FILMATION ASSOCIATESPrimary Product: TV Animation
Producing From: 1963-88
Noted For: Fat Albert, He-Man, Zorro and much more
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Television animation has been cheap and cheesy since the very beginning. Crusader Rabbit, where animation was limited almost to the point of absolute stasis, was only the beginning. Pow Wow the Indian Boy, DoDo the Kid from Outer Space, Col. Bleep, etc. had their
charms, but lushness of production values wasn't one of them. Clutch Cargo and Space Angel went so far as to superimpose live-action human lips on still drawings, so speech could be simulated without being animated at all. It got to the point where Hanna-Barbera, whose "planned animation" (by which, for example, practically every character walked with the same gait so animators didn't have to waste time and therefore money by being creative about it) was almost considered "full animation" by TV standards.
Then came Filmation Associates, which explored new depth of meaning in the word "inexpensive". Comics and cartoon writer Buzz Dixon (Buck Rogers, NFL Superpro) once described some of their cost-cutting measures. These included extensive use of "stock shots", which means re-using the same sequences over and over with different dialog, to the point where some episodes contained no new animation at all. In the mid-1970s, for example, they rotoscoped a live actor playing Tarzan, because that was cheaper than animating from scratch — then used the same footage repeatedly for other characters, simply drawing new costumes on them.
Filmation started in 1963, when animaters Lou Scheimer and Hal Sutherland, who had first worked together on Larry Harmon's Bozo the Clown shorts, and then on their own on Rod Rocket, got together with former radio man Norm Prescott, to work on an animated feature, Journey Back to Oz (based loosely on L. Frank Baum's second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz and only tenuously related). It was beset by financial and other delays, and didn't come out (as a TV special) until 1974. Meanwhile, they busied themselves with TV commercials.
But after a couple of years, with paying work scarce, the three were hanging around a mostly-empty office, hounded by creditors, and it looked like the studio was on its last legs. Then the phone rang, and the caller identified himself as Superman. "Are you calling from a phone booth?" quipped Scheimer, who had answered it.
Actually, it was DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger, who sometimes introduced himself that way. (He handled the character's comic books.) He wanted to visit the studio with the idea of hiring them to produce the first new Superman animation since the 1940s Fleischer/Famous Studios series. There was only one problem — with nobody working there, the studio exuded an aura of failure. So the three quickly rounded up as many friends as they could, to fill the place up and look busy. It worked, and the Filmation-produced New Adventures of Superman debuted on CBS Saturday, September 10, 1966.
That was the making of Filmation. Other DC characters, such as Aquaman and Batman, followed. The licensing went farther afield, turning movies like Journey to the Center of the Earth and Fantastic Voyage into Saturday morning animated series. Possibly its most complicated licensing deal was Famous Funnies (no relation), which dealt with The Chicago Tribune Syndicate for Broom-Hilda (and others), United Feature Syndicate for Nancy (and others) and Newspaper Enterprise Association for Alley Oop. By 1968, Archie, possibly its biggest licensed product over the years, came along — and a couple of years later, it was joined by another Archie Comics character, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Then came original shows, such as Groovie Goolies and Mission: Magic.
During the 1970s, Filmation branched out into live-action, such as the studio-owned Ghost Busters and the licensed Shazam/Isis Hour. But it never did abandon cartoons, and by the end of the decade was mostly done with its live-action work. During the late '70s and '80s, it produced animation like Sport Billy and Blackstar.
As technology progressed, it became possible to produce more lavish animation on television budgets, and Filmation's product began to look as shabby, by comparison, as it really was. The studio went into decline, and finally closed its doors in 1988. Its final production was Bravestarr.
Filmation Associates articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia: