Wendy Jackson reports on new animation music, video and book releases.
Toon Tunes: 50 Favorite Classic Cartoon Theme Songs. Last month, Rhino Records released Toon Tunes, a long-awaited collection of classic cartoon theme songs from various TV shows. I had to have it, of course! Available on cassette and compact disc, the album features 50 songs from cartoons produced from the 1930s through the 1990s. Liner notes for the collection feature cartoon trivia, all written by children's pop culture music collector Greg Ehrbar. With a time span covering more than 50 years, the collection is sure to spark fond memories for several different generations of animation fans. Some of the lost classics include "Josie and the Pussycats," "The Bullwinkle Story," "Underdog" and "The Pink Panther." One of the songs on the album is one we are sure to be hearing a lot of this summer, when Disney releases their live-action remake of the classic series (George, George,) "George of the Jungle." Don't say I didn't warn you: listening to all of these classic cartoon jingles just may instill an urge to sit down in front of the TV set with a big bowl of sugar cereal!
The Simpsons: Songs in the Key of Springfield. Fans of The Simpsons will be pleased to learn of the release of a compilation of original songs, scores, background music and themes from the TV series. "Songs in the Key of Springfield: Original Music From the Television Series" is a 51-track album released by Rhino Records. Musical numbers such as "The Itchy and Scratchy Theme," "Flaming Moe's," and of course the "Main Title Theme," are intercut with voice tracks from the episodes in which the songs appeared. This is helpful, as it provides context to make sense of the songs and remember the corresponding episode. The Simpsons TV series, currently produced by Film Roman, is in its eighth season on Fox, and has won three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program.
Most of the music from The Simpsons is composed and arranged by Alf Clausen, who has been nominated for an Emmy 14 times. I asked Alf what the most striking difference between scoring music for animation versus live-action. He said, "We approach The Simpsons not as a cartoon, but as a drama where the characters are drawn. As such, the emotional content of the music is more closely tailored to a live action focus, rather than that of a typical cartoon style. The most striking difference between scoring this animated series and scoring live action is that, with the episodes edited so tightly because of the dialogue intensity, I as the composer don't have much time to set up and make a musical statement of any substantial length before having to move on to the next scene." He adds a comment about the pacing of animation music, "I joke with my orchestra that I can make you feel 5 different ways in 13 seconds. As funny as that statement is, the requirements of scoring this series make that situation very close to the truth." He adds, "Another interesting thing about animation is that the sky is the limit on story ideas, so that if the writers decide that Homer has a desire to be an astronaut, there are no budget problems with sets, wardrobe, etc. to stand in the way of it happening. Therefore, the music requirements can change radically from week to week, because of the great variety of stories generated by the writing staff. It's great fun!"
Songs In the Key of Springfield is available retail for $15.98 CD or $10.98 cassette, or can be ordered through RhinoDirect at (800) 432-0020.
ShockWave Studio: Designing Multimedia for the Web
For anyone looking to learn how to make Shockwave animations quickly, there is a new book designed to teach just that. Shockwave Studio: Designing Multimedia for the Web, is the second title in O'Reilly and Associates' Web Review Studio series (the first was GIF Animation Studio.) The author, Bob Schmitt, is creative director for the online magazine Web Review, and the foreword is written by Marc Canter, founder of Macromedia and creator of the program Director, the multimedia program used to create Shockwave files.
Although Director is a great application, it takes a lot of time to learn how to use it and its unique scripting language, "Lingo." This book offers a way around much of the detailed learning process by cutting straight to what you need to know to make short, compact animations for the Web. Much in the way that many Web designers learn HTML by borrowing source code from others' Web pages, Shockwave Studio encourages learning by examples. Sample Shockwave files such as animations, interactive pages, sound and even games, are explained in an easy to understand language, with step-by-step how-to instructions and techniques. The book also comes with a CD-ROM full of examples and source code, and a save-disabled version of Director to get started with (keep in mind that it is essential to have a usable version of Director in order to create finished product.)
Shockwave Studio: Designing Multimedia for the Web is available retail for $39.95 (US) from O'Reilly and Associates.
Espresso Depresso A new short film by Seattle-based animator David Donar presents a dark satire of today's "coffee culture." Espresso Depresso is a two-minute film parodying the various stereotypes of patrons in hip coffeehouses, from beatnicks to yuppie baby boomers. Produced digitally with various applications on a Macintosh-based system, the film has a unique 2-D style reminiscent of 50s style comic design, with a look atypical to computer animation, proving that computers can be an excellent tool for traditional animators to produce quality films without traditional equipment. David Donar, an animator at Headbone Interactive, has created several other short animated films, including Big Fat Dumb Stupid Baby, currently included in the Spike and Mike Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation.
Pee Wee's Playhouse
Last summer, MGM/UA Entertainment acquired the rights to the Pee Wee's Playhouse TV series from Herman World. They have since released an 8-volume set on home videos featuring 18 episodes. Scattered throughout the episodes are some fantastic clay animation sequences, created by the likes of Craig Bartlett and Nick Park, such as Penny, The Dinosaur Family, Ants, and the those unforgettable refrigerator scenes. The series also served as a showcase for classic cartoons from the 30s and 40s, presented by "The King of Cartoons." During its' 5 years on the air, Pee Wee's Playhouse was awarded a whopping 22 Emmy Awards for television excellence, as well as an Ollie at the American Children's Television Festival, several Parent's Choice Awards, and the Television Critics' Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming.
The Museum of Television and Radio recently presented a tribute to to the show as part of the 14th Annual William S. Paley Television Festival. The event took place at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood, with 9 members of the original creative team gathered together for a screening and discussion: Prudence Fenton (animation producer), Ric Heitzman, George Michael McGrath, Alison Mork (puppeteer), Gary Panter, John Paragon, Paul Ruebens (Pee Wee), Lynne Stewart (Miss Yvonne) and Wayne White. They discussed the origins of the show as a stage act for six years in the Groundlings Improv group, then the feature film Pee Wee's Big Adventure, and ultimately the TV series, commissioned by CBS at a generous $425,000. per episode budget. The look of the show, which was overseen by production designer Gary Panter, inspired a whole new style of kids programming, and many of the show's creators have continued on to develop innovative new programs for Nickelodeon (Kablam!), Children's Television Workshop (Sesame Street), and MTV(Liquid Television). Asked whether Pee Wee's Playhouse will ever go back into production, they all answered a unanimous "No." While this may discourage some fans, they can take heart in following the individual projects of the creative team, such as Paul Reuben's TV show coming out in 1998, and animation producer Prudence Fenton's upcoming projects for television and the World Wide Web (stay tuned to Animation World Magazine for details). Pee Wee's Playhouse giftset is available from MGM/UA Home Entertainment for $99.92, or as individual 2-episode tapes for $12.95 each.
Wendy Jackson is Associate Editor for Animation World Magazine.