Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Little About The Firehouse Five Plus Two

I recently got verbally beaten up over my last post featuring The Firehouse Five Plus Two because I didn't provide enough information about the group. So in order to right that wrong, here's the full story.
Back in the 40's, a group of Disney animators (Frank Thomas and Ward Kimball included) liked Dixieland Jazz and during lunch hours, would play some records on the studio record player of Jelly Roll Morton, Baby Dodds and Louie Armstrong. Kimball, who learned trombone in grade school, would play to the records. Other people; who also played an instrument, would come in and join Ward playing to the records. Finally one day, when a group of these guys were jazzing along to 'Royal Garden Blues', the record player broke down, and they kept on playing and according to Ward, " our amazement, sounded pretty good all by ourselves!" They got to be tight as a group and eventually drew crowds at lunch time. The band was first called the Huggyjeedy Eight, and later on they changed their name to The San Gabriel Valley Blue Blowers. When the local horseless carriage club asked them to play for their auto tour in San Diego, Ward found a 1915 Fire Truck, restored it, and with the group now dressed as firefighters, they changed the name of the band to The Firehouse Five Plus Two.
The FH5+2 ended up playing a good amount of local gigs around Los Angeles, while maintaining their day jobs at Walt Disney Studios, and were discovered by Les Koenig, who was a writer at Paramount Studios and had dabbled in producing Jazz records. Koenig liked their sound and offered to produce some records for them for Good Time Jazz. From 1949 to 1971, the band recorded 12 full albums of material which was distributed around the world, most of which have been available on CD and can be purchased here...The Firehouse Five Plus Two Story
The FH5 played many gigs in the 50's and 60's and appeared in movies, radio and on television!
The fact that this was all done on their spare time is even more impressive. Ward once told me that Walt Disney felt a certain amount of pride that his group of animators were equally talented as a famous music group! Between 1955 and 1971, the group could be found playing around Disneyland, but most often at Plaza Gardens (to the left of the Disneyland Castle, off Main Street) or at The Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland. The group even released an album entitled, The Firehouse Five Plus Two at Disneyland, from one of their Golden Horseshoe performances.
In the clip above, Directing Animator, Ward Kimball (Jiminy Cricket, Jaq, Gus, Tweedle Dee and Dum, The Mad Hatter) is on Trombone, Harper Goff (the designer of the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and The Jungle Cruise attraction from Disneyland) is on Banjo and Directing Animator, Frank Thomas (Pinocchio, Queen of Hearts, Tramp, Baloo) is playing the piano. Interesting to note; if Thomas looks a little like Roger playing the piano  from 101 Dalmatians, that's no coincidence. Milt Kahl who animated most of those scenes caricatured Thomas as Roger in the film!  Other Disney studio personnel is George Probert is on clarinet, Danny Alguire on Cornet and Ed Penner on Tuba. Jim MacDonald, the studios sound effects man and voice artist responsible for Jaq, Gus, Evinrude and in later years Walt Disney's stand in for Mickey Mouse, plays the skins.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Some Disney Animators; The Firehouse Five Plus Two - Firehouse Stomp

Here's some real Disney animators led by Ward Kimball, playing some hot dixieland jazz. Back in the 50's and 60's they were very much in demand, so much they could have left their day jobs. Instead, they used it to blow off steam from Disneys. I know it seems romantic to think that things were more fun and simpler back then...maybe they weren't...but it sure seems like they were.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rage Dog Drawing

Well, I don't remember drawing this one but I do know that it was done with a Polychromos Blue pencil.
This is a drawing that I did while I was good and angry about something and vented my rage in a drawing. I happened to like it and it went into a drawer for a couple of years.
Looking at this drawing today, I would probably approach this pose a little bit changing the angle of the head and possibly having the arms clench in a downward direction. But this is the way my emotion took it and for some reason it works for me. As an animation artist, I use emotion to fuel my quick sketches because I believe you get something absolutely pure on the paper. Sometimes I'm surprised by the result because you're not thinking about technique or second guessing yourself on the pose. You're focused strictly on getting that emotion down in a sketch and you're letting your talent shine through. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

The trouble with pitching shows...

Here's another character of a rat recording details from a crazy crime scene. It was from a project I was actively developing about six years ago that borrowed heavily from shows about detectives from the 50's and 60's. The pencil media is Polychromos Blue.
Now don't get me wrong, there's some great execs who take pitches all day long that get the ideas you're trying to sell...but unfortunately, there are a good number who have a hard time comprehending a good idea...or any idea.
It dawned on me after some rather unsuccessful pitches that a show like this could never fly today. It had a couple of strikes against it from the get go which I'll share with you here.
Strike One - It references a different time period. Because this show evokes old imagery from the 50's and 60's, Executives feel the show would never connect with todays' viewers.
Strike Two - The main character is an adult rat wearing clothes.
This would never fly with some executives because there would be too many confusing questions about the humanoid rat. I.E., Why is a rat wearing clothes? Rats can write? Is the rat really a human that looks like a rat? Why is the rat a detective? Can the rat talk? etc. etc. The questions would be too numerous to answer in a single sitting.
Besides, the rat is an adult and could never relate to children.
Strike Three - The rat character doesn't sing or have a band.  The kiss of death for a show like this. You see no band, no show.
Strike Four - The cartoon is a bit clever.  If the show has an ounce of wit or parody, the kiddies will never get it.
Strike Five - The cartoon has slapstick humor. You can't have characters hitting each other over the heads because kids watching will get the wrong idea and repeat it on their friends. Can you imagine the violence that could erupt nationwide?
Strike Six - The drawings are too slick and professional looking. If the drawing is drafted well, overseas animation studios will never be able to copy it. Better to stick to childlike drawings that are simpler to draw and kids can relate to better.
In other words, strive for the lower possible denominator. It's no wonder why kids don't watch cartoons anymore!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bear and another bear drawing....

I decided to go through some animation related stuff today and came up with some drawings that I did for a video project that was being planned about ten years ago. All that I had left were some of these clean ups so I decided to post them here rather than let them collect dust in the old archive.

Media on these two were simple sanford light blue for the roughs, then rubbed down with a gum eraser and cleaned up with a standard number two pencil; like the ones they used to use in schools. The Sanford colerase pencils can be purchased at any Michaels art and craft store.
I used to use blackwings until they stopped making I hear they're back, but I'm so used to using regular number 2 pencils to clean up my work, I hardly step into an art store anymore....unless I absolutely have to....

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I don't know who put this together but this is a loving tribute to behind the scenes at Hanna Barbera Studios. Some of it are drawings of the people and offices, which quickly goes to staged footage on how a show is thought up like Magilla Gorilla. However, a good amount of this footage looks like HB home movies; putting faces to the names we've seen all these years on the credits of the studio cartoons. Some of this footage is outside the HB plant on Cahuenga Blvd in Hollywood, which was still in operation in the mid 90's. I worked a couple of times for Hanna Barbera in the late 80's and early 90's and Bill and Joe didn't look a whole lot different than they do here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Making A Hanna Barbera Cartoon!

From the early 60s', Joe Barbera and William Hanna explain the process of animation from the Hanna Barbera perspective. I've never ever seen this before so this is pretty cool. I think HB's early product is terrific because there's still a whole lot of care in the preparation of their animated shorts. The drawings are well drafted, the timing works, colors look neat and the voices are great. Unfortunately, somewhere after the sale of their studio to Taft Broadcasting around 1966, the studio fell over a cliff!
Don't get me wrong...there was still good things coming out from Hanna Barbera, just not so much. Anyhow, this stuff still fascinates me! HB's early animated cartoons like Ruff and Reddy were made for a budget of just under $ 4000 for a 5 minute animated cartoon. By the time they got to the Flintstones, the quality was upped and the budget became $35,000 for a half hour television show. I know it sounds like chicken feed today but the Rocky and Bullwinkle show had a budget that was paltry in comparision, roughly 1/4 the Budget of a Flintstones half hour!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Son Of Discarded Portfolio Drawings Part Eighty Seven

Here's another discarded portfolio drawing that I had laying around. It didn't last long in the portfolio because of multiple reasons, the main one being that it was only there to serve the purpose of having more humans in it. My portfolio got a little too top heavy with cutesy animal characters and I was looking to balance it. This drawing got the boot a year after initially adding it. It's not that I thought there was anything wrong with it; just that I had things that I thought presented me a little better. I used to be very careful about letting people see work that I thought was below par or just not up there with my best. I don't worry about that anymore because even with drawings that you like very much, there's always going to be someone thinking that your work is not inventive, thoughtful, sincere, stimulating, subtle, organic, animated, etc (you get the idea).
Once you reach a certain degree of experience, even the drawings that are not so great by your standards, may exhibit a quality that you may gloss over all together. Sometimes those quick simple little sketches exhibit a whole lot about your abilities as an artist.
A quick story....Years after I went to school for animation and fine art, I took a life drawing class with a famous artist in NYC. In sketching out my first 20 minute pose, I was a little embarrassed by the drawing and wasn't in the mood to have my instructor critique the work. But as he walked behind me, he took a quick look at my drawing and exclaimed the following....
"Ahhh, a professional!" It was quite a good feeling to hear that, although it didn't make me feel any different about the sketch.. It did give me a certain confidence to know that even my half baked attempts at a good drawing are going to be tempered with an ounce of professionalism.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Roger Ramjet - Monkey

Few television cartoons got as much laughs out of a couple of drawings the way Fred Cribbens' Roger Ramjet did. If you study animation, you'll find that there's not a whole lot of poses in each of these cartoons. In fact, drawings and or cels are reused constantly! The illusion of motion in action scenes are pretty much faked with lots of camera moves.
But the real brilliance of Ramjet lies in five elements; funny scripts; funny voice work; funny storyboards; solid timing and funny drawings! Lots of funny for the money! And believe me, this show did not cost a whole lot of money to make at the time. Full animation probably would not have made it any funnier! It just goes to show that a funny idea solidly executed by a crew that knows what they're doing, can turn out a great product! Take a look!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Discarded Portfolio Drawings: ...With the fishes...

Just so that you know, I'm doing my best to publish one post everyday (at worst one post every two days). I apologize for abandoning the blog for so long over the last couple of years, but I had a whole lot of personal issues that forced me to put it on the back burner. I'm committed to keeping the blog fresh, interesting and up to date, so please stay tooned. If there is anything you'd like to see more of, let me know.
Todays' post is of some fish, which I pulled from my portfolio about five years ago. However, for some reason I didn't discard them (and I throw out quite a few older sketches!) probably because I liked something about the design. Actually I still do! Years back I was a dedicated Bluth fan, I studied some of the animation of the fish from 'Xanadu' and 'Banjo The Woodpile Cat' and those influences made their way into these drawings.
Drawn with an Ebony pencil on regular bond paper, these sketches have no construction lines. These sketches were drawn clean, locking down the shapes and then adding the eyes, fins, mouths, etc.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Spooktacular New Adventures Of Casper

When I moved back to NY in early 1995, I had secured freelance work on a show with a new production outfit in Manhattan. It all sounded good in the beginning. Everyone was impressed with my work and credentials and couldn't wait for me to get going on the first storyboards. Then everything came crashing down. Nothing went right. Changes were ordered on almost every single panel; from just about everyone in the studio including assistants. I have no problem with revisions, but some of the changes were absolutely moronic. After a valiant attempt to please everyone, there was a second round of revisions on top of the revisions!
That storyboard which should have taken 3-4 weeks to complete was now taking 8+weeks to complete.
I stopped work on the show and told the production manager I was done. Although I was happy to be off that show, the sudden realization hit me; I had no work and virtually no prospects of future work. I called around to a bunch of studios and there was no work to be had. It was a scary moment. I began to doubt my decision to move back to NY, but miraculously, I soon found myself being offered series work from a good number of studios. First came a series offer from Hanna/Barbera, then another from Universal Cartoon studios and then there were other various freelance jobs. I grabbed all of them; I didn't turn anything down! The longest lasting of these jobs was offered by Alfred Gimeno who was Producer and Director of the new Casper show at Universal. I ended up storyboarding a whole bunch of episodes from 1995 through 1999. When I was young, one of my favorite cartoons was Casper The Friendly Ghost, so I thought it was a real kick to work on the new show!
To say that working on Casper was a breeze would be an understatement. It was a fun show to work on, with lots of opportunities to do a whole lot of funny business. The ghostly trio, with their obnoxious personalities were my favorites; lots of great character business! The problems that I had with the previous studio were practically non-existent on this show. All I remember from the experience was laughing a whole lot at some of the drawings I created. Of course there were changes; a few here and there, but basically what I boarded remained pretty much the same in the finished version on the small screen. The first few boards were really rough in nature and I was asked to draw cleaner. I can rattle off drawings pretty quickly and by slowing down a little bit I can actually get a good amount of info into the drawing. The boards presented here are actually still considered rough storyboards, drawn in Ebony Pencil that look clean. What I did was rough out each panel with a quick gesture of the action, then rubbed that down with a gum eraser and drew over it with a sharpened ebony pencil. That's probably why you don't see a whole lot of construction lines in the board pages posted here from 'Pen and Tell Her' (click on the images then click again to enlarge the pages). This enabled me to save time in clean ups later. One board that I did in this way went through without a single change! Alfred would later leave the show and a new director, Marija Maletic Dail took over. Pretty much it was business as usual although Marija had a few suggestions here and there with her take on the boarding.
Looking back at these drawings, it's definitely not my best work (hard to believe it's been 15 years since I drew them) but it's still better than the drawings done for the finished cartoon!There were lots of shortcuts taken (as the boards had to be done fairly fast) and some of the drawing seems a bit off. However, I think it captured the attitudes pretty well and it's cool to look at. We had a whole bunch of people working on this show from the Animaniacs and Tiny Toons crew including writers, voice people and animation artists. Overall, it was a pretty neat experience but looking at the end product left me a little non plussed. The cartoony expressions and attitudes were basically discarded by the overseas animation studio (obviously not knowing what to do with them!).
As I recall, there was a whole lot of frustration with the production being on a such tight budget.
The finished animation was extremely uneven at times, sometimes downright horrible, but that's what you get sometimes with overseas animation houses!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Random Portfolio Drawings

Here's a drawing I did for some project years back. It was in my portfolio for a while and then I decided to remove it for some reason, probably because it wasn't representing any specific bird. I change out drawings in my portfolio quite often to keep it fresh. I still liked the drawing however and kept it in a pile since then.

Obviously it's some rag tag bird, likely something in the seagull family. However, once again it's cobbled together from my imagination without a heap of reference which sometimes can be a good thing! Most artists will look at their work years later and retire or destroy a good deal of their drawings as being 'not up to current standard'.

This one has survived multiple trash sessions. It has some fun shapes in it and that's why I like it. The media was either an ebony or prismacolor black pencil on animation bond paper.

Does anyone remember this incidental character from any show that they can remember?

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Essential Laurel and Hardy

Coming out soon! The Essential Laurel and Hardy DVD box set (Retail $99.99)!
I've been waiting years for this and never thought that this would ever be released. This set includes most if not all of their Hal Roach pictures, even foreign release versions that contain additional unseen footage.
The fact that this has made it to release is a reason to celebrate. For many years you could only get a handful of their films on video or dvd.
Now, you can purchase this ten disc set on pre-order at a heavily discounted price here! The Essential Laurel & Hardy
I'm a huge Laurel and Hardy fan and have been for as long as I can remember. My father and I were huge fans and often would sit for hours enjoying the insanity of their humor.
Certainly, Laurel and Hardy have influenced thousands of actors, comedians, animators, and even directors over the years. Famed Warner Bros. Cartoon Director Chuck Jones often used Oliver Hardy's expressions for Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. Live action director Blake Edwards borrowed gags from their films to use in his Pink Panther Live Action pictures; even lifting a wild explosion gag from a L&H comedy!
In Edwards' 1965 comedy The Great Race Blake pays tribute; the film is lovingly dedicated to 'Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.'
Sadly, the youth of the world today only know of Laurel and Hardy through 'The March Of The Wooden Soldiers.' Although it's a great film featuring the boys, it is just the tip of the iceberg of their work.
Hopefully, this box set will get people talking about the laughter and joy of Laurel and Hardy again!
Oh by the way, the clip above is from one of their best films, Way Out West! Enjoy!