Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Filmation Paradoxes

The new issue of Flip is online and the lead article is a look back at Filmation by three artists who worked there: Tom Sito, Bronwen Barry and Tom Mazzocco. The piece highlights two paradoxes that are common within the animation industry.

The first is that it's possible to work at a studio that has a comfortable environment and a friendly crew while turning out work that is, to put it charitably, of little value. Filmation is best remembered for shows like He-Man, She-ra and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. While those series may produce a nostalgic glow for a generation of children, a dispassionate look at them shows them to be low budget formula cartoons. While artists would prefer to work on good projects, the truth is that a comfortable environment is perhaps as valuable as the quality of the finished work when the project takes up most of an artist's waking hours.

The other paradox is that artists tend to be judged by the projects they work on, and that's a false standard. A great many of the Filmation crew migrated to Disney, where they were major contributors to the success of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. While resume credits are a handy way to pigeon-hole someone, they don't accurately reflect the skills of an artist. The intelligence and taste of the management, the size of the budget and the length of the schedule have more to do with the results on screen than the abilities of the crew.

14 comments:

John Celestri said...

Here! Here! I would love to develop a studio that blends the best aspects of all those I'd worked for in the past. For the vast majority, it's an animator's pipe dream...but stay tuned.

Daniel said...

Good stuff! Don't judge a book, and so and, and so forth.

Brubaker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brubaker said...

Speaking of which, I interviewed Eddie Fitzgerald several months back and I asked him about all the studios he worked at. He brought up Filmation, saying:

"I also have great memories of working at Filmation. The shows were absolutely terrible, and the hours were grueling, but it was my first industry job and there wasn't a moment when I didn't feel surrounded by magic."

Okay, he did acknowledge that their shows were awful, but they seem to have some stories to tell about the place.

Another animation director told me that when you want to make it in animation you gotta take what you can get, whether its good or bad. Take that as you will.

John Celestri said...

My time working at Filmation will always remain a pleasant memory for me. Lou Scheimer treated me and everyone who worked for him with respect (as far as I could see). Nobody treated me better, and I've worked for Don Bluth, Richard Rich, Dick Williams, and was one of the original animators at Nelvana during its most creative years in the mid-70s to early 80s. OK, let the tomato-flinging begin.;-)

John Celestri said...

You have to remember that at the time I worked at Filmation (1985-87), the industry money people felt that a non-Disney produced animated feature had to keep its budget under $4 million for it to have a chance to break even. This is well before Roger Rabbit (and don't tell me its budget was $4 million).

Keith Lango said...

This is a great thing to keep in mind for animators at more successful film studios. It's not a majority, but there's more than a few who have a condescending attitude towards those not doing film (the culprits tend to be younger). It's not unheard of to learn of some animators at bigger studios "big-timing" other animators who work at "lesser" studios.

Harvey Deneroff said...

After the ill-fated 1982 strike by the Screen Cartoonists failed to stop most TV studios in Hollywood from outsourcing work to other countries, Filmation refused to follow suit. And one way Lou Scheimer could keep costs down and keep his union workers busy was to skimp on production quality; he also came up with the idea of packaging shows, such as He-man and the Masters of the Universe, for first-run syndication, 65 episodes at a time. The success of these shows and the low budget features he made from them enabled Filmation to hire people on a year-round basis - something unheard of at the time in TV animation. These efforts almost single-handedly kept employment in the Hollywood industry from dropping precipitously in the years right after the strike. As such, it probably kept any number of artists from dropping out of animation, thus providing the needed manpower needed when the feature boom started in the late 80s and early 90s. I believe it was for this reason that ASIFA-Hollywood gave Scheimer its June Foray Award (as part of its Annie Awards ceremony) for service to the industry.

Brubaker said...

For the record Filmation did outsource once: their Zorro series from the early '80s, which was being done at Tokyo Movie in Japan.

That was probably their best-looking show (still wasn't great, tho...)

David Nethery said...

"For the record Filmation did outsource once: their Zorro series from the early '80s, which was being done at Tokyo Movie in Japan."

I had not ever heard about that, but I would guess the important difference is probably that the work on Zorro which was outsourced was overflow work . I don't believe it cost anyone their jobs at the main Filmation studio. They outsourced because they didn't have enough people on staff to handle that and their other shows in production.

(maybe I'm wrong about that , but I never heard about Filmation laying anyone off to send work out of the country) .

Anonymous said...

"It's not a majority, but there's more than a few who have a condescending attitude towards those not doing film (the culprits tend to be younger)."

I've only been able to work in TV. There is definitely a snobbish feeling coming from guys working on features compared to us low lifes working in TV. It's as if we have to be ashamed about it.

But to be honest I would rather work in film animation, you get more time flesh your scenes out depending on the studio. In TV it's get it done as fast as possible. Ironically enough though every animation supervisor I've had wants you to put so much love and emotion into your scenes while making 80 cents a frame.

Sorry, just a small rant.

JPilot said...

Anonymous said: "Ironically enough though every animation supervisor I've had wants you to put so much love and emotion into your scenes while making 80 cents a frame."

One of my old timer teachers who worked at Jay Ward and Bill Melendez' studio taught me that one pose that had "heart and soul" was worth more than 50 drawings of uninspired business.

Some of the "cocainimators" in some studios I worked at would tear through a diarrhea of bad animation footage that would please the production managers and the bean counters while making loads of money for themselves. The old timers had just the right amount of drawings with perfect poses, timing, expressions and feeling and get a lot more done during regular hours and they made a decent living that way.

Bill said...

I worked at Filmation for many years and can tell you we all knew we churned out crap. It was either work for H & B or Filmation or wait around for a feature to came along, and since most of us liked to eat we did what we had to do. Hell.....it was a living and we had fun.
Bill R

Harvey Deneroff said...

"For the record Filmation did outsource once: their Zorro series from the early '80s, which was being done at Tokyo Movie in Japan."

I can affirm that Filmation did not lay off anyone when they sent animation to Japan on Zorro. I do recall that, as David Nethery notes, they did not have enough people to handle the project in house, I believe they also sent much of the animation to Japan, rather than just overflow; this was done with the full knowledge and approval of the union, since there were not enough union members available to do the job.

Employment in Hollywood during that time was largely TV-oriented and highly seasonal. This resulted in almost everyone in town being employed for ever-shorter periods of time, with longer and longer periods between animation assignments. (It was not uncommon for animation artists to have second careers outside of animation.) This was one of the reasons that Filmation's ability to provide year-round employment was so unusual.