Friday, September 26, 2008


One of the distinctions of the Golden Age of Animation was uniformity of style. Some people refer to this, mistakenly, as a "house look". A "house look" is a "sameness" to each picture produced by a studio. Disney had that "look" as did Warner Brothers, MGM and UPA. In television Hanna-Barbera fell into that definition. A "house look" could be a good thing if it was considered "classy" as the "Disney look" was. It could be also be considered "dated" like MGM or "limited" like Hanna-Barbera. UPA was called the "modern" or "new look" in its day. This irritated Disney who produced a series of films, Johnny Appleseed, Wind Wagon Smith, Paul Bunyan and the Academy Award winning Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, just to prove they could be "modern" if they wanted. After winning the Oscar and the point proven, Disney went back to their "house look".

Uniformity is something different and fundamental. It's a basic rule of animation that the finished picture should look like it was drawn by one hand. It is, of course, highly improbable that an animated film of any length could be completely drawn by a single individual. Film-making, in general and animation particularly, is a collaborative effort. Hundreds of artists, executives and technicians go into making a theatrical release movie, just check the credits after a PIXAR film for this revelation. Still, no matter how many people are involved in the production of a picture, there should be a uniformity on three levels; purpose, story and design. For the purpose of this discussion, I'm going to focus on design.

I'm a big believer of an Art Director run picture. This is an individual that will set the overall "look" of a picture whether it is character, costume, background locations, interior design or color. This doesn't mean that he draws, designs or paints all these elements himself but he chooses the style and the artists that will be responsible to deliver the look of the show. He is also the key person responsible for all these elements. It's his fault if things go amiss in these areas. The Art Director must be an artist. This person must be able to pick up a pencil or a brush and draw the correction he wants another artist to make. Often, this person is the creator of the cartoon or series being produced. If you are investing in a "film property", you are also investing in a "film maker". The final look of your product must look like this person drew it all. If several artists with different styles are creating elements for the show without an overall creative direction, the result will look like a patchwork quilt. The Arabs have a saying, "A camel is a horse made by committee". There needs to be a single vision on an animated project that controls the style or no one is going to want to saddle up and take a ride on the finished product.

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