion picture script quietly died."

JCB's story, DANTON DORING, was the adventure of two men who had been reduced to the size of insects, discovered a world of insect-like humanoids with Danton Doring falling in love with the princess of these humanoids, battling various species of insects, etc. The story began as a proposed newspaper Sunday page, then evolved into a possible film feature described above, and finally ended as an unfinished novel.

[Posted October 30, 2012]

From Daniel Guenzel: I very much enjoyed learning about those proposed Burroughs cartoons. Another fascinating story about that endlessly fascinating man, Bob Clampett.

And I couldn't agree more: what gems would have gone unmade had he gone in that direction! After reading about that I turned once again to that poignant letter you received from Clampett's son back in 2004. Pretty heart-breaking, learning of the neglect that he had to endure for years. If there is one thing I hate seeing, it is creative people who have done brilliant work no longer creating, thanks mostly to a system that almost seems, at least nowadays, to weed out the greatest artists and consign them to oblivion. I hope Clampett's son will one day write more about his family.

[Posted November 4, 2012]

Walt's People, Volume 12

Walt's People 12Another year, another volume in Didier Ghez's monumental series collecting interviews (and related material) with a vast range of people who worked for Walt Disney or had some other strong connection with him.

You might think that after a dozen volumes this series would be running down, or at least running out of source material, but that's not the case. Each new book seems to be thicker than the last, and the interviews, if inevitably uneven, are on the whole wonderful additions to our knowledge of Walt Disney, his works, and the people who executed his ideas. All that's lacking now is a comprehensive index—preferably on-line, and preferably updated annually—so that it's easier to locate individual interviews and pertinent passages within each interview. I know that Didier is aware of that need, and I'll not bug him further about an index. (There is, however, no reason why other people can't bug him.)

Volume 12 is available from amazon.com in both print and Kindle editions, the latter at a ridiculously low price. Either way, if you care about Walt Disney and about preserving the history of the company that bears his name, you should buy this book.

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