Friday, April 23, 2010

DEVOLUTION


I am sorry to keep beating up on this image, but
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...


21 comments:

A.M.Bush said...

Haha, that's hilarious. If you have time please analyze my all time favorite bad art. There's this one fake cell that I see on John K's blog sometimes and it's of Yogi buying candy (I dunno if you know which one I'm talking about). I laugh at it's awfulness every time. There's also one like that of Fred and Barney walking into a house and the cave is all kinds of pink and blue and the door is crazy. Ha, sorry for the long comment. Your posts are great.

Anne

Will Finn said...

Haha, I don't know that one but I will look for it. Thanks.

RooniMan said...

New rule: Cartoons that appeal to old ladys are CRAP!

Roberto Severino said...

Thanks for tearing apart this awful-looking degeneration of The Flintstones. I saw that movie a while ago, and thought it was pretty lame and a big low for Hanna-Barbera, especially for the early 90s (I think that's when it was made. Not sure). Kinda sad how both Hanna and Barbera actually signed that cell you posted. Makes me wonder what they thought of this themselves.

Dan Alexander said...

What a great post! Wilma's Mom was horrible in the original show, and here she's the main focus---I'm guessing all your theories are correct.

I have to tell you that I vividly remember a story you wrote years ago about one of the cartoon Pound Puppies getting redesigned at HB because she wasn't cute enough. You wrote about how an actual Pound Puppy toy looked like "a cross between a dead dog and a sack of Gold Medal Flour." This still makes me laugh after all these years.

Willem Wynand said...

all knowing executives ruin the world, such a common story in todays society =(. I was wondering why the lady is in the centre of the layout and all the characters are essentially looking at her.
good post how about a tutorial? +)

mark kennedy said...

Ha ha, that's a great post. Why IS the camera in the picture?

Why do all the younger ladies have lips but not Grandma? She looks like a dude in drag.

Will Finn said...

thanks commenters.. (-tors? whatever)

Rooniman--I'm ok with old ladies having their own cartoons (i ain't naming names), but i don't like them ruining this one.

Robert, so this was a show...i couldn't tell. i suspect it was created both as a show build around scenes that would make great gallery cels (not kidding! it happened during the gallery cel craze!)

Dan--Wow! That takes me back! I guess I have always been an old crank!

Willem--thanks, will consider a tutorial, but Mark K, (see below) John K, Eddie F and so forth are better teachers than me!

Mark--thanks, great observation. I am guessing somehow that lipstick would only increase the "drag" factor! Keep kicking us in the head!

Floyd Norman said...

Like everything else, greedy executives continue to subvert the work of artists. Neither caring or understanding, I'm sure crappy concepts like this one will continue.

Will Finn said...

Hi Floyd...Yeah, the conceptual choices no doubt are the product of pinheads. The style-change choices seem to me a little more complicated and sad.

I never knew Bill or Joe but they seemed to be very anxious to distance themselves from the Ed Benedict style that established their instant success. Some have suggested that the bosses were embarrassed by the "cheap" look of limited animation...

It all seems too bad. The "Benedict" style (and the layout and color stylings associated with it) were hugely successful and unmistakably distinct from "Uncle Walt's" ubiquitous stable.

I may have the time sequence wrong, but early on it seems Harvey Eisenberg, Gene Hazelton and Iwao Takamoto were all doing comics and publicity art of the original HB gang in a more "Disney-esque" style. No doubt about it, they all did very attractive still art this way. For my money, even as a kid, having a separate style for print and TV would not have been a problem. (As I remember living thru it, it wasn't, even though I noticed it)

I'm guessing it was a problem for Bill and Joe, and they decided to come down on the side of making the actual source product look more like the ancillary art.

This was a mistake, in my view, because Ed was designing for streamlined limited animation while the other three artists were copping the look of full animation (albeit for still art). Imposing that fuller style on the shows creates a twofold problem:

1. This all happened (as you know better than me) just as the shows were being made faster, cheaper and more dialog driven.

2. Fluid drawings and increasingly stiffer limited animation are almost mutually exclusive.

Yet another problem is that the number of animators and assistants who could draw as well as Eisenberg, Hazelton and Iwao just wasn't as big as it needed to be. Even for those who could, animators and assistants generally speaking have a much heavier workload than print cartoonists...

To put it simply, the very bold and successful style of the original HB product was undermined by the bosses' discomfort with being labeled "cheap" coupled with a rampant "Disney Complex" that too much of the business suffered from (and still does to some extent).

If I could put it even more simply:

The original artwork (as shown in the Season One still) has integrity where as the "Grandma" family portrait largely lacks it.

By "integrity" I mean everybody involved knowing exactly what they are doing, why and how. A perfect bull'seye if you will.

The later compromises of trying to "pretty up" the whole thing is like someone trying to play a Sousa March on a harp.

I have gone on way to long here to even begin to touch on what went wrong with the color choices over the years, but HB were far from alone in that realm.

Uncle Phil said...

I disagree. I love it.
...
..
..
.
.
BAAAHHH!!!

These posts are instant classics Will. Everyone needs to read them.

Alex said...

He makes a good point! I've designed some e-cards over the past two years, and posts like this re-iterate the importance of layout and clarity. Samples of which are on my blog, by the way.
http://elekiddo.blogspot.com/2010/02/its-v-day.html

I'm in a color theory class right now, funnily enough. Will, do you have the knowledge to elaborate on the importance of limited color pallets in animation? I'm interested since this read mentions how sucessfull the original Flintstones color was. That'd be swell.

M McDermott said...

Looked to me like Barney & Betty were just pasted in from another scene and don't even notice Ma Slaghoople standing right next to them. And Ma hardly seems to be part of the picture either.

I think if this had been drawn by an actual animator type artist, they might at least have given each character a bit more "gravity" in reaction to the other characters next to them. Like others have said, this just looks like they pasted together figures from different model sheets.

Will Finn said...

Alex--thanks. I am not the most knowledgeable color guy around but John K has done a ton of posts about early HB color with great insight from the actual painters themselves. He indexes his post with tags so you should be able to locate them fast.

I also like Ward Jenkins' art.

Mark Kennedy also has done a number of great posts on color, both in live action and in 2d art. See his blog entries for Jan 2009 and Sept 2008.

MM--I am guessing this was probably animated, under heavy deadline pressure, in some factory overseas. I am reluctant to lay the blame at the animator's feet because the problems this image represents was so rampantly systemic.

Johnny B said...

I think you're right on the money with pretty much everything you're saying...however, in the sumup you state that the family portrait was aimed at "old ladies" (i.e., mothers, grandmas, "adults") and the earlier show was geared towards kids; however, it's always been my understanding that The Flintstones, in its earlier years, was geared towards adults as a comedy show, not at kids specifically, and I think that shows in the subject matter and general feel of these great shows. It was much later, in the 70's and 80's (the dark ages of TV animation, if you ask me), that all the various permutations of the show started airing on Saturday mornings, aimed towards kids, and that family portrait shot sure looks like something from the late 70's-early 80's (note the adult Bamm-Bamm and Pebbles and their kids, bozemoi...).

Don't mean to be such a nitpicker, but that jumped out at me. Glad someone else can preach the truth about this subject!

Andy J. Latham said...

Great Post Will!

I find your analysis of the camera interesting as that's something that gets screwed up in the live action realm too. I've seen many a show (even "news" shows) where the camera we are looking through is filming another camera that the presenter is talking to. Why?! I find myself getting more and more frustrated by shoddy composition and camera work in all kinds of TV shows as it feels like fewer and fewer directors/cameramen/whoever have any clue what they are doing.

We tend to think of limited animation as a dying art, but I think the same often applies to other areas of television.

You know I'm only 27 and I'm already talking like an old man...."Things were different in my day!" (except they have never been different in my time on this earth. I long for a new golden age - it feels to me like humanity in the western world peaked in the 30s and has been in steady decline ever since).

Will Finn said...

Johnny B -- Yes, you are in essence correct and no it isn't nitpicky, I agree the original show was for all intents and purposes created for a general TV "family" audience...

That said, I don't think my parents (who were Gleason fans and pretty jovial) ever sat down and watched an episode and even my older siblings pretty much ignored it. I know, that's purely anecdotal, but this isn't: a number (not too great, but some) of the contemporary live-action sitcoms spawned things like children's toys and comic books, but none as much (or as naturally) as THE FLINTSTONES. That to me speaks to an awareness on the part of the people in charge that the appeal was broadly skewed to kids, which is not to say that it was originally a "kiddie" product.

Andy--I think crankiness comes with the territory for some reason! To be honest, I actually try to let things bother me less as years go by...

Johnny B said...

That to me speaks to an awareness on the part of the people in charge that the appeal was broadly skewed to kids, which is not to say that it was originally a "kiddie" product.

I think it also speaks to that age-old "cartoons are for kids" saw as well.

I was born in 1960, so I was one of those kids they were aiming all that junk at, I suppose.

One other, more ancedotal thing to pass on- my grandfather, who died in 1973, loved the Flintstones. He'd watch the reruns in the afternoon, in his chair, with a Coke on one side and his chewing tobacco on the other, and laugh his ass off. I didn't do a lot of things with him, but I will always remember watching the show with him and enjoying his reaction almost as much as I enjoyed watching the show...

Pokey said...

Will, regarding Dan's comment:
[the Pound Puppy redesign in 1988]
For the record, it's in the 1988 "Cartoon Quartlerly" aka "Cartoon ONE shot", as there was only one iussue, and I recall also your hilarious analogy between the original Puppies and a sack of Gold Medal flour, looks-wise!

You'd made a "Population [of character-my paranthetical remark] explosion" comment in that same article, with an analogy to a near-baseball team. [Off Topic: Why only one CARTOON QUARTLEY issue? That mag had a Mickey Mouse cover and a Floyd Norman article praising Corny Cole.]

Incidentally, back to the Pound Puppy redesign-it was from a political correctness-type organization, Q5-from Glendale [to bring up that controversial Dixie Chick line: I'm ashemed that Q5 is from Glendale, where I spend my early years WATCHING Flintstones, that organization SHOULD be tagged L7!]. And "Pound Puppies" wasn't the only 1980s show that which felt victim. Other shows got it too. "Real Ghostbusters" was but one. Charles Solomon, L.A.Times resident animation critic, wrote an arctile at the time in the newspaper's resident entertainemnt section Calendar against the organization.

Pokey said...

And yes, Dan I recall Will's Gold Medal flour coment about Pound Puppies and still laugh at it. I had forgotten when I wrote my last post that you had mentioned that as well.

Pokey said...

"Fluid drawings and increasingly stiffer limited animation are almost mutually exclusive."

How about this for an even more important "mutually exclusive" deal?

The HB characters got more with the "hippie" movement as time went on,e.g., as the late 1960s came by, just as the style changed for HB, and as the bubblegum sound to counter it did, and HB, and the network executives, both really thought that it was a brilliant idea to combine the two starting with Banana Splits and Scooby. Therefore for the last part, to paraphrase what you say, W..F.,in short:
"Incrasingly psychedlic op-art and waterered down stories are mutually exclusive." [Try waching "Cattanooga Cats" despite somer excellent art and other content,. or "The Pebbles and Bamm Bamm show", which had exccelnnt and art and fluid drawings but at the same time....? Oh, :) dumbed down jokes and stiff drawings."

Hope to see more articles like this..