The Filmation Animation Explanation

Via Mark Mayerson, there’s a good new piece at Flipanimation.net  called “I freely admit I worked at Filmation.” Three animators, including Disney/Dreamworks animator Tom Sito, recall their days working at Filmation, one of the two biggest producers of U.S. TV animation in from the ’60s through the ’80s. You’ve seen their stuff: He-Man, Fat Albert, and anything else where most scenes consist of people’s faces in extreme close-up, with only their mouths moving.

The three animators all talk about what Mayerson calls “The Filmation Paradox,” which is that even though the studio made shows with legendarily terrible animation, it was actually a great training ground for animators: a huge number of the people who contributed to the late ’80s/early ’90s animation boom had got their start at Filmation. The reason is that Filmation founder Lou Scheimer was the only major producer of U.S. TV animation who refused to outsource everything to other countries. By the ’80s, most of the other studios including Hanna-Barbera were relying on overseas studios to handle the actual animation, with only the layouts and other basic drawings being done in-house. Filmation would only do that when there were simply not enough employees in the studio to handle all the work on a show; otherwise, Sito writes, “there was never a Filmation outsource studio in any country.” So even though they were doing incredibly limited and cheap animation, the people there got some real on-the-job training in actually making an animated show, rather than doing some sketches and then letting someone else make it.

It’s a reminder, yet again, that even a bad show can be a good experience and that if someone has Filmation’s “Lassie’s Rescue Rangers” and “Mission: Magic!” on his CV, that’s no reason why he can’t wind up being one of the best-known character animators at Disney. In TV, the quality of the training may matter more than the quality of the show.