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Gathering 2005 Journal - Day 2 (Part 1)
July 30, 2005
Got up, got another cinnamon scone, then headed for the art show again. While there, I bumped into Mandolin once more, before heading for the Series Development and Production Panel, featuring Greg Weisman and Dave Schwartz. A very interesting and informative panel!
As Greg and Dave put it, there are several stages through which one must go when creating an animated series:
1) Development. This involves getting together your core ideas- whether original or based on an existing property (in which case you often have to suffer interference from the property's owners)- and coming up with your characters and their basic designs, and at least a half-dozen basic story ideas. Put together, all these basic elements form a series bible.
2) Sale. Using the series bible as a base, you refine the elements, make them a little flashier and so forth, then create a pitch for the show to give to prospective producers. This is the hardest part of development, particularly since most of the work on the pitch has to be done "on spec" (that is, gained through favors or the promise of work if the pitch sells the show). Pitches used to involve a series of cards with production art, combined with a verbal presentation for the execs. Now, execs are far more demanding, and prefer to see DVD samples, short Flash films, focus tests and even entire pilot episodes! This is, basically, because execs are afraid of making a mistake- they don't trust their own judgment, and need to be sure that at least they can't be blamed for a show's failure. (The corollary is that if a show isn't a big hit from the get-go, the execs usually distance themselves from it. Greg added that some animation execs don't even like animation- they'd rather be in live-action (begging the question- why be an animation exec in the first place if you don't like it?).)
(Tidbits about Gargoyles : Artist Paul Felix designed several of the cards in the pitch from the DVD- specifically the Manhattan vista, the Scarab robot, and the (in)famous card with the kid holding the balloon and Goliath's shadow. Dave Schwartz quipped that making a pitch to the Disney execs was akin to going before the "High Tribunal of Krypton"- where failure got you exiled to the Phantom Zone. Changes to the final pitch for Gargoyles included reducing the cards from 42 to 28 and a few minor tweaks such as a little more humor and a little more of the Elisa-Goliath relationship. Dave said that others came to them to figure out their secret- which was simply having shorter pitches, with all their pitch cards oriented the same direction and using the same baseline color!)
3) Pre-production. Once (if) the show is sold, you start creating the background materials needed to make the show. This includes a "999 packet," which includes the artwork that'll be used in most episodes (i.e. the clock tower, Castle Wyvern and so forth), and (if not written prior) the series bible. The pilot episode is usually written now, and the regular voices are also chosen at this point; guest voices from later on are usually cast rather than audtioned. At this stage, it's also crucial to have an in-depth understanding of your characters, how they think, act, walk and talk, what distinctive physical and personality quirks they have.
The voice tracks are recorded first, then the storyboards are made based on them. In the storyboarding stage, it's best to assign different sections of the story to the artists best qualified to work on them- tragic parts for artists good at portraying emotion, action scenes for artists good at action, etc. (Once this stage is underway, the idea is to have the later episodes in the works as each episode is actually produced.)
(Tidbits about Gargoyles : It took three years to sell, and by the time the final designs were made at Disney Japan, the character concepts were already strongly fleshed out.)
4) Production. With all the preparation work done- voices, storyboards, and character designs- the episode is animated at the studio (often overseas).
5) Post-production. The animation comes back for review. At this point, time is scant, since an airdate has usually been selected, and missing an airdate can carry financial penalties. If an error is found in the animation, the pre-production staff needs to make sure it was the studio's mistake, rather than their own- if it can be interpreted as their mistake, they often have to live with the flawed footage. In such a case, not all is lost- clever editing of the footage can remove the worst errors. In the end, however, the finished episodes should be exactly 22 minutes in length. Then, the music is mixed in- often, the first few episodes are fully scored, with the soundtrack from those episodes edited into a music library used for later episodes. Finally, the episodes are screened by execs- at which point, you'd better hope they don't have any issues, because it's too late to fix anything major. (And don't expect compliments.)
(Tidbits about Gargoyles : "Pendragon" had about 3-4 seconds of footage cut, and replaced at the beginning with a pan shot of London from "M.I.A." The "Previously on Gargoyles sequences- often about 30 seconds in length- were created in part to allow up to 30 seconds of footage to be cut from the episode. A common animation annoyance prior to Gargoyles was that character wouldn't walk and talk at the same time- if they talked, they stopped moving. It took a while to deprogram the animators of that habit. Mark Perlman was the one who cleverly edited Carl Johnson's music for "Awakening" throughout the remainder of the series (although some new music was added later, I'm pretty sure).)
Following the overview, Greg and Dave fielded questions about the animation industry:
- Apparently Disney has closed nearly all of their overseas studios for a variety of reasons- Japan due to expense, London due to lacking quality. Disney Paris was assigned to feature animation, then closed; Disney Australia was assigned to the direct-to-video productions, and is apparently due to close down soon as well. (Boy, Disney is stupid.)
- Making a new animation studio would be difficult- not onlyu very expensive, but also requiring them to find a means of distribution.
- Studios now, more than ever before, are in the business of making maximum profit rather than making animated series. This is why so much animation now is imported from Japan and dubbed- it's much cheaper. (Been my theory for years- looks like I was right.) This also leads to the "bastardization" (as Dave put it) of existing properties- thus Cinderella II and so forth. (Dave wasn't sure how much longer that could continue.) Making pilots to show to studios is comparatively easy anymore, but selling them is much harder. The animation industry is better now than it was a few years ago, when studios were cutting back in a major kind of way, but still not as good as it was back in the mid-1990s.
- DVD technology had led to high interest in direct-to-video productions, which can also serve as pilots for series. Most 2-D animation is likely to be direct-to-video; unless a marquee character such as Batman is involved, or toys likely to be sold, studios are generally disinterested.
- Greg opined that internet piracy certainly doesn't help the animation industry.
- Dave opined that studios are less interested in 2-D animation overall- CGI is the "flavor of the month."
- Flash animation is popular for pitches, and is used on a few series, but no Flash-made series has become popular enough to gain attention for the medium.
- Serious American-made animation aimed at adults has generally failed (even Batman: The Animated Series failed in prime-time, disappointing Greg and others in the industry)- hence the disinterest by studios in making it. (Comedies like Family Guy or The Simpsons, they believed, were a different matter- a lot of humor comes from the voices themselves, and the animation is basically a gimmick.) Precisely why it failed is debatable.
I've been looking for you!