Future of Cartooning: Kartoon Karaoke!

August 24, 2012

In my never ending quest to make a living drawing cartoons, I created my first app: Kartoon Karaoke! What is this wonderment?  The video explains all:

People have told me you can’t make iOS apps with Flash and that Flash is dead, long live HTML5!  This was done with Flash CS5!  Actually the hard part was uploading to Apple, which has nothing to Flash and from what I’m told by iOS developers, is a pain in the keister for all iOS apps!  I can provide all the gory technical details if you wish.  But for now, here are all the gory conceptual details:

First, my objective: How does an idiot fulfill a dream to be paid for drawing cartoons?

I’d love to animate the next Bugs Bunny but dislike the creative collectivism of the animation industry. I prefer the individual cartoonist who creates and executes his idea alone with only an editor offering spelling corrections and lawsuit preventing advice such as “remove the Nike logo on the sea monkey’s shirt.”

So I created a comic strip called “Family Pants” loosely based on my Dad and Mom locking horns during dinner every night. (Hence the subject of this blog.)  While proud my work generated a modest following, there are only 6 syndicates on earth that syndicate comic strips. If you’re not selected by those 6, you’re as dead as Flash. I worked for King Features Syndicate as a Popeye and Betty Boop ghost artist and still couldn’t get the attention of the few in power.

I took what I learned from King Features and self published my comic strip online. While selling comics directly to fans is possible, it’s more of a hobby than a living. Often online success is an elaborate business card to get those 6 editors interested in hiring you for traditional paying media. Eventually the same people saying HTML5 will kill Flash asked, “Who they hell reads comic strips anymore anyway?” So I left King for a NYC internet design company called Funny Garbage to direct animation in a growing new media.

I then took my 4 panel comic strips and animated them. I became a one man production crew even doing voice overs, except for one voice lent by my Mom. I believed technology would evolve comic strips into short online animated cartoons as it did a century prior when printing advancements evolved black and white comics to color. An idea ahead of it’s time, there weren’t so much as 6 online cartoons syndicates to pitch to. Sites that do showcase animation often defer payment, trading publicity and hopes of traditional paying media work. Again, the internet was used as a fancy business card for traditional media. (More fodder for this blog.)

With with print-on-demand technology, I even made a 22 minute Family Pants cartoon DVD and sold through Amazon! But without expensive traditional media promotion or audience with the select few in power (more than six but still really difficult to contact) I’ve only sold a handful of DVDs. Oddly many to my Mom…

The internet’s money maker, and what separates it from traditional media, is it’s focus on the user or audience instead of a star performer.  It’s appeal works because the audience wants to think of themselves as the stars.  So creatives who dream of making their own videos or writing their own stories are unlikely to make money posting their creation online, but if they create an experience that allows USERS to take center stage the rewards will be greater.  However, creating such runs opposite to the initial goal of being paid to make MY own cartoons.

So how do I make my cartoon, but make users feel a part of it? Moreover, what is an established and profitable business model?

Enter the Kartoon Karaoke APP!

My first idea was to create a Family Pants cartoon APP which allows the user to view my cartoon, but also ad-lib character dialog where the audience becomes the performer. In modern comedy, writers create only story outlines allowing actors to ad-lib dialog. It’s less work for the writer, the actors are happier becoming the character rather than reciting scripts and the audience enjoys performances which feel “real”. A Family Pants ad-lib dialog APP would be a unique internet experience and I’d be evolving the comic strip to animation cartoon!

But, I’m no programmer. An APP that records and shares video with an online community was beyond my ability and resources. Plus how many users are actually good at ad-libbing? I doubt Robin Williams would buy as many copies as my Mom…

My second idea was a “Guitar Hero” meets Family Pants cartoon APP! Users would read dialog via a bouncing ball into the mic. Say the right line and score points. As Family Pants was written with silly non-sequiturs, game play would be tongue twisting goofy fun. I’d be modernizing cartoons while paying tribute to their past as the bouncing ball concept was invented by animation legend Max Fleischer, creator of Betty Boop and animator of Popeye! Eat that King Features!

But… the idea was ahead of it’s time again. Flash technologically cannot make such an iOS app. At least with my programming ability.

So my third idea was the current Kartoon Karaoke APP wherein characters put on a stage play and the user must quickly pick their lines of dialog and action from a scrambled script. Choose the right line and score points. Choose the wrong line and create silly non-sequiturs! I was able to program it entirely on my own using Flash! While it made no sense for Family Pants characters to put on stage plays, I retired Family Pants, my Mom’s voice over career and created new characters: Dog, Cat and Fish… the Terrific Thespian Threesome!

Hard to describe, it was seen as an educational reading and listening comprehension APP. One fan put it, “It’s a whole new genre!” I described it as a little bit cartoon, a little bit storybook and a little bit game.

I hope for you, it’s a whole ‘lotta fun so I may be paid to make more Kartoon Karaokes!


Stupid Stuff We Love

January 26, 2011

The Family Pants blog is usually devoted just to Family Pants, but after a friend sent some artwork, it was too good not to share.  (And technically a joint venture with James Yang is also not Family Pants related… so… here’s to breaking rules.)

Dane Love was a talented artist who recently passed.  This is some of his stuff he created with my friend’s father called “Stupid Stationary”.
Can you imagine it animated?  Maybe the Stupid Stationary Company can make a comeback!

[Click on the icons to see the images bigger.]


Family Pants’ The Holiday Hedging Horror

January 9, 2011

What I did Over Christmas Break… and then some:
Why I finished a new Family Pants Christmas cartoon of mayhem of course!  Unfortunately, I missed Christmas, New Years’ and even Three Kings Day to unveil it!  So better late than never, I present Family Pants’ The Holiday Hedging Horror!

The Back Story or Who Needs Outsourcing in This Economy?
The “Holiday Hedging Horror” was written back in ’08 when the price of gas jumped through the roof.  I myself ran out of gas to finish the cartoon.

Plus I’ve been busy with my political cartoon, “Angie” about smaller government:

and a single panel gag cartoon called “Oxymoron” about… well strippers, nipples and silliness hoping to be the world’s first Twit-Toonist:

Panel cartoons and comic strips provide something to show for it with less than 1-2 hours of work.  Plus I could “work” on it while going for a walk or Christmas shopping as ideas that pop into your head only need a moment or two to jot down.

But with animation, you need to be shackled to your desk for non-stop work.  I thought there has to be a way to make cartoons faster.  Many productions achieve this by outsourcing labor.  Or “insourcing” by taking advantage of cheap slave labor we call “interns”.  In our current economy, and for some time now, economics, or the bottom line, has driven our industry over innovation or smarter thinking and planning. But it was innovation which grew America into a world power, not cheap labor!

So one day after rising gasoline prices yet again, I became motivated to finish this gag.  After watching some Gerald McBoing Boing and a great cartoon from Cartoon Brew called “Depth Study” by Terry Toons, I thought a simpler Family Pants design would ease my work load.

I was also motivated by Mondo Media’s Dick Figures and Doodie.com.  Their sloppy and loose style lent itself to be animated quickly yet actually very well.  And it’s “new”!  (So many art directors claim the “50’s” style is lost on kids who don’t know what era we’re referencing.  So what if it’s lost?  If it’s funny and in budget, great!  And if people who do know art appreciate it, all the better.  Why “bad” art is “in” I’ll never know.  Perhaps non-artists who produce cartoons feel less inadequate if the style is not far from their own limited ability?)

The original cartoon from 2008 was 80% done before I abandoned it.  Here is as far as I’ve gotten before abandonment.

Here’s a still of the new style again.  Rather than worry about making the line smooth, I kept the line rough.  And like Terry Toon’s  Tom Terrific, I didn’t even opaque the character, letting his lines bleed through other lines.  The innovation being better design… (hopefully anyway…)

In addition to the simpler style, I completely re-story boarded the cartoon using cuts to work around action, still telling the story but without animating everything.  The innovation being better thinking and planning the cartoon.  Here are the rough boards I worked off of.  Compare this to the original which has no cutting around action.

With thumbnails in hand, I roughed in the cartoon directly into Flash using a new Wacom tablet called the Bamboo Fun.  Here are a few stills.

I added my dialog tracks to the Flash time-line which I recorded using a Mini Disk recorder.  I can’t be sure, but I believe I hear some static on the recording.  Perhaps it’s that the equipment is old?  Or did I mess up the recording somehow?

I edited the audio tracks in the Flash time-line and animated to them, following the roughs.  Then I exported a SWF and imported it into Premiere.  In Premiere I added sound effects.  I could have edited audio in Flash’s time-line just as easy. Premiere is pretty versatile, but not faster to move around in than Flash.  It is however far more technically superior.  Flash audio editing is good for web stuff, but Premiere can generate audio as professional as you can imagine.

Flash’s Pain in the Butt Export
Since Flash 4, Adobe hasn’t figured out how to render out true QuickTimes from Flash.  Flash spits out a SWF, then “screen records” it into a QuickTime.  If your machine has balls, it could come out right.  However, unless you have a NORAD diesel machine, your record could skip frames or have artifacting.

The work around is to export a PNG sequence, then open the sequence in QuickTime Pro to render out a true QuickTime.  Even for a 2 minute cartoon, this could take a while.  As I’m the client here, I’m not bound to make nit-picky “tweaks”.  Imagine a horde of client changes?  Phew!

Instead I imported the SWF into Premiere to render from.  Technically, 20 guys could email me each 60 second SWFs for me to assemble end to end and render out a full blown HD quality QuickTime.  I’ve successfully done this using QuickTime Pro 4 and Flash 4 for Family Pants’ “Hole in ‘Da Roof!”.  But today, I need a far more expensive program to do the same thing.

At least with Premiere, you can do some real sound editing.

All in told, I think the 2 minute cartoon would have taken 3-4 days if I worked 8 hours/day right through.  (In addition to a busy holiday and 2 comic strips, I’ve also been sick!   I know… excuses, excuses…)

My Mom’s Nativity Set vs. Han Solo:
My Mom’s Nativity set set always had jungle animals in it.  I guess as the years went by, she added more animals to the mix she acquired along the way.  Many of them were in different product branding styles and proportions, perhaps from old toys.  Quite a strange mix to an outsider.  Long before “The Lion King”, my Mom said it was all the earth’s animals bowing down to Baby Jesus.  So when I drew Blanche’s Nativity set, of course I added an elephant, 2 giraffes and a lion without thinking.  When I was done, my wife asked, “What are they doing there?  Jesus was born in a manger!”  And then it dawned on me how silly it was.  I had to keep it.

Also, I remember getting yelled at not to play with the figures as my Han Solo action figure ran past Joseph and the sheep near the tree.  Han was of course on some adventure climbing a giant Christmas tree with lights and garland.  Perhaps on some tropical Wookie forest planet… that celebrated Christmas for some reason.  But the one thing you could never mess with was the Baby Jesus.  “Be careful of my Baby Jesus!” Ma would yell from the kitchen upon hearing some jingly thrashing about the tree and what sounded like a faint humming of the “Imperial March”.  Of course in the Family Pants universe, Frank would always unwittingly mess with Blanche’s Baby Jesus!

And one last bit of anatomical perfection…

Hope you enjoy!  At least until next year…


Family Pants Goes Green!

October 17, 2010

Fellow New Jersey-ian Amy Hufnagel of Hardwick Township Project Evergreen requested a screening of Family Pants’ The Refrigerator Door at the Sustainable Jersey Film Night.  It was projected up on a big screen.  Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but from what I’m told… it went over well:

Morning Dave-Your animation as very well received at the Sustainable Jersey film night. I showed it last, and people laughed and the kids really giggled (as if with understanding). It was it was the perfect transition, to our feature film, and it looked great outside on the big screen! I will be recommending to my committee that our website has a list of “great online things to watch” and that the Sustianable Jersey program should have that on their website too- we’ll see if that emerges!Thanks for sharing, amyh

Here’s a link to Hardwick site:

Special thanks to Amy for requesting yours truly…

Non-FamilyPants Wins Award!

June 24, 2010

My friend and talented illustrator James Yang and I teamed up to make a cartoon about the environment.  While he wants to save the Polar Bears and I our national security, we found common ground on the subject!

It turns out others liked it too!

Family Pants Interview! (well, not Family Pants, but me…)

June 24, 2010

Philip Carrera wrote this awesome book about Flash and how to use it like good little cartoonists!

In the back he was kind enough to let me bend his ear on my experiences with Flash in a little interview!

A big thanks to Philip and good luck with his sales.

Order your copy!

Family Pants DVD!

August 15, 2009

Don’t forget to purchase your Family Pants DVD before the mad rush of Arbor Day! You can buy a copy from Amazon or directly from CustomFlix!


Family Pants’ INDEX

August 14, 2009

Ever wanted to see all things Family Pants in one nice looking list?  Well want no more!  Here ’tis a glorious JPEG upon which you can click and link to an HTML page wherein you may click to your desired Family Pants thing-y.  One click to everything else!  (Well, two clicks, if you count this one…)

All things FamilyPants on one page

All things FamilyPants on one page

Family Guy Flash!

May 4, 2009


Over at Cold Hard Flash, I tipped Aaron Simpson off to an interview Howard Stern had with Seth MacFarlane and who both agree Flash is synonymous with bad animation.

I’m a big fan of Family Guy. But I don’t think of Seth MacFarlane as a cartoonist or animator. I instead admire him as an absolutely brilliant comedy writer. In particular the very thing most people, like Southpark’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, criticize him for; his use and over use of the “cut away” gag.

“The Cut-Away” makes Family Guy scripts modular, where any gag could be placed anywhere in any script. That comes in handy for script by committee, which is how animation is done in the big leagues. I imagine a scenario where an executive suit at FOX says something aggravatingly vague like, “Page 18 is not funny enough. Punch it up.” Seth pulls out a note book chocked full of non sequiturs like “Peter fights a chicken for 5 minutes” or “Hitler with an Oprah-like talk show”. Then he picks one gag, changes the script to something like, “Peter comments on the action and says, ‘Hey, that’s strange… almost as strange as that TV show I saw last night'” and we cut away to the Hitler talk show. BAM! Instant fix! Less work!

This story writing fix is like playing tennis without a net. The rules of writing go out the window! Forget writing gags that have something to do with the story or character! But before you give Seth an “F” in writing, remember it’s the incongruity that makes it funny! The longer the Peter verses chicken fight drags out, the funnier it becomes! I’m one who find this to be both brilliant and economical as well.

But to writers like Matt Stone and Trey Paker, this guy Seth is screwing everything up! I also am a big fan of Matt and Trey’s South Park. Again, I do not think of these guys as cartoonists or animators, I admire them as brilliant writers, but even more so than Seth. First, if you take a look at South Park credits, these two guys write EVERY episode. Is that even humanly possible? I imagine these guys to have mushrooms growing under their eyes from never stepping outside in 10 years. And South Park has been consistently funny for over a decade! For a season you could say it was luck. But by now, these guys are proven geniuses! I have no idea how they’ve written so much so well for so long, but they have.

As far as the art is concerned, while Seth cheated writing scripts, Matt and Trey cheated visually, making “breaking the rules” a style instead of an error. If your animation style is so difficult that only a few guys can do it, you’re pretty much stuck hiring them, even if they’re assholes. But Matt and Trey are able to hire who they want rather than who they need. Plus they can keep the whole production local rather than ship jobs overseas where the pay is lower. (Check the ending credits of Family Guy. NO ANIMATION is done in the US!) Plus, if an executive calls for last minute, ridiculous fixes, (a complete impossibility, I know, but let’s try to imagine it) these guys can make the fix in a couple of hours. Impossible to do otherwise without filing chapter 11 by the end of the month. Matt Stone and Trey Parker are  brilliant!

One guy not mentioned in this, but I’m going to mention for contrast, is John Kricfalusi. This guy is perhaps the best living cartoonist, who can draw that silly style better than anybody! Certainly a real deal extraordinary cartoonist and animator. I imagine his productions having difficulty though. First, John draws his scripts. Seth, Trey and Matt have one up on him already, since you can write faster than draw. If John draws “100 hippos dance” and they write “100 hippos dance” they’ll submit the idea to the executives, who’ll make gratuitous changes like “Make the hippos, cats”, they could make the changes three times over before John even finishes the first round of rough drawings!

Second, since Kricfalusi is slopping over with God-given talent… is there anybody on earth who can do what he does? And do it faster?! I’d imagine John to spend lots of time “teaching” his crew and even saying, “Oh.. screw it… just give this to me.. I’ll do it.” And the deadline and budget is blown or Mr. K becomes frustrated, I’m not sure what’d be worse. In contrast, Matt and Trey have a style so simple that anybody with a pulse can do the work. In fact, even two guys who are genius writers with no cartooning ability what-so-ever can push the animator aside to “show them how it’s done.” (Matt and Trey both admitted in previous interviews that they preferred their style to be so basic so as to keep creative control in their hands.)

Seth’s style may be more complex than South Park, which is not saying much, but it’s simple enough that 100% of the animation can be shipped to Asia, where labor is so cheap the executives can afford to give each other big bonuses. That may be a crappy thing to say to American animators, but seriously, every animator dreams of becoming Seth, not working for him. While it’s not what the Democrats want you to say, the Republican outsourcing trick is what makes that dream possible. The other scenario is to cut Seth’s recent 100 million dollar deal to 100 thousand dollars so you can afford American labor. Still yet another scenario is the one Kricfalusi faces; get it done half-ass and on time or do it right and file bankruptcy. John Kricfalusi’s other worldly talent must be both a blessing and a curse.

And lastly as far as Howard Stern, this is another guy I’m a big fan of! Not involved with animation, he’s a classic real life underdog who worked his way up to success, millions and a hot wife! He kept his loyalty to his fans and the other underdogs who worked with him along the way. (I think that’s something more of an achievement than his phenomenal success.) But I do have to defend my friend Mark Marek who did Stern’s pilot. Mark is the least “Flash” guy I know. So I’m bewildered by MacFarlene’s compliment to Stern on his “good eye” for recognizing bad animation as Flash animation. Mark’s work was not bad animation. If it was, Flash had nothing to do with it. Anyone’s “eye” could see that.

In the end, the way I see it, the only comedy writing rule is to be funny, tennis net or not. If you want to make lots of money on your cartoon, keep your animation over head low. If you want to keep the animation work in the United States keep your overhead even lower. Flash offers a solution to do both, but you need to be a cartoonist or animator to understand how.  Other options include outsourcing your work the Republican way or to become an executive /  creator willing to take a significant pay cut and “spread the wealth”.

Syndication Idea v. Syndication Investor

May 3, 2009

The Pixel Pintura, a YouTube user, sent an interesting comment on my YouTube channel about my Family Pants syndication idea.   I couldn’t answer it entirely in the small YouTube comment box, so I’m posting an explanation here.

Basically Joel said the Family Pants online syndication idea sounded good and wondered why I wasn’t doing it.

There’s been a few ideas so far on making money with online cartoons:

1) Find a sponsor like TV.
Say, Pepsi pays for a Family Pants cartoon provided in the middle of it they stuff a commercial.  This works, but more successfully on TV.  So why would Pepsi bother messing around online?  Now the harsh reality.  The internet is not TV.  It may look like TV, but it’ll never be TV.  Stop trying to think it will be TV!  It’s like trying to make the book publishing industry like the radio industry.  There might be cross overs… a radio personality writes a book, or books about radio personalities, but the industries are different and always will be.

2) Have people pay a tiny fee to see the cartoon online.
Most people pay enough for broadband to begin with.  Would you pay 10 cents to see a Family Pants cartoon?  I’ve had a hard time getting people to pay for a Family Pants DVD.  I’ve recently I’ve offered it for free on YouTube, hoping to gain interest.

3) License cartoons online.
You, the viewer doesn’t pay.  Sponsors like Pepsi doesn’t pay.  Instead websites pay for “instant content”.  Let’s face it, making web sites more attractive costs money.  Instant content is a logical and cheaper solution.  These days the websites who are looking for “instant” content and get “user generated” content.  So say I make an application that allows YOU to make Family Pants cartoons yourself.  Poof!  I get 100 cartoons done for free and with little effort!

But having other people make cartoons is not what makes being a cartoonist fun.  I want to do it!  So my idea was taking a comic strip syndication approach.  Make the cartoon.  Sell it cheaply, but many, many times.

The question is Joel, is online animation syndication not around because it’s a bad idea?  Or is that because nobody important has invested in the idea yet?  Lots of fine human beings like yourself have said, “Hey man… that sounds pretty good!”,  I’m still looking for investors!

Anyone have a rich uncle?