the longer I look at it, the more it pisses me off.
Mainly because by my own personal standards, the design priorities of this series once actually stood for something. In subtle but significant ways, those priorities were gradually and deliberately undermined. A look that was successfully, intelligently and pretty solidly worked out gets basically ruined by "improvements." Two rules to come away with here, as far as I'm concerned:
1. Less is more
2. Leave well enough alone.
Here is a comparable frame grab of a group shot from season one of the original show. It just makes me smile. As deceptively simple as it looks, it displays professionalism that the more recent image lacks.For one thing, notice that in the more recent picture, the layout "rakes" the perspective of the floor line a bit, creating a diagonal that forces the composition elements into something of a diamond. Normally, a diagonal can create a sense of dynamism, which is often desirable, but here it is arbitrary. The figures, after all are literally, self-consciously "posed" in static positions to accommodate the idea of the whole family having their picture taken.Which makes one wonder: what is the camera doing in the image? All it does is clutter up space. If the intention was to create a posed picture of the whole family, why not just draw them as the "camera" would see them and give us a genuine portrait? Why include the actual prop and cramp the already limited space? Especially with ten (count 'em!) ten figures to cope with in a single, limited image!
Where is the camera that took the picture of them posing for this camera? Why not show that one too? The whole idea seems mangled. What is the meta-thinking behind a "candid" snapshot of a group consciously posing for yet another snapshot by a different camera?
If this is from a show (and not a one-off "gallery cel"), why not set up the camera in a separate shot?
Not least of all: notice also that no one (other than those with the last name "Rubble")appears to be looking at the actual camera but well to the right of it.
In the first series, more often than not, the floor line is a relatively straight horizontal line, somewhat irregularly drawn. The irregularity goes with the organic feel of the concept of a largely organic world, and the horizontal quality lends maximum space for the stylized figures to appear in. It also allows props (like the piano) to have a slight diagonal witout being forced into paralell perspective like the couch (above).
The nice thing about the straight horizontal horizons of the original series is that the show was concieved on a strict budget and very stringent schedules: lateral motion of both character and camera are easy and quick to plan and execute (as opposed to "perspective" actions). Someone, somewhere knew back then that it was better to work with the limitations of the whole setup instead of against them. Furthermore, the general flatness of it compliments both the scale and scope of a TV screen, and the level of detail in the characters is accordingly simple. And that simplicity goes to everything in the designs, including the boldness of the actual contours of each line.
Note too that the production image features six adult characters (only one less adult than the gallery cel) but everyone is clearly readable, drawn as simply as possible and no obvious tangents appear. Pretty impressive, given that this is probably not a key and was not intended to be viewed as a static setup, like the later one.
In the later work, the lines suggest a bit more form and complexity of contour, for reasons that make no sense to me. They have moved from looking like characters built precisely for the medium, budget and schedules they are intended for, to looking like hybrids of their old selves and the sort of more "sophisticated" designs we might associate with a more lush production.
And yet all this at a time when the actual money and time spent on each project was almost certainly shrinking, relatively speaking.
The subject of this art is also unsettling on a conceptual level. I don't know if this is from an actual show or if it is that despicable spawn of merchandising satanism known as the "gallery cel", but in either case there is a conspicuous sense of pandering to "Wilma's Mom" in the whole thing. This stinks of a marketing division barking forth the directive that "we need a Mother's Day image and we need it fast. One that particularly flatters "Grandma"." Even the colors here lean toward a mash-up of matronly pastels instead of the concise, well managed and limited palette back in the day.
Nothing against grandmas, but this is the last straw for a slapstick cartoon based on cavemen ostensibly derived from Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden character. When I was a kid the idea that a cartoon would appeal to either of my grandmothers made it automatically suspect. Here we see that the "target audience" of the "product" is in fact, the one person who in my day would have hated the whole medium. It's as if the whole point of cartooning has been utterly subverted and turned into its opposite.
Something that was originally, intentionally crude, stylized, grotesque and comic, geared to the manic impulses of kids, has been transformed into an icon to warm the hearts of old ladies. Utterly baffling. I guess if things had kept going, nuns would have been calling the shots at Hanna Barbera.
4/28/10 POST SCRIPT: Afterthoughts in the aftermath of related a CARTOON BREW link:
Reflecting on the comments generated by an unsolicited mention of this post at CARTOON BREW, I have a few things to add (and a couple to repeat).
Being linked on 'BREW is always something of a surprise, albeit a welcome one and I am grateful that Amid was kind enough to choose quotes from this post that were accurate and representative (I am always startled how many people miss a general point) Thanks Amid...
At the same time, several commenters felt any attention at all to this post seemed unwarranted on 'BREW, justifiably so: this was a piece of basic instruction/observation and not really intended to be newsworthy. Even I was surprised to see this on 'BREW, given that there it would largely seem merely an easy, gratuitous potshot at characters over half a century old, comparing their original state to where they arrived some 30 years later.
BREW Commenter "robcat" wins the golden protractor award for pointing out my diagram of the angle on the 1990's image is not perfectly accurate. I'd say I'm off by about 30 percent but the tilt still serves to crowd the group and make them appear to be standing on a diagonally sinking ship...
'purin' is made nervous by my "Grandma" issues...inferring that I am subscribing to a theory that women "emasculate" cartoons... I'd say guilty, but only in regards to this particular show (and a few others like it). You will see in the comments here, I am content to let "Grandma" cartoons thrive, there are many in this genre IMHO. Likewise, I have hopefully shown evidence throughout the site that I bear no ill will toward the female gender or the elderly, or even individuals who are of both categories. However, THE FLINTSTONES (1960) was, initially at least, a marked alternative to the classic territory of contemporary cartoon rivals, such as (coincidentally) Disney's SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959), with it's typically rarified elegance, balletic motion, central female protagonist(s) (and antagonist!), and floral color scheme. As if to delineate their own separate territory, THE FLINTSTONES was deliberately primitive, blunt, broad and rough, visually as well as conceptually. In a word: masculine, like the sitcom it was largely inspired by. Which in turn was not devoid of a strong, sturdy feminine influence, but in both cases, masculinity was essentially a (the?) dominant theme.
To see this arrive finally in "GrandmaLand", with the dominant alpha lunkhead reduced to sitting in the corner, largely obscured, impotent, dopey, literally marginalized, surrounded by a crazy quilt of lavender pink, violet and teal is, yes, "emasculating" in my view, and diminishing the central appeal of the original idea. Of course that appeal began to erode long before this image was conceived....
For some reason, for instance, very early on, the flexible goofyness of the original character designs was corrupted with "fixed" construction and other "improvements": coy postures of the Fred Moore type, Tom Oreb "scallops" or reverse curves or whatever you want to call them.In any case the sort of subtle "Disney" mannerisms that seem less well suited to a show designed for speedy execution... And so on with the color and layout etc... As I already commented, the effect of "prettying up" THE FLINTSTONES is comparable to hearing someone try to play Sousa marches on a harp. That's as good a metaphor as I can wrangle for this.
Mark Kausler, Animator/Director/Creator of the award-winning IT'S THE CAT (among other things), is also the most inerrant source of animation wisdom I know. He chimed in to sight George Nicholas as the animator of the "Season One" still. Glad to know it. The number of animators I can accurately call at the drop of a hat could be counted on fewer fingers than can make a fist...
SCOTT SHAW! bemoans the frustration of handling the more faithful ancillary art for the franchise while not being allowed time or access to influence the TV productions of the time, which must have been very frustrating...
Lastly, I think it's important to address that in my view, the erosion of the strengths of the original series is not something I would willingly lay at the feet of individuals, including those who made the cautionary frame shown here. My take is that the erosion was gradual and deliberate, yet not consciously coordinated. In any case, it was systemic, and not just isolated to this franchise, this studio or even this industry. The system that made the 1960 image was probably not ideal, but it was made up of a small group of highly seasoned and intelligent pros, working in what must have been some kind of harmony, in top form, inspired by the new medium, and under the direct supervision of a very small handful of focused genuine leaders. These few were still freshly minting the style so beloved by us purists, for a streamlined process still so new that literally they were likely unified as much by limitation of time and resources as by their considerable talent. No less important: they were all surely keen to make the venture of a prime time network series (the first of its kind) successful: quite literally the fate of the whole young studio (the success of which could only be guessed at back then)was at stake...
By contrast, the 'Homage to Grandma' done more than a generation later, was one of any number of "products" done around that time, in a factory fashion; the umpteenth in a huge, successful system that had become corporate, far-flung, over-managed, undercut by shrinking budgets and second-third- and -hundred and third guessed into a kind of consistent, familiar mass-replicateable mush. In addition, the later image was likely produced by at least a high percentage of my generation of animation artisans: and for all our passion we were not only startled by the animation boom that hit us around that time, but compared to the generation of FLINTSONES: SEASON ONE, we were vastly more inexperienced, undereducated, and frankly unprepared. We were grateful, but relatively few were as disciplined as our forebears. My take on the reasons for that is probably fodder enough for another post altogether...