How To Create Animation
Interviews by John Cawley



JULY 17, 1990

Back To Contents
Back To Books Page

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 every day.

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 my talents.)
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 Hanna-Barbera.

Q: Continuing now with the work section, what does a producer do for animation?
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 expectations.
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 production?
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 that.
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 help.

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 approved.
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 on.

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