Between Ron O'Dell and Rex Wheeler, we've had two good play-by-play reports posted of the Animania IV trip to Warner Brothers Animation. I'm going to avoid posting another; instead, I'll try to convey my personal impressions of the events and the people that made them happen.
At first, it looked like the WBA folks didn't know what to expect of us. Everyone was quite tentative. We all told who we were and where we were from; there was quite a bit of surprise at how far some of us, like Kim Robarts, had come to be part of the event. I was pleasantly surprised when I introduced myself, and Peter Hastings said "Jay Maynard of the New York Times article?"...I wasn't expecting anyone to remember.
The whole time we were in the conference room, people kept coming in and getting introduced. The list is long and I didn't take notes (stupidly, since I had my HP palmtop with me), so I'm bound to forget some, but we met not only the senior executive types, but also writers and directors whose names have appeared on many a title card, like Tom Minton (who I got to ask about one of my favorite cartoons, Toy Shop Terror), Paul Rugg (who did Dr. Einstein for us), Audu Paden, and Andrea Romano (who looks just like her portrayal in Yes, Always, unlike Tom Ruegger and Peter, who have both lost weight since then).
Each one was genuinely interested in meeting us and seeing our reactions to things. As we were watching the material from the next season, they were watching us to see what we thought. They were highly nervous about showing us Please, Please, Please Get A Life Foundation, and Peter asked us to "remember, folks, we deal in satire here." I pointed out that one of the hallmarks of WB humor was that *nothing* is sacred, and I didn't see why us fans should be left out; Peter said he hoped we still felt that way three minutes later, as he punched PLAY. I think I can speak for the rest of the group when I say that we did. The cartoon is screamingly funny, and I'll fire a preemptive shot in the flamewar that it will undoubtedly produce amongst those who take themselves too seriously: if you're offended by it, you should take a long look at yourself to see just how close to home it hits.
Yes, I did point out an error in PPPGALF. The expression on Peter's face was one of supreme shock. Peter, I hope you understand that it had to be said, and that I wasn't out for blood... No, I will *not* reveal it beforehand. If you weren't there, you get to look for it yourself when it airs. Why should I spoil your fun?
I agree with Rex: If what we saw was a representative sample of the upcoming season - and I have no reason to believe it isn't, since I doubt strongly that they would have arranged their production schedule just to impress us with their best work - then it'll knock our socks off. There wasn't a single thing they showed us that was less than very good.
Everyone was quite honest in answering our questions. When Peter said that Wang and Akom were doing all of the upcoming season, I asked if Akom had learned how to do the Warners' eyes yet, and Peter not only understood the complaint, but assured us that that problem had been fixed. (It had, too, in the one Akom-produced cartoon we saw.) Tom said that his wife was doing a great job in keeping his kids from getting swelled heads about not only doing voice work (which she was personally against) but being turned into wildly successful cartoon characters. I was a little surprised that they weren't enthusiastic about doing the voice work, since it's probably safe to say that everyone around the table would kill for a chance to do that... They didn't dodge anything we asked, either.
As Rex noted, the episode 70 that everyone has been wondering about was never produced. It's probably just as well, since it would likely have been padded out with yet more Good Idea/Bad Idea marathons. This does, however, put the final touch on Ron's April Fools joke on me... (For those of you who weren't around for that, in a nutshell: Ron tricked me into thinking that #70 would be aired Saturday, 1 April; I was at a friend's house with a bunch of others, and we all gathered around the TV at 0700 that morning to see the previously unaired episode, and got #35 (Animaniacs Stew - not my idea of a good introduction to the series) instead, in what turned out to be its last airing on Fox.) The first episode of the new season will be the real #70.
Audu Paden has more Animaniacs stuff in his office than I would have thought possible. He must make weekly runs to the WBSS just to see what else has come out. I wish I could have taken a picture just to show folks at my office who comment on my paltry collection.
The WB commissary was quite good. They have a reasonable selection, and the barbecue chicken pizza I had was a cut above the usual corporate cafeteria fare. Jean MacCurdy, Molly Gore, Rex Wheeler, and I were at the same table; Molly and I complained about there not being a Kids WB affiliate in Houston, and Jean agreed that this is too big a market not to have covered. I asked Jean what her role in the series was; she makes high-level decisions, but mostly by now just gets to sit back, watch the show being made, and laugh along with the rest of us. At one point, Peter walked up and told Jean that if she had any questions about Animaniacs, she should ask me, as I knew everything about it... Hardly, Peter, though I appreciate the compliment.
Our group was the direct responsibility of Cathy Cruse, PR person for WBA. She was the one who arranged for the E! folks to be there. She had assumed that we all knew the theme song I'd written; when she discovered that we didn't, and that there were some changes I wanted to make before we recorded it, she recovered nicely: she had me chase everyone outside (we couldn't rehearse inside the commissary, for obvious reasons) and gather the group while she found a Xerox to copy a printout of the lyrics that Rex Wheeler had brought along and I'd made some scribbled changes on. That accomplished, we wound up on the steps of the recording studio, each one of us with a sheet in our hands. I explained my scribbled changes, and then we tried it.
Boy, were we bad. Really bad. Mind-bogglingly bad. Of course, none of us were professional singers, and few of us even musicians... About all I can say was that we were loud. We must have been really loud, since Jess Harnell came out and rescued us: not only is he a real professional singer, but he also managed to get us all in more or less the same key and sounding like we actually knew what we were doing, by a simple expediment: he had the guys do it by themselves first, then the women, and only then all of us. That sounded a LOT better than our first effort. He was very relaxed about it all, too. We went inside and milled around a bit while the E! folks interviewed Jess and Tress MacNeille. Cathy got Karen Tindall, Kim Robarts, Kevin Pezzano, Molly Gore, and me in front of the camera next for about 10 minutes of interview; the E! folks wanted to know who we were and what made us such rabid fans.
They then called in the entire group and arranged us in a line, more or less, in front of the orchestra. We remembered Jess's suggestion and kept the women together in a group and the men in another; Jess and Tress were at one end. There was a little bit of confusion at first, since Richard Stone said that it was a runthrough - but we all took off singing anyway. We wound up with just the one take, despite trouble starting off and flubbing one line that had given us a little trouble in our abbreviated rehearsal. Errors and all, though, it was an indescribable feeling for me to stand in that studio - the same one where Carl Stalling did his magnificent work on the classic Looney Tunes - in front of the full WB orchestra, led by a remarkable composer and conductor in his own right, with many of the folks who make the show watching and Jess and Tress joining in, singing words that I'd written (well, with a lot of inspiration from the Yakko's World CD) for all I was worth, with a TV cameraman walking up and down the line shooting footage that (hopefully) will be shown nationwide. I'm not still completely over it...just ask any of the folks I talked to on the way home!
Yet another note about Tress' talent: She didn't make a single mistake in the song, despite having all of five minutes to read the lyrics and (maybe) discuss them with Jess. When she and Jess duo-ed the variable verse ("Let's hope it doesn't rainey"), it was as though she'd been practicing for days. I really didn't need convincing that she's great at what she does, but that brought it home yet again.
I had the two Animaniacs songbooks with me. I was surprised to discover that nobody at WBA - and I mean _nobody_, not even the folks who'd written the songs - had seen them. They were quite an object of discussion. I took the opportunity to get Richard Stone and Juile Bernstein (who seemed quite surprised that anyone would want their autographs!), as well as Jess and Tress, to sign them on appropriate pages. There was a lot of autograph signing going on, and it continued as we watched the score being recorded.
Scoring was not at all what I expected. Richard had already written the score out completely, and it was fully orchestrated before any video was played. The cartoon was divided up into segments about a minute long. The orchestra would run through the segment a couple of times, with minor adjustments made from the booth. Once Richard and the director were satisfied, then the video would roll, and Richard would conduct while watching the screen. The orchestra watched him. It was amazing how each note, every musical effect, and all of the theme cues would land on exactly the right spot, all seemingly by magic. We could tell while it was being done a lot about the finished cartoon. When the final version was played back with dialogue, the results were perfect - and the whole process had taken less than an hour.
The dialogue was quite funny, too, and I asked Jess how they managed not to bust out laughing while taping it. He said, "We don't." Fair enough; I know I'd have an impossible time...
We gathered on the steps of the studio for a group picture with the WBA folks. After several shots, we broke up, with the WBA people (except for Cathy) going back to work and us going to the store on the lot. I bought a birthday present for my father there before we went off to do the studio tour.
On the whole, it was an incredible day. The folks from WBA went out of their way to make it successful, and it certainly was more than I had any right to expect. I don't normally drive long distances - about 250 miles is the most I'll normally consider - but that Friday at WB was worth every last one of the 3731 miles I put on my truck.
To Peter, Tom, Jean, Richard, Cathy, Jess, Tress, Audu, Paul, Kathy, Tom, Andrea, and everyone else who made it truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you have my deepest thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for us. I hope that I can repay you one day...