WHO IS TOM RUEGGER?.....
Tom was senior producer
for many of my favorite animated programs--his name is the first
thing you see on the credits of Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Pinky and
the Brain and other shows.
But his career goes a lot deeper than that.....
Grew up cartooning, big fan of Hanna-Barbera
cartoons, and most others. Did editorial cartoons for my school
newspaper. In college I studied animation, film,
and writing. College professor Maury Rapf was my mentor...he
co-wrote Cinderella and Song of the South, but he was blacklisted
in the 50's and his name appears on only some prints.
In college, I received a grant from the Arthur and Lillie Mayer Foundation to make an animated cartoon, The Premiere of Platypus Duck (11 minutes). After college I drove to LA, and brought my film and my portfolio to Hanna-Barbera, where Bill Hanna hired me (one month trial period) as an assistant animator. I somehow survived.
First day I worked on Jana of the Jungle and Godzilla. I stayed at H-B for 2 years, where I learned from animation greats including Dave Tendlar (Fleischer), Rudy Cataldi, Volus Jones (Donald Duck), and Friz Freleng, among others. I became an animator, and worked as an animator on Scooby and the New Fred and Barney show.
With more and more animation going overseas, I moved to Filmation and started writing for them: Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Lone Ranger, Zorro, Blackstar, He-Man (developed it), among others. Then I left Filmation to return to Hanna-Barbera, where I worked directly with Joe Barbera on scripting a bunch of different shows, eventually landing the position of story editor on Scooby for a number of years. Wrote a bunch of other shows too: Pound Puppies, Yogi's Treasure Hunt, The Good the Bad and the Huckleberry, 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo....I tend to leave out the especially egregious ones.
I landed a producing job at H-B in 1988, when I developed a new take on Scooby for Jennie Trias at ABC: A Pup Named Scooby Doo. First of the Scoobys nominated for an Emmy. Wrote the main title for that. And the bible and pilot script. The show proved successful, and when Warner Bros. announced that they would make a TV cartoon series with Steven Spielberg, the head of Warners animation (Jean MacCurdy, with whom I worked at H-B) hired me to head up the production.
And that's just the eighties.
I could continue this interview for 23 years and I still wouldn't get every bit of info out of him. Tom rarely gives interviews, and given his still-active status in Hollywood, he rarely has time. Nevertheless, here he is today and we should all be thankful he's agreed to a lengthy interview similar to the previous one. Now that this site has delved into the mind of WB cartoon animator Jon McClenahan, it'll gain deeper knowledge from the producer's perspective. All I need now is Sherri, and I can complete the Tiny Toon Triforce and gain the ultimate power.
Let's start at the VERY beginning, Tom. I'm curious about "The Premiere of Platypus Duck." If this was your first "real" cartoon, tell us the story behind it.
The Premiere of Platypus Duck.
Shot on 16 millimeter, cel animation, traditional approach. Animated on an oxberry drawing table. Painted cels.
I drew the entire eleven minute film, every frame, all the characters, all the backgrounds. I talked my mother, my girlfriend, my cousin and some other friends into painting some of the cels, which was an absolutely endless process.
The night that I pulled together the story for the platypus movie, I knew that the Arthur and Lillie Mayer Grant was to be offered to a Dartmouth student. I had a keen interest in making an animated cartoon, and the deadline for submission was looming. One evening, two pals and I stayed up all night. Parker MacDonnell was writing songs, Boris Fisher was writing a paper, and I was working on this grant proposal.
That night changed the career directions for all of us. That night I made my commitment to animation, Parker made his commitment to music, and Boris made his commitment to writing. I should mention that we were not completely sober during this all-night session.
We laughed a lot, and the songs Parker wrote became the music soundtrack for the platypus movie.
The original plan was for the movie
to be simple and straightforward.....but once I got the grant, I
changed lots of things. The final film's story is all over
the place -- which I don't recommend -- but here's what it
** Billions of years of evolution, from amoeba to the arrival of the duck-billed platypus in the era of the dinosaurs.
** Survival of the duckbill platypus through the ages.
** Then, as we reach modern times, the movie focuses on a platypus family living in a pond with rocks that are shaped like the Sydney Opera House. There's a mom, a dad, and two little kids who have just cracked out of their eggs. One of the kids is a cutup. A flood comes and washes Mom down a storm drain, carrying her to points unknown.
The father and his two sons begin a journey to find the missing mom/wife platypus. This part is where all the big work and major animation comes in. These are the money shots; the search stuff is the most fully animated section of the film, with lots of art direction...definitely the best stuff in the movie. Very moody. Also, if there are any laughs in the movie, this is where they are. There's some singing from the platypi here...mainly some harmonizing as they call for the missing platypus. The cut up kid mugs a lot to camera and keeps kicking his twin brother in the butt.
The search ultimately leads the dad and sons to Sydney, where the mom platypus has been turned into an onstage singing performer at the Sydney Opera House. I ran out of time and money for the stirring climax, so the animation gets pretty limited toward the end. The platypus dad and kids track down Mom at the opera house and set her free, but then get chased by their nemesis (a monitor lizard stage manager). The music is fun here...it looks like the platypi are about to escape when...
All of a sudden...
A nuclear bomb goes off!
Everything on screen goes white....the characters turn into
scratchy ink drawings. FADE OUT. Then, lights click
back on for a finale curtain call.
This final sequence was the first thing I animated for the movie...and was not done on cel. It was animated completely on paper, with each drawing hand-colored. In the curtain call, the mom and dad platypi and the two kids come out wearing straw hats with canes and do a soft shoe as they sing: "Platypus Duck, Platypus Duck, tripping through time till he runs out of luck, Ornithorynchus Anatanis (then the guy platypus says to the girl) I love you."
The making of the film became my life for a couple of years, which is, in my book, the biggest downside of animation: it's very time-consuming. My social life in my junior and senior years of college was almost non-existent.
As graduation approached, time was running out. I had to finish this damn thing. I neglected much of my course work in order to wrap the film by graduation day in June. Most of the professors of the other courses were very generous and lenient with me and gave me pretty good passing grades when I think a few of them had every right to flunk me. On the day before graduation, I showed the completed film (the work print spliced together with tape on both sides, at the last minute, by my pal and classmate Barry Braverman) to a full auditorium of family members, friends and classmates.
So this was the true premiere of
"The Premiere of Platypus Duck." The audience was
very attentive and friendly, and gave it a nice ovation,
but as I watched it with them, I realized that the thing
didn't make a whole lot of sense.
There's a narrative in there, with evolution taking us up to today, then with the family trying to survive, and the guy platypus trying to find his lost love...but the nuclear explosion comes out of nowhere...so much so, that practically no one who has seen the movie even understands what has happened. Some people think, "Oh, I get it! You wanted to change your animation style at that point, right? That's why you changed to the white background and the scratchy ink drawings."
Uh, well, no.
I must have thought that if
people had ever seen any nuclear war propaganda films, the white
light and the big boom would give them a pretty good clue
that there'd been some sort of massive detonation. But my
thinking was wrong. The point was not clear.
Why did I end the story with a nuclear explosion? (Yes, it's followed by a little soft shoe and song, but the story ends with the big boom.) Was it just an easy out? ......Well, I guess my point was to say that here is this globe, with all these amazing creatures that have been around for hundreds of millions of years......and with one giant bomb, we can end many of these species forever. So, ultimately, it's an anti-nuke movie. But I'm not sure it effectively made its point.
Anyway, after people saw the film, I would explain to them that the white light/scratchy drawing section at the end of the film is where a nuclear bomb goes off ....and that the platypus has been around for millions of years, but it could all end tomorrow if we don't stop nuclear proliferation. Once I told them this, most of these same people just looked at me like I was some nutty artist on a soapbox. Which I probably was.
How involved were you in He-Man?
|Filmation's owner and boss, Lou Scheimer, had a relationship with Mattel at the
time. And at Filmation, we were making a show
called Blackstar. The Blackstar character was
designed by Bob Kline (an Animaniacs director, great art
director for Disney, great artist with long and
distinguised animation credits) and the show was
developed by Ted Pederson and Dan.
Once Blackstar was picked up by CBS, Ted and Dan were gone, so the series writing and most of the story editing was handed off to me by Art Nadel who ran the story department. Marc Scott Zicree and J. Micheal Reaves wrote a bunch of the scripts. Bob Kline drew and directed a bunch of the storyboards. At the same time, Mattel was working on a series of action toys, and they saw the Blackstar show, and they realized that their proposed He-Man toyline had striking similarities to Blackstar. So, for probably a number of reasons, they got in touch with Lou Schiemier and suggested that Mattel and Filmation join forces to make a He-Man series.
Lou had me write the series bible, along with Robby London and some of the other staff members. Mattel already had a bunch of development on the characters, so we just built on their toyline proposals to pull the series into something that could sustain a bunch of episodes. Before production on the series began, I left Filmation and went to work for Hanna-Barbera.
The only script I ever wrote for the He-Man series was something called "The Cosmic Comet." I barely remember it. I never saw the episode, so I don't know how closely it followed my script, nor how much it was rewritten.
That's my entire take on He-Man. And that's why I said that I developed it, rather than actually worked on it. It was designed by Mattel toy designers, and extrapolated for animation by Filmation artists. I was pretty much gone before the show was seriously underway.
As for the He-Man show itself, it was one of the reasons I wanted to leave Filmation. I felt I had done that sort of thing with Blackstar, and never really warmed up to He-Man. Hated the title. I didn't think much of the mythos Mattel had attached to it; it was about action toys who fight each other. It didn't feel like a career goal. I much prefer the funny stuff unless the action stuff has some depth to it, and some real artistry, like the Batman series. He-Man seemed like a 22-minute toy commercial, and in general, I wanted to avoid that sort of work.
"A Pup Named Scooby Doo" was of course part of the "make popular characters small" trend started by Muppet Babies. Was your intent to just ride that wave, or put a different twist on it?
I was not a fan of Muppet Babies. It was, well, babyish.
I was the Scooby guy at Hanna-Barbera, having written the series for the previous 4 or 5 years. Jennie Trias was the head of children's programming at ABC. There had been no new Scoobys for about a year, and Jennie loved the Scooby franchise, but she wanted to do something significantly different to pump new life into it.
I wanted to go Tex Avery with it, really have the characters freak out, and Jennie wanted to add more kid appeal, so we put those two concepts together in a younger version of the franchise. We made the show a period piece set in 1962-63 (this made sense to us since the original series, when Shaggy and gang were teenagers, began in 1969). We came up with the town of Coolsville, with family histories for the members of the gang....a quiet personality for Velma, a vain rich personality for Daphne, and a very thick personality for Freddie. We added Red Herring and lots of over the top wild takes and kept the series simple. We also made fun of many of the Scooby conventions....it seemed to work.
Much of the foundation for Tiny Toons can be seen in Pup Named Scooby Doo. For one thing, the number of animation drawings was significantly larger than your average show at the time, and traditional wacky takes were encouraged. It surely must have cost more, so how was H-B convinced the investment would pay off?
By '87, Hanna-Barbera had broken into several fiefdoms. Bill Hanna made sure the production pipeline was filled and functioning. Joe Barbera had his pet projects, including some of those long-form animated TV movies; Jane Barbera was the exec. in charge of production, to whom all producers and directors reported. And the writers reported to one of the key execs, but if a writer/producer had a tight connection with the head of one of the three networks (NBC, CBS, ABC), then that writer/producer was pretty much untouchable and could get a lot done without anyone at H-B getting too upset.
That was the case on A Pup Named Scooby Doo. I had been working with Jennie, and Amy Simon at ABC for a bunch of years, and they wanted a new take on Scooby. So they asked me to pursue it, and when they picked up the show, ABC okayed the concept of me producing it...so Jayne Barbera, and Joe and Bill signed off on it as well. I hit every deadline, which made Jayne very happy.
Scott Jeralds, Alfred Gimeno and Bob Onarato were crucial in redesigning the characters and the show....Jim Stenstrum was on hand as well. We of course consulted with Iwao Takamoto, but we had deadlines, and at some point I had to wrap it up, so Scott and Alfred refined the final models. Your interview with Jon McClenahan contains a section where Jon spent some sessions with Iwao. You can reprint that same section here...it matches my experiences almost identically.
I wanted the music to be different...and I hummed all sorts of tunes into a tape recorder, with singing, scatting, the whole bit. Those recordings were copied exactly by John Debney to create the music soundtrack for the series...of course, he hired some great singers to make it sound considerably better than my versions.
The budget on the series was standard for Scooby at the time, but the show was colored at our Hollywood facility on H-B's own computer system. Paul Strickland was in charge and he and his crew did a great job. By coloring and finishing the footage right there in-house, I was afforded the chance to make quick, easy and cheap retakes on the scenes....which made a huge difference in the end product.
Glen Kennedy was responsible for the look and feel of Pup's animation, which was very unique at the time (and he would live in infamy thanks to Tiny Toons, but more on that in part II). Where was he and how did he get to the point of operating his own studio?
Glen Kennedy was the animation supervisor on the "Pup" show at Cuckoo's Nest in Taiwan. He loved the show and personally animated tons of scenes, especially ones that he liked and wanted to run with. This is where I met Glen, and it was this association that led to the Tiny Toons job for Kennedy Animation.
I was all for Glen opening up his
own studio. Regarding A Pup Named Scooby, Glen was very
key. Alfred Gimeno and Scott Jeralds were key. Paul
Strickland was key. Kellie Martin as the voice of Daphne was very
key -- great actress, great screamer, smart. She was a one
take wonder. John Debney's music was fabulous. The wild
takes added great energy. And ultimately, Joe Barbera was
crucial, because one day he took me aside, and told me that
the secret to making the wild takes work was to back them up with
the loudest and wackiest and wildest sound
effects you could ever find.
He was right. That really helped...made it work.
And finally, here's a big huge key factor...the pilot episode was directed from fade in to fade out, every timing sheet, every slug...by the man who directed to the metronome himself, Bill Hanna. He directed show one of "Pup," uncredited but he did it.
The whole damn thing. I watched him do it. Took him a solid week plus, up in his third floor bird nest of an office. He made the show work. What a great guy!
By the way, I asked him to direct that first episode. No one had asked him to do that for a while. He said...you know, I'll do it.
He was definitely one of the greats. Miss him a lot.
When "A Pup Named Scooby Doo" premiered, the LA Times animation critic Charles Solomon raved about the show, saying it was better than the original. That following spring, it was the first Scooby series ever nominated for an Emmy Award as best animated series.
It lost to Winnie the Pooh.
By then I was at Warner Bros. working on the first episodes of Tiny Toons.
Where did Jean MacCurdy work at H-B? And how did it lead to heading the entire WB animation division?
Jean began in childrens programming at NBC, worked at Warners Bros. with Friz, and when I met her she was in charge of the writers stable at Hanna-Barbera. Best boss I ever had...wherever I worked for her. She moved to Marvel and a few different other places before landing the Presidency of Warners Animation. And if Warners had been smart, they would have kept her there running the animation division in all capacities, instead of letting her go in 2000, letting the whole thing go soft...and allowing the feature animation division to crumble before everyone's eyes.
They had Jean, but they didn't realize how good she was, and they didn't understand that she had a real way with people and she knew how to create a great creative atmosphere. She made the magic happen.
Warner Bros. had a fairly sleepy animation division in 1989, when Terry Semel and Steven Spielberg got together and decided to make a syndicated afternoon cartoon show. They went to Jean, head of their sleepy animation division, and asked her what company they should hire to make their little show.
Jean said, why hire some company? We can make the show ourselves.
"Really?" they said.
Yup, said Jean. So they let Jean run with it. And Tiny Toons was the result. The division wasn't sleepy anymore.
Next time, we'll continue with the development of Tiny Toons....but unlike McClenahan, Tom isn't always available for question-answering, and thusly I can't conduct the entire interview in one lump and post it up over multiple weeks. This'll have to do for you for now, but I'm committed to getting it finished someday, and in chronological historical order. Look for part II soon.....
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