May
10
2016

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NUMBER EIGHT OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

If you were born somewhere in the 90’s or later, you might not be aware of a time where everyday people attached “works of art encased in metal” to the front of their belts and passed it off as fashion.  (I’m talking about “everyday people” as it relates to myself in the suburbs of Southern California where belt buckles are not the norm.)

Anyhow, the latest “cool thing” in my collection as it relates to my work is:

8. MY “GREASE” BELT BUCKLE

IMG_9850

I freely admit that I am a lover of musicals.  Even in Junior High and High School, when it was odd for a guy to love “The Sound Of Music”, I lived my life like a Broadway trope, singing wherever I could and dancing to the inner beats in my head.  It’s the reason I joined the church choir and the local community show-pop-jazz group, “The Steinbeck Singers Unlimited” (which is a whole other post in and of itself).

In fact, when I first moved down to Los Angeles, I made it a point to visit two distinct “Grease” sets: the drive-in theater (where I sang “Sandy” while swinging on the swing set) and Venice High School where the majority of the exteriors were filmed.

Venice High School

“Tell me more, tell me more… Where’d you get those fluorescent shorts?”

Now if you’re wondering how much “Grease” influenced Johnny Bravo, you need look no further than these two pictures:

Johnny Bravo Danny Zuko

Johnny definitely carried the Danny Zuko torch with his stereotypical macho personality which overshadows the fact that, at their core, they’re both loyal and good natured.

As you might imagine, it was an ongoing goal of mine to figure out how to do an homage to “Grease” in our show.  It took a while but, by the time we got to our fifth season, I finally figured out how to accomplish this goal.

My big idea was to have Little Suzy find Johnny’s old yearbook and discover that Johnny was “a ninety-eight pound weakling” in high school.  From there, the episode would be about how Johnny became buffed to win the hand of his high school crush through a flashback story set to 80’s music (not 50’s music because we didn’t want to make him that old!).  I had to do a number of rewrites to the outline because the network was worried that the episode was going to be too serious.  After all, the show was about high school heartbreak and unrequited love.  What’s not funny about that?

In the end, we got “Vince (Depeche Mode, Yaz, Erasure) Clarke” to compose the music, Richard (Psychedelic Furs) Butler to perform a short song for the transformation montage, and we even named Johnny’s crush, Sandy, who was played by Cat Cavadini.

FUN FACT: The Doo Wop Singers for the episode were Cat Cavadini, Tara Strong, and Lea Salonga.  Yes!  That’s right!  The Filipino Tony Award winning actress, Lea Salonga!  She did an amazing job harmonizing with Blossom and Bubbles as sort of the fourth “unofficial” Powerpuff Girl.  Did I mention that Tom (Biff Tanner) Wilson was also there?  (What?!  Mic drop!)  It truly was a pleasure to be at this record.  If you scroll back to my “Number 3 Cool Thing” you can see the cast photo.

So for all you folks whose names are signed “Boogedy boogedy boogedy boogedy Shooby doo-wop she-bop,” enjoy this cruise down memory lane.

And for those who know nothing about the subliminal “John Travolta” repeated over and over in the “Grease” soundtrack, ask me about it the next time you see me and we’ll talk…

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December
31
2015

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NUMBER SEVEN OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

I bought these items at the Longs Drugs store in Salinas, California back in the late 80’s:

7. “SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK” VIDEOS FROM 1987

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, watching Saturday morning cartoons, a phenomenon occurred on ABC every time the clock reached 7 minutes to the half hour.  Pray tell, “What was that phenomenon?” you ask.  Well let me tell you my ever-so-curious blog reader, that’s when a Schoolhouse Rock short would air between the regularly scheduled cartoons (along with other bumpers such as “Yuckmouth” and “Beans And Rice”).  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Google it. (You’ll be a better person for it.)

For me, the fun part was always trying to figure out which short they were going to surprise me with.  (I was always hoping for “Elbow Room” or “I’m Just A Bill.”)

Trying to flip the channel to these animated music videos was a common practice of mine until the mid-80’s when they slowly started swapping the shorts with bumpers featuring the hit boy band, Menudo.

By 1985, they put the final nail in the coffin and stopped showing Schoolhouse Rock altogether, replacing them with exercise shorts starring Mary Lou Retton.  I never thought about recording the SR shorts (because they were supposed to go on forever!), so when they stopped showing them, I, along with the rest of the world, were left with the memories of the songs stuck in our heads.  That is, until these cheesy (yet entertaining) videos were released on VHS!

Mind you, the original shorts were intact and brilliant in these collections.  The problem was, as the series musical director, Bob Dorough said, “The quality is poor and there is also some new, inappropriate and inferior material not written by me and more or-less sung by Cloris Leachman and some kids.”

So what does this have to do with “Johnny Bravo?”  Everything!  It was inspirational and educational on so many levels for a budding animation geek.  Besides the fact that I can recite the preamble of the Constitution, it helped me hone my timing skills and foster my love of music put to animation.

Naturally, I had to do an homage:

In this particular episode, Johnny Bravo learns how to pick up women from a more gentleman-ly man using tools such as manners and respect. Like in Schoolhouse Rock, the Sensitive Male educates Johnny through song and fun visual aids. For each lesson, we took inspiration from several SR staples such as “A Noun Is A Person, Place, Or Thing”…

…”Conjunction Junction”…

…and “Telephone Line.”

To make the show even more authentic, we hired the legendary jazz artist, Jack Sheldon, the original singer of “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just A Bill” to voice the Sensitive Male.

(BACK ROW: Donna (Casting Director) Grillo, Jack Sheldon, Collette (Assistant Director) Sunderman, Lou (Composer) Fagenson, Seth (Writer) MacFarlane  FRONT ROW: Bodie (Music Supervisor) Chandler, Kara (Line Producer) Vallow, Me

Here’s a pic from the 1996 recording with the rest of the cast in the sound booth at Hanna Barbera:

BACK ROW: Collette Sunderman, Seth MacFarlane, Cynthia McIntosh, Jamie Torcellini, Michelle Nicastro, Candi Milo  FRONT ROW: Jeff Bennett, Mae Whitman, Me, Butch Hartman, Donna Grillo

Unfortunately, (well, fortunately too) it wasn’t until 2002 that we were able to bring the team back together to record an episode for the final season of Johnny Bravo.  Entitled, “Traffic Troubles,” Johnny goes to Musical Comedy Traffic School in hopes of meeting some high kicking musical comedy chicks.  Instead, he gets a lesson a la Schoolhouse Rock from the Sensitive Male.

BACK ROW: Craig Bartlett, Robert Serda, Jeff Bennett, Grey Delisle, Seth MacFarlane, Diana Ritchey, Jack Sheldon  FRONT ROW: Lou Fagenson, David Faustino, Me, Collette Sunderman

It was the first time and only time we had Seth come back to the show, but this time as a voice artist instead of a writer.  We even reprised his song, “Manners,” but changed the lyrics to be about taking your driver’s license test.  The other fun thing about the episode was reconnecting with Jack Sheldon again.  To bring everything full circle, he even agreed to be the house band at our final cast party where he brought along his trio.

So, to go back to those videos, we watched them over and over as reference because the original cartoons weren’t readily available at the time (Curse you YouTube for being in your infancy!).  Today, the shows are on demand and I can watch whatever, whenever I want. Although, I often wonder, is my life really better that I don’t have to sit through Cloris Leachman singing and dancing?  Only time will tell…

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March
9
2015

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MEETING DON KNOTTS

As far as guest appearances on “Johnny Bravo” go, Donny Osmond has made the most, clocking in at five (six, if you want to count the JB video game). Interestingly enough, coming in at a close second, is the incomparable, Don Knotts!  (Change voice to the Count from Sesame Street.)  With three!  Three guest spots!  Ah ah ah!

Don Knotts’ first guest spot came at the climax of our Scooby Doo crossover.  We did a play on the traditional unmasking of the ghost, having the Scooby gang rip off mask after mask from the head of the culprit, only to reveal another villain from a past episode. We used the old Alex Toth and Iwao Takamoto models of Professor Hyde White (the very first Scooby villain), Harry The Hypnotist, Bigfoot, Joe Barbera (to which Johnny Bravo asked, “Who’s that?”), and the one and only Don Knotts!

FUN FACT: We also tried to use Phyllis Diller, but we ran into a problem getting the use of her likeness.

Don Knotts’ people?  They loved the idea.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to work with him, but it wasn’t the last he heard from us!

Fast forward five years.

It wasn’t until the 5th season rolled around that we revisited the idea of actually bringing Don Knotts into the studio to voice himself.  Actually, the idea came about when we tried to get Jon Bon Jovi in the studio and his people passed on the offer.  Lucky for us, we were able to rewrite the role for Don Knotts (because why not, right?).  Below are some rough design ideas by the talented Dan Haskett…

The episode was our fifth season opener, “Johnny Bravo Goes To Hollywood!”  Don Knotts played himself as part of the official “Hollywood Welcome Wagon” (which included Alec Baldwin, Jessica Biel, a hobbit, and a dinosaur).  The group greeted Johnny at the gates of Hollywood with a musical hybrid rap / song.

He couldn’t have been nicer.  At one point, we were sitting beside each other in the recording booth, waiting to hear playback, when I decided to make some small talk.  It went a little something like this:

Van: So Don, what do you usually do in your spare time?

Don:  Well, I watch a lot of movies.

Van: Oh yeah?  What theater do you usually go to?

Don:  Oh, I just stay home.  They just send them over to me.

Van: Oh. Cool.

(awkward pause)

Van:  So, is this the first rap you’ve ever done?

Don: Why, yes.  I think it is.

That’s about all I remember.  Not much, but it was enough for me to remember how surreal, yet cool, it was to have some random Don time.

LEFT FROM BACK: Collette Sunderman (director), Don Knotts, Diana Ritchey (producer), Craig Lewis (writer), Robert Serda (engineer), Karie Gima Pham (recording assistant) FRONT: Pete Oswald (PA), Megan Brain (Production Coordinator), me

Finally, we got to work with Don one last time when he voiced our “Cartoon Makeover” episode where he played himself again.  Teamed up with The Blue Falcon and “Weird” Al Yankovic, the three formed an ambush makeover team that made superficial improvements on established cartoons.

We wanted to have him come in with the rest of the cast…

FROM LEFT: Jeff (Johnny Bravo) Bennett, Collette Sunderman (director), Robert Serda (engineer), Tom Kenny, Diana Ritchey (producer), Gary (The Blue Falcon) Owens, and “Weird” Al Yankovic

…but unfortunately, Don wasn’t feeling too well that day, so we had to pick up his lines at a later date.  Again, he was completely professional, saying every line we threw at him.  One of my favorite ones was where we got to play out our “Three’s Company!” “Andy Griffith Show” meta-geekiness by having him say, “That kid could benefit from a few Furley Fife skills!  Hyah!”

So thank you Jon Bon Jovi, wherever you are.  Without you, we would have never have thought about using Don Knotts!

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January
13
2015

5
comments

NUMBER SIX OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

I’ve had the following item since I was a toddler (I can’t give an exact date, but I can say that it was well worn):

6. “IT’S A SMALL WORLD” ALBUM

My guess is that my parents bought the album for me after my first trip to Disneyland in 1973.

That’s me in middle with the golden vest.

If you’re just joining my blog, this list is about seemingly ordinary objects that have special significance to my career in animation.  So it goes without saying that this Disneyland album was one of the many inspirations for me as a child.  I listened to this album ad nauseam while staring at the simple, yet intricate, designs of Mary Blair on the cover.  It fed by cartoon obsession when it wasn’t Saturday morning.

The thing that I didn’t expect was that I would one day sing for the man who directed this amazing album: Paul Salamunovich.

As noted in “The Hollywood Reporter:”

He conducted choral music on the scores for more than 100 films and TV projects, including Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). His work also can be heard on Flatliners (1990), First Knight (1995), Air Force One (1997), A.I. Artificial Intelligence(2001), The Sum of All Fears (2002), Peter Pan (2003), Angels and Demons (2009), and on the NBC drama ER.

With the choir at St. Charles Borromeo, he recorded five albums of sacred music and was featured on Andy Williams’ 1969 recording of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Salamunovich sang on the soundtracks of such films as Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), How the West Was Won (1962) and The Trouble With Angels (1966). His musical contributions spanned the spectrum from classical, pop, and jazz to folk and new age music with such diverse artists as Stan KentonLiz Story and Cirque de Soleil.

Salamunovich guest-conducted throughout the world and prepared choirs for such notable conductors as Igor StravinskyRobert ShawBruno WalterEugene OrmandyAlfred WallensteinGeorg SoltiZubin MehtaCarlo Maria GiuliniValery Gergiev, and Simon Rattle.

But even though he was a world renowned maestro, I was first introduced to him as Paul Salamunovich: choir director for Loyola Marymount University.

1990 LMU Yearbook Photo, 2nd row, 2nd to last

For me, animation is all about timing.  Having said that, music is an integral part of understanding timing.  You need to understand the life that’s in music if you want to bring life into any character.  It’s like finding the heart in a performance.  It’s an intangible that you need to experience in order to find.  Animation is often about taking your drawings and creating moments.  There’s a certain rhythm to life and, if you miss it, you miss the moment.  In fact, Chuck Jones often used musical bar sheets to time out his animation. 

Through studying music under Paul, I also learned the subtleties of interpretation.  In 1990, we were one of four men’s choirs invited from the United States to participate in The Pacific International Festival of Male Choirs in Vancouver.  It was an international festival where some of the greatest choirs in the world gathered to perform.       

I’m in the 3rd row, fourth from the left.

Before we went onstage, we sat backstage and listened to another choir perform “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic.”  It was the exact same arrangement we were planning to perform, but you could tell there was a definite difference in interpretation of the text.  The tempo was slightly slower, the intensity of the singers wasn’t evident, and the richness in their sound wasn’t very deep.  I don’t say that to be pompous (God knows that our choir wasn’t great because of my singing), but because Paul knew how to interpret music on a page.  

Battle Hymn Of The Republic (You can click on the link and listen to our recording.) 

*Credit also has to be given to our pianist, the legendary Bob Hunter.  The above arrangement was so complicated that the other choir had to bring in a second accompanist to handle it.  Bob did it all by himself.

Through the LMU choirs, I learned how to listen.  I mean really listen. There’s subtleties in balance, tone, and pitch that I never would have discovered had it not been for my choral training.  By showing me when to breathe and why, how to phrase a sentence, how to dramatically tell a story, and the importance of balance in a group’s dynamics, Paul taught me how to go from being a kid to becoming a world class performer.

Obviously, it took some time getting there.

So the next time you’re on “It’s A Small World” at Disneyland, rather than sit there and complain about how the song keeps going on and on, just shut up, look at all the beautiful designs, and listen.  Once you appreciate all the countless hours of work and talent that went into making the ride, you can leave and work out your issues at The Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure because that thing is awesome!  (Just make sure you get a Fast Pass early.)

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June
18
2014

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NUMBER FIVE OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

With the help of Star With (the Xerox Department Supervisor) and Allison Leopold (the Ink and Paint Department Supervisor) , I was able to create my next favorite cool thing…

5. AUTOGRAPHED SCOOBY DOO ANIMATION CEL

Working at Hanna Barbera in the pre-digital world was like a dream come true because they had all their original artwork onsite!  I created the piece above by using the original model sheets, xeroxing them onto a cel, and borrowing a paint station in the Ink and Paint department (after hours of course!).  I later got it signed by Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, Don Messick (the voice of Scooby Doo), and Casey Kasem (the voice of Shaggy).  It’s basically a stock pose of Scooby and Shaggy superimposed in front of an image of the Mystery Machine.

Yes, the Mystery Machine.  Mystery Inc.’s signature mode of transportation.

Even Batman loves the Mystery Machine!

Animation Art had a real life Mystery Machine (which was awesome!) custom made for signings and appearances to draw crowds.  There was a bit of grumbling from some of the artists when they unveiled it because it wasn’t made from a vintage Ford, VW, or Corvair van, but I didn’t care.  It was the Mystery Machine!  It was so cool driving in to work every day and seeing it in the parking lot.  So when we were producing interstitials for “Johnny Bravo” I, of course, asked to do my interview inside, where else…?

One time, back in 1997, Butch Hartman, Seth MacFarlane, and I got permission to bring the van out to Glendale for a school visit with Mae Whitman and her elementary school class.

The interesting part was, when we pulled into the school parking lot, we were followed in by a police car! (You would think they would be in front of us as escorts, but fat chance there!)  As a hoard of kids ran up to the chain link fence to see all the commotion, we started to stress out about the ramifications of getting a ticket in a vehicle we didn’t own.  When the officers pulled up beside us, I asked, “Is there anything wrong, officers?”  One of them nonchalantly answered, “Nah.  We just wanted to see if Shaggy was in the back.”

Seth and I grabbing some Carl’s Jr. after the school visit.

In 2003, I was able to use the Mystery Machine one last time during our wrap party for the fifth season.  We had them drive the van out to Loyola Marymount University where we parked it out in the middle of their Sunken Gardens and used it as a photo op.

“Seriously.  Why rent a photo booth?”

The Mystery Machine is a definite crowd pleaser and Warner Brothers often uses it when there’s something eventful going on.  For example, here’s a pic of Jay Bastian (the head of development for Warner Brothers) and I during the unveiling of the Hanna Barbera relief statue at the Academy Of Television Arts and Sciences in 2005.

So it’s fair to say that I’ve taken my share of pictures with Mystery Inc.’s mobile of choice.

There are several vans now.  Most of them created specifically for the live action movies.  One of them is on permanent display at the Warner Brothers Studio Lot so now everyone can take a picture with it!  Scooby Doo is now a Warner Brothers property and is a part of their lineup as you can see by the WB mural on the corner of Olive and Pass Avenue.


Whatever your feelings are about that, it’s nice to know that he’s being well taken care of after all these years.  You can especially thank them for this swanky DVD box set…

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March
27
2014

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APRIL KICKSTARTER

Hi everyone!  I’m interrupting my “50 Cool Things” posts to let you know, after years of incubation and months of planning, I’m officially doing a Kickstarter campaign from Monday, March 31 – Wednesday, April 30, 2014 to launch my latest project:

I’m producing it alongside a group of industry veterans who bring a whole lot of knowledge and experience to the table.  One of the main people who first approached me to develop this video game is Vince Clarke.

Vince was named the most popular musician of the 80’s by Classic Pop Magazine for his work as the founder of Depeche Mode, Yaz, and Erasure.  He recently released “Snow Globe,” a well-received Christmas album last year with Erasure. Below is the video for the first single, “Gaudete.”  (I know Christmas is over, but wouldn’t it be nice if it were year round.)

Vince and I first worked together on an 80’s flashback episode of Johnny Bravo called, “The Time Of My Life.”  In the episode, we wrote a song that was performed by Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs. You can hear the song on this link…

Work It Out by Vince Clarke (with Richard Butler vocals)

Vince is going to be doing all the music for our upcoming game, so you can be sure that it’s going to be the most dancingest game EVER!

Another person who is joining me on this crazy ride is an old college buddy of mine, Scott Eaton.  Scott is a key person in the production and development of this game because he brings the know-how and experience of a real game developer having worked on two of the biggest game franchises in history: “Medal Of Honor” and “Call Of Duty.”

“Okay, your pitch sounds interesting, but…whaaaaat…?”

Oh yeah.  It would probably help if you knew what the game was about…

In DANCERS OF WAR, you play a hardcore marine in a world where dance has been weaponized with the invention of a leotard/exoskeleton called the Exo-Tard 3000.  The problem is, even though you know twenty-seven ways to kill a man with a toothpick, your dance skills are weak and awkward.  Your mission is to dance battle past a population of zombie-like dance soldiers to free a group of kidnapped dance masters.  With each dance soldier you defeat, you deactivate their mind control device and absorb their “Wow Factor” which strengthens your moves.  With each dance master you save, you collect a new piece of armor filled with all-new dance moves to add to your skill set.  Once you’re fully armored, a final battle awaits you with the renegade dance master and his Voltron-ic Dancing Machine.

We plan on creating this satirical, third person action video game for the PC (and hopefully beyond!).

Honestly, we’re taking a leap of faith here.  We’re counting on people who love my brand of storytelling and Vince’s brand of music-making to follow and support us as we develop a video game!  But we believe that the game is worth making and we’re dedicated to finding the audience to create this movement.

This is where you come in.

Just click on the following, https://www.facebook.com/dancersofwar, and when you get to the Facebook event hit the blue button that says “Join.”  That way, you’ll be sure to get a message from us when we launch. We promise not to spam you!  Plus, while you’re there, you can learn more about the project and keep up to date on the latest news from the front lines.

We need people to know about this campaign and spread the word. We need to build a following and prove to developers that everything out there doesn’t need to be familiar and formulaic to be embraced by audiences.

So whether you’re in Malaysia (the heaviest users of social network sites according to Time magazine), the Philippines (Salamat!), Poland (interestingly, I get a lot of fan mail from there) or any other country that uses the word “football” to describe soccer, we want to hear from you.  Log on to Kickstarter on March 30th and help us go global!

And please share this with as many people as you can.  Especially those who you think would love to see this game brought into existence.

I look forward to connecting with you!  :-)

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January
6
2014

2
comments

NUMBER FOUR OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

I got the following at the Universal Amphitheater, June 5, 1992…

4. SPINAL TAP EARPLUGS

David St. Hubbins: It’s such a fine line between stupid, and uh… 
Nigel Tufnel: Clever. 
David St. Hubbins: Yeah, and clever. 

I was there with my friends from college to see the world’s loudest Rock N’ Roll Band on their “Break Like The Wind” Tour.  I remember sitting in the balcony (We were in college!  They were the best seats we could afford!) and watching Rob Reiner walk in from the back of the audience as all heads turned towards him and chanted, “Meathead, Meathead, Meathead…”  My favorite moment (among many) came when Nigel was introducing the next song and yelled into the microphone, “The sun never sweats!  Look it up!”

I’ve been a huge fan of Spinal Tap for a long time.  Like most guys, I like to quote the movie at random times (“The numbers all go to eleven.”) and get an instant chuckle followed by a series of other quotes from the other guys I’m with (“Eleven.  Exactly.  One louder.” “You can’t really dust for vomit.” “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”).  So you can imagine my excitement when I got to work with Michael McKean and he recorded the following for my answering machine…

David St. Hubbins Recording

It was super cool because his monologue randomly came to him without any prompts.  But as awesome as it was to get him to record a bit for my answering machine, there was more to the story than that. Michael was actually at the studios to record the part of King Raymond for my “What A Cartoon” short, “Jungleboy.”  Below is the “Awkward Family Photo” cast recording we did after the session.

Back Row: Kris Zimmerman (Recording Director), Michael McKean, Maurice LaMarche  Front Row: April Winchell, Cody Dorkin, Candi Milo, Me, Roger Rose

Prior to this recording, I had done “Johnny Bravo And The Amazon Women” with one David L. Lander (A.K.A Squiggy from “Laverne And Shirley”).  At that time, David was talking to me about a CD-ROM that he and Michael had been working on and like a fanboy, I told him, “You know, if you ever do anything with Lenny and Squiggy, I would be more than happy to do anything just to be a part of it!”

Apparently, the boys got the rights back to their characters after “Laverne And Shirley” ended and never did anything with them except for this 1979 live comedy album…

FUN FACT: On the above album, “Lenny And Squiggy present Lenny And The Squigtones,” the guitar work was done by Christopher Guest who was credited as Nigel Tufnel, the character he played on “This Is Spinal Tap.”

In that initial meeting with David and Michael, my then writing partner, Jason Rote, and I pitched them an animated idea for a “Lenny & Squiggy” movie.

My office at Hanna Barbera circa 1996.  From left: Jason Rote (writer), David L. Lander, Michael McKean, Me, Miriam Goodman (clean-up artist)

Both of them were on board to do something with the idea and still are today.  Unfortunately, because our schedules have been so all over the place, the project has somehow taken a back seat to other things going on in our lives.  But once they agreed and trusted us with the characters, we had several meetings where David and Michael basically taught us everything there is to know about Lenny and Squiggy and schooled us on the art of being stupid.  It was like a master class in improv (which makes me so glad we recorded those sessions!). Over the years, I’ve had other story sessions with the two of them, we’ve developed a script, we’ve gone into a recording studio and laid tracks, and even got character designs and an animatic.  It’s been a long process, but we hope to someday take it out and get it made.

The neatest thing about this project has been the friendship I’ve struck up with David.  As many of you may know, David has multiple sclerosis and has been a spokesperson and advocate for finding a cure since he went public with the fact in 1999.  Knowing what I know, I see him as a remarkable and strong human being who can’t help but create comedy amidst his situation.

In my time with him, he’s shared some amazing stories about his time as a kid growing up on the east coast and watching live theater in it’s hey-day, not to mention his time with The Credibility Gap.  For me, it’s fun to hear him talk about baseball because, if I remember correctly, he said that if he never went into acting, he would’ve loved to be a baseball announcer (which he got to do in “A League Of Their Own.”).  So it made me happy to know that, for a while, he was a scout for the Anaheim Angels and later the Seattle Mariners.

I’d like to end with an excerpt from the rarely seen press kit for David and Michael’s 1979 album.  I think the two gave some great insight into their characters when Lenny wrote about Squiggy…

And Squiggy wrote about Lenny…

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December
15
2013

2
comments

NUMBER THREE OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

I got the following fan-created item on May 13, 2000 at the Museum Of TV and Radio (now known as the Paley Center For Media) in Beverly Hills.  A few folks (super fans of the show we were about to see) were handing them out to everybody as mementos from the event.  I’ve taped it up in every office and cubicle I’ve ever inhabited, and now I post it for you.

3. MCKINLEY HIGH SCHOOL BUMPER STICKER

For those of you who think that William McKinley High is the fictitious school from the television show “Glee” you’re correct.  But not for the purposes of this blog.  McKinley is the name of the high school in “Glee,” but their mascot is the Titans and their colors are red and black (as opposed to the green viking).  If you think McKinley is the school from “The Wonder Years” then congratulations!  You’re also sort of right.  Except my bumper sticker is actually from another show.  This bumper sticker is a reference to the amazingly amazing television show, “Freaks and Geeks!”  By the way, if you’re wondering, “What’s the deal with all the McKinleys?”, you’re not alone. According to Judd Apatow, William McKinley’s name “was the only president’s name that was legally clearable.”  

I’ve been friends with the fun folks at The Paley Center since 1997 when I drew pictures for kids at their International Children’s Festival. Because of that, I’ve had the privilege of attending a number of sold out events, one of which was a special screening for the public (along with the cast and crew) of the final six unaired episodes featuring a live Q & A with both Paul Feig and Judd Apatow.

FUN FACT: The special screening was one of the only times they ever publicly showed the episode, “Noshing and Moshing” using the song “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by Neil Young.  For me, that song was used so well in the show, that when the episode finally made it to air in the summer, it was jolting (not to mention disappointing) when the Dean Martin’s song, “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,”  played instead of Neil Young.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the licensing rights to the song which is too bad because it made that particular scene really poignant and memorable.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “So how does ‘Freaks and Geeks’ apply to Van’s career in animation?”  Or you’re thinking, “I could go for some Cheez-It’s right about now.”  Either way, I’ll tell you (as you enjoy your mid-blog snack).

It was during Judd and Paul’s panel, that I was inspired to pursue a career as a writer.  I don’t remember exactly what they said, but I remember how they made me feel (exactly like the Maya Angelou quote!).  They made me want to write about my life experiences in a way that touched audiences the way they did for me.  It wasn’t that long before I started on the Christmas Special of Johnny Bravo and the subsequent fifth season.  Not only did I write two Johnny Bravo holiday specials (my first full-on scripts), but I also ended up writing almost half the episodes of the 13 episode order.  After that, I wrote several full length features (both animated and live-action) not to mention several other television scripts.  And I haven’t stopped since.

And because I was such a fan, I had to spread the gospel of F & G. Since I had all the episodes recorded on VHS tapes, I brought the uninitiated into the fold by having weekly screenings at Cartoon Network.  On top of that, I was still casting and recording episodes during these marathon screenings so, of course, I had to get some of the actors from the show to do voices!

First off, was Samm Levine in the episode, “Back From The Future.”

Back Row: Pete Oswald (Production Assistant now working character designer), Danny Strong (actor, Buffy The Vampire Slayer), Samm Levine (actor, Neal Schweiber), Jeff Bennett (actor, Johnny Bravo), Amanda Foreman (actor, Felicity), Craig Bartlett (creator, Hey Arnold!)  

Front Row: Robert Serda (recording engineer), Collette Sunderman (VO Director), me, Dee Bradley Baker (actor, Perry The Platypus) 

The next actor I got to work with was Biff Tanner himself, Tom Wilson!

Back Row: Jeff Bennett (actor, Johnny Bravo), Tom Wilson (actor, Coach Fredricks), Collette Sunderman (VO Director), Catherine Cavadini (actor, Blossom on Powerpuff Girls), Tara Strong (actor, Bubbles on Powerpuff Girls), Lea Salonga (actor, Miss Saigon), Lou Fagenson (composer)

Front Row: Pete Oswald (Character Designer), me, Diana Ritchey (Line Producer)

Both actors were a joy to work with and it was fun “Freaks And Geeks” bonding with them.  It was Tom that told me that they did some commentaries playing their actual characters for the upcoming DVD release.  If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s pretty awesome.

Finally, as a treat, before I end this post, I thought I’d elaborate on my number 3 “cool thing” and share a few of the items that went up on Ebay after the show was cancelled.  I didn’t have the money to buy them, but I’m positive that these items were bought by true fans who gave them a good home.

So, to reiterate, I don’t have any of the actual items, but I downloaded the low-res facsimiles of them from Ebay back in 2000.  Now, without further adieu, I give you…

3.1. THE LEISURE SUIT

Does it look familiar?  Maybe if you saw it in context…

BILL:  I heard my mom say to her girlfriend, “Any guy with feathered hair is foxy.”

3.2 CINDY SANDER’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

BILL:  Sam, don’t worry. It’s just a game. I mean, I’m good at Mouse Trap, and you’re really good at Kerplunk.
SAM:  No. No no no, it’s not that. It’s just this thing with Cindy. She’s kind of, she’s kind of boring.
BILL:  Really?
SAM:  It’s weird hanging out with her friends. And, I mean, all she ever wants to do is make out and stuff.
NEAL:  I’d kill to be that bored. 

3.3 SHIA LABEOUF’S VIKING MASCOT COSTUME

If you were the one that bought this item on Ebay, please write in and let me know.  I’m just curious because I wouldn’t even begin to know what to do with it.

3.4 TWO PICS FROM THE FAMILY ROOM

In the words of Neal Schweiber, “Friday night – always a good night for some Sabbath.”  So until next time, shine on you crazy diamonds!

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November
26
2013

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COVER ME

“The new alumni magazine is here!  The new alumni magazine is here!” (dialogue read a la Navin Johnson in “The Jerk” )

“Doink!”

In every alumni magazine of every major university in the nation, there’s a section that highlights each graduating class and how they’re contributing to the world.  It shows who’s getting married, who’s having babies, who’s cured cancer, etc.  From my calculations, roughly 1500 students graduate from LMU every year, yet in that section of the magazine there are only about three or four (if that) alumni from every graduating class that write in to let everyone know how they’re doing.

A couple of months ago I got an email from the fine folks at Loyola Marymount University (my alma mater) to see if I was interested in writing an article for the “First Person:” portion of their alumni magazine.  The only guidelines were that the story needed to be 750 words long and it needed to be personal.  What intrigued me about their proposition was that they weren’t looking for a propaganda piece (what alumni magazines are inherently supposed to do) or fishing for compliments.  They wanted an honest POV piece from one of their alumni.

With our alumni barbecue coming up that month, it really got me thinking about my life’s journey.  It was our 20th reunion and I was bummed to find out that a lot of my friends chose to skip it this decade. (I know, right?)  For some it was because they had something happening that weekend and/or the distance was too far for them to travel.  For others, it just wasn’t their thing.  Still, I imagine if they were in a rough season of life, the marker in time could have highlighted any number of disappointments they’ve experienced since graduation. After all, we’re still coming out of a recession where jobs aren’t low hanging fruit and bankruptcy isn’t out of the question.  I know a number of people who never got married, or are divorced and raising kids on their own, or even caring for their family paycheck to paycheck.  So I thought, why not get my grief on (to put it mildly) and address that?

So I dug back into my past and pulled out a snippet of my life to share with others who were going through a tough time in their lives.  I wanted them to know that we’ve all gone through some valleys since that initial launch called graduation.  And just because I’m on the cover, the moment is still only a snippet of my life.  At the end of the day, that cover and $2.95 still only gets me a cup of coffee (or a chai latte at Starbucks).

In case you’re not an alum, I’ve reprinted the text of the article below for your reading pleasure…

Van Partible has a success story that’s almost too successful to be true: college student creates animation for senior thesis, graduates, takes a job to get by doing daycare, then becomes golden when his professor shows the idea to friend at Hanna-Barbera. Partible’s idea became the Cartoon Network’s hit “Johnny Bravo.” Imagine our surprise when, after we asked if he’d write about the experience, he said he wanted to write about failure.

As with television, I often look at my life in terms of seasons. Sometimes my life feels like an endless summer, other times a colorless winter. Regardless, each season is time-limited. Unfortunately, in real life, it’s hard to know beforehand when one season ends or another is beginning. It truly is a journey of faith.

In 1997, after graduating LMU, I sold my senior animation thesis project, called “Mess O’ Blues,” and developed it into the cartoon series “Johnny Bravo” for the Cartoon Network. It was an amazing first season, but I was taken by surprise when the company fired me amidst the Warner Brothers takeover of Turner Broadcasting. The show continued on for several more seasons, but with a completely different crew from Warner Brothers. I can only compare it to being forced to give up your baby for adoption and watching it go to parents who were making choices you didn’t agree with.

Because of the nature of the business, the next production I worked on only lasted for three years, and in 2000, I found myself on the job market again. I was still only seven years into my career, but this time, I let despair take over. After months of pounding the pavement, I was faced with the reality of a non-existent income and no job prospects on the horizon. Some hard talks ensued with my wife, and I reconciled with the fact that I needed to expand my job search outside of the entertainment industry.

After doing an inventory of my marketable skills, I focused on the fact that I could write and that I was good with people. With that as a starting point, I began applying for jobs at hotels, where I felt my people skills would be best utilized. Plus, I would meet interesting characters from all over the world and write about them. I ended up getting a front desk job at a nearby Marriott.

I was relieved to have a job again, but inside, I felt a deep sense of shame and failure. I wasn’t really prepared to go from earning a six-figure salary to minimum wage. My lowest moment came when my boss brought me into his office and told me, “Guess what? I know you’ve only been here a month, but I’m happy to say that you’ve earned yourself a twenty-five cent raise!” Then he pulled his arm back like he was working a slot machine and said, “Cha-ching!”

When faced with adversity, I often ask myself, “If I believe I’m exactly where God wants me to be, then what is He trying to teach me from this experience?”

When I was let go from “Johnny Bravo,” I felt like a victim. I was told that it had a lot to do with the fact that I lacked the managerial skills needed to handle a multi-million dollar production. I saw things differently and took the news more personally. Interestingly enough, the orientation program at the Marriott had a course in managerial training. It was there that I discovered the holes in my thinking and learned a multitude of skills that I still use today. The course was a huge confidence builder, because it illuminated the fact that my being fired had more to do with my inexperience than it had to do with my talent.

Six weeks into my hotel stint, I mustered up enough courage to schedule a pitch meeting at the Cartoon Network with the same people who had let me go.  It was a pitch for a new show idea, but the meeting was a huge risk because some awkwardness remained between us, and it still felt fresh. The pitch was one of the most difficult that I had ever made, but it was also the most rewarding because something about my presentation in that meeting led them to offer me the job of producing another season of “Johnny Bravo.”

I turned in my two weeks’ notice at the Marriott later the same day.

My current manager once told me that, in order to have a successful career in Hollywood, the No. 1 thing you need is the ability to cope with despair. It’s a tough lesson to learn because being successful means putting yourself out there and risking failure.

But even with the shame that comes with failure, I’ve gained a greater gift of competence and confidence that I could never take for granted.  The lessons I’ve learned have worked well for me in the seasons since this story, and I know that they will in the seasons to come.

FUN FACT: For those of you who didn’t see the video on the LMU Website (Spoiler Alert!) the pompadour wasn’t my real hair.  It was a wig. (wah wah wah)  My hair fashion was coiffed to perfection by stylist, Trish Gossett (it wasn’t as big as it is on the cover, as you can see from the picture above).  And in case you were wondering, the cover photo was taken by the university photographer, Jon Rou and photoshopped by DJ Stout, a major, award-winning, internationally-renowned designer in Austin, Texas.

 

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November
18
2013

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NUMBER TWO OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

This past weekend, I put a call out to a few of my friends to see if they had any old television sets or computers lying around their house, waiting to be recycled.  Not that I was on a recycling binge, but I needed something for a particular soiree I was going to that night. Luckily, my friend, Ryan, happened to have a computer tower that he had been meaning to get rid of for a few months now…

2. THE HP PAVILION MEDIA CENTER

Now this may look like an ordinary computer tower, but it was actually my ticket to pure unadulterated aggression: The 8th Annual Titmouse Smashing Party!

What is a Smashing Party you ask?  Well, according to the invitation, “We supply the tools, you supply the items to smash.”  The event has been going on since about 2004 and I always had something going on that kept me from coming.  But this weekend was different.  This weekend I was going to see what all the hubbub was about.

Besides food trucks, live bands, and free booze, the activities included “Smashing stuff (like TV monitors, computers, pictures, vases, plates, statues, and things you hate) with one or more of the following implements: hammer, baseball bat, axe, brick, golf club, lead pipe, 2 X 4, bowling ball, and sledgehammer.”

I brought the HP Pavilion Media Center.

What you can’t see, are all the people in the bleachers sitting beside the cage and the crowd of people watching on the ground, surrounding the cage behind the yellow tape.  It was like a scene out of “Fight Club.”  People were cheering, holding up their phones, capturing the moments.  Before I went in, people were smashing old tube TV’s (they made the biggest explosions), toilets, and one guy even smashed a Teddy Ruxpin doll.  The crowd cheered like crazy with every hit (fueled by the fact that the majority of them were enebriated).

It was my first time out, so I was kind of nervous going in.  First of all, you have to gear up with hand and face protection.  I went for the safety goggles and full “Dexter’s Lab” gloves.  When you first enter, there’s a bucket filled with a number of instruments for smashing.  I bypassed the samurai sword and settled on the hybrid ax/sledgehammer.  I thought about using the bowling ball, but knew that I needed to take out more aggression.

I figured I wasn’t going to get a huge crowd of people watching me since I had a simple computer tower (no expectant crowd-pleasing explosion).  But as I walked in the cage, the founder of Titmouse, Chris Prynoski, went on his bullhorn to make an announcement to the crowd. As the crowd thickened, I waited my turn to hear what Chris had to say.  At one point during his call for people’s attention, he turned to look inside the cage and saw me.  I playfully waved over to him and, to my surprise, he yelled into the bullhorn, “Hey everybody!  Let’s watch Van Partible smash something!”

The crowd cheered and, with all eyes on me… it was on.

My years of untapped anger unleashed itself for a little under a minute until I swung my last swing and walked off, thug appeal intact.  And just so you know, it felt REALLLY COOL!   There’s something about holding an ax/sledgehammer with a crowd cheering you on that feels kind of… “demented and sad, but social.”  (Big thanks to my manger, Schuyler Evans, for capturing my inner “Rick Grimes” on camera.)  

Just so you know, it wasn’t all smashing (although, it was smashing in a Thurston Howell III kind of way).  There was also a lot of waiting. There were about a thousand people there (which you can’t really tell from my pictures) and I had to wait about an hour and a half to smash my tower.  Some people waited over two hours!  But I got to meet some really cool people in line so the time went by pretty fast.  Luckily, the party lasted from 5 to 11:oo that night so just about everybody got to smash something.  Afterwards, I got to catch up with old friends from all the different studios.  A fun run-in I had was with Maxwell Atoms (creator of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy) whose Kickstarter campaign literally ended that morning!  He is now in the process of creating a new web series about a reimagined puppet apocalypse called “Dead Meat!”  Definite cause for celebration!

So now I’m looking forward to next year when I plan on bringing a tube TV.  Maybe then I’ll use the bowling ball.  But only for starters.  I really liked the feeling of using the ax/sledgehammer.

 I need to go watch some “Leave It To Beaver” now.

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