This is fun.
Category Archives: Animation
I know you toy types want the toy dope. But I’m an animation type first, so I’m always pleased to show you something cartoon-related. Like this background key from 1987’s G.I. Joe: The Movie. Background keys are not used in the final animation. They can be without color, or fully painted, and are an overview of what a location — interior or exterior — looks like. Generally they come before the storyboarding stage, so that storyboard artists know what a location looks like before planning (and drawing) scenes and shots in and around that location. Keys are used as a reference, too, for background artists and background painters, who will fully realize in line and in color the specific backgrounds needed in every angle called for by the storyboards.
This one’s by Robert Schaefer. His credit in G.I. Joe: The Movie is “Background Art Direction.” The whole background unit on that production is one BG Supervisor, another three on BG Art Direction, one BG Designer, nine BG painters, and one BG Coordinator. Some of these folks were in the States at Marvel Productions, others were in Japan at Toei. (A few uncredited ones may have been elsewhere in Japan or Korea, subcontracted, which I would never be able to track down.) Schaefer has worked on BGs for Hanna-Barbera, Ruby-Spears, Universal, and Disney Television Animation. And, probably of most interest to readers of this blog, Marvel Productions, where he also drew and painted on G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Jem.
Here’s how this key was used — for Pythona’s infiltration of the Cobra Terror Drome — note most of all the first shot.
An additional key or two may have been painted to describe these places. And it’s worth noting that the Terror Drome, both inside and out, had already been visualized in Season 2. I don’t have information on why any of that was revised or redone for The Movie, but presumably because here Cobra HQ is bigger and more labyrinthine. But imagine a show like The Simpsons, where a key for the Simpsons’ living room reflects a “standing set” and isn’t often redone.
Jim Sorenson and Bill Forster did a great job putting together two books of G.I. Joe animation model sheets – must-own for Joe art fans. (A parent was browsing in the “Action” section of my comic book store, pulled from the shelf volume 1 of G.I. Joe Field Manual, and sort of thought it was a coloring book. I would have spoken up, but it was clear from their casual browsing that they weren’t that interested, and I didn’t want to come across as an aggressive sales person.) Animation model sheets started out in black and white, and that’s mostly how they were seen by many of the artists who worked on the shows.
Or in this case, commercials, since animated Battle Force 2000 only appeared in G.I. Joe advertising. And I should say that artists tended to see photocopies of them in very-actual black and white. Rarer is seeing the original art, here, pencil on paper, dark grey on off-white. Russ Heath, who’s gotten some attention here at A Real American Book, drew today’s post: Three views of the “Vindicator” hovercraft. This is before Hasbro settled on the name “Battle Force 2000,” when the line was still “Future Force.” (I’ve seen some Hasbro paperwork with “Future Force” on it.) What makes these interesting is that they are early versions with different and fewer details than their Battle Force 2000 counterparts. I’m not sure why, and it’s hard to tell from the ad since that only has four seconds of animation. To my eyes, these models are clearly drawn from photos of toys (or toy mock-ups) or drawn from objects Heath had in front of him. So maybe that’s it, maybe they’re referenced from mock-ups. Not sure how that would have helped the animators, as they’d still need the final model sheets.
Perhaps of note, or not, is that these three drawings weren’t done on the same day. The top one is dated 9-9-86, the middle one is four days earlier, and the lower one ten days after. That may not mean anything, as Heath had stacks of drawings to do for any Joe commercial or episode, and was working for multiple productions at any one time. The other “Future Force” vehicle drawings I have are dated between August 5 and September 19. That’s a big range for what was all going to appear together in one ad, but maybe it was a package deal — several ads and all their materials (script, boards, designs, sound) going overseas at the same time. This is all conjecture.
But going back to “early versions with different and fewer details than their Battle Force 2000 counterparts,” you might be hoping for a side-by-side. So here’s an excerpt from Sorenson and Forster’s book on the left (pg 125), with the comparable pencil drawing on the right.
Ho boy. It’s difficult to discuss the 1989-1991 G.I. Joe animated series without stirring up strong emotions. Pop culture recognizes the fun of the 1983-1987 series, whether it be Cobra Commander’s voice, the Public Service Announcements, or all the property damage. And dig a little deeper, and you get superb voice acting, smart writing, and strong characterization. And of course, action! But these are not as present in the later episodes. Artist extraordinaire Russ Heath, who designed the animation character models for the Marvel/Sunbow episodes, did come back for most of that second round, but the change in tone and lower production budget didn’t treat his design work as well. The DIC run is hard to watch. Continue reading
Season 3 of G.I. Joe, or as the Shout! Factory DVDs call it, Series 2 Season 1, is a mixed bag. Lots of returning writers, characters, and voice actors, but the show is a different tone. It’s funny, or tries to be, and there’s not much sense of danger. I’m never worried for the Joes. But Russ Heath was on board again drawing model sheets, so that’s a bright spot. Today’s artwork comes from a ridiculous episode called “That’s Entertainment,” where Cobra Commander kidnaps actor/comedian Jackie Love and decides he wants to make movies. Really, the less said, the better. Continue reading