Filmation Associates was an American production company that produced animation for television during the later half of the 20th century. Located in Reseda, California, the animation studio was founded in 1963. During a period lasting from the 1960s through the 1980s, the only real competitors to Hanna-Barbera Productions in the field of TV cartoons were Filmation and DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. Filmation's founders and principal producers were Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott.
A trademark of the company's productions beginning in 1969 was a rotating "Produced by" (and on some shows, "Executive Producers") credit seen in the end credits (and in later productions, the opening sequences) of Filmation programs, a device that was supposedly created to allow them to share equal billing (previously, Scheimer's name was placed above Prescott's), although later Filmation productions credited only Scheimer, in the form of his signature ("Lou Scheimer, Executive Producer"), starting with 1982's Gilligan's Planet.
Many of its shows—particularly the productions of the late 1970s and 1980s—are notable for imparting a simple moral or life-lesson (explained by a key character, in a child-friendly manner) in the epilogue.
Lou Scheimer and Filmation's main director, Hal Sutherland met while working at Larry Harmon Pictures on the made-for-TV Bozo and Popeye cartoons. Eventually Larry Harmon closed the studio. SIB Productions, a Japanese firm with U.S. offices in Chicago, approached Scheimer and Sutherland about producing a cartoon called Rod Rocket. The two agreed to take on the work and also took on a project for Family Films, owned by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, for ten short animated films based on the life of Christ. The project enabled Scheimer and Sutherland to finance their own small Los Angeles animation studio True Line. Paramount Pictures soon purchased SIB Productions, and True Line's staff increased; including the arrival of former radio disc-jockey Norm Prescott, who became a partner in the firm. He had already been working on the animated feature Pinocchio in Outer Space which was soon released by a Belgian company, and also brought in the Journey Back To Oz project, which would be released over ten years later by Filmation. Both Rod Rocket and the life of Christ series credited "Filmation Associates" with "Production Design" in addition to Scheimer and Sutherland as directors; but True Line was not officially changed into the Filmation Associates corporation until Rod Rocket entered syndication in 1963. (SIB Productions, whose logo bore a resemblance to the original Filmation logo, would soon go on to become "Sib-Tower 12 Productions" and produce the first few of Chuck Jones' Tom & Jerry films for MGM, until becoming MGM Animation/Visual Arts for the remainder of the films).
The new Filmation studio would for the next few years make TV commercials, until approached by CBS executive Fred Silverman to do a Superman cartoon. This premiered in 1966, and was followed by several of the other DC Comics heroes, and then in 1968, the first Archie show. Both series greatly helped Filmation's popularity to increase, into the 1970s, when it really scored big with several of its shows (see below).
As with other producers of Saturday morning cartoons, Filmation was more concerned with quantity rather than quality; however, they did make a number of attempts to rise above the standard animated fare and produce reasonably well-written cartoons. The best-known example of this is their animated adaptation of the Star Trek series, which included scripts contributed by well-known science fiction writers and starred most of the original cast. Other favorably remembered Filmation series included a 16-part animated serial of Flash Gordon (originally intended as a movie for theatrical release but shown in its entirety only thrice on NBC); Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, an animated educational series created by and starring Bill Cosby; and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, based on the popular line of Mattel toys. The animated adaptations of the Archie Comics characters were also noteworthy for the pop music produced for it, particularly the song, "Sugar, Sugar", which was a #1 hit single.
In addition, certain episodes of He-Man and Bravestarr, in substance, and often animation, were pioneers in children's animated series of their time and paved the way for broader storytelling. Examples include He-Man's "The Problem With Power" which dealt with He-Man believing he had killed an innocent bystander, "Teela's Quest" which introduced a now famous mythology on The Sorceress being Teela's mother, whom she is heir to the mantle of safeguarding Grayskull, the versed continuity shared between He-Man and She-Ra, among others. Likewise, the scripts for Star Trek, which were often written by the same people who had written for the live-action version of the show, tended to be quite sophisticated, and garnered the franchise's first Emmy award.
This frequent use of stock footage saved production money, but often resulted in sacrifice of continuity. This was countered by cutting from one stock shot to another after only a second or two—long enough to set the scene but before the eye could notice all of the unexplained errors. This became part of Filmation style during a period when most TV and motion picture production tended to run minimum shots of 4 - 5 seconds. This was so successful for Filmation that it became the standard in music videos, which must tell a story in a very short period of time, and eventually had become common in all types of video production.
In contrast to the rapid jump cuts during action sequences, another Filmation trademark was the recurring use of long establishing shots in which the camera would pan slowly across a very wide background painting, thus filling up screen time with sequences requiring little or no animation. However, these background paintings were often acclaimed for the high quality of their artwork. Filmation also pioneered other animation technologies, particularly in Flash Gordon, which included backlighting effects for the first time in American animation (they were already in use in Japan), including moire effects to represent energy fields (a technique that was later used in He-Man and later in She-Ra). They also pioneered a unique method of generating 3-D vehicle animation by filming white-outlined black miniatures against black backgrounds using a computerized motion-control camera and high-contrast film, then printing the negatives onto acetate frame-by-frame to create animation cels which were then hand-painted. This produced a dynamic, three-dimensional effect which had never been seen in cel animation before and predated the modern use of 3-D computer animation for vehicles in 2-D animated productions (although it had a distinctive "flicker" to it as some of the painted lines went in and out of visibility as the miniatures moved). Unlike many American studios, Filmation never relied upon animation studios outside the United States for the bulk of its production; Ghostbusters and Bravestarr both state in the end credits that they were "made entirely in the U.S.A.". Filmation is also noteworthy for its lavish background paintings such as the purple-colored "night sky" backgrounds used in He-Man and She-Ra.
(Note: Filmation relied on outsourcing once, when the company created its animated Zorro series. It was animated by Tokyo Movie Shinsha of Japan. The storyboards and graphics however, were made by Filmation themselves.)
Characters, as well as plots, were typically run of the mill for the time. For example, most episodes of Ghost Busters had the same scheme (Bad guys develop an evil plan, the heroes are needed but always absent, Ghost Buggy the talking car complains about their dangerous position, Tracey the Gorilla pulls out of his back pack exactly the miscellaneous item the Ghost Buster needs in a moment of despair, Eddie doing a number of clumsy/stupid things etc.). Although as previously mentioned, Filmation made various attempts to rise above the norm. Many of the sounds and explosion effects used in their cartoons are also very familiar (though this was, and still is a common trait among animation companies).
In their final years, Filmation produced feature film versions of their He-Man and She-Ra franchises, as well as unofficial cult animated sequels to other established films, such as Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night and Happily Ever After.
Much of Ellis' background music in the early 70's had a distinct, richly orchestrated sound not found on many other made-for-TV cartoon series of that period; though as time went on, it became more synthesized. Ellis' work at the studio lasted from 1968 to 1982. Haim Saban and Shuki Levy composed and produced the studio's music for He-Man and She-Ra (during 1983-1986), along with the other studios they produced music scores for. Frank W. Becker provided the music for Filmation's final animated series, Bravestarr.
Filmation's last production was the feature film Happily Ever After (an unofficial sequel to the story of Snow White), released to theaters in 1993. Also, at the time of the closing, two new animated TV shows, Bugzburg and Bravo (a spinoff of Bravestarr), were beginning production.
Since then, most of the Filmation back catalog had come under the ownership of Hallmark Cards, through their Hallmark Entertainment subsidiary; however, since a large amount of Filmation's output was based on characters licensed from other companies, many titles which are also under the ownership of Entertainment Rights (see next paragraph) are actually under the control of other studios (such as Paramount and Warner Bros.).
In March 2004, ownership of the Filmation back catalog which was under the ownership of Hallmark was sold to a British company called Entertainment Rights. Entertainment Rights have since made the revelation that when Hallmark converted all of their Filmation shows to digital format in the 1990s, only PAL-format copies were made, with the original film prints apparently discarded. This was due to Hallmark's previously unknown (but long suspected) short-sighted policy of only distributing Filmation shows outside of the United States. As a result, many of Entertainment Rights' DVD releases (distributed by BCI Eclipse in the United States) are based on the international versions (which have PAL prints).
Because they were taken from PAL-based prints, without correction, these releases exhibit the so-called "PAL speedup" effect in which the soundtrack plays 4% too fast resulting in the pitch being a half-step higher than it was originally (see PAL and Telecine for more information). The exception appears to be at least four titles from ER's library: Groovie Goolies, Ark II, and both the live-action and animated "Ghostbusters" series. These series appear to have been sourced from their original NTSC prints for their U.S. release by BCI.
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was first released on DVD in Late 2004, first with a "best-of" collection, then later with collections of the first two seasons (each with an audio CD featuring songs from the show). Their Halloween and Christmas specials were also released on DVD. All Fat Albert DVDs are released in the US and Canada by Urban Works Entertainment. As of 2008, they are out of print.
He-Man was distributed by BCI Eclipse as part of their Ink and Paint label in the fall of 2005 as The Best of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (10 Episode Collector's Edition). Following the success and critical acclaim for this set, BCI Eclipse on January 16th 2006, struck a long-term exclusive deal with Entertainment Rights for distribution rights to their entire Filmation catalog (with the exception of the Archie series which was acquired by Genius Products). In addition, Entertainment Rights shares ownership of the animated Lone Ranger series with Classic Media, the current owners of the Jack Wrather properties (which includes The Lone Ranger).
BCI Releases to Date:
(Fraidy Cat is currently scheduled to be included as part of Volume 2 of a compilation entitled "Frightfully Funny". However, it will only include select episodes and no extras.)
The current status of this title is unknown
On November 21, 2006 the home video arm of CBS released a DVD collecting all 22 episodes of the Filmation-produced Star Trek, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Trek franchise (with distribution by Paramount Home Entertainment).
The rights to The Brady Kids also rest with CBS (along with all other Brady Bunch-related media). However, there are currently no plans for a release of the series at this time. The first two episodes were included on The Brady Bunch Complete Series DVD. A potential release is also further complicated by the fact that one episode each feature appearances by Superman and Wonder Woman, characters owned by Time Warner through its DC Comics subsidiary.
In addition, "The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, and Quackula" is also controlled by CBS/Paramount since it owns the home video rights to the Terrytoons properties. However, there is no planned DVD release at this time.
Warner Bros. has also released a single episode of Shazam!, included as a bonus disc with the release of the third-season Wonder Woman DVD set. So far there is still no word on releases for Gilligan’s Island/Planet, the original Batman animated series, or The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show. The Adventures of Superboy is not currently available because of a legal battle over the rights to the "Superboy" name (see that article for details).
TVShowsonDVD.com has reported, citing "reliable sources" that Genius Products has acquired Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids from ER and is planning a DVD release for sometime in 2008. The first release announced is a DVD of the Halloween special which will be released on August 26th 2008, and will contain 2 bonus episodes Plans for a release of the regular series have yet to be announced.