“Where the Reptiles Roam,” a 1985 Sunbow/Marvel episode of G.I. Joe, is great. And silly. Which is the best thing I can say about the 1980s Sunbow/Marvel show. Teleplays balance action and a bit of drama, while characters chew scenery and veer into charming archtype. I love everything about this show. In this episode, written by Gerry Conway and Carla Conway, four Joes infiltrate a Texas dude ranch where Cobra has harnessed a space laser to destroy American cities. You remember three sentences ago when I said this show was charming, right?
(Today’s blog post is about art, not writing, but I want to toss out that although in comics Gerry Conway is best known for killing Gwen Stacy, he has a big career writing for live-action TV, and is writing some Spider–titles again.)
To repeat from an earlier blog post, animation background keys don’t appear in animation, but provide master shots for the BG artists to draw and paint specific angles within a location. Let’s do this one backwards. The last time we looked at a background key from G.I. Joe, we examined the actual painting first, and then screencaps from that scene second. But here are the screencaps. Click to embiggen, and follow along. Wild Bill leads the square dance. Pan past him from the stage and the shifty old folks, cut to our three undercover heroes. Over the shoulder from them, they see the shifty old folks leave. Cut back to a three-shot as Alpine suggests they follow. This whole thing is 20 seconds.
This scene involves seven shots. One is reused, so this scene only involves six BG paintings. All of those BGs are drawn and painted to match shots from the storyboards. And the BG key is the master shot for it all. I can’t prove this is the only key for this scene, but it’s a safe assumption. This painting is unsigned, so I don’t know who drew it and who painted it. Sadly, G.I. Joe Season 1 end credits don’t list BG artists, so we may never know. There is crossover from the talent that worked on the TV show also working on the animated movie, so perhaps of the 14 people in the BG department who are credited in the animated movie, one did this. But sorry, I don’t know. Again — one fancy painting to envision a setting for 20 seconds of a 22-minute show. That’s a lot of work!
Interesting to note how the space changes. The key makes the room feel shallow and yet horizontal. That’s what a landscape composition might do for you. But the animated scene fills this space with people, and makes the room feel quite deep. The steepness of the stairs also changes. I’ll chalk that up to a many hands working on a rush job. That’s exactly the kind of inconsistency you don’t see on a big budget feature film like, say, the 1989 Little Mermaid, (animated in America and over several years) but you do see on an ’80s TV show animated in one or two countries over several months. Additionally, the stone hearth is unseen in the animation. It might have been simplified out of the scene, or it might be in that fourth shot above, obstructed by Alpine on the right.
Whatever the case, I’m sure glad the Joes stop that space laser.
2 responses to “G.I. Joe BG key – “Where the Reptiles Roam””
Another great blogpost, Tim. Thanks for sharing. I will say that this episode would be sooo much more enjoyable for me if it weren’t for Wild Bill possessing the lion’s share of the ‘Joe dialogue. Well, at least, he’s featured too much for my tastes. I get that lots of people like him, but he is SUCH a caricature of a particular stereotype. The constant hootin’ and hollerin’ and use of southwest colloquialisms, it’s all over done. He makes my ears bleed throughout the Sunbow series.
Thanks for sharing this! It IS a ton of work for such a small return. It’s hard to believe how much work actually went into producing these 100 episodes! Are shows any “easier” to produce today with the advent of computer technology?
Many aspects of animation today are easier or cheaper or faster today because of computers. In the ’80s, a color mistake (like, say, Leatherneck’s green hat turning caucasian for a few seconds) had to be spotted in Los Angeles, repainted and rephotographed and redeveloped in Asia, and that corrected film was then shipped to Los Angeles. Nowadays, fixing the mistake would be as easy as tapping the “Fill” button in Photoshop (although probably in a program like Toon Boom) a few times, and a corrected file (like a Quicktime) would be uploaded to an FTP site. Hours or days instead of weeks. Before the internet, everything had to be faxed, telexed, or mailed.