Thursday 30 January 2020

January 2020 update

Happy 2020 to all viewers!  The archive is kicking off the year strong with...

MP 4034 The Transformers The Movie

Thanks to contributor Avon - the archive now hosts all 31 storyboard sequences for the movie.  As such, the existing draft scripts and lists of cut scenes have been collected with the storyboards into a new dedicated page for the movie (accessed from the Productions link on the right).

MP 900 Defenders Of The Earth

The official YouTube channel for King Features Entertainment (owners of DoE and the newspaper strip characters that comprise it) is uploading the show for free, episode-by-episode.  For episodes that have scripts or storyboards available, the videos will be directly linked once they have been uploaded.  Root Of Evil and Escape From Mongo are currently linked and more will follow.


With permission from - and thanks to - Marvel Productions storyboard artist Michael Swanigan.  The archive now hosts several partial storyboards from various shows:

MP 6000 Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends

6018 A Firestar Is Born (5 pages)

MP 100 The Incredible Hulk

07 The Creature And The Cavegirl (9 pages)

MP 400 Dungeons & Dragons

01 The Night Of No Tomorrow (21 pages)

03 The Hall Of Bones (21 pages)

22 The Dragon's Graveyard (25 pages)

MP 600 G.I Joe

4007 The Worms Of Death (The MASS Device, part 3)  (10 pages)

21 The Greenhouse Effect (9 pages)

MP 6501 Fraggle Rock (Animated)

02A Big Trouble For A Little Fraggle (20 pages)

04A A Fraggle For All Seasons (20 pages)

10A Mokey's Flood Of Creativity (20 pages)

All of these storyboards can be found at the respective show pages.

Friday 24 January 2020

The dialogue recording

Once a script was marked as "final", it could then be made available to record the dialogue.  It would then fall to the production company to book a recording session and voice director, as well as contact the voice actors' respective agencies to book them for the session.

A voice actor would have a maximum number of three speaking roles for every session.  If there were one-off roles or incidental voices required in the script, these would be distributed among the actors who had not reached their three character limit.  On shows with large ensemble casts, there would sometimes be a small amount of dialogue lines from a character in the script that proved insufficient to justify booking that character's voice actor for the session.  In these instances, dialogue would be reassigned to a character whose voice actor was already booked.

If a voice actor was unavailable for a particular session due to prior bookings, a separate "pick-up" session would be booked to allow their dialogue to be recorded as soon as possible.
For shows intended to be broadcast on one of the three US networks (ABC, CBS and NBC), scripts were reviewed and approved by network executives and the approved dialogue had to be rigidly adhered to.  For syndication broadcast, a looser approach was permitted, with changes made in the recording session itself.  One notable instance of major change was to the opening scene of Transformers episode Five Faces Of Darkness, part 1.  The broadcast scenes of the Constructicons fighting over energon cubes had to be created on the spot, as the original dialogue scripts reveal that the miniseries was meant to open with a fight between the Insecticons (characters who were reformatted in Transformers The Movie and who effectively no longer existed) in a fight with Menasor.

Five Faces Of Darkness, part 1 dialogue script on the bottom left....

...and the broadcast version.

However, allowing changes during the session could lead to potential errors, as dialogue would sometimes be swapped between characters.  Or at other times, characters would read written on-screen text differently to what had been directed in the script and first-draft storyboards.  In both cases, due to the hectic production schedules, there was often no time to accommodate these changes in the final storyboard revisions that were sent to the overseas animators.

Where scheduling permitted, the dialogue scripts that every voice actor worked from would be drawn up using scene numbers from the first draft storyboards.  This has been confirmed as being the case on all of G.I Joe season 1, Inhumanoids and Transformers up to and including the episode The Insecticon Syndrome.

At the beginning of 1985, a change was made on Transformers starting with Dinobot Island, part 1.  From then until the end of the series, finalised scripts would have each line of dialogue numbered and transcribed to the dialogue scripts.  This enabled recording sessions to be booked and take place ahead of the completion of the first draft storyboards.  

 MP 700-28 The Insecticon Syndrome dialogue script, organised by storyboard scene numbers

MP 700-29 Dinobot Island, part 1 dialogue script.  Drawn up using dialogue lines numbered on the full script.

Script page from Bucky O'Hare episode MP 6610-12 Bye-Bye Berserker Baboon, with dialogue numbered, to be transcribed for the dialogue script.

Due to the manic production schedule of season 3, several episodes would have their scripts finalised on a Monday or Tuesday, then go into a dialogue session on the Thursday or Friday of that same week.  Among those episodes that were rushed to dialogue were Thief In The Night, The Big Broadcast of 2006, Only Human, Grimlock's New Brain and Call Of The Primitives (see the production timeline for dates):

To listen to a sampling of dialogue recording from this era, follow this link to a playlist of deleted dialogue from Transformers season 1 (Thanks to Transformers At The Moon).

For a lot of animal noises or human sounds known as "Body English", particularly ones that were strenuous for an actor to perform at every session.  Additional Dialogue Recording sessions would be booked to put these sounds on tape.  The tapes could then be re-used by the production company sound editors over and over again.  Some notable ADR tapes include:

  • The late Bob Holt recorded stock roaring sounds for The Incredible Hulk in 1982.  The recordings would be frequently used by Marvel Productions on multiple shows.  Including Juggernaut on Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, various monsters in Dungeons and Dragons and the barbarian Ramar in the first G.I Joe miniseries.  As well as the final, posthumous use:  the roars of Unicron in Transformers The Movie
  • Shortly after production of Transformers season 1, director Wally Burr recorded Frank Welker to make a stock library of sounds for the Decepticon jaguar Ravage.  Excerpts from this session would be used for all of Ravage's appearances throughout the rest of the series.  The tape would see it's final use in 1986 on the final episode of G.I Joe: Into Your Tent I Will Silently Creep.  The tape can be listened to at this link:
  • Around a similar timeframe as the creation of the Ravage tape.  Chris Latta was brought in to record a stock library for Laserbeak, which again was used for all of Laserbeak's appearances throughout the series.  For over 30 years, it was assumed that the role of Laserbeak had been performed by Frank Welker, due to his long association with performing animal noises for animation.  However, when Transformers dialogue recordings surfaced in 2016, it was revealed to have been Latta's role all along.  The tape can be listened to here:

Friday 17 January 2020

The storyboard and slugging process

In the last article, we looked at the process of story editing a script.  Now we look at two of the key aspects of production: storyboards and slugging.

Here are some examples of storyboard cover pages from the archive

Once a script was passed to Marvel's storyboard department, first draft storyboards were normally expected to be completed within two to three weeks.  Ideally, each act of an episode would be assigned to a separate artist.  Some top artists, such as Will Meugniot on the G.I Joe episodes Cobra Quake and Worlds Without End part 1, had provision in their contracts to storyboard an episode on their own.  As the workload increased at Marvel during late 1985 and into 1986, there were instances of an artist having to storyboard an episode on their own in the same timescale normally given to three artists.  Such as Doug Lefler's incredibly rough boards for the Transformers episode Cosmic Rust.

At this time in the animation industry, the obligation to be on-model did not lie with the storyboard artists.  That was reserved for the layouts, a process which had been outsourced either to the animating studio, or to !XAM Productions in Utah.

Because of this, combined with the presence among Marvel's storyboard department of top comic book artists, storyboards had a variety of contrasting art styles.  From clean, simple lines to very rough to heavily stylised in a way that would never make it to the actual animation.

From Defenders Of The Earth episode 39: The Defense Never Rests

From the Dungeons & Dragons episode 16 The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow

From Jem episode 33 Trick Or Techrat.  The music video for We Can Change It, version 2

Once the first draft was completed, a copy would be sent to the animation directors (Or sequence directors, depending on how they were credited).  A number of them were veterans of the animation industry, who started their careers with either the original Walt Disney or Warner Bros. Studios in the 1930's and 1940's.
Their role was first to time out, or "slug", the non-dialogue portions of each scene.  The list of timings would then be handed to a producer to add to the storyboards.  As seen below in this page from Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends.

The numbers refer to the Feet and Frames of footage required for each scene.

Meanwhile, the animation directors would prepare the exposure sheets for each scene.  These would be detailed frame-by-frame instructions to the overseas' animators.  As shown at the link below in these examples from the later seasons of Muppet Babies (From the blog of warburtonlabs):

A quick key to the exposure sheets:

The top row would detail the production number, footage length, scene number and sequence number.
The horizontal bold lines, every eighth line down, represent half a foot of footage.

Then from left to right:

Column 1: Represents the path and flow of action
Column 2: Details dialogue, broken down into it's phonetic components
Column 3: Lists the levels of animation.  In other words, how many separate cels were required for an individual frame.  The maximum number of acetate cels allowed was always five, with the sixth column being the background
Columns 4 and 5: Notes for the Camera Operator including trucking, panning, field size and which background was to be used.

The raw "unslugged" recordings of the dialogue session, once they were available to the sound editors, would then be spaced out to the director's timings to create the full running length of the episode.  With the slugged recording available, producers would then know how many scenes would need to be cut in final storyboard revisions.

Once the final storyboard revisions had been decided upon, the storyboards would be packed up. Along with the exposure sheets, model sheets/cels, colour keys, background keys, background layouts and a whole host of other production material and shipped out for animation.

Thursday 9 January 2020

From draft to final, the story editing process: Cosmic Rust

In the last article we looked at the process of submitting a draft script.  Now we will look at the process of story editing using one of the most recent additions to the archive: The Transformers episode Cosmic Rust.

The story editors for the Transformers main series from 700-01 Transport To Oblivion to 700-64 B.O.T were Bryce Malek and Dick Robbins.  After which, they were tasked by Marvel Productions to relaunch and be story editors for the stalled production of Defenders Of The Earth.  A 65-episode series produced on behalf of King Features Entertainment.

From 700-02 Roll For It until at least 700-42 Make Tracks, they were assisted by Ron Friedman who was credited as providing "Additional Dialogue".  In practice, this meant Friedman largely re-writing every line of dialogue and the story editors accepting most of what he gave them.  Whilst there has not yet been any paper verification beyond the scripts that Friedman himself has sold off, it seems likely that his involvement with the series ended in March 1985 due to him being needed to finish writing The Transformers The Movie, then writing the third G.I Joe miniseries and then beginning work on G.I Joe: The Movie.

Cosmic Rust (originally title Rust In Peace) was completed by series' production co-ordinator Paul Davids on 10th September 1985.  While the archive does not have the finalised copy of the script, it does have the full storyboards and dialogue script, which were drawn up using the version of the script that was passed out of story editing.

First draft script:

Full storyboards (with final revisions made by producer George Singer):

Full dialogue script:

I know you are, but what am I?
The opening exchange between Rumble and Astrotrain is changed to be more adversarial.


RUMBLE: Hey, Astrotrain, look out for those asteroids!

ASTROTRAIN (VO): Relax, Rumble!  Do you always have to be a back-seat driver?

ASTROTRAIN (CONT): Well, fry my heat shield!  Get a load of that -- the Autobot symbol!


RUMBLE: Astrotrain!  Look out for those asteroids!

ASTROTRAIN: Quiet, pipsqueak! You're bothering me!

ASTROTRAIN (CONT): Well, fry my heatshields!

RUMBLE: I'll do more than that if you call me pipsqueak again!

ASTROTRAIN: Get a load of that, pipsqueak - the Autobot symbol!

Sadly, while the storyboard scenes are left intact, this added joke was deleted from the soundtrack.  Sometimes dialogue would be cut from scenes where the visuals were retained, in order to better pace out the amount of dialogue.

Till All Are One
By September 1985, the major details for The Transformers The Movie were locked in as production of the movie went full steam ahead.  As such, there was a drive to drop in early references in order to set up for the movie.  Such as bringing in female Transformers in The Search For Alpha Trion or generally dialling up the violence level in the last dozen or so episodes of the season.  One such reference was inserted by the editors when Starscream laments that none of them can read Ancient Autobot, Megatron intercedes:

MEGATRON:  I do, you illiterate clod!  I am fluent in every planetary language!

(CONT): It says the Thirteenth Legion of Autobots arrived here the first millennium after Autobots were first created.....

(CONT): -- which would make it about five hundred thousand years before we Decepticons left for Earth!

In the final edit, the second line is changed to say "...the first millennium after the creation of the Autobot Matrix."  The third line was then given to Starscream.  This early attempt to introduce the Matrix was cut in the final storyboard revision.

A MacGuffin by any other name:
The draft script refers to Perceptor's rust-proofing agent as the Ultra Compound.  This was changed to Corrostop in the final version.  Often a device or other plot-relevant item might have it's name changed in order to make the dialogue flow more easily.  For instance, the weather core in the previous episode Trans-Europe Express was originally titled The Pearl Of Jehuddin.  This was changed to Bahoudin for better dialogue flow.

Always picked last
During the G1 35th Anniversary Reuinion at TFCon in 2019, Paul Davids made his collection of production material available to view for the attendees.  One item was the edited outline for this episode.  One key change between outline and script was that Paul intended for Shockwave to be on the mission to Antilla.  A handwritten note states "No, leave him on Cybertron".
It is likely that many of the scenes featuring Starscream throughout the first act, including those of him providing medical care to Megatron, were originally meant for Shockwave.

Action! Action! Action!
Originally the cliffhanger to Act 1 was for the Aerialbots to pursue Blitzwing into New York City, with Silverbolt opting to fly above.  The last line before Fade Out being Skydive's "Keep your wings tucked back, guys-- It looks like trouble!"
The editors must not have felt this to be a sufficiently exciting cliffhanger, so an insert scene was added where Blitzwing banks around a skyscraper and opens fire on the Aerialbots.  We go to break with the explosion caused by his laser blasts filling the screen.  We return from break to find that the Aerialbots have dodged the blasts unharmed, Fireflight commenting "Lucky that guy can't aim straight!"
The entire scene was cut, along with a lot of material from the subsequent chase through the city, in the final storyboard revisions.  The act break was moved up to Perceptor being shoved into Blitzwing's hold by Breakdown, fading out on Dead End's line of "You've got an appointment with Megatron"

2 for 1 special
The scene of Blaster riding aboard Cosmos through space, lamenting their inability to find the secret ingredient, was shortly followed by them arriving at Autobot HQ to report their news to Prime.  The information the audience needed from the second scene was added to the first and the second scene deleted in the story edit.  Originally, Blaster reports the more plausible explanation that they have searched the entire solar system (Playing on past story given that Cosmos was making a return trip from near Titan in The God Gambit).  This was changed to the more vague line from Cosmos of "There is no more Ingredient X - anywhere!"

You're on your own.....or are you?
Once the Autobots realise that Megatron is frying their headquarters with the heat ray, Prime calls the Aerialbots for support, their response?

SKYDIVE: (noncommittal) It's unfortunate that you are under siege.  However, it's very inadvisable that we expose ourselves to Cosmic Rust!"

SLINGSHOT: Yeah!  We don't wanna catch your disease!

SILVERBOLT: Sorry, Optimus -- you're on your own!

*Aerialbots fly out, screen fades out*

OPTIMUS PRIME: (softly) Then we are doomed.

Megatron and Rumble then fly off carrying the lightning bug, with Megatron proclaiming "Another hour or so, and there will be nothing left of Prime and the Autobots!"

This subplot of the Aerialbots walking out on the Autobots in their time of need somewhat plays on plot elements from The Key To Vector Sigma, part 2.  During the battle on Liberty Island, the Aerialbots return to attack Menasor with the following exchange:

OPTIMUS PRIME: came back!

SILVERBOLT (VO): You didn't think we'd really leave you in the lurch, did you?

SLINGSHOT (VO): What d'ya think we are?....cowards?!

Perhaps due to it's nature as a recycled story point, this entire subplot was deleted in the final edit.

That's all for our look at story editing.  Next up: A look at the storyboarding and slugging process.