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Frames of Time...

089_04 - When animation was fun... at least to make.
Back in the 1980s, before animation was really noticed by Hollywood, most folks worked on projects that usually weren't thrilling. These were projects like HE-MAN, THE BLACK CAULDRON, GARFIELD AND FRIENDS and WAKE RATTLE AND ROLL. Folks complained a bit about low pay, tight schedules and occasional interference from networks and execs.

In the golden age animators did everything from create bands (like Disney's The Firehouse 5 plus 2) to making funny home movies (like Clampett's Warners days). The studios of the 80s also had fun. Each studio had its own style, but the crews at each had their own way to kill time and laugh.

At Film Roman, Gary Conrad would shoot videos and edit them into hilarious shows, the highlight of each Christmas party. In fact, in the early days, Phil would take the entire studio to lunch for the holidays! Behind the building 'smoke breaks' were open to all who wanted to come out and discuss animation and the world.

At Hanna-Barbera, the crew spent almost as much time doing gag drawings about studio events as they did drawings for productions. Photos and videos of the time also show a group of people laughing, smiling and goofing around.

Disney, perhaps it was still the 'king' of the animation world, had the best jesters. The crew seemed to segue from one interest to another. There was the period that remote control car-mania struck the studio. As this photo shows, break time would find dozens of artists in the parking lot racing their cars. Some of the folks spent hundreds of dollars customizing their cars only to smash them into walls. There was the notorious 'nun toss', in which no nuns were injured. Magic caught on for awhile with folks wandering the studio doing close-up magic (simple hand tricks). One animator even created a special sequence in which after performing his trick to the audience would turn to the tv and his animated character would produce the card in your hand! You didn't even need props. One game consisted of running down a famously long hallway at top speed, only to stop before collision. The handy animator's stop watch judged the winner. This game ended shortly after a prominent animator was unable to stop in time and went full force into the wall. Luckily the hand he injured was not his drawing hand.

One of my favorites was the classic "Eddie Show". It started when one of the animators found a cut out head of Eddie Fisher (hence the name). Soon they had a number of these life-sized heads with jaws cut to allow 'talking'. They would use these puppet figures to lip-sync songs out a window. The show became so popular that they had to do it at lunch time as folks from around the studio, from artists to lawyers to secretaries would gather to watch. A show was soon designed and every Christmas they would perform a 'new' Eddie show in the window. It was the first time I had ever heard "I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas". The greatest Eddie show ended with Santa (apparently) falling off the roof of the animation building! Hilarious.

By the end of the 1980s, the Spielbergs and Katzenburgs had discovered animation and tried to convert it into a business for personal gratification. The artists got more money. They got more say in what was being produced. They got more 'respect'. But they also got more pressure, more demands and more expectations. By the end of the boom in the early 2000s, once again complaints about pay, deadlines and interference had returned. Some studios still try to keep the level of fun up with free food, regular events and parties. But these are not born out of the crew. It is more like the feeling one gets at a camp when the counselor comes up and tells you how much you will have carving soap.

I was talking with another who had worked through the period. In fact, he had worked through the fun of the 1960s and 1970s. He agreed that everyone seemed to have more fun when it didn't really matter what we were working on. We worked in animation becuase we liked it. We liked the people. We liked the fun. Working in animation is still more enjoyable than working in a bank. But from the atmosphere one finds at most new studios, it isn't as much fun as it was years ago.

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