Harvey Kurtzman and Sesame Street

Kurtzman and Sesame Street

Michael Sporn has posted an amazing article about Harvey Kurtzman’s animated work for Sesame Street. There’s a lot of rare artwork in the piece alongside info on how he collaborated with Phil Kimmelman and Associates to make the cartoons.

In particular what stood out to me is this unbelievable page of animation drawings by Dante Barbetta. Loose, free and funny animation–it’s what shows like Chowder can only dream of being.

Kurtzman and Sesame Street

Here’s the finished piece:


  • http://aalong64.blogspot.com Aaron L

    Wow, I never knew Harvey Kurtzman worked on Sesame Street. I love the energy in Barbetta’s animation there. That’s my favourite kind of animation– very loose, expressive and exaggerated.

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

  • mrscriblam

    wow! that is some incredible stuff!

  • http://www.elmwoodproductions.com Jon from Elmwood

    Love Kurtman. Love Sesame Street.

  • http://weirdocorner.blogspot.com Eric Noble

    Awesome. I wish more of Harvey Kurtzman’s work could have been animated. THanks for sharing this.

  • Mark

    WOW! Those are some amazing drawings. And when they move–they are FUNNY! Beautiful. I grew up on Sesame Street, but don’t remember seeing this one!

  • Boris

    When you see animation like this.. today’s animation in Flash or Harmony, even sometimes 3D are going backwards!

  • http://www.jtnethery.blogspot.com James N.

    That… was… incredible :-D

  • http://Mr.FunsBlog Floyd Norman

    My years animating on Sesame Street were the best. If only all animation jobs could have been as much fun.

  • Mesterius

    Ah, love this one! (Even though the ending is predictable.) I actually watched it in my home country many years ago with Norwegian dubbing! Have to say the original voice really enriches the experience, making the great animation shine even more:)

  • Chowderfan

    What stood out to me is this unbelievable page of animation drawings by Dante Barbetta. Loose, free and funny animation—it’s what critics like Amid Amidi can only dream of creating themselves, rather than just commenting on it.

  • http://www.shamoozal.com frank

    “Loose, free and funny animation—it’s what shows like Chowder can only dream of being.”

    you know, its these type of snarky one liners that has stopped me from coming here on a more regular basis. clearly, you can leverage a one-minute short with a single BG and one excellently animated character that took probably around 3-4 months to produce up against a 22 min episode of “chowder” which easily has 20x the production and was done in the same amount (or less) time.

  • jordan reichek

    whoa, amid! all negative on Chowder? that’s a great show, man! sheesh!

  • Tom Pope

    A tribute to a great bit of animation and a fine artist marred by a totally unnecessary, out-of-left-field slam of one of the more inventive series on right now.

  • Deaniac

    EXACTLY what Frank and Jordan said, don’t talk crap about Chowder. “Witty” remarks like that make me wonder why I even come to this place.

    Oh right, the Sesame Street segment. Yeah, it was good.

  • squirrel

    “you know, its these type of snarky one liners that has stopped me from coming here on a more regular basis.”

    Can Amid post a single post without any direct or subtle form of dissing something else? It’s very unprofessional.

  • http://powpowcomics.com Brooks Michael Williams

    Was the slam on Chowder necessary for this sort of article? If anything, pick on a show that doesn’t try to achieve this at all, like Skunk Fu or 6Teen.

    Otherwise I really enjoyed the cartoon in the article.

  • Mark

    Chowder is hardly a “great show.” And it hardly rises above the common din on those cartoon channels.

  • Curt Vile

    Yeah, I’m not sure why picking on Chowder out of nowhere was necessary. I thought you were railing on Cartoon Network to keep its cartoons?

  • Anonymous

    This, great. Chowder, awful.

  • Curt Vile

    Why is Harvey Kurtzman even being compared to Chowder!? They’re 40 years apart, diffirent lengths, diffirent mediums, for diffirent time periods, age groups and sensibilities!

  • jordan reichek

    I’m aware this is getting off topic, however, I’m sure it’s a matter of taste. I just wonder what the Chowder haters find as “good” shows or animation in general. There are always people who will find something to dislike in a show that tries something different.

    Amid is the surprise to me. I’m curious why you don’t care for Chowder. It has a hellavalot more going for it artistically than most of what’s out there.

    Chowder, although different in humor and style from Kurtzman’s stuff, it’s very much in the spirit of his personal “quick sketch” animation. It’s a personal vision that was fully realized on a commercial kid’s network…and a dying one at that!

    I had what I thought was a really great pilot that unfortunately was up against Chowder for pick up. Focus testing worked in their favor. Normally I’d be pissed and jealous…in the case of Chowder, I was happy for them. It was a great show.

    Mark, I agree that there’s a whole buttload of smarmy “toonz” on TV right now…I just don’t see how Chowder falls into that category. We could definitely use more shows in it’s spirit.

  • http://amymebberson.blogspot.com Amy Mebberson

    I remember this one! Wow, I haven’t seen this in several decades.

    We 70′s babies were lucky, we grew up in Sesame Street’s golden age.

  • amid

    Whether it’s appreciated or not, making these kinds of comparisons can be instructive because it allows us to understand why specifically contemporary works fall so short creatively. There’s a reason I singled out Chowder as an example. The show borrows liberally from the loose stlyle of sixties and seventies cartooning yet it is all superficial styling. When it comes to the actual animation, everything moves mechanical and stiff. It’s like the guys making the show put effort into every part of the production except for the animation. They’re content to rely on bland tv formulas, which add nothing to the entertainment of the cartoons, instead of figuring out how to move their characters in fun and interesting ways. How many contemporary show creators actually know how to animate and know how they want their characters to move? Too few in my opinion and Chowder is a prime example.

  • http://textwrap.wordpress.com/ Joel Mielke

    The sketches are really great to see. Thanks for posting!

  • http://tequilawhisperer.com Lippy

    Immediately attractive, gripping, and ENTERTAINING!

    Thank you, guys.. for posting this. I am a BIGGER Kurtzman fan than all of you PUT TOGETHER.

  • http://artofguy.deviantart.com Guy

    I’d just like to say that there are a lot of things that you can criticize Amid for, but pointing out the crudeness of television animation is not one of them.

    Being better than other things in a way that requires a microscope to see it is not something that should be applauded.

  • Chris S

    Amid, I think you opened up a can of worms by drawing a comparison that might seem like a low blow to a well liked television series. Though I don’t agree with the tact you used in this article, I would be very interested to read a more in-depth article that specifically takes on how current productions structure there creative staff. How do they stifle artistic freedom, how were pipelines able to be so much more successful decades ago (assuming animators are not de-evolving), and how might we interpret the differences in a way where future productions might reasonably restructure their production to allow for better animation? Don’t hide it from us, Amid. What are we doing wrong?!

  • http://www.shamoozal.com frank

    amid, you can’t be serious. this site has now lost almost all creditbility in my eyes.

  • http://tymime.wordpress.com/ tymime

    Acidic commentary on animation that is actually good + Dozens of boring artsy-fartsy film-festival shorts I’ll never watch + Lack of actual news on worthwhile animation (Nobody ever did report on Looney Tunes leaving CN back in January) = Cartoon Brew.

    Yup, never coming back here again.

  • jordan reichek

    Amid, you assume that everything in animation is about “breaking rules” and pushing some envelope.

    Sure, it’s a nice thing when it happens however, it’s not an absolute requirement for every damn endeavor in human expression.

    Because Chowder is made by “professional” Hollywood artists for a commercial network rather than a “starving, self-loathing, festival artiste’ with something to prove in every frame”, does not disqualify it as a genuine artistic work. You point out “animation” as why you don’t care for the show. “Animation” or movement is ONE aspect of this art form. Concept, direction, taste, writing, visual execution, aural augmentation are all as valid parts of the form as movement. Chowder meets all of these in an interesting way. Perhaps not in your personal taste, but how can you deny it’s validity?

    Carl Greenblatt broke into animation as a board artist and designer. So he’s not an animator or a timer. So what? For what he brings to the table, his taste & talent is sufficient. He chose to center on what he knows.

    “…borrows liberally from the loose stlyle of sixties and seventies cartooning yet it is all superficial styling.” ???? According to what? Man! I’ve seen you praise WAY too many projects that could absolutely fall under that description far worse than Chowder!

    I could name an intestine-full of shows that get no mention of their mediocrity by you, yet you pick this as an example of a flaccid creativity because of movement?

    Amid, I do believe you have excellent taste. IMO, just make sure you don’t get too caught up in shock value statements at the expense of something worthwhile.

    Sure, independent/experimental animation is great. Thank god it exists. But, if you had any, true idea how difficult it is to get anything worthwhile on the air as a “commercial animation artist” in a not-so-perfect environment, you’d be far less generous in your criticisms and far more generous in your praise.

  • http://www.cementimental.com Tim Drage

    How dare an animation blog critique animation in an informal way! ;__;

  • http://drawjoe.blogspot.com/ Joe Dorsey

    Amid has the right to his own opinion on his blog. This animated short is cute and appealing. But, Chowder…now that’s fun, inventive, and juvenile. What more could you want?

    Superficial styling? Your jedi animation geek mind tricks have no effect on me. Only money!

  • Shaxbert

    Hey, Cartoon Network! Make less live action shows for CB to bitch about, and more cartoons for CB to bitch about!

  • http://aalong64.blogspot.com Aaron Long

    I think Amid mentioned Chowder not because he thinks it’s the worst cartoon on TV or anything, but because it’s praised for certain things that it doesn’t deserve praise for. People say they love its visuals,
    but funny movement is an important part of cartoons, and it doesn’t have any.

    The Mighty B is the only show I’ve seen recently that has funny animation as well as funny drawings. Although I don’t find the writing on either show very funny.

    And I love that loose seventies style. I’ve been hoping for years that it will come back in some small way, since it’s pretty much the polar opposite of the uber-flat style prevalent since the mid-90′s, which I’ve never liked.

  • http://artofguy.blogspot.com Guy

    Typical. You’re acting like someone is absolutely crazy for criticizing something you can hardly say anything to defend.

    Well, let me analyze it for them. Let’s look at a clip, the first one I found. I’d say it’s a good example, as it allows for much room for creativity.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDcICGLpybQ

    Let’s look at the animation. Things twitch up and down a bit, things shake, things slide around, things snap to different model sheet drawings, things wiggle… and that’s about it. There is not an ounce of power, life, creativity, acting, or, well, anything. It’s just a couple drawings being manipulated a little. It’s barely any different (different at all?) than anything else on television.

    Yes, it is a little nicer for kids, and that is nice, but it is not something that should be applauded.

  • http://patrickdeancomics.blogspot.com/ Patrick

    I’m a big Kurtzman nerd and I’d never knew this existed! Thanks.

  • http://2dwannabe.blogspot.com robcat2075

    It’s the malady of the web. One can’t merely dislike something, one must hate it, destroy it, slam it, pwn it, dis it…

  • Mark

    I think the artwork for the show is above average. It’s the bad writing and obnoxious soundtracks (dialogue, music, effects) of most of these shows that are really sad. But I don’t care what a show looks like as I care about the overall effect. If I’m laughing or crying, or cringing in fear–I’m doing well. nothing on these cartoon channels does that for me–especially this show.

  • http://www.taberanimation.com Taber Dunipace

    Love this animation! And the comparison to Chowder remains valid despite it being a bit of a kick in the ribs.

  • http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/ Michael Sporn

    Dante Barbetta is a brilliant, under-recognized animator.

    Chowder is animated by committees of animators in some asian country with no personality whatsoever. There could never be a realistic comparison to something done by the likes of Dante.
    You may as well say that ALL of tv animation is lacking in personality – because it is.

  • Mark

    agreed!

  • Dan Thompson

    Who cares what Amid Amidi thinks? Look up his credentials. He’s only worked on the crappy Adult Party edition of Ren and Stimpy. What qualifies him as an animation authority anyway? He’s an enthusiast? He should try creating a film for once and see just what it’s like to be judged. But he’s just some talentless guy with an opinion. He’s just like any Animation Executive out there. Hypocrite. By the way, the best part about his books are the pictures.

  • Balsam Jade

    The clip Guy referenced could have been written by Bill Danch in 1976. This is cutting edge?

  • http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/ Michael Sporn

    Dan Thompson, your comment is a foolish one. Amid is a very knowledgeable, sophisticated analyst of animation as well as an original and astute historian. You dislike him because you possibly disagree with him and knock him and his books because you have no rational means to debate him. Get your facts together before you start throwing mud. Amid does and then he not only allows you to express yourself on his blog, but he approves it.

  • Thomas Dee

    I kind of agree that whenever the only way to praise one thing is to slam another thing down, it gets a little repetitive around here.

    Kurtzman’s work here did not make this thing a classic, by the way. It’s fun to see, and nicely done, but even some of the positive comments here go overboard, no pun intended.

  • Bob Harper

    Since this knock was to be instructive and people need to fact check before commenting, then let’s include all the information before comparing these two pieces.
    1.Harvey Kurtzman was arguably the greatest cartoonist who ever lived. Comparing modern cartoonists to his genius is like comparing modern illustrators to DaVinci.

    2.This two minutes had more production time dedicated to it than any two minutes of Chowder.

    3.This short was done under the complete supervision from concept to completion by the most accomplished cartoonist ever. And done in one location, which Chowder is not.

    4.There were no corporate notes that handcuffed Kurtzman’s creativity, which unfortunately exists at every network.

    Compare other productions of that era to Kurtzman’s, especially TV animation, and all would still pale in comparison. Now compare the ANIMATION of all TV shows from the beginning to present and you’ll see formulaic stiff animation pretty much throughout. You’ll have glimpses of genius spread out here and there from Hanna Barbera to Jay Ward studios as you would have with some modern productions from Ren and Stimpy, SpongeBob to Invader Zim and Mighty B. Still most all TV animation relied on formula and shortcuts to meet the demands of companies who were not interested in quality.

    Like or hate Chowder and/or Kurtzman, it’s not an equal comparison.

  • amid

    Jordan – We’ve had this discussion before, and I respect your point of view, especially because of your long experience of doing quality work in the field. But we’ll have to agree to disagree. I don’t expect everything to break rules or be completely original. But the fact that similar looking work produced forty years ago is so much better than today’s animation is lamentable. TV cartoons could be much better and a major reason they’re not is because of complacency within the industry.

    You mention that the creator of Chowder doesn’t come from an animation background. Why is it wrong to ask that animation creators know how to animate and time their characters? That was an unspoken rule in the earlier days of animation and it’s safe to say that today’s cartoons would be a lot better if such expectations were had of creators.

    While it’s true that animation is but one part of the process, it’s an undeniably important piece of the puzzle. There are things that I appreciate about Chowder besides its animation, but what I can’t get past is how boring those characters are to watch moving around the screen. They are limp and lifeless as characters because they neglect to use the medium they were designed for. The Sesame Street piece above reminds us of how far the art form has devolved and where we still have to go. And I have no doubt it’s possible to achieve these heights again within a commercial production framework give the right people and production process.

  • Bob Harper

    Amid,

    I agree with your sentiment that you just posted. Unfortunately TV episodic animation has never achieved the animation quality of the Kurtzman piece and it’s not due to artist complacency.

    It’s due to the gatekeepers wanting a product for a certain budget, certain schedule and final creative control. In their mind they’re paying for it so they should say how it is done. As a business I can’t argue with them.

    As an artist it is up to me to push my work that I do for myself and push as much as I can on work that belongs to others. Hopefully with digital distribution and growing models for making money off animation, artists will rise up to make great pieces of art. Just don’t count on it hapenning in a corporate controlled environment that must adhere to shareholders best interests.

  • jordan reichek

    Amid…

    I cannot say I disagree with your POV. I simply think of the shows out there, Chowder’s commendable and has a lot going for it.

    Believe me, I’m shocked at some of the network pick-ups of late…for a host of reasons. AND, I WISH the movement of the characters was my main gripe with them.

    What I meant about Carl not being an animator (and honestly, I’m assuming that) was in general terms. Forty years ago, animation artists across the board were paid as professionals to work in a system that engaged soup-to-nuts production…development/story/design to in-house animation and ink and paint. You worked your way up.

    Directors were grown on the job, usually starting from clean-up and learning the ropes in a studio environment. Most of the old guys also enjoyed YEARS of employment and training in one studio. Either that or they hopped around to a similar system at a competitor studio. All this while they raised families and kept food on the table.

    Chuck Jones was grown in the testube of Warner Bros. He learned it all on the job and was then equipped to run with it.

    For me, John K. and Spumco was the closest I got to experiencing that old style studio environment.

    Those days are pretty much over. TV animation especially offers little in the way of growth. If you’re good enough of a board artist and have some people skills, that’s usually the path to directing or creating a show. Unfortunately, pumping out an 11 minute board every 4-5 weeks can keep one from the well-rounded ability of the old guys.

    In many ways, starting young in TV animation is mixed bag. You tend to get hooked on the heroin injection of a paycheck and somewhere along the line that’s all you chase. The networks are not investing in us or themselves. Everything is about the quick fix.

    Because of this, I try to find the positive in a show when it comes out. Sometimes, there simply is no positive and I run out of cheeks to turn.

    Chowder, IMO, is much better than the common fare. It’s ambitious in many areas and has lots of great bits in it.

    All I’m sayin buddy, is give Chowder some cheek!

  • David K

    Please close the comments on this thread. Based on the last post, it’s good to end this run with some class.

    Cartoon Brew, keep stirring the pot and generating some dialogue about animation.

    Thanks – DK

  • http://vincemusacchia.blogspot.com vince m

    It’s too bad that instead of having a chance to appreciate the collaboration between Kurtzman & Barbetta we wound up with a balls up about Chowder, thanks to a flip comment that was unnecessary.

  • amid

    Bob, you wrote, “In their mind they’re paying for it so they should say how it is done. As a business I can’t argue with them.”

    This, in a nutshell, is the complacent mindset that afflicts too many artists and which is why there is so much inferior product being made nowadays. As an artist, you DO have a responsibility to say how things should be. You’re the entertainer and your job is to convince the businesspeople of the most beautiful and entertaining way of getting the job done.

    I just spent a year working with John K on his memoir. In the book, he explains the specific ways he changed the system at the different studios he worked at like Filmation and Hanna-Barbera, and how he innovated on his own productions, even at the expense of getting fired on a few occasions. That culminated in Ren and Stimpy, a height in TV animation that hasn’t been duplicated since. You wrote that great pieces of art can’t happen in a “corporate controlled environment that must adhere to shareholders best interests.” Artists with passion and drive like Tim Burton, John K, and Brad Bird have disproved that notion on countless occasions. The corporate environment isn’t ideal, but artists also need to shoulder responsibility for the work they’re making.

  • Bob Harper

    Amid,

    You know as well as anybody what happened to John K after he changed the system. The system spit him out and took his characters and produced them how they felt.

    Not being able to argue with the business does not mean I’m complacent, it means I don’t have the leverage to buck the system.
    Your insinuation that I don’t try to make things better is insulting and ignorant. You weren’t there in the trenches with us when we tried making new shorts that were unique and animator driven, only to have the execs stare at us like we had lost our minds and put the kabosh on the whole thing. You weren’t at all the meetings when we tried giving direction to make existing projects more innovative. We don’t get to make programming decisions for the network.

    I’ve been a supporter of your work and your movement, and a student of what John K and the archives have offered. I push myself on every project I’m a part of, and voice my opinion on what I think would make things better. So I don’t know where you get off as categorizing me as someone who is complacent, at least I’m in there swinging away. I take pride that I do an excellent job that my director asks of me which is my responsibilty as an artist. And have had animation legends gove kudos to my work. If I ever get my own show then the end product will be my responsibility which I will shoulder what I am able to control.

    Realizing I can’t buck the system, yet, I’m working on building more leverage to have a stronger voice and also be part of the new movement that will ultimately be the new system.

    The corporate environment I was referring to was specific to TV animation. No show in the history of TV has ever rivaled the animation quality of classic shorts and features, for very specific reasons.

  • http://rwentworth.blogspot.com Sir Richard Wentworth

    Excellent article on Kurtzman. That stuff is definitely cartoon gold.

    RE: Chowder… Seems to me that animated cartoons are as much about design (and cartooning) as they are about animation… if they weren’t, I guess we’d all be watching expertly animated stick figures and wireframes.

    I think the design on Chowder is extremely well done and well thought out. The animation is adequate to support the humor.

  • http://artofguy.blogspot.com Guy

    Sir Richard Wentworth: That seems to me to be like defending Animorphs or something like that by saying:

    “Seems to me that books are as much about concepts (and writing) as they are about descriptions… if they weren’t, I guess we’d all be reading expertly-written descriptions of foxes jumping over dogs.”

  • http://rwentworth.blogspot.com Sir Richard Wentworth

    No, not really.