Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Rocky Premiere

How do you save money on animation? Easy. You don’t animate.

In watching the very first episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, you’ll notice how little animation there is. Jay Ward Productions had little choice. For one thing, the cartoons were being made in Mexico by an inexperienced crew. For another, each Rocky half-hour was initially budgeted at $8,530. By contrast, the 30-minute Huckleberry Hound Show was being made by Hanna-Barbera for $21,000. That meant a lot of masking and short cuts. Below are drawings that don’t move. Either the camera moves into or out of them, or there’s a quick cut so you don’t notice how static the action is as Bill Conrad narrates.

There’s also that old Hanna-Barbera trick: the mouth moves while the rest of the drawing doesn’t. An interesting Ward style choice (by Al Shean?) was to colour-in parts of a character.

Note the similarity of the drawings of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Put a few body parts on cels and you save some more artwork.

To be honest, the designs are not exactly cutting edge. Still, this was only the first go at it (Ward was said to be mortified at the results) but the scripts got funnier and funnier and even though the animation improved, that wasn’t the reason people were watching.


  1. As with the theatrical efforts that preceded them, the Ward crew did tweak the designs of three of their four main characters in the first season of the show (only Natasha pretty much stays the same from her initial to final design). And the characters do move a little bit more by the end of the first season, though the really expressive stuff (done in Los Angeles) was saved for the show promos and the General Mills commercials.

  2. For this episode, it certainly felt like we're watching storybook illustrations come to life (if only for the mouth movements). Didn't help they stuck in that laugh track too.