Saturday, 17 January 2015

Cartoon Salesmen

Sherlock Holmes on the prowl for a bandit. A lighthouse keeper with his TV on the fritz. A bumbling drunk with a hankering for hair oil. What do they all have in common?

They were animated commercials that appeared on TV in 1956. (Preston Blair Productions, Bill Sturm Studios and Academy Pictures, respectively). They starred in amongst 75 animated spots shown at a festival in New York City at the end of November that year with 24 unionised studios taking part (Screen Cartoonists local 841 sponsored the showing).

It was a glorious era. Cartoons sold all kinds of things. Old-time animators found work on them when movie studios downsized. Alas, things changed. Soon, animated commercials were treated like animated cartoons—as strictly kid stuff, so they sold stuff aimed at kids (cereals, for example). And studios shooting live action became more sophisticated (better sets, lighting, film technique, etc.) which made spots with real people or things more attractive to agencies and advertisers.

The Associated Press didn’t quite cover the festival, but mentioned it in passing in a how-do-they-make-cartoons story. Here’s the longest version I could find. I. Klein was involved with the cartoonists union and had started in the business in the silent days at the Hearst International Studio. He later worked at both Terrytoons and Famous Studios in New York.

Animated Ads Growing In TV Popularity
NEW YORK, Nov. 26 (AP) – While it’s far from being a great or significant development in television programming, animated cartoon advertising is completing a year of popularity on the home screen. Nearly everybody seems to like the little figures that do and say surprising things while urging you to buy this and that.
Whether viewed as art (which it is) or as a business (which it definitely is), animated cartoon advertising is worthy of a passing glance. An industry-wide film festival of its best efforts now showing in New York demonstrates that.
Animated cartoon advertising grossed $50,000 eight years ago. This year it will gross in the multi-millions—how many no two people quite agree.

As a business, animateds raise an interesting paradox. Basically animated cartoons use abstract and even futurist art techniques. As is well-known, the general public is not enthusiastic about abstract art; we average mortals prefer realism, meaning art that generally looks like the things we see with a mundane eye. Yet we like animated cartoons. Curious, isn’t it?
One of the best-known and most accomplished of animated cartoonists, I. Klein, was saying the other day that “to be a good animator you have to think about the inside and be a bit of an actor. And you have to be able to draw rapidly.”
Klein, a cartoonist for 35 years, finds genuine creative satisfaction in animated cartooning. He recently completed an advertisement for a soap power which was most complicated to execute and is, he says, “almost pure abstractions.” The use of animals and other symbols in animateds can be traced back as far as Egyptian hieroglyphics, he points out.
All animated cartoons are reduced to “frames.” There are 1,440 frames in a one-minute advertisement, and the average cost of producing this one minute is nearly $6,750. How come? Nearly everything is complex in television, and here Klein outlines the major steps that lead to the finished animated cartoon advertisement you see on your set:
The general idea for the ad originates with an advertising agency. Agency designers work out a general development on story boards, called “visualizers.” Using these, agency representatives confer with representatives of an animation studio.
Studio designers them rework the characters and background for the animated ad. Next actors—the voices of the animated characters—are obtained through auditions. Then a director takes the drawing layouts and mathematically coordinates sound and movement.
If you’re still with us (seriously, nothing is simple in television), the animator and director then go over the entire project to “emotionalize” it. Expressions of characters are discussed and emphasis of sounds sought.
Now the animator really goes to work (“He’s basically a ham,” says animator Klein. “He listens to the voice or voices of the actors. He mugs in a mirror. He may even get the actor to do a little acting for him so that he can bring life and emotions to his drawings.”)
When the animator completes his creative work, other artists clean up his drawings. Then inkers trace them on celluloid. Finally painters complete the job on celluloid. At last the celluloid is ready for the camera.
All this may not explain why you like animated cartoons advertising—if you do like it. But it does explain why it’s expensive to produce.

Note: the cels in this story are from commercials made at Playhouse Productions in Los Angeles.

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