Animation Magazine Producer Interviews
The following appeared in the October 1996 issue of Animation Magazine. It was recovered here.
Jonny Quest Returns With a New Look and a New Series from Hanna-Barbera
by N.F. Mendoza
Light up the marquee!
Jonny's back and he's bad.
Of course, that's bad as in the colloquial good, because Jonny Quest, he of the helmet hair, of the cute animated roundness of the sixties... well, Jonny's come back a changed guy.
There's no question that _The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest_ is an event. Hanna-Barbera has enough confidence, not only to bring back the classic cartoon, but to simultaneously strip the series on its parent Turner networks. The new _Quest_ airs on TNT, TBS Superstation as well as the Cartoon Network, for an unprecedented 21 times each week on the three networks.
Why? That's easy. The audience interest was there.
"It was a collective decision among a variety of people at the studio and the amount of phone calls and letters about _Quest_ was huge," offers Fred Seibert, president of Hanna-Barbera Inc. He points out how the interest in action-adventure cartoons over the last 40 years has gone up and down and clearly now was the time. "We looked at _Quest_ and realized, 'what a breath of fresh air in the spate of adventure shows.'" As "an average kid," Jonny's a stand-out among superheroes. "He's an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances."
This time around, Jonny's a little older, 14, and he's got Race's 15-year-old daughter Jessie Bannon along for adventures. But the most significant change is the show's look.
"Our ability in art direction in action-adventure series has evolved from the era of the first _Quest_," says Sherry Gunther, senior vice president of production for Hanna-Barbera.
Several types of animation are used in the new 52 episodes of _Quest_. The main bulk of the stories are either digitally ink-and-painted or traditional cel animation, but many episodes feature adventures in "QuestWorld", a virtual reality where Jonny, Hadji and Jessie enter to either play in or solve mysteries. QuestWorld is done in 3-D computer animation and the series features 100 minutes of this type of animation, more than in Disney's _Toy Story_, making it the most time in any movie or series.
Gunther estimates that a quarter of the series is painted digitally. The digital ink-and-paint -- done at the Toon['s] Factory in Paris, Varga Studios in Budapest, Hungary, and USAnimation in Los Angeles -- "allowed us to enhance the background and the atmospheric elements within the post-production," says Gunther. "We had an excess of 20 hours per episode in video sessions just for effects, beyond the normal things you do for series. We added light effects, rain, snow, glitter, reflections, fog, made things much more realistic in post[-production]."
The traditional animation was sent to PAC (Pacific Animation) in Japan, Mook in Japan, and Koko in Korea. The virtual reality of QuestWorld was handled by Buzz Effects, whose main office is in Montreal, but for _Quest_, the work was done out of their Santa Monica facility. "They created the footage for QuestWorkd," says Gunther. "Through the use of computer animation and motion-capture photography," where an actor is hooked up on several areas of his or her body and the character on screen moves with him/her. "There's a definite difference visually between the regular world and the Quest world," within each episode, she says.
"We really liked the look and creativity of Buzz," says David Lipman, supervising producer of _Quest_, who also was the former executive producer and vice president of USAnimation, from his current offices at Hanna-Barbera. "It was a definitely more sophisticated look and lit so beautifully. We were just impressed with what they could do creatively."
Carl Seibert, producer at Buzz Effects who worked on _Quest_ responds, "We've taken state-of-the-art technology and approached the project from a creative perspective, as opposed to a technical perspective. Buzz doesn't boast about our computing power. We don't gauge our productivity based on the type and quantity of equipment we have. And really, our product is creatively driven." He adds, "Basically, we use technology to achieve a creative goal that is a departure from what's known as computer generated. We try for a more organic, photo-realistic feel and then we incorporate motion-capture. It brings in a human element that's really not well represented in the marketplace today. This house is by far the most dedicated to the artistic side. We've incorporated the latest in motion-caption Vicom Optical System to capture both facial and body motion which is designed to streamline the animation process." "It was complex and challenging to get it all going," notes Gunther, of the long-awaited project.
The initial design for the new Jonny came courtesy of Takashi, an art director who was involved in the initial concept and design, the basic elements. The characters are now edgier, with flowing hair and the background is richer.
"The style of the animation is much more sophisticated," Gunther says. "We've probably made him more handsome, rather than the cute kid he used to be."
The concept further evolved with the different directors and producers who were involved. Gunther gives producer John Eng -- who worked the last three seasons of USA's _Duckman_ and other projects at Klasky Csupo -- the bulk of the credit for finishing the first 26 episodes.
Says Gunther, "He (Eng) really set the style of the art direction, through the background painting style, how the characters move, how the story was cut, the timing of it all." The other main players who produced and directed other episodes are Davis Doi, Larry Houston and Cos Anzilotti.
Season More L-R: Davis Doi, Cos Anzilotti, David Lipman, John Eng, Victoria McCollum, Larry Houston, Carol Iverson
There has been some talk within the animation industry about the many personnel changes that surrounded _Quest_, which began with a production team headed up by Dick Sebast that "lasted for a very short time," a Hanna-Barbera representative stresses.
The second production team was headed up by producer'writer Peter Lawrence and artist Takashi. The third, and current team, is headed up by Lipman.
"This has been a three-year development project," explains the rep. "And with something this involved, it's not surprising that the direction shifted. We amicably agreed to part ways with the various other producers." He points out that Hanna-Barbera directed Lipman's team to work on some of Lawrence's team's first 26 episodes.
Story-wise, some episodes will actually be two or more parts. However, each episode will be a "stand-alone" story, says Gunther.
The stories revolve around Jonny and his friends as they explore the realms of paranormal phenomenon in some episodes and venture into QuestWorld in other episodes. From the Himalayas to the jungles of SOutheast Asia to the deserts of the American Southwest, and into the intriguing computer environment of QuestWorld, the Quest team bring us into their hair-raising team adventures in every episode. Jonny and his pals will have adventures with the abominable snowman, look for missing artifacts in the rainforest and battle ghosts. A staff of four writers put together the stories with the help of an additional six to eight free-lancers.
_The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest_ is seen in more than 40 countries and dubbed into 14 languages, using native speakers in each country. It also represents one of the largest licensing and merchandising kids' programming initiatives to date from Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc. and Turner Home Entertainment. Some 33 licensees will put out products ranging from a "Fishing Adventures Kit" to bakery kits and decorations.
_The Adventures of Jonny Quest_ originally premiered in prime-time in 1964 on ABC. It ran throughout the sixties, seventies and through 1980 on CBS, ABC and NBC. In 1987, 13 new episodes of _Jonny Quest_ were made as part of the "Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera" and enjoyed success on TNT and the Cartoon Network. Here's some trivia: the original voice of Jonny Quest, back in 1964, came courtesy of actor Tim Matheson)who then spelled his name Matthieson).
Despite the resistance from hard-core _Quest_ fans, Seibert is confident that the new show will be a success.
"It's one of the great things about the modern comic genres, there are half-a-dozen versions of Batman, all personal interpretations, and they've all made Batman more popular. We think the same thing could happen with Jonny Quest."