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The Creative Art of an Animated Series

Often we cast off “cartoons” as fodder for mindless escapism and toy selling. They tend to occupy a low rung on the entertainment ladder. And yet, the creative collaborative symphony that occurs for a well thought out, well executed animated series is a lesson in team building, scheduling, and artistic results worthy of space in the media biosphere.

An animated series is a blend of many different types of talents. Aside from the organizational talent to oversee such a project we have:

Storytelling and character development: It starts with writing: Tell a compelling story with rich characters within 11 minutes and do it hundreds of times in a short period.

Design Characters, backgrounds etc. Every little prop down to a pencil a character picks up, every background character. Every detail in a background. It all has to be in sync with the story we are telling.

Storyboard panel I completed for a San Francisco Luna episode

Storyboarding: An art in itself. Knowledge of staging, animation posing. Emotion, gags and amazing drawing.

Voice talent and directing: Bring in outstanding voice actors to bring the drawn characters to life. No, not everyone with a funny voice can be a voice actor. It is a specialty . You hear that a camera loves an actors face, well a microphone loves a voice. Tom Kenny and Doug Lawrence have voices that just jump out of a cartoon and give it much more life than it would otherwise have. And directing voice sessions and proper casting is also a great art.

Timing: Taking the voices, dialog lines and acting in a storyboard and timing it to a place that tells the story properly. Editing a story that it takes place in exactly 11 minutes.

Painting the backgrounds: On Rocko and Lazlo( and the Rocko special) this was brush to paper ( board) with some masterful artists. On Lazlo, the art of digital painting which still can produce “painterly looks”. On all of my projects I had amazing background painters, like Meg Simmons who did the Luna background above.

Color design: Every prop and character’s color has to be designed. You don’t notice it when it works, but you definitely do when it doesn’t. Also matching colors to a character that your sub-conscious picks up ( Example, Yellow in our minds means crazy).

Music: Composing for animated fare is a specialty. Pumping out amazing musical pieces to match sometimes 2 second scenes. Cartoon composers like Carl Stalling who perfected matching cartoon action to music in Warner Brothers cartoons. I have always had the best.Tip: Where you don’t put music is just as important as where you do. I do “Spotting Notes” for my composers where I see music, what the emotion is, where to leave music out, etc. But they also come up with great surprises!

Sound design; After all of the pieces are put together, a sound designer takes the music and final picture and adds believable and funny sound effects and mixes in a manner that all can be heard and appreciated. A good sound designer knows his effects library. It’s not just “add a car sound here”. It’s “What make of car is it? What year? A volkswagon sounds different from a Chevy Impala or Ford Mustang. Also a comedy sound can make or break a scene. Is it a Bork? Or a Tube Thunk? Rocko had his own shoe squeak that was perfected by Jeff Hutchins.

Want to be a good show creator and producer? know all of these skills. Want to be an incredible Show creator and Show runner? Become an expert on all of these, and how do the final masterpiece on budget.

Any questions?

5 Responses

  1. I really appreciate your dedication to giving us insight on the production of tv animation. I always wonder how shows go about keeping their shows at 11 minutes, especially on a board driven show. Is the show edited down after it’s recorded at the animatic stage?

    1. Yes, that’s a constant struggle. After the board teams do their pass, we do scratch tracks of the dialog and create an animatic (or Leica )to help us pinpoint the length of an episode. Then I will go in and edit the animatic to time. After approval processes we record the real dialog tracks and create another Leica animatic and add posing that takes advantage of the voice actors additions. I then edit that down to exactly 11 minutes. That is the template that is used for the final animation.

  2. Dear Mr Murray,
    I want to start off by commending your talent and dedication to creating animated pieces for the purposes of educating children. In particular, my family loves to get together and watch Luna The Moon as it is my daughter’s favorite television series. We would love for you to make an episode about Budapest, Hungary as we are from there. Will you please consider it? We appreciate the diversity of this show and just wanted to give you an idea, as hopefully there will be more new places and episodes. Thank you for taking your time in reading this.

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