Monday, November 07, 2005

The Chicago School

Also from Platypus Comix is an interesting interview with animator Jon McClenahan, founder of the Chicago animation studio StarToons, and animator and director for some of the best episodes of "Tiny Toons" and "Animaniacs."

Part one is about his work with overseas studios; Part 2 is mostly about how he got started on "Tiny Toons," Part 3 is more about his work for Warner Brothers, and the site promises that soon we'll get a Part 4 dealing with his "Animaniacs" work.

StarToons, one of the few American studios that did animation production on an American TV series (usually the actual animation is produced overseas), eventually included quite a few excellent young animators, including Spike Brandt, Tony Cervone, Neal Sternecky, and for about a month, Genndy Tartakovsky (who quit when he realized that "we weren't trying to emulate John K[ricfalusi]'s style"). McClenahan was probably the best animator at his own studio, and his animation for "Tiny Toons" and "Animaniacs" was some of the best TV animation I've seen. His animation style is aptly described at that webpage as "bouncy"; his characters don't move fluidly (though there were some animators at StarToons who animated that way, like Sternecky) but instead have very pronounced, sort of rhythmically jerky movement with a lot of humor and precise responses to the situation. He also drew characters much chubbier and rounder than most animators did, and had a fondness for drawing very broad facial expressions, like this one where Buster Bunny's eyes come almost semi-detatched from his head:

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The interview has some good information on various aspects of his animation career and on some of the people he worked with, like the writers and directors on "Tiny Toons":

There was a marked & somewhat hostile division between the writers and the staff animation directors (guys like Ken Boyer, Rich Arons, & Rusty Mills). When we first got the contract for 'Henny Youngman Day', they flew me out to LA to discuss it with them, and Tom & Sherri were very nice and handed me the script and then introduced me to Boyer and some of his guys, and we went into a conference room, and the directors all started saying things like, "Well, this is a pile of crap" and "We're going to have to cut this and cut that and" and "we'll just re-write all this stuff when we do the boards." I was surprised because for the most part I thought it was all pretty good, and I didn't see any reason most of the stuff they hated wouldn't be good & funny, but I figured I'm the new kid on the block, so I didn't say much. They all took notes and we broke up.

Then I went on a tour of the facilities, and about five minutes later, I heard a page over the loudspeaker system: "Jon McClenahan, please come to Tom Ruegger's office immediately." So I hustled back to Ruegger's office, and Stoner was in there breathing heavily with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face, and Ruegger was like, "Jon, let me ask you something: what the hell do you think you're doing?" I had no idea what he was talking about, so he pushed the notes toward me and said, "Well, these changes are just unacceptable, but go ahead and explain to me why you don't like them." I said, "Tom, frankly, I'm happy with the script as is. I was just going by the advice of your other directors." Tom & Sherri looked at each other, and then looked at me and said, "Well YOU'RE directing this one, not them." In other words, they wanted their script left intact. Seems like I had been set up by the staff guys - I had no idea there was this hostility going on.

There's also some information on the best episode of "Tiny Toons," a season 3 episode called "ThirteenSomething," on which he directed and animated many of the best scenes, including "the 108 foot (1 minute, 12 seconds without a cut) split-screen phone conversation between Buster and Babs, who both really missed each other."

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