Sunday, February 14, 2010

A little love for Bill Cosby and the ORIGINAL, LOST "FAT ALBERT" ANIMATION


John K did some eye opening posts on his memories of working at FILMATION studios in the 1980's, which are worth reading and brought back memories of the place that I shared on his blog as well. I never liked their cartoons and the place was nutty but I will say that they paid on time and the checks all cleared, which isn't always the case. And believe it or not, the late 70's to late 80's were even leaner days for animation employment than today, so sooner or later, most every L.A. animation schmo in my age group stumbled through there (or H-B, or both). For my part I showed up on time, put in my 8 hours a day and did what I was told until it drove me to quitting...twice (but that's another story).

A topic that often comes up in relation to FILMATION is FAT ALBERT & THE COSBY KIDS, one of the studio's biggest hits and most memorable shows. It was based on Cosby's epic comedy monologues of growing up with a group of kids in an urban neighborhood. My dad loved comedy albums and Bill Cosby was his absolute favorite--he got every record he did. Cosby has been so many things to so many people that some today aren't as aware that back in the mid 1960's he was a breakthrough standup comic in every sense of the word and remains one of the all time greats, in my opinion.

What many people at the time of the Saturday Morning cartoon show didn't realize (and even fewer do today), is that the characters were all originally animated by an independent studio staffed by a group of very talented artists including Ken Mundie, Leo Sullivan and Amby Paliwoda, who were all squeezed out of the equation when the usual gang of idiots at FILMATION got involved. The original was a one-shot "special" which involved the kids using Fat Albert as their secret weapon in a football game (it was a "buck-buck" game in the original Cosby monologue), and there was a lot of footage exposed over live action of real NFL games, which were tinted in monochrome and used instead of backgrounds. The effect was really unique and it complimented the joyously cartoony animation surprisingly well. Sort of like what Bakshi would do later, but easier on the eyes.

I was still a little kid when I saw it, and I think it only ran once in primetime and then once again on Saturday morning, but I remember it was on NBC. I thought they had done a second one, but I may have confused it with the re-run or maybe I read somewhere they were going to do another follow up that never happened, but anyway, a few years later it was turned into a regular CBS series at FILMATION, who adapted the designs in what I would call a typically inept way and then they were animated in the hack, systemic manner most factory cartoons were back then.

I think the original Ken Mundie version was available on VHS at one time in the early eighties but it seems to have disappeared. I know people who worked on the live action FAT ALBERT movie from about five years back and a reference copy surfaced for use but since then no one I know has the whereabouts of a viewable copy.

If anybody knows, give a shoutout, put it on YouTube, call Bill Cosby....let's get this show seen again! Not everything from my distant childhood is as good as I remember it, but I would bet this project is. A restored version would no doubt clean up on DVD. I think even fans of the FILMATION show would enjoy seeing the characters done by the artists who originated their designs.

UPDATE: Okay, Uncle Phil has turned us on to a LINK that offers a tantalizing glimpse of the original FAT ALBERT special with some pre-production (and production-production) artwork put up by Leo Sullivan, who worked on it. The art and animation on display is all wickedly good: sort of a cross between Hubley and Looney Tunes, (but that's makes it sounds derivative, which it isn't). CHECK IT OUT NOW!!!

Thanks Uncle Phil, and Pokey too!

UPDATE PART DEUX: Here's a LINK to a Floyd Norman piece about Ken Mundie and the original special. Toward the end Floyd confirms my recollection that another Cosby cartoon by the same group was made (started?) but has never been seen... This is a mystery that just keeps mystifying...

UPDATE PART TROISIEM: Here's another LINK to a follow up piece I did after reviewing the show at the Paley Center (Broadcasting Museum) in 2012.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Variations on a villain

I drew this quick doodle a few nights ago and as I was coloring it, I was trying to figure out whether she was:

A. Disney villainess "Madame Medusa" (RESCUERS 1977), ten years after the movie? Maybe she's out of prison and married to someone high up in the Reagan administration...?

OR

B. Paris Hilton in 25 to 40 years?

So scrapping the color in a fresh file, I decided to drop the other shoe and make it a sketch of "Medusa" which was the great Milt Kahl's 'swan song' character. Here (above) is the character as I could basically draw her myself. In other words: not "on model."

Pushing on, I decided to try drawing the character "on model", but without the aid of looking at any reference (i didn't have any at hand). I have tried to draw this character in the past but as with many of Milt's designs, it is virtually impossible to replicate as Milt drew it himself. This particular character was a very distinctly arch tour de force of drawing from him.
He is playing many contrasting forces against each other, and though the character never looks the same from one pose to the next, it is still completely consistent. Milt Kahl drew this character in an almost abstract expressionistic way, somehow pulling all these apparently competing ideas together perfectly: straight bony limbs, blobby sagging body, a face that is at once bony, smooth and pulpy at the same time and an unruly hair do, all moving in space fluidly, but in constant state of revision, as action and emotion demands.
The brilliant animator Sandro Cleuzo writes often on his blog about Kahl, and his observations and posts are always great to read. I have not studied Kahl anywhere near as closely as Sandro, and I don't think I was able to actually pull off a true "on model" sketch here, but the difficulty of the character was an interesting challenge to give myself. It is almost as if Milt may have been able to harmonize various drawing ideas which normally compete or cancel each other out. There's a very strange tension going on in the design between realism and caricature that is hard to describe, but as I was drawing I definitely felt the delicate mix of the two pulling each other back and forth. I never met the man but from all evidence whatever he was doing he was probably more conscious of the pure sweat and fun involved than in any theoretical analysis.

Really an amazingly sophisticated piece of work in an unfortunately mediocre movie.

One footnote i have to add is that while getting the drawing right is important, the color design (self inked lines especially crucial) is a major part of the character.

Oh yeah: This is 100% original fan art. No financial profit taken and the copyright for the character belongs to The Walt Disney Company.