Thursday, October 25, 2007


After finishing work on Tiny Toon Adventures, the staff at Warner Bros. went to work developing Animaniacs. A few months into development when we were locking down the stars of the show, I went ahead to animate some Walk cycles for Yakko, Wakko and Dot, which were received by the producers in a great way. Immediately after development, we went right into production minus our layout crew. We were told to draw our storyboards tighter in order to use them as layouts for the animators overseas.
Eliminating layout might have saved the producers some money in the short run, but it put tremendous pressures on the storyboard crew.
Yakko's World wasn't the first cartoon to be storyboarded (for me that was The Big Candy Store) but it was the most labor intensive.

When I was presented with the script, it was just the lyrics for the song matched to the Mexican Hat Dance. Since I sometimes take things too literal, I thought that it might be a magical kind of idea to have Yakko doing the Mexican Hat Dance, while pulling hats out of thin air representing the countries that he mentions in the song. So to get the full picture, hats would be appearing, disappearing, swallowing up Yakko and finally for the finale', exploding as he reaches the final verse of the cartoon. I thought it was a great idea because it felt like a throw back to some of that great animation from The Three Caballeros, Dumbo and some of those amazing WB Clampett cartoons.
I was really excited at the opportunity to do something absolutely surreal for network TV. So, the first thing that had to be done was the research. I looked in book stores and in libraries for all the different hats worn around the world. I researched customs, clothing, dances..anything that would aid me in boarding the cartoon. Then I set down to work, roughing out my Yakko's World masterpiece. I spent the better part of two weeks roughing out the short cartoon. Unfortunately, most of the research ate into my boarding time. I was late with the storyboard and although the production execs cut me some slack for a few extra days, patience was wearing thin. Finally, I stayed up late one night and finished the thing. I was sure that all would be forgiven once they saw what I came up with.
The next morning, my director and I were asked to present the storyboard to the producer. Armed with my masterpiece we proceeded upstairs to The Producer's office where we sat down and started to pitch Yakko's World. I flipped over the title page, showed my boss how Yakko leaps into frame and starts in with the hats when he stopped me.
"What th' #&%^@# is this?
Just have him point to the countries on a map!"
I looked at my Director and then back to the producer and then quietly exited the office with my masterwork in hand.
The only thing salvaged from the original board was...the title page and.....
page one where Yakko leaps in. The rest found a home as a giant wee wee pad for my dog.

I was given another two weeks to RE-board Yakko's World with him pointing to a map.
Again, I had to get some research (mainly a map) to accurately represent the countries that Yakko points to. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning on the headaches of working on this thing. First off, some of these countries are so small that they don't really register on the screen and second off, the writer of the songs' new lyrics had problems rhyming certain nations together. So in using creative license, he used so called nations like 'San Juan' to rhyme with Guam. San Juan was easy for me to figure out as a city in Puerto Rico but others were not as easy, and I have to say that I probably lost some hair due to the stress that Yakko's World put me through.
The third problem was that the song moves pretty fast and there's not a whole lot of business that you can do between the short breaks. That was important to me because I thought the whole thing of pointing to countries was pretty boring.
To help perk things up a bit, I had the countries light up as Yakko points to them, which you really had to do because many of these countries wouldn't be seen because of their remember that Yakko is pointing to these places at lightning speed.
Another thing I incorporated was a little dance that Groucho Marx once did for (I believe) the movie Animal Crackers. One of our staff guys (I apologize for not remembering his name) animated this little dance with Yakko that was inspired by Groucho's dance in Crackers. Since it was a development type thing that wasn't being used in production, I thought some of it might fit within the breaks and liven up the thing, so I called for it.
The other thing that I did was to have Yakko roll up in the map at the end, instead of the explosion of hats that I had in the original version. It just seemed like a good way to finish it up.
I expected a good number of changes when it went for approval, but none were requested and it went into animation without a hitch. A few months later, I was called into editorial to see the finished version. Everybody, (myself included) was quite pleased with it.
I recall being surprised that it was very entertaining.
Warner's Executive Brass thought that it was so good that the cartoon was run in The Warner Stores and on The Fox Network as a teaser, months before the show hit the airwaves.
Pretty much the way I boarded it is the way you see it on the screen.
So here it is...Yakko's World.


Mattieshoe said...

It's too bad that they made you change it.

Who was the producer who made you take out that awesome idea??

Tom Rugger?

Anyway, I think it still turned out pretty well. at least there weren't staged directions from the writers, like there would be in the consecutive seasons.

Did you, by chance, save those storyboards? it'd be awesome to see those!

Mattieshoe said...

Also, you guys never had Layout Artists??

That's too bad. it's a really important part of the Animation Process.

Storyboards shouldn't look perfect, they should tell the story.

LAYOUTS are supposed to refine them.

Mattieshoe said...

And yet you can see there was a "Layout Supervisor" right in the credits...

william garrison said...

It is still a masterpiece, and much better than confunction junction.

Brian Mitchell said...

I know this comment comes a couple of years late, but here it goes.
When we started Tiny Toon Adventures, we had a full layout team. Moving onto Animaniacs, we still had a layout crew, but it was a limited one. There was a decision to move layout artists into other areas, like revisions, models, etc. However, there was a core crew of people that would continue to do layouts (as needed)and even one or two people that would animate difficult or important scenes. But it wasn't a full crew.
On Tiny Toons, each director had a group of layout artists (character specialists) that would pose the characters out for each scene, plus one background layout artist.
Technically, you still needed someone to draw the background layouts for a particular cartoon because you don't leave this part of the job up to chance. And for most cartoon boards, a board artist isn't going to detail the background of the board that tight to give to an overseasd crew. However, the poses on a fairly tight board can be substituted for character layouts. On Yakkos' World, I had to literally do everything, including a tight map of the nations of the world. Because Yakko is pointing to these nations, the backgrounds had to be spot on. If layouts were made for this cartoon, they didn't have to do much....perhaps blow up the storyboards to animation paper size.

Brian Mitchell said...

It may sound like sour grapes, but it really isn't. The short was really a geography lesson and even though the hat idea might have been fun, you wouldn't have learned anything about where these places are located.
Sometimes, when an assignment isn't very interesting, it may have nothing to do with how good it is. That's how it was written. It is what it is.
But it also forced me to find ways within those restrictions to keep it interesting...and fortunately the song is fast paced.

Tom Ruegger was a really a great producer. If you had a good idea, he'd let you run with it. A strong producer has to realize the value of the idea in the first place and Tom could do that. Believe me, there's not too many people that are open to suggestions.