INTRODUCING SCOTT SHAW! ...
Scott Shaw! remains one of the busiest and most diverse people in
the industry. Though now officially a producer, Scott continues
to write and draw comics, design packaging, do storyboards,
create characters and work on character models. A fanatic
FLINTSTONES fan, he has a book on the first family of prime time
animation due out soon.
We talked with Scott at his home office where he is surrounded by
his impressive collection of comics, animation collectables,
original art and more.
Q: Could you please give a brief description of your career and
your background, listing specific projects?
SS!: I started out when I was in college, doing underground comic
books, writing and drawing. And of course I had been doing
strips for the school newspaper and stuff in junior high and high
school. And from underground comics, I was hired by Hanna-
Barbera to work on their comic book line that Marvel Comics was
publishing. I started out as an inker and then did some
penciling, and even writing. Studio supervisors took notice of
my work and asked me if I wanted to come in and work on the
Flintstones show, which they had revived. This was in 1978, I
believe. I said "sure." The Flintstones were the characters that
got me interested in being a cartoonist in the first place. I was
a nine year old kid in 1960 and the perfect age to become
fascinated with their original series.
There was discussion whether to hire me as a character designer
or a layout artist. I took layout and wound up working with
people that went back in the business all the way to having
worked on SNOW WHITE and PINOCCHIO and things like that. It was
really one of the last times where you could work with people
that really had a lot of experience under their belt.
I was in layout there for four years, and worked on the
Flintstones. Actually, it was called THE NEW FRED AND BARNEY
SHOW. Then I worked on SCOOBY-DOO, SMURFS, POPEYE, CASPER and a
lot of typical Saturday morning productions at the time.
Animation was still being done in-house on most of those series,
so I would actually get to work with the animators and with other
layout men and that prepared me for a lot of things to come.
Then I got back into doing comic books. I left animation for
about two years and worked for DC Comics on CAPTAIN CARROT AND
HIS AMAZING ZOO CREW. The low page-rates drove me back into
animation, where I worked for the mythical Tom Carter Productions
and then went to Marvel Productions as a story board supervisor
and model supervisor on JIM HENSON'S MUPPET BABIES. After four
years there, I went back to Hanna-Barbera, initially as a
character designer, then a writer, and then was assigned my first
producing job, which was on a show called THE COMPLETELY MENTAL
MISADVENTURES OF ED GRIMLEY. It was an animated version of
Martin Short's character from SCTV and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.
I'd also started doing a lot of commercials, and in that I had
done storyboarding, layouts and character design and some
direction, not to mention dealing with non-cartoonist clients,
and that prepared me for producing as well. I went over to DIC,
where I produced CAMP CANDY for the first season. For the second
season, I'm a consulting producer because I've gone freelance to
pursue more of a variety of projects. And of course, over this
whole time I've also done lots of print jobs, merchandise art,
video box art, a little bit of everything including the
occassional comic book story. Coming from a print background,
having learned animation, I can do a variety of different things,
which appeals more to me than just having one set thing to do
Q: Did you have any official art schooling?
SS!: Kind of, but I managed to avoid it to a large degree!
(laughs) All through high school, I wanted to take art classes,
but apparently my aptitude tests indicated that I should be
taking all kinds of advanced math and physics and science
classes. So I never got to take any art classes, other than
drawing for the school paper. (Which was an ideal way to test out
When I went to college, first at Cal Western University in Point
Loma, and then Cal State Fullerton, I had a double major in
illustration and journalism, because I felt that cartooning lies
somewhere in between. But by that time, I was getting enough
commercial assignments that oftentimes I would blow off my school
assignments in favor of doing paying jobs. By my senior year, I
dropped out of college because I felt that cartooning was not
really considered anything legitimate within the school. Yet
outside of the school I was getting, if not enough work to
support myself with, enough work to be tantalizingly attractive
to spend more time working towards commercial goals, as opposed
to academic goals.
So my real training, especially in terms of animation, came about
by working in animation. Comic books certainly had prepared my
draftsmanship, and from the time I was a little kid all the way
up through high school, I'd sit there with a drawing pad while
the cartoons were on TV. (This was before there were VCRs
available, so you couldn't freeze frame anything, but I'd sit
there and try to take notes and make quick sketches of character
designs and layouts and things like that.)
But it wasn't until I was at Hanna Barbera and worked with old-
timers and some newer guys, people like Tony Rivera and Owen
Fitzgerald and Don Morgan and Floyd Norman. I mean, a lot of
guys who may not be well known outside of animation, but
certainly within animation who had incredible credentials, would
tell me what was right and what was wrong, and I would learn by
their examples. They were real gentlemen in a lot of ways and
knew that my enthusiasm was genuine and so they put up with a lot
from me. And essentially, I was trained on the spot there at
Q: Continuing now with the work section, what does a producer do
SS!: It really varies from studio to studio and project to
project. As far as Saturday morning type producing, maybe the
word producer is the wrong term. Actually, anybody that's a
producer that's assigned to a particular show is more accurately
called a line producer. This is only because we're not really
that involved in either the deal making (with the network or
licensee) or working with the overseas studio (setting up how
much are we willing to pay for this, etc.). The line producer
simply is responsible for getting film onto the air.
Usually, in Saturday morning animation, when a producer signs
onto a show, the show has already been sold, or at least has
started development, and whatever deal that the studio has with
overseas studios has usually already been struck. The producer,
for the most part, at least in my experience, is involved mainly
with either assembling a crew or working with a crew that's
already been hired in a department, or a number of departments.
He also helps develop the characters, coming up with designs and
concepts and background stylings and things hoping to meet with
the approval of either the client, whether it's a network or, a
toy company or whoever holds the license on a character. Many
times, the writer or the story editor seems to have authority
over the producer, although that certainly, in my opinion, isn't
the preferable way to go.
On a day to day basis, the producer works with the story editor
in getting stories worked out, trying to keep things on budget as
well as possible, trying to keep things on schedule, getting
approvals for character designs, storyboards, lay-outs, color
models, background models. If animation is being done locally,
to supervise that; picking music, picking sound effects; working
in post-production with the editors; picking retakes; carrying
the thing all the way through to final delivery.
A good producer should have a hand in just about every phase. In
my case, I also usually design the main characters, do rough
designs for incidental characters. I do heavy rewriting of the
scripts, sometimes I write the scripts myself, do storyboard
changes, and assemble a crew. Personally, I'm a very hands-on
producer. When I'm producing a project, there's really not a
phase that I don't meddle with in one way or another.
Q: What do you look for in a property?
SS!: Well, it's really dictated more by my own tastes than
anything. I was an animation fan long before I was a
professional. For me to want to become involved with a show, it
has to either be very traditional or very **non**-traditional. I
don't have any hard and fast rules, for example about working on
things that are based on a toy. I know some people refuse to do
that sort of thing. To me, it's "is there any entertainment
value inherent in it?"
My favorite characters have always been kind of hip, contemporary
sort of things, like at least for its time, THE FLINTSTONES
certainly was, ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE, early Hanna-Barbera
characters, BEANY AND CECIL, that sort of thing.
There's a trend towards using real life celebrities or
personalities. My last two projects, Ed Grimley and John Candy
shows, have been built upon that concept. In both cases, my
reason for taking them on was because I was such a fan of both of
these guys' live action work, specifically from SCTV, that I
wanted to work with them and do something that possibly would be
a little bit different than your typical Saturday morning
material. I don't know if those projects necessarily achieved
that, but that was my initial reason for doing them.
Q: What is your first step when you take over a project?
SS!: Well, usually I want to take a look at the presentation
used to sell the project. If it's something that I'm initiating
myself, I'm going to meet with the person or meet with the
company that has a licensed character. (If it's something of my
own, obviously, being a writer and a cartoonist, I don't need to
do anything but just develop some conceptual ground rules and
designs and story springboards myself.)
Nowadays, certainly with Saturday morning and obviously with
commercials, it's usually a pre-existing property to be
developed. Presentation material is done strictly to make the
sale and it may not really have anything to do with the final
version of what you see on the screen. I'll get a hold of that
and say,"Gee, does the design work?" Does the style work? Is it
even in the direction that I think it should be?
I'll do a lot of sketches and writing myself, and then hire a
number of designer-artists. I'll try as many things in as many
directions as possible. Usually what I'll do is I'll call
artists and say "give me a day's worth of your time and let's see
what your ideas are." That way I can, for say two thousand
dollars, come up with ten radically different approaches, rather
than paying one person two thousand dollars to work on something
for a week which may be completely outside of everybody's
Unfortunately, the way Saturday morning animation works, most
producers have very little to say about story editors. In my
experience, some story editors are very cooperative and other
story editors consider themselves essentially above the law and
outside of the production process. And that can oftentimes
create enormous problems, not only in making a good cartoon, but
meeting your schedule and your budget and everything else.
Once we have a Bible written, which would include the theme of
the show, who the characters are, what the setting is, what the
age group intended, what sort of jokes or stories or adventures
are to be depicted, story springboards, the characters'
relationships with one another (always an important thing), then
you start developing some background ideas, styling what your
environment is, doing more specific character designs.
You have to cast voices. You have to get music working that will
work with the theme of the show. You get some storyboard people
working. Usually, I'll try to do the board on the first episode,
or at least the title of anything I work on, so I can get a style
and approach set right there.
With commercials, it's vastly different because you are working
under much greater pressure and the clients have much more
specific ideas in mind. Usually it's based on something that's
already an existing product, so you have to certainly match a
certain amount of stuff to be appropriate to the product. In
that case, usually the commercials that I co-produce, I also do
the designing, storyboard work, help write the spot, do the lay-
outs all myself. So it's a lot easier for me, because I don't
have to worry about delegating any of it. I can handle it all
myself, and if things aren't done right, I can only blame myself.
Q: What do you look for when you're gathering your staff for a
SS!: I try to hire as many people as I can that I've worked
successfully with in the past. I know what to expect out of them.
I've had people complain, "gee, you use all these old timers.
Don't you want any young people?" And I certainly do, but it's a
real relief to know that you have people that can perform. I try
to avoid people who are hacks, that are just doing it by
automatic response with one eye on the paycheck. But experience
isn't the only thing that attracts me, but I want people that I'm
not going to have to lavish a lot of time and attention showing
them how something's done.
On the other hand, on any given crew, I like to get at least one
person in every capacity, whether it's design or storyboard or
whatever, I like to try to use first timers. If nothing else,
give them some of the opportunities I had when I got into the
business. I try to get somebody that not only has talent, but a
good attitude. Initiative is very important, too.
Nowadays, unfortunately, you meet a lot of younger people who
come into the business with an attitude of, "I know it all and
you can't teach me anything." Frankly, when I started, I was so
delighted just to be working with professional cartoonists that I
kept my mouth shut and my ears open and tried to learn as much as
possible. I try to look for a few people with attitudes like
You want to find talented people. But since animation's a
process that involves more than just creativity and talent, you
want to find somebody that's also intelligent, understands the
process, and understands what's appropriate for your audience.
But above and beyond both of those is you want somebody that's
reliable. You've got a deadline. You've got people to satisfy.
You can have the world's most intelligent and talented person,
but if they flake out on you and disappear, neither of those
Q: What is the average, daily routine of a day at the office?
SS!: Usually I'll try to get some work done before I even go into
the studio. I try to get up early and before breakfast look over
a board or read a script, or try to make some notes in a way that
I can do some thinking before the phone is ringing off the hook.
Now, early on in production, much of my time is spent answering
the phone with people looking for work (unless it's an extremely
busy season and then I'm on the phone trying to find people that
will **do** the work).
Once we're in the heat of production, usually I'm meeting during
the day with my designers; calling board men to make sure that
the work is coming in on time, or sending work back to get
revisions made; talking to the people at the network or at the
agency, or with the client, themselves, whoever this happens to
be done for; checking to see if revisions on scripts are coming
through in time. An awful lot of it is really almost janitorial
work, as opposed to creative work.
I know a lot of people who say "ooh, a producer, that really
sounds like something important." And I guess it is important,
but there's certainly no glamour involved with the job. You go
to recording sessions, and that's probably the most fun of any of
the day-to-day jobs of a producer, but here again, none of those
are ever scheduled to your convenience. It's always scheduled to
the voice artist's convenience. So you could be recording on the
weekend or at night. For that reason, as a producer there really
is no set schedule.
You're more or less working like a fireman, where you're on call
whenever you're needed. When retakes come back in and you're
working with an overseas studio you want to let them know as soon
as possible what needs to be redone in order to get those fixed
scenes back in time to cut into your print to get it on the air.
You'll go in on Saturdays, Sundays, evenings, whenever, to see
the print as soon as it comes in from overseas so you can look at
it on the movieola and try to get some idea of where your problem
areas are. Then you have to fax the overseas studio a specific
re-take list, and keep your fingers crossed that you'll get most
of them in time for airing.
As you go through the initial part of the season, I spend time
worrying and going over the script, because everything else that
comes down is based on your script, in one form or another. And
not only will I work on rewriting the scripts, but oftentimes
I'll go through the script after it's been finalized and rewrite
a lot of the description involved. I'll even sometimes go so far
as to break down a script into scenes and cuts, and all my screen
direction, giving it to the board men, knowing that they won't do
specifically what I want, but at least then they have a pretty
good idea of what I want.
As you get into the season and you get your scripts more or less
taken care of, then you spend more time working on getting your
storyboards fixed and just your models and your backgrounds and
layouts all up to snuff. The other thing that takes up much of
your time the first half of production is your recording
sessions, which obviously have to follow the scripts being
The toughest part of production is when your scripts are
finished, but you still have boards going out, and yet at the
same time you have footage coming back on your earliest shows,
because then you have to spend time in post-production with the
editors and Telecine [transferring to video] and worrying about
trying to get the footage in shape to be aired. That usually is
maybe at least a month's worth of time where you're really just
losing your mind, because you're actually trying to do about
three full time jobs at once. Once that's over, most of my time
is spent in post-production, cutting a picture to length (I try
to send them out at least 100 feet over length for editing ease),
editing music, sound effects, color, etc. It's challenging
because you have to do all this in a very short time with
whatever footage you've received!
With most Saturday morning animation that's animated overseas,
you really spend most of your time preparing a kit. It's like
preparing a kit of a model car or something, with a set of
instructions, except you're preparing a cartoon kit where you're
giving them all the pieces, all the designs, all the colors.
You're giving them a storyboard and exposure sheets, which are
essentially your instructions on how to assemble it. They do all
the work and when you get it back, then you have to kind of work
with them by remote control, trying to get them to fine tune it
however you want it fine tuned. So I would say a producer's day
is probably at least ten to sixteen hours long, and your working
hours are spent more in meetings and phone calls, and you get
your creative input and your real thinking input done at night
and early morning.
With commercials, it's different. You're pretty much working at
full speed the entire time, and there you're spending more time
in meetings with the client and with the agencies, going to pre-
production meetings to sell the client on what you've come up
with, and then you have to have meetings with the client at
literally every step of production, in terms of showing them the
design, showing them the color design, showing them the layout,
showing them pencil tests of animation. And you really have to
hold their hand all the way through. I have to say that, on an
hourly basis, working on commercials certainly **pays** more
lucratively than on a series.
Q: How much freedom do you have in production?
SS!: That really depends on the production. With network shows,
you really have very little freedom. The networks usually have
very narrow parameters of what they want and what they expect in
terms of your cartooning and the sense of humor you can show, the
violence of your gags, the types of stories they want you to
show, even the designs and music are under tight scrutiny.
They feel internal pressure to give a moral or give some sort of
social commentary to the kids. My own feeling is a cartoon
should be entertaining. My biggest battle is to keep the
cartoons simple and make them funnier; I'm not against
educational or moral content, but don't beat the audience over
their heads with it!
Surprisingly, with commercials I find that there's slightly more
freedom. Once I started doing them, I suddenly realized that the
character of ad man Larry Tate in the old show BEWITCHED is much
truer to life than I ever would have thought as a kid. These
people flip-flop every which way possible in order to keep the
client happy. Then, for the most part, the client is so busy
looking at how their product is portrayed, that the rest of it is
kind of up in the air, so you really have a much wider gamut of
styles and ways of cutting and ways of putting across the message
in commercials. That's not to say there's not a certain amount
of teeth-gritting and hair-pulling involved.
Also, most cartoon commercials nowadays are animated here. You
can get those nuances of acting and those little bits of business
and expression that may only last for one or two frames, but can
certainly make a difference in terms of how much punch or impact
a certain scene has. These are "shadings" the clients respond to.
I would say that the network stuff is the most restrictive, the
commercial stuff has the most freedom, and somewhere in between
lies the syndicated projects and feature projects.
Q: How much freedom do you give your staff on a production?
SS!: I try to give people as much freedom as I can. I mean,
within any given project, you know that there are going to be
certain things that are demanded. But, I feel that if people
have good ideas or bad ideas, if they have ideas at all, I want
to hear them. And if, for example, the model person has a story
idea on how to change a storyboard to make it better, they come
to me with it, I'm more than interested in hearing it. If it's
valid, I'll put it in.
Everything is up for alteration, right to the point where you
ship it, as long as it doesn't affect radically other phases of
the show's production. Obviously, if the show's already been
timed and all the characters have been designed and all the props
have been designed and layouts are made, and suddenly you want to
radically change a section of story, it's too late to do
anything. But if you can catch it early on, my feeling is that
anybody, whether they're an inker and painter, or a checker or
whoever, can have an idea that's as good as its own merits! It
really doesn't matter who it's coming from or what they were
hired for. So I'm very open toward any contributions I can get
from my staff.
Q: What project have you worked on that you got the most
professional enjoyment or satisfaction out of, and why?
SS!: Well, as I've probably mentioned already, the Flintstones
are the characters that inspired me to want to be a cartoonist
back when I was nine years old. And in recent years, I've been
involved with the majority of the Pebbles cereal commercials. I
really feel the proudest of the Flintstones spots that I've done
for Playhouse Pictures. If for no other reason than it's one of
the few chances the public has of seeing new footage of those
characters. It's also one of the few chances I have of having
them act like they were back in the original series. Not only do
I get to help conceive them and write them, but I can work with
the animation locally. And the folks at Playhouse really want to
do quality work, so they seem to welcome whatever input I can
make at any stage of production. It is a luxury that
unfortunately, for most projects I work on, I don't have.
My feeling is in a thirty second spot, if I can get a gag or two
into it, with a funny reaction or a funny prop or a funny bit of
business, that I've done my job. So many commercials are not
entertaining, and yet they're run over and over and over again. I
feel if I can make it entertaining, that's improving overall TV
programming in a small way. And I would say that it's my
childhood dream to work on the characters. It's certainly the
most successfully animated version of them that I've ever worked
Q: Conversely, what is a failed project?
SS!: Well, that's an interesting question, because I'm still
working on that project: CAMP CANDY. I intentionally stepped down
from producer because it became so mired in network and studio
politics that it was just seriously affecting my health. When
things didn't work out with my successor, I was asked to get re-
involved and supervise post-production on the show. I relented;
I'd hate to see the show handled by unfamiliar personnel.
From the point where I came onto it, I had a definite idea of
what I wanted the show to be. I think John [Candy] did as well.
But as time went on, it became more and more restricted by the
network's concept of what they thought it should be. And being
the client, they got their wish.
The show appeals to very, very young kids. It hasn't taken full
advantage of John Candy's comedic potential. Although CAMP CANDY
is successful by Saturday morning standards, it just hasn't lived
up to what I hoped it could have been. I'd like to produce
cartoon shows that **adults** can also enjoy.
Q: If you were starting today in the business, having gone
through everything you've gone through, how would you prepare
yourself to work in the animation industry?
SS!: I think I probably would go to an art school that takes
animation seriously and offers training in it. I've always
regretted that I've never worked formally as an animator. I have
done some minor-league animation, but I really don't consider
myself an animator. I wish I had more experience there, only
because it would give me a much better idea of what was possible,
under given time and money considerations.
On the other hand, some of the schools I know locally here that
specialize in animation seem to crank out a lot of talented
people, but they all tend to draw alike and have very similar
tastes and prejudices in what they like in cartoons. Maybe that
would be both an advantage and a deficit. I really don't know.
The thing is, is nowadays, to break into cartoons, you don't have
the advantage that I did even a decade ago, in that there are
very few really experienced people to learn from on the job. So
I would say providing as much formal training as a person can for
themselves, not only in watching cartoons and watching what you
like, but also in acquainting yourself with the way things really
are done. This book is one of the few attempts to try to give
people an idea of what actually is done out there. I think that
it's all too rare that anybody gets a realistic picture of what
happens in animation.
Try to learn as many different phases of animation as you can;
it will keep you working. That's the only way I've kept working.
As things have been sent overseas and functions have been
eliminated, I've become enough of a creative chameleon to keep
jumping from one department to the other. The process has been
not unlike climbing a rope ladder that's burning upwards from
below; there's just nowhere to go but up! If you know how to
function in all those other areas, it not only makes you better
at whatever the job in which you are working, but gives you a
fuller picture of the overall animation process.
Back To Contents
Back To Books Page
Back To Main Page