Start from the beginning of the interview
While the third season of TT was
being made, Animaniacs was in pre-production.
This page by Keeper has a LOT of preproduction info on Animaniacs. How much did you know already, and what can you clear up?
I find all of Keeper's
webpage interesting and informative. We weren't privy to any of
that information when we started the show - which is just as
well. All that stuff has to be ironed out before you begin
production. Being in Chicago was good and bad ... you were
somewhat immune from the politics, but you also weren't in the
creative flow. You had to just work with what you were given.
When I read this statement, I questioned it:
"Ruegger has said that he looked out of his office window in Sherman Oaks (Warner Bros. Animation was on the 11th floor of a large building at the time), saw the WB water tower in Burbank off in the distance, and had an epiphany: Call them Warner Brothers, and have them live inside that tower!"
No doubt Ruegger had many an executive lunch at "The Lot" and of course you could see the WB water tower from pretty far away, but if I recall correctly, his office (yes, the 11th floor of an office complex at the old Galleria, in Sherman Oaks) faced north and east, whereas the WB Lot was quite some distance to the south and east (in Burbank).
But it makes a nice story ... that's the main thing.
It was interesting seeing the original sketches which came through in the model sheets we got, the difference being that Yakko lost the bow-tie and gained a pair of pants, and Dot had to go topless (for ratings, I suspect); and they all got button-eyes instead of the ones shown, and they all had black & white bodies (except of course for their noses).
"The Big Candy Store" was the first Animaniacs cartoon your studio animated. At what time of the year did production begin? One thing I have always wondered is how far in advance studios work when they make one of those gigantic 65-episode seasons.
Yes, "Big Candy
Store" was our first. I've been trying to reconstruct the
chronology of StarToons' Animaniacs production in my own mind. I
know Tiny Toons production started in late 1989, but I didn't get
involved with Kennedy until 1990. I want to say we had finished
our Taz-Mania assignments before we did
"Thirteensomething" and I believe right after
delivering that we started on "The Big Candy Store."
Generally cartoon series are started in the late spring or summer, and production goes on throughout the season, hopefully never having to go into re-runs to make up for a missed deadline. At our studio we would turn around a half hour in sixteen weeks, but big studios like Wang and TMS could do it in eight to ten weeks - and with several shows in production at once.
When I started at H-B (in Australia), the traditional starting time was April. By then the networks had figured out what they wanted to do for the next season. But somehow decision-making has become harder and harder over the years - more committees or something - and by the late '80's production seasons were getting started in June or July.
If you're doing a 13-show season ("weeklies"), by the time you hit the first airing in early September, you want to have three or four more episodes "in the can." If not, you risk having to go into re-runs early.
But you're right, with 65-episode seasons ("dailies") it gets pretty crazy - you need 10-15 episodes ready to go. And there's never been a studio who could handle an entire 65-episode package without resorting to their "C" and "D" teams. Warners' quality requirements were too high to tolerate anything less than "B" team cartoons.
Of course at StarToons we only had one team ... more or less B/B+ quality overall.
Can you spot the mistake in this picture? That's right....Wakko's left ear is for some reason going out the front of his hat. This happens in a few scenes in "The Big Candy Store," and some fan once speculated that it must have been the result of an early model sheet. I don't think so--otherwise that error would have been in every shot.
OK, I'm totally
embarrassed. That's one of my drawings. I could maybe try and
blame it on my clean-up artist, but more likely I just wasn't
paying attention. It always took me a while to wrap my head
around new model sheets! Although ... that does look really bad.
Maybe it WAS my clean-up artist, damn him!!!
The cool thing is, WB didn't care. One of those mistakes they could live with. They really were nice to work with.
When we finished
production on that episode, we sent the workprint in to WB, and
we got this shocking response: We're adding tufts of hair to
Yakko's & Wakko's faces! Apparently the WB legal
department feared the characters too closely resembled
established franchises from the '30's. The tufts were deemed a
change that would make them suitably unique.
So we had to run that whole episode thru the rounds one more time to add tufts to Yakko's & Wakko's cheeks. Cost a lot of time, effort, & money. All to let the WB lawyers sleep better. Design-wise, we hated them. But business is business.
StarToons did a metric ton of work for Animaniacs' first season, and you guys got to handle some great episodes. As you've said before, you got the bulk of Slappy's work, and I loved "Plane Pals"--that's the hardest I've ever laughed at an accountant. Did you also do the Randy Beaman Kid (later named Colin after his VA Colin Wells)?
The first 'Colin'
cartoon was assigned to a new animator, Neal Sternecky. Neal was
already an established comic book artist; he was involved briefly
in resurrecting the Pogo cartoon strip in the late '80's. But
interest in that strip fizzled out and he wanted to learn
animation, so he came to work for me. I started him as an
assistant since it's really the best way to learn (and get paid a
little at the same time). He was a smart guy and picked it up
pretty quickly, and he had a cool but peculiar drawing style, so
I thought the Randy Beaman thing would be an ideal assignment for
He did a great job on that first one and I think it really suited the needs of that cartoon, so when we got more of them, we tried to emulate his style. I did one or two of those myself (I did a batman one, and another one when he's in a snowsuit), and Spike Brandt did a couple, and Jeff Siergey did a couple, and Tony Cervone did one too, I believe. Neal himself never did another one because he didn't stick around long enough. Once he got his name on a credit, he took himself to market and has made a good living ever since doing storyboards (which usually pays a lot better than straight animation).
Sternecky was the main artist in the Animaniacs comic book (it also featured writing by Gordon Bressack and Charlie Howell, who wrote for the show). The last Sternecky work I've seen is a comic in a kids' magazine based on a video game; that was in 2000. I don't know where he is now, but you gotta admit "Sternecky" is about the best-sounding last name a cartoonist could possibly have.
Neal's a survivor. He's probably doing fine.
I noticed his name featured prominently at the beginning of the Tiny Toons Christmas special. How much involvement did he have in that?
Some animation, and he may have helped with the storyboard too. He was a better board artist than an animator, mainly because his unique drawing style didn't figure in the final material. He was a great draftsman, but he always drew the characters in a kind of odd-ball way.
I know each minisegment was assigned to one studio (Wheel of Morality and Mime Time were done by TMS, Dot's Poetry Corner from Freelance New Zealand, Good Idea Bad Idea from Wang), leading me to believe every single one of them was done at the same time and then just sprinkled throughout the 65 episodes wherever they would fit. They must have given you all the Colin shorts; correct?
The first 'Colin' came in by itself ... I think WB wanted to see how we handled it. After we delivered it, we were suddenly swamped with them - we got 7 or 8 more all at once. The tricky part was, since it was one cut, we'd have to assign each one to one animator, and they had to be a good animator, so sometimes while our good animators were working on those, some other episodes (like "Meatballs or Consequences") went to hell with inexperienced or poor animators.
Keeper also has a collection of
deleted Animaniacs scenes! You might want to check 'em out; I
have no idea where he found all this stuff.
Yeah pretty interesting. Definitely had an inside connection. I was reading about the episode with Slam Fondlesome, ("Broadcast Nuisance") and I do remember the episode came in pretty long. The thing is they had no set running time for any of these cartoons, so making up a half hour might mean one 20-minuter and a two-minuter, or it might mean 10 two-minuters, or a 12, a 5, and a 4 ... anything as long as it added up to 20-22 minutes. They would grab cartoons from any studio who had one ready in the can. So it's possible that they had to chop a lot of "Broadcast Nuisance" to make it fit. Since it was just a series of painful gags, it wasn't hard to do.
The one cartoon from season one you definately have to dish on is one of the most famous Animaniacs cartoons ever made: Chairman of the Bored, with Ben Stein's Pip Pumphandle. This is the Holy Grail, so spare nothing.
I loved that cartoon too, and I didn't do much animation on it - maybe only two or three shots. This was the first big assignment for Jeff Siergey; he had just come to work at StarToons (from Calabash) and he and Spike were friends, and they worked on it together, along with Tony Cervone. As with Colin, Pip Pumphandle was a special character that you'd probably never see again so I figured it was an ideal assignment for a talented new animator. You'll notice in "Chairman" the Warners look a bit different from our normal Warners - this was Siergey's attempt to get used to the model.
Because so much of it
was just low key dialogue, production actually went quite
quickly. And then there were a lot of big, fun takes, and those
are always fun for animators, because when a character does an
exaggerated take, you don't have to worry about model too much -
you can just have fun.
That year Animaniacs won the Emmy, and Ben Stein (voice for "Pip") sat in the row in front of us. I leaned forward and introduced myself, and told him I had animated him. At first he didn't know what I was talking about but when I mentioned Animaniacs, he said (in that voice), "Pip Pumphandle!" He came to our celebration party afterwards too ... a really great guy. The next year when we lost to "Arthur" (yech!) he came by our "misery party" (after the Emmys you party whether you win or lose), and put his arm around me and announced to everybody (in that voice), "You were robbed!"
StarToons animated a Minerva Mink cartoon--one of the only two ever made. People have wondered why this character was largely ignored....
We were of course
thrilled to work on "Meet Minerva" which gave the
animators an outlet for drawing sexy chicks and wild, phallic
takes. I gave that cartoon to Kirk Tingblad to direct and always
regretted it. Nonetheless I thought he did a pretty good job. I
got to animate a few scenes myself.
We were equally baffled when she didn't appear in any more cartoons.
The rumor we heard was that WB (more specifically Jean MacCurdy and Sherri Stoner) was down on sexually suggestive, female-as-a-sex-object content ... which of course raises the question as to why they would have greenlit the original concept.
The rumor that Sherri would be against Minerva Mink just doesn't make sense, as she not only approved the character, she wrote the cartoon you animated. Maybe it was just Jean.
Sherri could be unpredictable. When she writes it, it's
OK, but when a male chauvinist pig like me has fun with
it, it might have caused her to rethink.
Bottom line is, official word never filtered back to Chicago as to why they didn't do any more Minerva cartoons. She seems to be one of the (potentially) most popular characters ever created by WB.
being invited to a fan get-together up in Minneapolis,
and they made a big deal about me coming down and begged
me for a drawing of Minerva (which I did, but I signed it
with the WB copyright to avoid legal problems ... after
all, she ain't my character). See link below:
Do you eat beans? Would you like to see a new movie starring George Wendt?
I try to avoid both beans and George Wendt whenever I can.
Next: The missing years: It's downhill from here....