Sunday, July 24, 2016

The First TV Cartoon Animatic

Animatics (digital story reels) got invented in the late 1990s. I thought.

There had been story reels on film -- combining story sketches, voice tracks, effects tracks, and temp music -- for decades, used for animated features back to when Walt was thin and had shiny dark hair.

But story reels for TV? Until computers and low-cost digital storage made the suckers inexpensive and easy, they were avoided like the Zika virus. Now of course, animatics/story reels are ubiquitous in TV land, and every cartoon producer -- with the notable exception of Genndy Tartakovsky -- makes sure he's got them.

But here's the thing: They actually, swear to God, aren't new. Because this ...

This is Crusader Rabbit, the first TV story reel posing as a cartoon ...

... Crusader Rabbit was the brainchild of Alex Anderson, the nephew of animator Paul Terry. Terry, a former newspaper cartoonist, founded animation studio Terrytoons, where he created Mighty Mouse. ... At Terrytoons, Anderson had pitched a character called “Donkey Hote” that was passed on by animators who didn’t want to draw donkeys. Anderson changed the character to an easier-to-draw rabbit, but kept the idea of Quixote, and Crusader Rabbit was born. ...

To get Crusader and Rags [Crusader's goofy tiger sidekick] on television, he teamed up with Jay Ward, a classmate and friend of his going back to grammar school. ... The studio they formed was Television Arts Producers, Producer Jerry Fairbanks originally landed the show at NBC, but the network passed once production , which meant Fairbanks sold it piecemeal to affiliates. The first one to bite was KNBH in Los Angeles, (now KNBC), and on August 1, 1949, audiences were introduced to Crusader Rabbit and Rags the Tiger. ...

I have memories of watching Crusader back during the paleolithic age of television, but those memories are wrong.

Because I remember the show as being animated. What I'm remembering is the show's opening, that four-and-a-half seconds where the rabbit thunders into view on a horse. That is honest-to-God animated action, and about the only chunk of the presentation that is.

The rest of the show? Nothing but a story reel. Held drawings, the occasional semblance of a moving mouth, and the ever-popular pulled cel. As for the rest, it's all edgy narration and snippets of repartee between rabbit and tiger.

Crusader Rabbit got sold station-by-station across the country, sliced into various bite-sized chunks of four-minute segments, eight-minute segments, or half-hours. The show had a strong impact on little kids (I know because I was one of them) and provided a template for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera seven years later when M-G-M closed their cartoon division and Bill and Joe marched into the new medium to create their own brand of cartoons for TV.

But before H & B or any other television cartoon studio, Crusader Rabbit invented TV cartoons. And ... because Anderson, Ward, et al were hard up for money, the TV animatic.


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