Saturday, April 30, 2016

46) April 30, 2016

These are pages 47, 48 and 49 from a story board for a proposed series called “Roxie’s Raiders”, done by Jack Kirby for the Ruby-Spears animation studio, some time in the early ‘80’s. (My set of copies has many gaps; I invited anyone who is able to fill those gaps. I’m missing pages 4,6,12, 14 through 29, and 36 through 46.)

The last sentence of yesterday’s post puts me in mind of something that I hadn’t questioned until writing that sentence: That John Dorman, head director of the Ruby-Spears Action-Adventure Storyboard Department, was also in charge of the Presentation Art Department (or whatever it was called. It was the department in charge of working up ideas for new series to pitch to the networks.) Is this actually true though? Was John Dorman the decider-in-chief who got to commission his favorite comic book artists to come up with ideas for series? I assume he had to answer to Joe Ruby and Ken Spears. 

To quote Wikipedia: “Ruby-Spears Productions (also know as Ruby-Spears Enterprises was a Burbank, California based entertainment production company that specialized in animation. The firm was founded in 1977 by veteran writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears. Both Ruby and Spears started out as sound editors at Hanna-Barbera, and later branched out into writing stories for such programs as Space Ghost and The Herculoids. In 1968, they were assigned the task of developing a mystery-based cartoon series for Saturday morning, the result of which was Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. They were also writers and producers for DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, particularly for The Pink Panther and Sons.[1]
The firm's credits include the animated series Fangface, Fangface and Fangpuss, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, Thundarr the Barbarian, Rubik the Amazing Cube, the 1983 version of Alvin and the Chipmunks series, The Centurions, the 1988 Superman series and the American Mega Man cartoon series.
Only one series, Piggsburg Pigs!, used Canadian voice talent rather than American one like most of their other cartoon shows. Ruby-Spears was also responsible for the animated sequence in the 1988 film Child's Play.
The Ruby-Spears studio was founded in 1977 as a subsidiary of Filmways Television and was sold in late 1981 to Taft Broadcasting, becoming a sister company to Hanna-Barbera Productions. In 1991, Ruby-Spears was spun off into RS Holdings while most of the original Ruby-Spears library (its pre-1991 library) was sold along with Hanna-Barbera to Turner Broadcasting System, which in turn merged with Time Warner in 1996. The Ruby-Spears studio closed in 1996.[2]”

This obituary of John Dorman is quoted from Animation Magazine , February 1, 2011.
“Veteran storyboard artist John Dorman died Saturday at the age of 58, according to a post on The Animation Guild blog. The cause of death has not been revealed.
Dorman began his career in 1974 as an assistant animator on The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat. Within a few years, he was working regularly as a layout artist on animated TV series such as Tarzan, Fantastic Four and Plastic Man and a segment in the animated feature Heavy Metal.
In the 1980s, he worked as a story director on such series as Thundarr the Barbarian, Goldie Gold and Action Jack, Rubik the Amazing Cube, Mister T and Foofur.
Dorman’s credits as a storyboard artist include The New Adventures of Batman, Smurfs, Tiny Toon Adventures, The Ripping Friends and the 2005 animated feature Valiant. He also designed characters for several projects, including an animated Police Academy series.
The images in this story are from Dorman’s blog, which you can find at

Wow. John was only 2 years older at the time of his death than I am now.

Friday, April 29, 2016

45) April 29, 2016

These are pages 32, 33, 34, and 35 from a story board for a proposed series called “Roxie’s Raiders”, done by Jack Kirby for the Ruby-Spears animation studio, some time in the early ‘80’s. (My set of copies has many gaps; I invited anyone who is able to fill those gaps. I’m missing pages 4,6,12, 14 through 29, and 36 through 46.)

Now that I’m in my mid 50’s I react to Bruce Timm’s youthful reluctance to hire his heroes from the vantage point of having experienced age discrimination myself. (Or not--- people don’t tell you why they don’t hire you.) However, the question of “teachablity” remains: does being older mean one is no longer willing or able to learn and grow? I fantasize about asking Kirby if he wanted to learn how to do actual production storyboards for animation, not just do inspirational pseudo-boards.

I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, comics storyboards are similar but not the same, and many a comic book artist has foundered on the shoals of the animation industry without knowing why. Drawing for animation is a particular skill, requires a particular mind-set. One needs to be able to draw attractive, compelling still images that are also part of a sequence that, when looked at 24 times per second, depict movement. Storyboarding panels are like snapshots of a future movie, not illustrations in themselves. Unlike comics, left-to-right eye read isn’t normally a consideration, unless one is holding for several seconds on a motionless establishing shot (if there is any movement, the eye will go immediately to that.)  As seen in these samples, Kirby continually makes the mistake of taking 2 or 3 panels, the format of a pan, and treating them as a single image. Would there have been any gain by pointing this out to Jack? Did John Dorman try, or did he just sit back and enjoy the bravura spontaneity of the drawing and storytelling?

It’s possible that, if approached correctly, Kirby might have gotten it. Storyboarding for animation is its own special art form, and, if you get in the grove, can be extremely satisfying on its own terms, even apart from its utility as the template for a future film (but the second aspect is primary). Studying one’s favorite movies and figuring out how to replicate or expand on their effects or even coming up with new filmic ideas, especially in a production environment of likeminded peers, can be a heady experience, and Kirby might have really taken to it.

On the other hand, Kirby was an idea man above all else, and it probably would have been a waste of time to have him toiling in the day-to-day nuts and bolts. His was the grand vision, not the particulars. It may have been that John Dorman (assuming he was in charge in this regard) was exactly right in setting up things as they were at Ruby-Spears.

44) April 28, 2016

These are pages 11, 13, 30 and 31 from a story board for a proposed series called “Roxie’s Raiders”, done by Jack Kirby for the Ruby-Spears animation studio, some time in the early ‘80’s. (My set of copies has many gaps; I invited anyone who is able to fill those gaps. I’m missing pages 4,6,12, 14 through 29, and 36 through 46.)

In my career as a storyboard artist and director of animation, I have often been assigned the task of supervising or correcting other artist’s storyboards, “making them work” as it were. If I were give THIS storyboard to “fix” (sacrilegious as that thought is), the first task would be to re-size every single panel so that it fit within the aspect ratio of the panel, or, which would be easier, simply erase or white out the art spilling upward into the SC and BG number lines, followed by an admonish to the artist to stay within the panel boarders. Then I’d tell the artist to add backgrounds; even if the backgrounds are out of focus, one needs to be out of focus on SOMETHING. One can call out color card backgrounds, but that sort of thing should be used sparingly, like when the camera is pointing up at the sky.

PAGE 13: This page is obviously meant to be a single panel, so all that really needs doing is to make sure the overall aspect ratio is correct. The red Sharpie “x” across the page would seem to indicate that the whole thing was cut, but from what? There was never a pilot made from this storyboard, as far as I know. I would specify in the staging directions that the water and flames need to be animating, maybe draw out a 3 pose cycle for those two elements.

PAGE 30: Again with the artwork bleeding out of the image area into the book-keeping area. Knock it off, Jack! Also, is panel one and two a pan? If so, which direction are we panning? If it’s not a pan, then Xerox it down and redraw it to fit in one panel. Give me at least two acting poses on Demon in both panels one and three. Panels three and four won’t work if the bookkeeping part of the image is erased, so they need to be expanded out to either side. Screen direction on Demon flops for no reason between panels one and three, please fix.

PAGE 31: God, this is too painful. It reminds me of what Bruce Timm said about not wanting to hire his heroes (as in Jack Kirby and Alex Toth): he didn’t want to be in the position of humiliating them by forcing endless changes upon them. I can only imagine that John Dorman was looking for excuses to give Kirby work and accepting the results as inspiration, not something useable in and of itself. Basically, what we have here is a comicbook pretending to be a storyboard. To work as the latter it would have to be adapted by another artist, who would end up having to put more man-hours into it than Kirby did in the first place. It would be a fun job, though.

43) April 27, 2016

This are pages 7, 8, 9 and 10 from a story board for a proposed series called “Roxie’s Raiders”, done by Jack Kirby for the Ruby-Spears animation studio, some time in the early ‘80’s. (My set of copies has many gaps; I invited anyone who is able to fill those gaps. I’m missing pages 3,4,6,12, 14 through 29, and 36 through 46.)

 I’m curious as to who the intended audience for this storyboard was, since it seems too small, too rough and too extensive to serve as a presentation piece, and it would have been useless as a production storyboard, even if there had been a production for it to facilitate. I speculate that Kirby wrote it himself as he was drawing, since the dialogue and scene directions are hand written rather than cut and pasted (taped down) from an existing script. (This refers to one of the few nuggets of trainings I received in my short tenure at Ruby-Spears: cut and paste the script onto the board paper, preferably as a first step before starting drawing.)

My director, the head of the Ruby-Spears story board unit, John Dorman, was also (I think, could be wrong, fact check me on this) head of the development department during the down time between seasons, and I’m hypothisize  that this board was a pitch tool to try and sell “Roxie’s Raiders” as a Saturday Morning TV Series, like the recently cancelled “Thundarr”. There were piles of recently completed presentation pieces from failed pitches littering the studio, done by Jack, Doug Wildey, Gil Kane, Alfred Alcala (the inker of choice). These took the forms of large marker comps, storyboards, and Kirby comic book pages the storyboard crew (fanboys all) indulged themselves by inking during the fallow fall/winter period between seasons.
One of my fondest memories of the period was being ushered into Ruby-Spears slush file room, where all the abandoned presentation art was kept in flat files. Dan Riba and I overdosed on amazing pieces by those artists mentioned previously, and also Alex Toth, color marker comps! I think some of them were reproduced in the “Genius Animated” book. Dan and I were given a half-hour to look and then, back to work. I never had another chance to enter that room

I lasted slightly less than two months as a staff storyboard artist at Ruby-Spears. It was one of the most intense periods of my entire life: It was my first job in Animation, and I was working with amazingly talented people. Jim Woodring, creator of the “Jim” series; Thom Enriquez, later to be a key concept stylist on Disney Features such as “Mulan”, John Dorman did boards (along with Howard Chaykin) for the “Tarna” sequence of the Heavy Metal movie and later directed the “Blackwater” series for Hanna Barbera. My young mind was blown by the close proximity to so many artist I’d never heard of, who had no interest in the poverty row wages of laboring in the comix industry.

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