You see them on Saturday mornings. You see them on Prime Time television. Their images grace the covers of magazines, books, and toys around the world. No, I’m not talking about the presidential candidates, I’m talking about cartoons! Cartoons go way back since we were children. We would wake up early and turn on the TV just in time to catch Bugs Bunny foiling his arch-nemesis, Elmer Fudd.
Even now, there are cartoons for the older crowd, like The Simpson’s, and King of the Hill. They not only make us laugh but also teach us valuable lessons. What most people don’t know, however, is how much work goes into making a cartoon.
The first thing that happens in the development of an animated show, is the creation of a “show bible”. This is a pamphlet which gives information about the show. Most animation bibles will include preliminary models of how the characters look. This bible is important to the writers who will be assigned to write episodes throughout the season, because it contains detailed descriptions of the characters and the premise of the show.
This bible is key when assigning writers to the show because each writer has a particular style and way of writing. The bible is a guide that will keep them all in sync when it comes to the story and characters. When a writer is assigned, they will turn in an outline of the episode which is usually 5-10 pages of a summary of the episode.
Once that is approved, he or she will write a first draft, which is usually 30 to 35 pages, for a 22-minute segment. The draft will go to executives and the FCC for approval. The FCC consultant will make sure an educational message is being conveyed throughout the episode. The writer is given their notes and will write a final draft. The Script Coordinator will then distribute the final scripts to various departments.
The process from this point, branches out in two areas: Talent/Music departments and the Production Department. When the production department gets the script, they will pass it along to the model artists and storyboard artists. The model artists will draw models of each of the characters, scene backgrounds and any significant props that will be used in the particular episode.
The storyboard artists will take the script and draw out storyboards, which are frame by frame renderings of the entire episode. This is a very important step because this is the entire episode on paper. Many departments will be utilizing the storyboards for reference. The storyboards are passed along to the director who will work with a slugger and a timer.
The slugger will go through the storyboards and calculate blocks of time for each piece of the action in the show. The timer will then take the calculations from the slugger and incorporate the times for dialogue. The timer records the calculations on exposure sheets, also called “X-sheets”.
When the Talent department gets the script. The talent coordinator will break the script down and count lines for each actor. The casting director will audition and cast the actors and then schedule a recording session. For the most part, each actor will record their part separately. During the recording session, the director will direct the actor, guiding them through the script using the storyboards. Once all the voices are recorded, the DAT tapes are sent to an editor who will take the best takes and edit them all the voices together, according to the script.
The music department will either buy the rights to music or hire a songwriter to write original music for the show. The music director will then record the music on DAT and pass the tape along to Post Production.
Once the voice tapes and the storyboards and models are done, they are all handed to the animators, who will draw, and paint each frame of the show on clear plastic sheets called “cells”. Because they are painted on clear sheets, they must be painted from the back to give that “seamless” look. They will use the models, storyboards, and voice tape for reference.
A background artist will paint a background frame and the cells are laid over them to achieve depth. Once the cells are painted, they are shot with a special animation camera that shoots a single frame at a time. The cameraman will shoot according to the calculations on the X-sheets. Once the shooting is finished, the show is transferred to tape and sent to Post Production.
Post Production will edit the picture, voice recording, music and sound effects all together and add in credits at the end. A final tape of the episode is made and sent to the network for broadcast. The network will air it on TV according to their air date schedule.
Now you have a better understanding how cartoons are made. So next time when you turn on the TV and see a cartoon, watch it and know that a team of highly talented and creative individuals worked together to bring that to your TV screen.Now you have