FUNKY FUN THING #7: "SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK" VIDEOS FROM 1987

I bought these items at the Longs Drugs store in Salinas, California back in the late 80's:

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Growing up in the 70's and 80's, watching Saturday morning cartoons, a phenomenon occurred on ABC every time the clock reached 7 minutes to the half hour.  Pray tell, "What was that phenomenon?" you ask.  Well let me tell you my ever-so-curious blog reader, that's when a Schoolhouse Rock short would air between the regularly scheduled cartoons (along with other bumpers such as "Yuckmouth" and "Beans And Rice").  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, Google it. (You'll be a better person for it.)

For me, the fun part was always trying to figure out which short they were going to surprise me with.  (I was always hoping for "Elbow Room" or "I'm Just A Bill.")

Trying to flip the channel to these animated music videos was a common practice of mine until the mid-80's when they slowly started swapping the shorts with bumpers featuring the hit boy band, Menudo.

By 1985, they put the final nail in the coffin and stopped showing Schoolhouse Rock altogether, replacing them with exercise shorts starring Mary Lou Retton.  I never thought about recording the SR shorts (because they were supposed to go on forever!), so when they stopped showing them, I, along with the rest of the world, were left with the memories of the songs stuck in our heads.  That is, until these cheesy (yet entertaining) videos were released on VHS!

Mind you, the original shorts were intact and brilliant in these collections.  The problem was, as the series musical director, Bob Dorough said, "The quality is poor and there is also some new, inappropriate and inferior material not written by me and more or-less sung by Cloris Leachman and some kids."

So what does this have to do with "Johnny Bravo?"  Everything!  It was inspirational and educational on so many levels for a budding animation geek.  Besides the fact that I can recite the preamble of the Constitution, it helped me hone my timing skills and foster my love of music put to animation.

Naturally, I had to do an homage:

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In this particular episode, Johnny Bravo learns how to pick up women from a more gentleman-ly man using tools such as manners and respect. Like in Schoolhouse Rock, the Sensitive Male educates Johnny through song and fun visual aids. For each lesson, we took inspiration from several SR staples such as "A Noun Is A Person, Place, Or Thing"...

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..."Conjunction Junction"...

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...and "Telephone Line."

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To make the show even more authentic, we hired the legendary jazz artist, Jack Sheldon, the original singer of "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just A Bill" to voice the Sensitive Male.

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(BACK ROW: Donna (Casting Director) Grillo, Jack Sheldon, Collette (Assistant Director) Sunderman, Lou (Composer) Fagenson, Seth (Writer) MacFarlane  FRONT ROW: Bodie (Music Supervisor) Chandler, Kara (Line Producer) Vallow, Me

Here's a pic from the 1996 recording with the rest of the cast in the sound booth at Hanna Barbera:

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BACK ROW: Collette Sunderman, Seth MacFarlane, Cynthia McIntosh, Jamie Torcellini, Michelle Nicastro, Candi Milo  FRONT ROW: Jeff Bennett, Mae Whitman, Me, Butch Hartman, Donna Grillo

Unfortunately, (well, fortunately too) it wasn't until 2002 that we were able to bring the team back together to record an episode for the final season of Johnny Bravo.  Entitled, "Traffic Troubles," Johnny goes to Musical Comedy Traffic School in hopes of meeting some high kicking musical comedy chicks.  Instead, he gets a lesson a la Schoolhouse Rock from the Sensitive Male.

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BACK ROW: Craig Bartlett, Robert Serda, Jeff Bennett, Grey Delisle, Seth MacFarlane, Diana Ritchey, Jack Sheldon  FRONT ROW: Lou Fagenson, David Faustino, Me, Collette Sunderman

It was the first time and only time we had Seth come back to the show, but this time as a voice artist instead of a writer.  We even reprised his song, "Manners," but changed the lyrics to be about taking your driver's license test.  The other fun thing about the episode was reconnecting with Jack Sheldon again.  To bring everything full circle, he even agreed to be the house band at our final cast party where he brought along his trio.

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So, to go back to those videos, we watched them over and over as reference because the original cartoons weren't readily available at the time (Curse you YouTube for being in your infancy!).  Today, the shows are on demand and I can watch whatever, whenever I want. Although, I often wonder, is my life really better that I don't have to sit through Cloris Leachman singing and dancing?  Only time will tell...

FUNKY FUN THING #6: "IT'S A SMALL WORLD" ALBUM

I've had the following item since I was a toddler (I can't give an exact date, but I can say that it was well worn)...

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My guess is that my parents bought the album for me after my first trip to Disneyland in 1973.

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That's me in middle with the golden vest.

If you're just joining my blog, this list is about seemingly ordinary objects that have special significance to my career in animation.  So it goes without saying that this Disneyland album was one of the many inspirations for me as a child.  I listened to this album ad nauseam while staring at the simple, yet intricate, designs of Mary Blair on the cover.  It fed by cartoon obsession when it wasn't Saturday morning.

The thing that I didn't expect was that I would one day sing for the man who directed this amazing album: Paul Salamunovich.

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As noted in "The Hollywood Reporter:"

He conducted choral music on the scores for more than 100 films and TV projects, including Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). His work also can be heard on Flatliners (1990), First Knight (1995), Air Force One (1997), A.I. Artificial Intelligence(2001), The Sum of All Fears (2002), Peter Pan (2003), Angels and Demons (2009), and on the NBC drama ER.

With the choir at St. Charles Borromeo, he recorded five albums of sacred music and was featured on Andy Williams’ 1969 recording of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Salamunovich sang on the soundtracks of such films as Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), How the West Was Won (1962) and The Trouble With Angels (1966). His musical contributions spanned the spectrum from classical, pop, and jazz to folk and new age music with such diverse artists as Stan KentonLiz Story and Cirque de Soleil.

Salamunovich guest-conducted throughout the world and prepared choirs for such notable conductors as Igor StravinskyRobert ShawBruno WalterEugene OrmandyAlfred WallensteinGeorg SoltiZubin MehtaCarlo Maria GiuliniValery Gergiev, and Simon Rattle.

But even though he was a world renowned maestro, I was first introduced to him as Paul Salamunovich: choir director for Loyola Marymount University.

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1990 LMU Yearbook Photo, 2nd row, 2nd to last

For me, animation is all about timing.  Having said that, music is an integral part of understanding timing.  You need to understand the life that's in music if you want to bring life into any character.  It's like finding the heart in a performance.  It's an intangible that you need to experience in order to find.  Animation is often about taking your drawings and creating moments.  There's a certain rhythm to life and, if you miss it, you miss the moment.  In fact, Chuck Jones often used musical bar sheets to time out his animation. 

Through studying music under Paul, I also learned the subtleties of interpretation.  In 1990, we were one of four men's choirs invited from the United States to participate in The Pacific International Festival of Male Choirs in Vancouver.  It was an international festival where some of the greatest choirs in the world gathered to perform.       

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I'm in the 3rd row, fourth from the left.

Before we went onstage, we sat backstage and listened to another choir perform "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic."  It was the exact same arrangement we were planning to perform, but you could tell there was a definite difference in interpretation of the text.  The tempo was slightly slower, the intensity of the singers wasn't evident, and the richness in their sound wasn't very deep.  I don't say that to be pompous (God knows that our choir wasn't great because of my singing), but because Paul knew how to interpret music on a page.  

Battle Hymn Of The Republic (You can click on the link and listen to our recording.) 

*Credit also has to be given to our pianist, the legendary Bob Hunter.  The above arrangement was so complicated that the other choir had to bring in a second accompanist to handle it.  Bob did it all by himself.

Through the LMU choirs, I learned how to listen.  I mean really listen. There's subtleties in balance, tone, and pitch that I never would have discovered had it not been for my choral training.  By showing me when to breathe and why, how to phrase a sentence, how to dramatically tell a story, and the importance of balance in a group's dynamics, Paul taught me how to go from being a kid to becoming a world class performer.

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Obviously, it took some time getting there.

So the next time you're on "It's A Small World" at Disneyland, rather than sit there and complain about how the song keeps going on and on, just shut up, look at all the beautiful designs, and listen.  Once you appreciate all the countless hours of work and talent that went into making the ride, you can leave and work out your issues at The Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure because that thing is awesome!  (Just make sure you get a Fast Pass early.)

FUNKY FUN THING #5: SCOOBY DOO ANIMATION CEL

With the help of Star With (the Xerox Department Supervisor) and Allison Leopold (the Ink and Paint Department Supervisor) , I was able to create my next favorite funky fun thing...

Working at Hanna Barbera in the pre-digital world was like a dream come true because they had all their original artwork onsite!  I created the piece above by using the original model sheets, xeroxing them onto a cel, and borrowing a paint station in the Ink and Paint department (after hours of course!).  I later got it signed by Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, Don Messick (the voice of Scooby Doo), and Casey Kasem (the voice of Shaggy).  It's basically a stock pose of Scooby and Shaggy superimposed in front of an image of the Mystery Machine.

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Yes, the Mystery Machine.  Mystery Inc.'s signature mode of transportation.

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Even Batman loves the Mystery Machine!

Animation Art had a real life Mystery Machine (which was awesome!) custom made for signings and appearances to draw crowds.  There was a bit of grumbling from some of the artists when they unveiled it because it wasn't made from a vintage FordVW, or Corvair van, but I didn't care.  It was the Mystery Machine!  It was so cool driving in to work every day and seeing it in the parking lot.  So when we were producing interstitials for "Johnny Bravo" I, of course, asked to do my interview inside, where else...?

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One time, back in 1997, Butch Hartman, Seth MacFarlane, and I got permission to bring the van out to Glendale for a school visit with Mae Whitman and her elementary school class.

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The interesting part was, when we pulled into the school parking lot, we were followed in by a police car! (You would think they would be in front of us as escorts, but fat chance there!)  As a hoard of kids ran up to the chain link fence to see all the commotion, we started to stress out about the ramifications of getting a ticket in a vehicle we didn't own.  When the officers pulled up beside us, I asked, "Is there anything wrong, officers?"  One of them nonchalantly answered, "Nah.  We just wanted to see if Shaggy was in the back."

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Seth and I grabbing some Carl's Jr. after the school visit.

In 2003, I was able to use the Mystery Machine one last time during our wrap party for the fifth season.  We had them drive the van out to Loyola Marymount University where we parked it out in the middle of their Sunken Gardens and used it as a photo op.

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"Seriously.  Why rent a photo booth?"

The Mystery Machine is a definite crowd pleaser and Warner Brothers often uses it when there's something eventful going on.  For example, here's a pic of Jay Bastian (the head of development for Warner Brothers) and I during the unveiling of the Hanna Barbera relief statue at the Academy Of Television Arts and Sciences in 2005.

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So it's fair to say that I've taken my share of pictures with Mystery Inc.'s mobile of choice.

There are several vans now.  Most of them created specifically for the live action movies.  One of them is on permanent display at the Warner Brothers Studio Lot so now everyone can take a picture with it!  Scooby Doo is now a Warner Brothers property and is a part of their lineup as you can see by the WB mural on the corner of Olive and Pass Avenue.

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Whatever your feelings are about that, it's nice to know that he's being well taken care of after all these years.  You can especially thank them for this swanky DVD box set...

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Besides being a big fan of Scooby Doo, I'm mentioning it because I did an on-camera interview for the DVD featurette, "Scooby-Doo The Whole World Loves You" which, according to Amazon.com, "focuses on Scooby's continued popularity and fans continued love of the character. Features interviews with various writers, directors and actors who have worked on Scooby TV and Movie projects over the last 40 years. (20 mins)"  For me, it was a tremendous honor to be a part of it because I'm such a huge fan.  I can't really say I'm the "ultimate" fan because I don't dress like anybody from the show and I haven't named my kids Velma or Fred.  But I have been known to say "Jinkies!" so I got that going for me.

 Awkward picture of me from the video, courtesy of Scoobypedia @ http://scoobydoo.wikia.com/

Awkward picture of me from the video, courtesy of Scoobypedia @ http://scoobydoo.wikia.com/

For the DVD, I mostly talked about my work on our "Bravo Dooby Doo" episode and Mr. Barbera's involvement in the show.  The most random anecdote about my interview is that I wore a shirt with green stripes for the interview.  Why is that interesting, you ask?  Well, whenever they do these interviews, they do them in front of a green screen so they can lay down whatever images they want to in the background by altering anything that's green on camera.  (I don't want to go into too much technical details when we have Wikipedia for that.)  Anyhow, I ended up changing shirts with one of the crew members who happened to be my size.  It was just another reminder of why it's important to shower before you leave the house. So, if you're watching the featurette and thinking, "Man, that Van sure is a fancy dresser,"  then I apologize for misleading you into thinking I'm so fancy.

That was really the only anecdote I have from the recording session. Besides the fact that they put some man makeup on me before the shoot.  At least that's what they said it was.

 

 

FUNKY FUN THING #4: SPINAL TAP EARPLUGS

I got the following at the Universal Amphitheater, June 5, 1992...

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David St. Hubbins: It's such a fine line between stupid, and uh... 
Nigel Tufnel: Clever. 
David St. Hubbins: Yeah, and clever. 

I was there with my friends from college to see the world's loudest Rock N' Roll Band on their "Break Like The Wind" Tour.  I remember sitting in the balcony (We were in college!  They were the best seats we could afford!) and watching Rob Reiner walk in from the back of the audience as all heads turned towards him and chanted, "Meathead, Meathead, Meathead..."  My favorite moment (among many) came when Nigel was introducing the next song and yelled into the microphone, "The sun never sweats!  Look it up!"

I've been a huge fan of Spinal Tap for a long time.  Like most guys, I like to quote the movie at random times ("The numbers all go to eleven.") and get an instant chuckle followed by a series of other quotes from the other guys I'm with ("Eleven.  Exactly.  One louder." "You can't really dust for vomit." "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever.").  So you can imagine my excitement when I got to work with Michael McKean and he recorded the following for my answering machine...

David St. Hubbins Recording

It was super cool because his monologue randomly came to him without any prompts.  But as awesome as it was to get him to record a bit for my answering machine, there was more to the story than that. Michael was actually at the studios to record the part of King Raymond for my "What A Cartoon" short, "Jungleboy."  Below is the "Awkward Family Photo" cast recording we did after the session.

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Back Row: Kris Zimmerman (Recording Director), Michael McKean, Maurice LaMarche  Front Row: April Winchell, Cody Dorkin, Candi Milo, Me, Roger Rose

Prior to this recording, I had done "Johnny Bravo And The Amazon Women" with one David L. Lander (A.K.A Squiggy from "Laverne And Shirley").  At that time, David was talking to me about a CD-ROM that he and Michael had been working on and like a fanboy, I told him, "You know, if you ever do anything with Lenny and Squiggy, I would be more than happy to do anything just to be a part of it!"

Apparently, the boys got the rights back to their characters after "Laverne And Shirley" ended and never did anything with them except for this 1979 live comedy album...

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FUN FACT: On the above album, "Lenny And Squiggy present Lenny And The Squigtones," the guitar work was done by Christopher Guest who was credited as Nigel Tufnel, the character he played on "This Is Spinal Tap."

In that initial meeting with David and Michael, my then writing partner, Jason Rote, and I pitched them an animated idea for a "Lenny & Squiggy" movie.

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My office at Hanna Barbera circa 1996.  From left: Jason Rote (writer), David L. Lander, Michael McKean, Me, Miriam Goodman (clean-up artist)

Both of them were on board to do something with the idea and still are today.  Unfortunately, because our schedules have been so all over the place, the project has somehow taken a back seat to other things going on in our lives.  But once they agreed and trusted us with the characters, we had several meetings where David and Michael basically taught us everything there is to know about Lenny and Squiggy and schooled us on the art of being stupid.  It was like a master class in improv (which makes me so glad we recorded those sessions!). Over the years, I've had other story sessions with the two of them, we've developed a script, we've gone into a recording studio and laid tracks, and even got character designs and an animatic.  It's been a long process, but we hope to someday take it out and get it made.

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The neatest thing about this project has been the friendship I've struck up with David.  As many of you may know, David has multiple sclerosis and has been a spokesperson and advocate for finding a cure since he went public with the fact in 1999.  Knowing what I know, I see him as a remarkable and strong human being who can't help but create comedy amidst his situation.

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In my time with him, he's shared some amazing stories about his time as a kid growing up on the east coast and watching live theater in it's hey-day, not to mention his time with The Credibility Gap.  For me, it's fun to hear him talk about baseball because, if I remember correctly, he said that if he never went into acting, he would've loved to be a baseball announcer (which he got to do in "A League Of Their Own.").  So it made me happy to know that, for a while, he was a scout for the Anaheim Angels and later the Seattle Mariners.

I'd like to end with an excerpt from the rarely seen press kit for David and Michael's 1979 album.  I think the two gave some great insight into their characters when Lenny wrote about Squiggy...

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And Squiggy wrote about Lenny...

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FUNKY FUN THING #1: MY FARRAH FAWCETT SHAMPOO BOTTLE

Since 1995, I've been teaching an animation class off and on at Loyola Marymount University.  And whether I teach beginning animation or character design, the thing I always stress is character.  Sure, there are tons of amazing artists out there, but it takes a lot more than great technical skills to create a character that can make an audience "feel."  So (transition to blog topic), since I'm constantly trying to help students find ways to flesh out seemingly ordinary characters, I thought, why not do the same with this blog?  Why not write about seemingly ordinary objects that have special significance to my career in animation?  Thus began my excavation through the "boxes of stuff" that have survived my countless office moves from studio to studio.  (The experience was fun, but it made me feel like I was on an episode of "Hoarders!")

At first, I called these posts, "Fifty Cool Things" (nice round number), but since I've got this new website, I've decided to loosen things up, make it more open-ended (it could be 50, it could be more), and call these posts, "Stories About Funky Fun Things!"  So, without further adieu...

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Like most kids who grew up in the 70's, I had a huge crush on Farrah Fawcett.  But as much as I was crushing on her, I didn't feel the need to use her shampoo to make my hair feel soft and bouncy.  (Filipinos don't do soft and bouncy.)  I actually bought this after it was discontinued.  The funny thing is, I didn't spend hundreds of dollars at some collector's show for it.  I actually found the bottle on a shelf at a neighborhood San Francisco drugstore in the 90's! (I'm guessing that restocking wasn't one of their strong points.)

The bottle usually sits on my shelf at work, nestled in between all the happy meal toys and photo frames.  As far as the autograph goes, it wasn't me who got it from her.  My friend, Robert Ramirez, actually directed her on "The Brave Little Toaster Goes To Mars" and had her sign it for me.  On the bottle, she wrote, "Van, I have another one for you.  Love, Farrah Fawcett.  1995."  I was like, "What does that mean?"  Robert told me that, at the time, I guess she was thinking about releasing a new line of hair care products.  If you Google it, I'm sure you'll find that that never happened, but it's fun to think that it was in the works.

Anyways, knowing that she was willing to voice a cartoon, it dawned on me: working with Farrah Fawcett was an attainable goal!  After writing her a nice letter and sending her a tailor made script, we ended up working with both Farrah and her son Redmond on the episode, "Johnny Bravo Meets Farrah Fawcett."  In the episode, Farrah shows up at her cousin Suzy's birthday party to work the kissing booth.  The whole afternoon was a whirlwind, but one of the things I remember her saying was, it was the script that really convinced her to do the part (Thank you Michael Ryan!).  After she got into the studio, everything went so well, that I got her to pose for a "Charlie's Angels" picture with us!

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From left: John McIntyre (director), Michael Ryan (writer), Farrah Fawcett (Jill Monroe), & me

For this photo, she positioned her fingers like a gun, held her arm out straight with her palm facing down, and said, "I've always wanted to hold a gun like this."  Apparently it made you look more tough.  As you can see from the photo, she was the only one that held her gun that way.  And she looked the toughest.  (I also notice that it was a big sweater day.)  She capped off our time together by autographing one of my Charlie's Angels photos...

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Thus ended my afternoon with Farrah Fawcett.

FUN FACT: Farrah's assistant videotaped segments of the session to use for her upcoming special, "All Of Me," where she showcased her painting talents.  I never saw it, but I hear that none of the footage from our recording session made it into the special.

JOHNNY BRAVO AND BLUR ANIMATION

When I was developing my senior thesis film at Loyola Marymount University, I ran into a huge problem.  With my storyboard set and my models ready to go, I had to try and figure out how to animate my 5 minute project, by myself, in a few months, while keeping up with the rest of my schoolwork.  My animation professor, Dan McLaughlin suggested that I watch “The Dover Boys” and freeze frame the inbetweens to study Bobo Cannon's usage of  blur animation. (For those of you who are wondering what I'm talking about, the blur animation starts at about 3:02 with the introduction of Dan Backslide.)

I was completely enthralled.  I saw things moving that only had three inbetweens between them.  “I could do that!” I thought to myself.  Watching the cartoon, I knew that all I had to do was move the shapes of the characters and stretch the masses from one pose to another.  According to what I was freeze framing, I simply had to make sure that the predominant masses and colors were represented in the blur.  No antics needed.  No overshoots or cushions.  Who would’ve guessed that there was such an untapped time-saving style of animation?  All I had to do was create strong poses to smear into and I was home free.  In short, the technique grew from my college-aged need to do things cheaper, faster, and easier.

The sequence below is from my first Johnny Bravo short.  The layout is by Ginny Hawes, the clean up by Miriam Goodman, and I did the inbetweens.  In it, Johnny has just slid up to a fine looking zookeeper and proceeds to check his armpit fragrance.

Scenes like the one above were always fun to animate.  The only problem we ran into was making sure the masses were colored correctly.  Otherwise, the movement would pop.  The colorist had to consistently refer to the sequence of drawings to make sure they were keeping the masses consistent.

This type of animation was a key ingredient in helping me create the unique persona of “Johnny Bravo.”  I think that it may have had a lot to do with the selling of the show.  It made it stand out from the rest of the other projects being pitched by creating a character trait based on the way the character was animated.

It also made for some surreal Dali-esque cel set-ups.

When I got the series, I realized why blur animation wasn’t used very often.  It was a special type of animation that had to be called for overseas.  Most producers weren’t going to take the time to call for it on the sheets every time (although, I did catch them using it on “Sonic The Hedgehog” when it was still in production).  Whatever the reason, I feel fortunate to be able to capitalize on a technique developed by Robert Cannon and Chuck Jones in their original Warner Brothers short.