Chapter 14: The Terry-fying Challenge
I did have the studio remodeled, and had work areas rebuilt to create a better atmosphere. It was basically a huge barn, a scooped out former movie theater. All the workers - animators, inbetweeners, inkers and painters, were all lined up in rows in one huge mass. It was dark and dingy. CBS gave us money for a spruce up, to their standards. I had the place painted, and provided at least cubicles for the animators, and little rooms for the directors, so there would be a modicum of privacy. Not everyone was thrilled with that, but they soon got used to it, and I think they did like it.
I also personally designed a new Terrytoons logo. The original Terry-toons logo, with musical notes, was part of the studio's old cornball image, and one of the first things I did was to create a logo that would reflect a new image.
I think the design is self evident, a reference to the smiling, movie-screen- shaped Greek theater mask, with the word "Terrytoons" scribbled as its hair.
My overriding goal was to reinvent Terrytoons, to create a new reputation., to win the support of the disgruntled staff, to revise, where practical, films in production, without interrupting workflow, and mainly to rebuild the story department, bringing in fresh talent such as Jules Feiffer, and Al Kouzel, to inspire Tommy Morrison, Larz Bourne, Eli Bauer, and others already on the story staff; to venture into fresh territory. I spent most of my own time in there with them; it all had to start with story and characters.
When I was given the opportunity to become the creative leader of the reborn CBS-Terrytoons studio in 1956, the greatest lure were those 18 blank CinemaScope screens for 20th Century-Fox that had to be filled each year!
At first thought, it seemed to be the most wonderful opportunity and challenge any animator could wish for. I was at the cusp of my career as an animation director at that time, and combined my passion for making movie cartoons with an equal passion for pushing the technological envelope. Of course, I had no idea of what an explosion of animation technology would be coming 45 years later in our present age of 3D CGI. But then, CinemaScope seemed to be the current Big Thing.
It was only after I got into it that I realized the downside. Soon after I got started working with this format that I was faced with some depressing truths;
Number One, it became obvious that the real reason CBS bought Terrytoons was not because they wanted to convert that musty old studio into another UPA and raise the level of animation creativity... Not exactly. What they really wanted was the vast library of previously produced mediocre Terrytoons cartoons to fill their small screen programming.
So the goals of CBS, 20th Century-Fox, and Deitch were all at odds.
- 20th-Century Fox were the inventors of CinemScope and insisted that Terrytoons should henceforth all be produced in that format, and thus give their cartoons a box office edge, promote the CinemaScope format, and thus 20th Century-Fox.
- CBS wanted cartoons to be produced that could run on TV. So they insisted that all the essential action be within the central portion of the screen — within the limited TV field - and that the wide sides of the screen could be cut off without losing the essential action.
- I wanted to exploit the entire wide screen area to bring an added dimension to movie cartoons, and to widen their effect.
Obviously, these three divergent goals could not be successfully reconciled -- but it did not stop me from trying!