Sunday, November 04, 2007

Squash and Stretch and Sing Off-Key

The news that Tiny Toon Adventures is coming to DVD has produced some great comments from Jenny Lerew and writer Tom Minton.

Tom Minton's comment tells how the Japanese animation studio Tokyo Movie Shinsha came to work on the show. TMS's work helped both this show and Animaniacs immensely, because their shows looked so much better than most overseas studios' work and also because their animation style -- which involved a lot of "popping" from one pose to the next with smear drawings to effect the transition -- came off as sort of a TV-budget approximation of old-school cartoony animation, and made their shows look funnier and sharper than you'd expect from a TV cartoon. (TMS, which mostly handled action-adventure, also did fine work on action shows like Batman and Superman, but the advantages were less obvious; other studios could do a Batman episode that looked somewhat similar to a TMS show, but no one could even come close to a TMS Tiny Toons.)

Minton also notes that Steven Spielberg's involvement "allowed tons of money to be spent to virtually build a major TV animation studio from the ground up." Which is an interesting story that I don't think has ever really been told in full. Before Tiny Toons, Warners didn't have much of a TV animation operation. Only a few years later they had one of the biggest and most productive in TV. And only a few years after that, it kind of collapsed. It's a rise-and-fall story that involves a lot of talented people, and if anyone ever writes a book about the post-1988 boom and bust of animation (the boom that started with Roger Rabbit in 1988 and The Little Mermaid in 1989), that in its own way is as fascinating a story as the much more famous rise and fall of Disney's animation department.

Jenny's comment is partly about one of the problems that eventually helped sink this kind of show: the final product often wasn't nearly as good as the storyboards and layout drawings. Warners, like a lot of big studios, never really developed an efficient way to make sure that the overseas-animated cartoons matched the in-house artists' work, or of coming up with a good system for conveying what they wanted; this led to a lot of retakes, a lot of money spent inefficiently. (See John Kricfalusi's "My Notes to Korean Animation Studios" for more on this subject.)

One exception was the superhero unit headed by Bruce Timm; starting with very simple, pared-down character designs, they pared them down more and more with every project, the better to make sure that the characters could be animated the way Timm wanted them. But with something like Tiny Toons or Animaniacs -- where difficult-to-animate tufts of hair were added to Yakko and Wakko's faces at the last minute, so they wouldn't look like Mickey Mouse -- you could never be sure how they would look.

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