Reviews can often tend to turn into confessionals. As reviewers, we get offered a lot of books to read and I have to admit I was somewhat reluctant to take this one on, mostly because the very few TV animated stories I’d seen of Filmation when young, I remember as having limited stock-footage animation and wasn’t particularly keen on. Looking at their output in this book, I doubt we British saw a fraction of their output over here, mostly because by then I was an adult anyway.
However, the opening of this book, ‘Creating The Filmation Generation’, is more like an autobiography of Lou Scheimer and how he rose up from a poor background to being trained at the Carnegie Tech, getting a job as a background artist in animation to actually being a major co-owner of his own company. What comes out of this is the intense interesting detail of life in the 1950s up to the 70s of what was going on at the time, not to mention the people Scheimer met, from Andy Warhol to Chuck Jones, let alone those he employed for various series. This section alone had me hooked.
I understood from the start that the limited animation and re-cycled material that Filmation used was to keep costs under control and for a massive turnaround. Hanna-Barbara did a similar thing with only animating the heads instead of the whole scene when they turned to TV so it wasn’t limited to one company. What was the biggest turning point for Filmation was their domination of American TV Saturday mornings and later, with ‘He-Man’, the weekdays as well.
If you flick through this book and think that only a couple pages were devoted to any particular series, check again. The ‘Star Trek Animated Series’ straddles a couple chapters, as to the other shows. Speaking of which, it’s pretty obvious by reading Scheimer’s monologue that their ‘Star Trek’ should never have been placed in the morning slot as it was aimed at the older teen market. Considering the younger teen market weren’t watching it was probably why it didn’t go on longer than it did.
Filmation didn’t just stay with animation, but also with the likes of ‘Shazam!’, ‘Isis’ and ‘Jason Of Star Command’ moved into live action as well, which is also covered in some detail.
Reading about how the changes as Filmation was bought out by the bigger corporations does give some insight into the business aspect of American life. Likewise, with the various union troubles, chiefly with animation work being sent abroad instead of within the US. As Scheimer points out, they only ever did it once themselves and that was largely because of a short deadline and an already busy staff. He points out that because ‘Zorro’ was dressed in black and the linework had to be white that I wondered why they didn’t just do black for white and flip the colours in process but that’s hindsight.
One thing that kept puzzling me was what did Lou Scheimer actually do when running the company as much of the time he tells what is done rather than his part in the decision process. Occasionally, he points out he or members of his family contribute to the supporting character voices but it wasn’t until page 184, I purposely earmarked it, as when you see Scheimer showing his idea process at work.
When I think of the Filmation product, many of them had a large cast and a pet. From what Scheimer says, they always wanted minority representation and a level of education in their material and because they were built that way from the start. Filmation’s trademark was setting out morals for kids, not depicting copyable violence and the support of minorities throughout its twenty-five year reign. It meant they avoided a lot of aggro from TV watchdogs and parents felt safe leaving their young off-spring watching their shows.
Things I learnt. I finally found the names of the singer of The Archies’ ‘Sugar, Sugar’ and through the auspices of the Internet, put faces to the names at long last.
Occasionally, Scheimer points out some of the, shall we say, less savoury people he worked with but doesn’t go into much detail. Other times, he’ll tell an anecdotal story about someone that brings out a different dimension about them. I should point out that this isn’t a kids book, so read it first and then let them look at the pictures.
Scriptwriter Paul Dini was amongst the many who got their start at Filmation. So, come to that, was Joe Straczynski and Larry DiTillio, both of whom worked extensively on ‘He-Man’. Speaking of whom, Scheimer’s comment that ‘He-Man’ is a terrible name mirrors my sentiments and it’s interesting reading that the alternative was ‘He-Ro’, which was later used for ‘Son Of He-Man’.
Speaking of ‘He-Man’, I was probably too old to see the full implications happening over here but give Scheimer his due, he explains events from his perspective and you get a remarkable insight again into corporate management and who gets the money, oddly not the people at Filmation. This goes further into the insight into film management and how films never make a profit because of creative accounting and don’t ever accept a percentage deal of a film’s profit. It’s also interesting seeing how the other animation companies gang up when there is too much success by one company.
Oh, an interesting point, looking at a certain Net retailer who points out artist Alex Ross as being a contributor to this book. It took a while to find it but there’s a half page postcard pencil art by him on page 212. Nice sketch but I don’t see that as a major contribution. The colour section of this book extends fifteen pages and principally covers the He-Man and She-Ra material
This is not a light reading book. Digesting all the information I was picking up from this book was spread over a couple weeks and has turned into a rather interesting chronicle of both Lou Scheimer and that of his company, Filmation. Even if you never saw much of their material, like me, it will give you an insight into how things were done, making for a remarkable read.
(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 192 page illustrated softcover. Price: $27.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-60549-043-4)
check out website: www.TwoMorrows.com