Friday, November 24, 2006

The Offspring of Cartoon Network

Reading Animation Artist's interview with Mike Moon, the development Veep at Disney Television Animation, I was struck by this paragraph:

The TV animation workflow at Disney varies from show to show, although it is largely grounded on similar schedules and crew set-ups. Still, there’s enough flexibility to accommodate radically different kinds of approaches and techniques. Moon points to a new series of animated shorts running on the Disney Channel, called "Shorty McShort Shorts." Each one has a distinctive pipeline, he says. Some were done in Flash with an outside studio based in Dublin, Ireland. Others were based on cell action with animation produced out of London. And there are shorts produced in the States using 3D, Harmony, Flash, and traditional 2D pipelines.

Back in the early nineties, Fred Seibert, Hanna-Barbera's Big Kahuna, started a "shorts program." That program's strategy was to invite animation artists to come in and pitch ideas for eight-minute cartoons, after which the company would produce the best of the ideas and broadcast them on Ted Turner's fledgling cable channel dedicated to the showing of cartoons. It was called, remarkably enough, Cartoon Network. And it mainly showed -- then -- the Hanna-Barbera, Warners, and MGM 'toon libraries that Turner owned.

But H-B's embryonic "shorts program" changed that. The deal was, all the new shorts would be thrown against the broadcast wall, so to speak, via Cartoon Network. And the ones that stuck -- garnered the biggest audience reactions -- would be turned into half-hour series. Those first cluster of shorts spawned shows like "Johnny Bravo," "Dexter's Lab," and "Powder Puff Girls" and helped boost the careers of any number of young artists (wonder what ever became of Seth McFarlane?). And it laid the foundation of the Cartoon Network we know and love today. It also spawned "shorts programs" at Nickelodeon and Disney, and probably a couple of other studios that don't spring immediately to mind.

At the time, The Animation Guild dickered with H-B over the rates it could pay all the budding Chuck Joneses and Friz Frelengs. We got wages up a bit, but the overall development deals -- then as now -- favored the studio. It's the price almost always paid by young talent to get their first break in the entertainment industry.


Anonymous said...

Yikes! He looks like that creep from "Red Eye". :-)

Anonymous said...

Fred Seibert's "What A Cartoon!" shorts program was ingenious in many ways. It's most enduring legacy however, was to take a position which used to be paid: creating and pitching new television show ideas, and turning it into an unpaid or low-paying position dominated by first-timers. When Fred was H-B's president, shorts personnel were laid-off and rehired so sporadically, that finally protests went up and some regular employment weeks with health and welfare hours kicked in.

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