Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Cartoon Historian Lesson 24-B: Filmation Part 2

And now the Conclusion.

Filmation produced a live-action series called The Ghost Busters in 1975 starring Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker and noted science-fiction fan and collector Bob Burns as "Tracy the Gorilla". The characters worked as paranormal investigators, working for an unseen "Chief" who delivered their "Shost Busting assignments" in whimsical disguised recording devices ala Mission Impossible.

For more on Filmation's Ghostbusters check out my Lesson about it Here

Filmation also ventured into the feature film business. In fact, one of Filmation's first projects was Journey Back To Oz, an animated sequel to the hit 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

Started in 1964, the project was held back for eight years when Filmation did not have enough money to finish the film. It was only after its successes with their other series that the company was profitable enough to complete "Journey" for theatrical release in 1972.

In their final years, Filmation produced feature films of both He-Man and She-Ra. They also produced unofficial cult animated sequels to other established films such as Happily Ever After.

Like a lot of animation studios, Filmation had its stock company of voice-over actors. Some of the most famous included Larry Storch, Dallas McKennon,Adam West and Burt Ward,Jane Webb,Ed Asner,Linda Gary,John Erwin,Alan Oppenheimer,Ted Knight, George DiCenzo,Melendy Britt, Pat Fraley, Charlie Adler, Ed Gilbert, Susan Blu, Erika Scheimer,and even Lou Scheimer himself (either uncredited, or under the pseudonym of "Erik (sometimes "Eric") Gunden").

For the company's 1960s superhero efforts composer John Gart (under the stage name John Marion) and music supervisor Gordon Zahler created strong themes and backing cues using a large orchestra until 1968's Batman entry, which used sparser production and jazzier themes.

Legendary composer Ray Ellis had produced the background music for most Filmation series. Much of Ellis' background music in the early 70's had a distinct, richly orchestrated sound not found on many other made-for-TV cartoon series of that period; though as time went on, it became more synthesized. Ellis' work at the studio lasted from 1968 to 1982.

Haim Saban and Shuki Levy composed and produced the studio's music for He-Man and She-Ra (during 1983-1986), along with the other studios they produced music scores for. Frank W. Becker provided the music for Filmation's final animated series, Bravestarr.

The Filmation studio was owned by The TelePrompTer Company in the early 1970s, then by Westinghouse in 1982.

In 1988 Filmation was purchased by the L'Oréal cosmetics company. L'Oréal promptly closed the studio on February 3,1989 and ended Filmation's legacy. As a result, most of the staff was terminated on that same day.

This happened a day before a new law went into practice requiring companies to give employees 60 days notice before a mass termination, which is presumably why they did it so quickly.

Filmation's last production was the feature film Happily Ever After (a sequel to the story of Snow White), released to theaters in 1993. Also, at the time of the closing, two new animated TV shows, Bugzburg and Bravo (a spinoff of Bravestarr), were beginning production.

Since then, most of the Filmation back catalog had come under the ownership of Hallmark Cards,through their Hallmark Entertainment subsidiary. However,since a large amount of Filmation's shows and movies were based on licensed characters, many of it's titles are under the control of other studios (such as Paramount and Warner Bros.).

In March 2004, ownership of the Filmation back catalog was sold to a British company called Entertainment Rights. Entertainment Rights have since made the revelation that when Hallmark converted all of their Filmation shows to digital format in the 1990s, only PAL-format copies were made,with the original film prints apparently discarded.

This was due to Hallmark's previously un-stated short-sighted policy of only distributing Filmation shows outside of the United States. As a result, many of Entertainment Rights' DVD releases are based on the international versions.

Because they were taken from PAL-based transfers these releases exhibit the so-called "PAL speedup" effect in which the soundtrack plays 4% too fast resulting in the pitch being a half-step higher than it was originally.

PAL-NTSC conversion also include softness and ghosting. The exception appears to be four titles from ER's library: Groovie Goolies, Ark II, and both the live-action and animated "Ghostbusters" series.

On April 1 of last year,it was announced that Entertainment Rights would be acquired by Boomerang Media and on May of last year,it was announced that the subsidiaries and offices of Entertainment Rights would be absorbed under the name,Classic Media.

Well that was interesting. Filmation may be gone,but it'll never be forgotten. Thanks Filmation for all the memories.

See Ya Next Time on the Cartoon Historian. Stay Gold,guys.

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The Cartoon Historian Lesson 24-A: Filmation Part 1

Welcome to the Cartoon Historian. First,I wanna apologies for the lack of activity here. I'm very busy with personal stuff. Anyway,in this lesson I will be talking about,Legendary Animation Company,Filmation.

{cartoon historian intro}

As you've noticed,My assistant Mina isn't here,she had to do some last minute X-Mas shopping,so I'll be doing this 2-part lesson solo. well,lets do it to it.

Filmation aka Filmation Associates was an American production company that produced animation and live action programming for television during the latter half of the 20th century. Located in Reseda, California,Filmation was founded in 1963 by Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott,who were also served as producers.

A trademark of the company's productions beginning in '69 was a rotating "Produced by" (and on some shows, "Executive Producers") credit seen in the end credits and in the opening sequences of Filmation shows.

This was supposedly created to allow the producers to share equal billing,although later Filmation productions credited only Scheimer, in the form of his signature ("Lou Scheimer, Executive Producer"),starting with 1982's Gilligan's Planet.

Yes,Gilligan and Co. had their own Cartoon series. Strange,I know.

Anyway,Many of Filmations 70's and 80's shows carried a simple moral or life-lesson explained by a key character in the epilogue.

Lou Scheimer and Filmation's main director,Hal Sutherland met while working at Larry Harmon Pictures on a Popeye cartoon. Sometime after,Larry Harmon pictures closed down.

SIB Productions, a Japanese firm with U.S. offices in Chicago, approached Scheimer and Sutherland about producing a cartoon called Rod Rocket.

The two agreed to take on the work and also took on a project for Family Films. These were ten short animated films based on the life of Christ. The project enabled Scheimer and Sutherland to finance their own small Los Angeles animation studio True Line.

Paramount Pictures soon purchased SIB Productions, and True Line's staff increased; including the arrival of former radio disc-jockey Norm Prescott, who became a partner in the firm.

Prescott had already been working on the animated feature Pinocchio in Outer Space,which was soon released by a Belgian company. He also brought in the "Journey Back To Oz" project, which would be released over ten years later by Filmation.

Both Rod Rocket and the life of Christ series credited "Filmation Associates" with "Production Design" in addition to Scheimer and Sutherland as directors. However,True Line did not officially become Filmation Associates corporation until Rod Rocket entered syndication in 1963.

SIB Productions, whose logo bore a resemblance to the original Filmation logo, would soon go on to become "Sib-Tower 12 Productions" and produced the first couple of Tom & Jerry films for MGM.

The new Filmation studio would for the next few years make TV commercials. Soon they were approached by CBS executive Fred Silverman to do a Superman cartoon. This premiered in 1966, and was followed by several of the other DC Comics heroes.

In 1968, Filmation created the first Archie show,a TV show loosely based on the Comic series. Both series greatly helped Filmation's popularity. However,it wasn't until the 1970's when the company became iconic.

As with other producers of Saturday morning cartoons, Filmation was more concerned with quantity rather than quality; however, they did make a number of attempts to rise above the standard animated fare and produce reasonably well-written cartoons.

The best-known example of this is their animated adaptation of the Star Trek series, which included scripts contributed by well-known science fiction writers and starred most of the original cast.

Star Trek got a cartoon as well? Wow,Ya learn something new everyday.

Anyway,Other memorable (for some anyway) Filmation series included the 16-part animated serial of Flash Gordon,which was originally intended as a movie for theatrical release.

Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was another memorable series created by and starring Bill Cosby. Fat Albert was a show with an explicit educational focus,which enabled the actor himself to earn a Doctorate in education. Interesting little factoid.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, based on the popular line of Mattel toys, opened up a vibrant new American market for first-run television syndication for animation in the 1980s.

In addition He-Man and Bravestarr were pioneers in cartoons of that time and paved the way for broader storytelling.

Examples include He-Man's "The Problem with Power" which dealt with He-Man believing he had killed an innocent bystander, "Teela's Quest" which introduced a now famous mythology on The Sorceress being Teela's mother,and the versed continuity shared between He-Man and She-Ra. While Bravestarr featured the First Native American hero in cartoons.

It's also worth noting that the scripts for the Star Trek animated series tended to be quite sophisticated, and garnered the first Emmy award for the franchise. Fat Albert is another pioneer cartoon show,as it was the very first cartoon that featured an all African American starring cast.

Filmation had a reputation for exploiting the technique of limited animation to produce a number of animated series with a distinct look. They made heavy use of rotoscoping in later years and they also re-used the same animated sequences over and over, many times, to the point where the Filmation style was instantly recognizable. Some Animation studios at the time also used this technique.

Filmation's animation often looked poor quality due to the limiting of the number of frames per second used to fewer than the regular 24 fps seen on film or 25/30 fps seen on video. Frames would be repeated to compensate for the deficiency, resulting in a jerky and cheap look. Remember,Filmation was going for Quanity instead of Quality.

This frequent use of stock footage saved production money, but often resulted in sacrifice of continuity. This was countered by cutting from one stock shot to another after only a second or two. This was long enough to set the scene but before the eye could notice all of the unexplained errors. This became part of Filmation style during a period when most TV and motion picture production tended to run minimum shots of 4-5 seconds.

In contrast to the rapid jump cuts during action sequences, another Filmation trademark was the recurring use of long establishing shots in which the camera would pan slowly across a very wide background painting, thus filling up screen time with sequences requiring little or no animation. Smart or Lazy...You Decide!

Filmation also pioneered other animation technologies, particularly in Flash Gordon, which included backlighting effects for the first time in American animation,including moire effects to represent energy fields. A technique that was later used in He-Man and later in She-Ra.

They also pioneered a unique method of generating 3-D vehicle animation by filming white-outlined black miniatures against black backgrounds using a computerized motion-control camera and high-contrast film, then printing the negatives onto acetate frame-by-frame to create animation cels which were then hand-painted.

This produced a dynamic,three-dimensional effect which had never been seen in cel animation before and predated the modern use of 3-D computer animation for vehicles in 2-D animated productions.

Unlike many American studios,Filmation never relied upon animation studios outside the U.S. for the bulk of its production. Ghostbusters and Bravestarr both state in the end credits that they were "made entirely in the U.S.A.".

However,Filmation did rely on outsourcing once,when the company created its animated Zorro series. It was animated by Tokyo Movie Shinsha of Japan. The storyboards and graphics however, were made by Filmation themselves.

Filmation is also noteworthy for its lavish background paintings under the direction of longtime department head Erv Kaplan.

Characters,as well as plots,were typically run of the mill for the time. For example, most episodes of Ghost Busters had the same scheme. Watch the series,and you'll find out what I'm talking about.

Although as previously mentioned, Filmation made various attempts to rise above the norm. Many of the sounds and explosion effects used in their cartoons were recycled from Hanna-Barbera,though the company's DC Comics cartoons of 1960s used more realistic sound effects.

There were very few original animated characters created by Filmation itself. Two examples were Fraidy Cat(about a cowardly cat,who lost 8 of his 9 lives)and Wacky and Packy (about a caveman and his pet mammoth in modern times). Both of these originally aired as segments of the Uncle Croc's Block show on ABC (hosted by Charles Nelson Reilly).

These cartoons were so lame that ABC ceased ordering programs from Filmation. And who the hell could blame them.

In a period where ideas for cartoons had run dry Filmation's strong point was its adaptations of popular TV shows, movies and other works. They even did a parody show of the hit Movie and T.V. series M*A*S*H,called "M*U*S*H".

Filmation incorporated live-action into some of their animated series. Shows like The Hardy Boys and Archie's Funhouse featured live-action footage of an audience watching the bands perform and Fat Albert had segments featuring series creator Bill Cosby.

The Kid Superpower Hour with Shazam!, was more of a hybrid,a live-action variety show with animated segments. Actors appeared as characters from the Hero High portion of the show,singing songs and telling jokes. Lame!!!

Filmation made six fully live-action shows, including Space Academy, its spin-off Jason of Star Command, Ark II, Shazam! (based on the DC Comics character Captain Marvel),and Isis.

Stay tuned,students,cuz theres more to come.