Filmation

Filmation

For the unrelated isometric graphics engine used by Ultimate Play the Game in their 8-bit computer games, see Filmation engine.

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.

Origins

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).

Animation style

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.

Quality issues

Filmation had a reputation for exploiting the technique of limited animation to produce a number of animated series with a distinct look. They made heavy use of rotoscoping in later years (beginning with their Tarzan and Flash Gordon series), and they also re-used the same animated sequences over and over, many times, to the point where the Filmation style was instantly recognizable. Veteran He-Man writer Chris Weber noted this in verse, set to "I've Been Working on the Railroad": "Can't you see the kiddies streaming / home to watch him after school? / Can't you hear my boss a-screaming / 'Use stock footage, fool!'"

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).

Original characters

There were very few original animated characters created by the studio. Two examples were Fraidy Cat, a timid feline who has lost 8 of his 9 lives, which come back to haunt him; and Wacky and Packy, a caveman and his pet mammoth ("Packy" refers to the latter character being a "pachyderm") who enter the modern age through a time warp. Both of these originally aired as segments of the Uncle Croc's Block show on ABC (hosted by Charles Nelson Reilly). Apparently the show did so poorly that ABC ceased ordering programs from Filmation . In a period where ideas for cartoons had run dry (comedy was heavily scrutinized for violence, and everything else seemed to copy the popular Scooby Doo format), Filmation's strong point was its adaptations of popular TV shows, movies and other works, although at least one show, "M*U*S*H" (the third animated segment on Uncle Croc's Block), while not a direct adaptation was inspired by the film (and later TV series) M*A*S*H.

Live-action shows

While Filmation incoporated live-action into some of their animated series such as The Hardy Boys, Archie's Funhouse, and Fat Albert, and while they also made a live-action variety show with animated segments, Filmation only made six fully live-action shows, including Space Academy, its spin-off Jason of Star Command, Ark II, Shazam! (based on the DC Comics character Captain Marvel), and Isis. Filmation also produced a live-action series called The Ghost Busters in 1975 which was followed nine years later by the release of an unrelated 1984 movie of almost the same name. Filmation capitalized on the momentum by producing a new cartoon based on their earlier series.

Looney Tunes/Groovie Goolies crossover

Also deserving mention is Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies, a special featuring several of Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes stars (paired with Filmation's own Groovie Goolies, a group of classic monsters). This aired on The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie in 1972. While most of the Warner Brothers characters were drawn well (veteran Warners animator Virgil Ross was working there at the time), and voiced by veteran voice actor Mel Blanc, the special is not liked by many fans of classic Warner Bros. animation because of its limited animation, as well as a weak storyline. This was not Filmation's last dalliance with classic cartoon characters; in the late 1970s the company produced new series based on the characters from the Terrytoons archive (Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle) and a new Tom & Jerry series as well.

Feature Films

Filmation also ventured into the feature film business. In fact, one of Filmation's first projects was Journey Back To Oz, an animated sequel to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Begun in 1964, the project was held back for eight years when Filmation did not have enough money to finish the film. It was only after its successes with their other series that the company was profitable enough to complete "Journey" for theatrical release in 1972.

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.

Voice Talent

Like other animation studios, Filmation had its stock company of voice-over actors. Some of the most famous included Larry Storch, Dallas McKennon (best known as the voice of Archie), Adam West (who recreated his role as Batman for Filmation's 1977 animated incarnation), Jane Webb, and good friends and colleagues Ed Asner and Linda Gary (Gary voiced a majority of Filmation's work in the 1980s and 1990s), along with John Erwin (voice of Reggie Mantle, and later the voice of He-Man), Alan Oppenheimer (character actor in TV and film), Ted Knight, George DiCenzo (John BlackStar, Hordak), Melendy Britt, Pat Fraley, Charlie Adler, Ed Gilbert, Susan Blu, Erika Scheimer (daughter of Lou Scheimer), and even Lou Scheimer himself (either uncredited, or under the pseudonym of "Erik (sometimes "Eric") Gunden").

Background Musical Talent

According to the booklets accompanying some of the DVDs of Filmation's shows, legendary composer Ray Ellis (who was assisted by his son Marc Ellis ) had produced the background music for most Filmation series under the pseudonyms "Yvette Blais and Jeff Michael. Yvette Blais was Ellis' wife, while "Jeff" and "Michael" were the names of producer Norm Prescott's two sons. (It isn't clear what part Prescott played in the music other than hiring the composers and musicians). The full length features Treasure Island and Oliver Twist credit "George Blais". Ellis' name does appear in Archie and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch credits, and both "Ray Ellis", and "Jeff Michaels" appear side by side on "Groovie Goolies" credits, where "Ellis" is credited for "Sabrina background Music", and "Michaels" is credited for "Groovie Goolies background music".

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.

Ownership

The Filmation studio was owned by The TelePrompTer Company in the early 1970s, then by Westinghouse (through its Group W Productions division, following its purchase of TelePrompTer's cable and entertainment properties) in 1982, though in 1988 it was purchased by the L'Oreal cosmetics company. L'Oreal promptly closed the studio on February 3 1989 and ended Filmation's legacy. As a result, most of the staff was terminated on that same day. Coincidentally, this happened a day before a new law went into practice requiring companies to give employees 60 days notice before a mass termination, which is presumably why they did it so quickly.

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.

Filmation on DVD

Urban Works Entertainment

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.

  • Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids - 5 Episodes - December 14th 2004
  • Fat Albert's Greatest Hits The Ultimate Collection - 20 Episodes - December 14th 2004
  • Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Vol. 1 - Episodes 1-12 - March 8th 2005
  • Fat Albert's Easter Special - March 8th 2005
  • Fat Albert's Halloween Special - September 6th 2005
  • Fat Albert's Christmas Special - October 11th 2005
  • Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Vol. 2 - Episodes 13-24 - October 11th 2005
  • Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Vol. 3 - Episodes 25-36 - July 11th, 2006

BCI's Ink and Paint

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:

  • The Best Of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Top 10 Collector's Edition DVD Set July 12th 2005
  • He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Season 1 Volume 1 October 18th 2005
  • He-Man And She-Ra A Christmas Special December 6th 2005
  • He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Season 1 Volume 2 February 14th 2006
  • He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Season 2 Volume 1 June 6th 2006
  • The Best Of She-Ra: Princess Of Power: Top 5 Episodes & "Secret Of The Sword" Collector's Edition July 18th 2006
  • Flash Gordon – The Complete Series July 18th 2006
  • Space Sentinels: The Complete Series + Freedom Force: The Complete Series August 22nd 2006
  • Blackstar — The Complete Series August 22nd 2006
  • He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Season 2 Volume 2 September 19th 2006
  • Groovie Goolies — The Saturday "Mourning" Collection October 24th 2006
  • Journey Back To Oz — Special Edition October 24th 2006
  • She-Ra: Princess Of Power: Season 1 Volume 1 November 7th 2006
  • Ark II – The Complete Series November 7th 2006
  • Space Academy — The Complete Series January 16th 2007
  • Ghost Busters: The Animated Series Volume 1 February 27th 2007
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power: Season 1, Volume 2 April 3rd 2007
  • The Ghost Busters: Live Action — The Complete Series April 17th, 2007
  • Jason of Star Command — The Complete Series May 8th, 2007
  • Mission Magic — The Complete Series May 8th, 2007
  • Hero High — The Complete Series May 22nd, 2007
  • Snow White: Happily Ever After: Special Edition (feature film) June 5th, 2007
  • Ghost Busters: The Animated Series Volume 2 July 3rd, 2007
  • The Best of Bravestarr: Top 5 Episodes & Bravestarr: the Legend July 3rd, 2007
  • The Secrets of Isis — The Complete Series July 24th, 2007
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power: Season 2 September 4th, 2007
  • A Snow White Christmas November 6th, 2007
  • Bravestarr: Volume 1 (erroneously listed by BCI as "Legend of Bravestarr") November 20th, 2007
  • Storybook Tales (boxset featuring Journey Back to Oz, Happily Ever After, and A Snow White Christmas) December 3rd, 2007
  • The New Adventures of the Lone Ranger and Zorro Volume 1 December 18, 2007
  • Bravestarr: Volume 2 July 1st, 2008
  • The New Adventures of the Lone Ranger and Zorro Volume 2 July 15th, 2008

Cancelled

  • The Cat Pack: Waldo Kitty & Fraidy Cat Volume 1
  • The Cat Pack: Waldo Kitty & Fraidy Cat Volume 2

(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

  • Fabulous Funnies — The Complete Series

BCI had contracted Andy Mangels to produce Special Features content for about 40 DVD releases , however TVShowsonDVD.com has made the revelation that BCI and Mangels have since parted ways.

Paramount/CBS

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.

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).

Genius Products/The Weinstein Company

  • The Archie Show - The Complete Series - July 31st, 2007
  • Archie's Funhouse - The Complete Series - March 4, 2008
  • Sabrina, the Teenage Witch - The Complete Animated Series - April 29th, 2008

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.

FOX

FOX presumably owns the rights to the Journey to the Center of the Earth and Fantastic Voyage TV series. However, there are currently has no plans to release either series on DVD at this time.

Other

The rights status to The Hardy Boys, Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down, and Sport Billy are unknown at this time, nor is it known whether or not they survive in any form. These three series do not appear in the Entertainment Rights library, nor do the Superstretch and Microwoman, Manta and Moray, and Web Woman segments from Tarzan and the Super 7. According to science fiction writer and animation historian Andy Mangels, who hosts commentary for many Filmation releases, the three Super 7 segments in question were pulled from distribution due to "various lawsuits" from Marvel Comics and DC Comics. It also is unknown whether or not the three segments still survive in any form.

The rights to Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle presumably rest with the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the original author of the Tarzan novels.

Filmation series

1960s

1970s

1980s

History

Lou Scheimer Interviews

Former Staff Interviews

DVD Staff Interviews

External links

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