The Creation of an Icon: MTV
How Did They Do That?
Now as to how the MTV spots got to look the way they did, I need to go back in history once again! Whenever we did a commercial that had live-action into which we were placing an animated character, we would have to rotoscope it. Sometimes, if there was no touching or cross over, we would get a single image of the scene as a photograph. At all optical houses at the time there was always an "art guy," someone who would set type, make kodaliths, mats, and these "projections." Our camera service, owned by John Rowohlt, had such a service: a man named Gerry Guidali. Kodak had come out with a new paper that was less expensive, lightweight and fast drying. We wondered what it would be like to get them into the series since it was better quality than Xerox but less expensive than photographic prints. I had used high quality photographic paper in my film Audition and the images took a long time to expose and dry. It would have been prohibitive to use in a campaign that would have hundreds of images and tight deadlines. We used an internegative with Bell and Howell perfs and devised a crosshair system to keep them in registry and voila! The photo-roto industry was born! Using the camera as a photographic enlarger, punching the actual paper and exposing large numbers of frames in sequence had a revolutionary effect on the business. Until very recently with the advent of computers, these photo-rotos made it possible to get precise roto-ing without having to have someone back-breakingly sit at an animation stand and trace by hand the live-action.
In the late '70s and early 80s there was a new interest in tinting photographs. Although color photography had long been perfected, the quaintness of turn of the century color tinting of black and white photos was refreshing. There was also an art movement coming out of Milan, Italy, Memphis Milano, with its squiggles and bright primary colors. It was fun to imagine the combination of influences and how a piece could turn out. So, that was my plan to get an even exposure on the live-action so that I could bring out contrast in the coloring. Using magic markers and grease pencils on the cels to give the photos a hand-colored quality (and rouge the stars' cheeks), I kept the MTV logo as a black outlined cartoon character of its own, using the Memphis Milano-type palette. The combination of the silliness of the logo gags (I was joined in animation by Vincent Cafarelli and Jan Svochak), the straight ahead constant motion of the color tinting on the live (the color was followed through by Cotty Kilbanks and Lisa Fernandez) and the brightly colored logo, made Dale Pon dub it, "Eye Candy (Kugel)."
That Famous Moon Shot
This all was noticed again by Fred/Alan who decided it was time to update MTV's "Top of the Hour." It had been about two and a half years that they'd been using the original funky slides; occasionally changing the live action blast off beginning, a change so subtle it was virtually unnoticed. Since the national campaign had become such a success and people started to refer to that as the "MTV look," they contracted us to create the moon landing in that same technique. Unfortunately, the NASA footage left a lot to be desired. It was shot on 16mm, very high contrast and in reality, pretty colorless. The takes took forever, unlike the snappy timing we could do with gags. Therefore, we were forced to piece it together from a couple of different moon walks.
Neil Lawrence and I cut a blow-up dupe of the footage together, timed to the MTV theme music. This time through there was also footage of Houston and tons of computer screens into which we could mat the logo. The palette had to change with the function of the live-action, plus the sky was too black, we needed to break it up with sparkling stars. The rest of the high-contrast, out-of-focus footage had to be delineated in a way that the action could be read and could be fun. Magenta was added to aqua as the color of the astronauts' uniforms. Orange seemed an apt color for the surface of the moon and we enhanced the rockets' red flare.
Today, A Lot Has Changed
The MTV campaign continued through 1985, past Buzz's departure for Hollywood and Vincent Cafarelli, Marilyn Kraemer and myself starting Buzzco Associates. Over the years there have been plenty of people who have taken credit for the beginning of MTV. As they say, success has many parents. Failures are orphans. In the 16 years since its birth, I have found it curious that my name has rarely been linked with these early efforts, even though I designed and directed all of the spots. It's similar in a way to the sporadic and fluky crediting of animators in the old, big studios where the name of the actual animator or sequence director was sometimes forgotten. Somehow information gets lost in the shuffle of other people's reminisces of their own roles. In this case I was allowed great individual artistic freedom which is unusual if one is employed by someone else and answering to a corporate client. My only initial caveat being that whatever I did be "brand-new and cutting-edge;" that included the artistic influences of the time reinterpreted in a new way through interests and visions that were personally mine.
How Did They Do That?