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.

PUBLIC SPEAKING

I forgot who told me this, but a few years ago, I got this great piece of advice about doing interviews: Try and keep your answers down to a few choice words because, chances are, the reporter only needs a sentence or two from your interview for their story. So try not to give rambling answers that go nowhere.

I wish I had learned this when I first started speaking in public.

I mean, honestly, who ever thinks that they're going to be interviewed by the media?  Not I.  And how do you really prepare for an off-the-cuff question so that you come across poised, knowledgable, and competent?  I shrug my shoulders.

I have to preface this blog by saying I, like so many others, was afraid of public speaking. I did drama in high school, but that was me being a character.  Me being me was nerve-racking.  I couldn't even raise my hand to say anything in my interpersonal communication class in college because I was so dumbstruck.  (For 20% of our grade, we were given a choice between joining in the class conversation or doing a 30 page paper.  I opted for the paper.)  I eventually got over this fear because I had to.  It was in my job description to talk to the media.  Fortunately, the interviews got easier and I've now grown fairly comfortable in my skin that I'm able to speak on a dime.  I've breezed through dozens of interviews, taught at Loyola Marymount University for several years, given seminars at several universities, and done a number of public speaking engagements in front of some pretty diverse audiences.  Mostly because I have something to say and I'm confident in my content.  On the other hand, throw me into a room alone, full of strangers, and I head straight towards something to lean on.

I wanted to share this with you upfront so you can fully appreciate all the nervousness and anxiety that lie in between the lines of  the transcripts you're about to read.  That is, if you're still reading.  You are?  Cool.  The following is from my first public speaking engagement to the media.  It took place in July of 1994 at the Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Universal Hilton Hotel. The panel consisted of Betty Cohen, the Executive Vice President of Cartoon Network, Mike Lazzo, the Vice President of Programming, Fred Seibert, the President of Hanna Barbera, Ralph Bakshi, and three new cartoon directors: Butch Hartman (who went on to create The Fairly Odd Parents), Craig McCracken (creator of The Powerpuff Girls), and myself.  The audience consisted of about 75 print journalists, Turner executives, and guests who were basically there to report and judge the programs we worked so hard to produce.

Beforehand, we were given a potential Q & As/Talking Points folder which we were to familiarize ourselves with if someone asked us a question. Which I fecitiously say, did little to prepare me for sitting in front of all those people staring at me.   The following is an excerpt from the actual transcripts. This was my first recorded line of publicity:

QUESTION: This is a question for Van, what cartoon have you created? Tell us about your character and how you did it.

VAN PARTIBLE: The character I created is called Johnny Bravo. It's this guy. (laughter) And he looks a little bit like James Dean kind of thing, but he talks like Elvis. And he's picking up on people at the zoo, women at the zoo. And he finds this animal trainer girl, and she realizes that the gorilla's escaped from the zoo, and basically he tries to pick up on the girl and all kind of stuff ensues. It takes off from there and it's pretty funny. It doesn't sound funny from what I'm saying, but it's funny. I think it's funny.

To highlight the absurdity of my existence in this panel and show how unequipped I was at public speaking, here's another excerpt from the actual transcripts:

QUESTION: Van, I have a question for you. I'd like to know how it feels having just graduated from college working next to such veterans as Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, Ralph Bakshi. What does that feel like?

PARTIBLE: It's really neat, because the job I had before this, I was working at a school. And so I'm like -- I mean, I tried applying at all these other animation places and nobody liked me because I didn't have anything to show them.

And finally they had this talent search. I guess Hanna-Barbera had this talent search. And they saw my film and I guess they liked it because they called me back in. Because I did this student film back in college, which was last year. (laughter)

And they said, develop something. I developed something and beyond that and I was like wow. So it kind of like hasn't really hit me, because I basically don't feel myself on that level. So it's really neat.

QUESTION: Ralph, you're shaking your head. How does it feel to be sitting next to someone who just graduated from college? (laughter)

Ralph went on to say how he thought the program was "sensational" and how "these kids are coming in and being allowed to be themselves," while I sat there thinking, "I just said, 'It's really neat.'  A lot."

It's been a long road, but I'm happy to say that I'm now able to take a breath and answer questions without rambling so much.  I mean, I still ramble at times, but I always try to make sure and conclude my statements with a breath and a few choice words.

I recently did an interview for The Loyolan, the newspaper at my old alma mater, Loyola Marymount University. Fortunately, they e-mailed me a list of questions that I could ponder and answer in my own time. You can find it at:

http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/lmu-originated-johnny-bravo-on-dvd-1.2243967

Before I end this post, I'd like to say thank you to everyone who has posted on this site. It's humbling to know that people actually read my ramblings and care enough to comment on them.

PITCHING JOHNNY BRAVO

How did you sell your show? Do you have any advice on how to sell a show? What is it like to pitch a show? All of these questions are ones that I'm often asked. There's no pat answer (although I do have one). What I can do, is share my experiences and hopefully help people understand that it's all about being at the right place, at the right time, and being prepared.

So. Let's step into the wayback machine, shall we? It was the summer of 1993. I was fresh out of college, working afterschool daycare at Westchester Lutheran School and living on my friend's couch when I heard the news. My old teacher, Dan McLaughlin had just gotten a call from his friend, Buzz Potamkin, at Hanna-Barbera. Like the original ad below says, they were looking for directors to produce a new crop of seven minute animated shorts for the Cartoon Network.

Since Dan was the head of the UCLA Animation Workshop, he was asked to present his best students' films to them. From there, they hoped to cherry pick through them to find the next Tom and Jerry. Dan asked if I wanted to include my student film in the mix.

The next thing I knew, I was asked to meet with Ellen Cockrill, one of the heads of development at Hanna-Barbera. She asked if I were interested in pitching the idea of my student film as a short for their new 7-minute shorts program. Since my student film was basically an amped-up version of Elvis Presley, they wanted to make sure that my character was anything but. Thus, Johnny Bravo was born. A James Dean looking guy that moved like Michael Jackson, talked like Elvis, and had a name from the Brady Bunch. I felt as though I created quite the pop culture fusion.

FUN FACT: As you can see from the original presentation cel above, he was conceived with arms like Popeye. We also changed his shirt from white to black because, at the time, white cel paint was too transparent to shoot under the camera (especially when used in large flat areas).

Before I pitched to Hanna-Barbera, Dan thought it would be a good idea to gather the group of students that Ellen Cockrill had chosen to pitch to the network, and practice pitching our shows to each other. We met a few times and developed our pitching skills (not to mention our nerves) so by the time we got to Hanna Barbera, we were prepared. After going through the experience and talking with people about it, I learned that practice is key.

ORiginal.Pitch.Board.jpg

I was fortunate enough to pitch Johnny Bravo at the very first pitch session for Cartoon Network's initial shorts program. My project was the last in line after projects from Bill Hanna, Tony Craig and Roberts Gannaway, Will Panganiban, and Pat Ventura. I have random flashes that I remember about my pitch. For instance, I remember wearing a white shirt and tie and feeling really out of place amongst all the other working professionals who were dressed in everyday jeans and button up shirts. I also remember showing my student film and having Fred Seibert walk out of the room in the middle of it. I'm sure it was for a good reason, but I was hypersensitive!  And to make things more awkward, I brought my portfolio along with me and nobody looked at it!

The bottom line after my pitch was that it wasn't "cartoony" enough. Fortunately, they liked it enough to have me redraw a new sequence to show how cartoony it could be. I later learned that they were going to pass on the show until three women, Ellen Cockrill, Janet Mazotti, and Julie Kane-Ritsch fought for my project to be made. I emphasize "women" because the gentler sex have always been champions of Johnny Bravo. I think it's because they know Johnny Bravos in their lives and can relate. They also enjoy watching him get his comeuppance.

I got the green light on November 5th, 1993. I heard the news from a development executive at HB, Dan Smith, who informed me of their decision at the Annie Awards that evening. When I got home, there was a note from my roommate informing me of my new "step deal." That meant, I was going to be under careful watch and evaluated after every step of production to see if they wanted to continue to go forward.

That's a whole other story.

When I arrived at Hanna-Barbera on my first day of work, Ellen gave me a big hug and said "Finally!" My new producer, Larry Huber, told me that this was going to be a type of graduate school where I was going to learn how to make cartoons from the ground up in the studio system.

And it was.

I was there for the next four years, much like any university, and learned how to make cartoons the old fashioned way. I was fortunate because, I don't think that my presentation was polished enough to have sold in today's climate. At the time, the Cartoon Network was in a place where they could afford to take a chance on a college graduate with no experience. Nobody was really paying attention to what they were doing. There's a lot more risk involved today.

Like I said before: Right place. Right time. Prepared.