Ink and Paint

tta writing credit screencapYou know, I looked at this image a moment ago, one that I’ve seen probably a hundred times, and I just now realized — it’s no wonder people have gotten confused sometimes about which animated character I am, because if you assume they’re listing our names from left to right, I should be on the far left. They… kinda screwed that up.

Anyway, that’s me on the far right, in the green. (I did have a perm later on in high school, but back then my hair was straight.) Amy’s on the far left.

February 26, 1991:

I forgot to mention our animated alter egos — or, rather, I forgot to describe them.

Sarah looked like hair with glasses, Amy resembled Bette Midler, and I had no eyes.

So yeah. Nothing fires up teen insecurity like having a caricature of yourself broadcast on national TV. I mean, not that it’s a terrible likeness or anything, but…

Some random notes for the record: This was a time when tunic tops and leggings were in style, so coincidentally, I actually had an outfit in almost those shades of green. The wristwatch I’m wearing is, if I recall, a nod to the Bugs Bunny watch I wore back then. And (as I mentioned in this post), though there was talk at one point of letting us record our own voices, that didn’t happen, and we were voiced by three of the show’s regular voice actors.  (We weren’t very happy about those thick accents, either — though that’s another aspect of our characters that’s mellowed for me over time.)

One thing I was never able to get my hands on, though I wanted one even then, was a production cel of my character. (Here’s a Wikipedia link for those of you who aren’t up on animation terminology or are too young to remember when cels were still being used.)

At the time, we were told there had been some sort of problem with the cels from that episode and that as a result they would never be released for purchase. Before we were married, my husband, who’d been collecting Tiny Toons cels for a while, was able to get one from the show’s notebook-paper segment, but we never saw anything else offered through Warner Bros.’ regular sales channels.

Apparently whatever process was being used to transfer the drawings to the cels (instead of hand-inking them like they did in the old days) resulted in lines that gradually faded, and there was also some mention that there were no plans to release any cels with anyone’s likeness other than a regular Tiny Toons character (legal/copyright reasons, maybe?).

bbgh cel
Our production cel from “Buster and Babs Go Hawaiian.” (Note those faded lines on stick-Babs.)

All that said — I did happen to run across the image below several years ago on a Russian fan website. I don’t know if this was something they personally owned or just an image snagged from somewhere else online, but it certainly got my attention.

tta cel

It’s an interesting line, being able to say that you were once a cartoon character. I don’t know how many people get to say that who weren’t already celebrities being parodied or guest starring in one show or another. I’ve gotten older, as humans all do, but the cartoon version of me will be Thirteen forever. I like to think she’s still writing Tiny Toons scripts on that ’90s-era computer.

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Step by Step

One of the coolest parts of having our story made into an episode was that the crew made such an effort to include us in every part of the process. Before the January trip to L.A. for the story meeting, we were sent the first draft of the script (essentially a story treatment), and then in March we received the final script. Later on, we were sent a copy of the storyboards (fascinating for Thirteen, now that she wanted to be an animator), and then a VHS of the rough cut of the show (more on that in a later entry).

There was even talk at one point of the three of us recording our own voices for our characters, but sadly that didn’t happen, and we wound up being voiced by the show’s cast. (It wasn’t until fairly recently, when I read the episode’s Tiny Toon Adventures Wiki page, that I found out which actress had voiced each of us. Assuming that listing is accurate, my stand-in was the awesome Cree Summer, who also voiced Elmyra.)

One of the more frequent questions I’ve gotten over the years is how much of the “meta” material (the cameos by Spielberg and the three of us, etc.) was from our original story. The answer is, pretty much none of it. Other than the core story of Buster and Babs’ vacation, the only other material that was taken from those original drawings was the bit about the History of Q-tips, which was a fake cover page I made for one part of the story, poking fun at a previous teacher of mine who had a reputation for being boring. (I kind of hope now that he never figured out that was supposed to be him. Thirteen could be ruthless sometimes.)

I think the writers made a good choice, though, in including the behind-the-scenes-type gags. Aside from the fun we got out of actually being in the episode (how many people get to say they were once literally cartoon characters?), it made the story behind the episode part of the episode, in a way that I think made the whole thing hold up better. If all that material hadn’t been in there, and they’d just made our relatively simple story of Buster and Babs’ vacation hijinks, I doubt it would have held up well, and it would have just been a footnote of “oh yeah, that was that episode those kids wrote, that’s why it’s not that great.”

(Of course, maybe it still has that footnote, but if so, don’t care.)

A sampling of the treatment, script, and storyboards for the opening scenes…

Story treatment pages

Script pages

Storyboard pages

 

The Grand Tour (Monday, January 21, 1991 – Part Two)

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Me, Sarah, Tiny Toons executive producer Jean MacCurdy, and Amy.

After we left Amblin, it was time to go to the Warner Bros. studio lot. After a tour, we had lunch at the commissary, then called the Blue Room (where we noted that Dixie Carter was eating across the room from us), and then stopped in for souvenirs at the company store. Not that the three of us needed much in the way of souvenirs, since our publicist, Valerie, had just handed us each a Bugs Bunny tote bag full of stickers, stationery (including Tiny Toons Valentines), figurines, a hat, a beach towel, and fifty of those Tiny Toons enamel pins to give out at school. (As Thirteen noted, “I think WB doesn’t know how to do anything except make movies and cartoons and give people stuff.”)

After we finished our shopping, we continued with the tour of the backlot. We saw where they record the music for Tiny Toons and Dallas. (It was also where the music for all the WB cartoons was recorded.)

We saw the street from The Flash, and got to meet John Wesley Shipp. We also saw the Mogwai store from Gremlins 2, as well as streets from Dick Tracy and the sets of Life Goes On.

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Meeting John Wesley Shipp.

For some reason, out of the entire trip I have the least memory of our time touring the backlot. I can’t even remember now whether we were walking around all the time (probably) or in the bus, or what. I’m guessing it just got overshadowed in my mind by the story meeting that morning and then the afternoon at Warner Bros. Animation, which was obviously of more interest for a teenager now wanting to be an animator.

There, we saw more of the people from the story meeting — like Sheri Stoner, who modeled Ariel in The Little Mermaid. (She was really cool.) Plus, we saw the background designers (and some of the backgrounds from certain episodes), the cel painters, and of course, some of the animators.

Throughout the studio, we saw all these pencils stuck in the ceiling. Frustrated animators. Amy said she could picture me doing that.

We even got to meet Charlie Adler, the voice of Buster. We went around this corner and all of a sudden we hear, “Hi, Toonsters!” We all expected to see a blue rabbit standing in front of us, but instead we see this guy.

Thirteen wasn’t quite able to capture that sense of disconnect (“this guy”?), but you have to realize that this was pre-Internet, of course, and back then you just didn’t have as much opportunity to know what a character’s voice actor looked like, unless they already happened to be a celebrity. So there really was this odd looking-glass feeling about it that took a few seconds to reconcile.

When told that Buster was supposed to have a fear of flying, Charlie commented, “That’s not far from the truth.” Then, as Buster, “I burrow underground.”

We also hung out in Jean’s office for a while, watching two Tiny Toons music videos from an upcoming episode (more on that in a later post) and a promotional video for The Elmyra Show — which made Amy happy, since Elmyra was one of her favorite characters.

Valerie and Jean walked us out to our bus then. They hugged us and said goodbye. And I can still remember Valerie’s parting words: “You’ll be back.”

Then we went back to the hotel for our last night in Los Angeles.

We had to get up at 4:30 the next morning to get to the airport, which is a time of day that technically does not exist at age thirteen, never mind that we were all exhausted by that point.

All of us met sleepily in the lobby of the hotel, then climbed into the bus. Tim turned on the radio to try and wake us up, but we would have fallen asleep were it not for the astonishing fact that Tim took us directly to the airport without getting us lost.

Our trip home was uneventful, and we knew we had more interviews and events to look forward to for months — most notably, getting our payment, seeing the 20/20 segment, and of course, the airing of the episode itself.

Looking back on it now, that trip to L.A. loomed so large in my memory for so many years, I would have assumed it had been a week long at least, but the entire trip lasted just from Friday to Tuesday — basically a long weekend. Not until my engagement and wedding would I have that feeling again of weeks’ worth of life-changing memories packed into such short spans of days.

And in nearly every journal entry for months, Thirteen was dreaming of, longing for, and grasping at any shred of hope of, going back.

How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen L.A.?

TGIF (Friday, January 18, 1991)

I have absolutely no memory of Christmas 1990. I’m assuming my family celebrated it as usual, but at the same time most of our attention was on preparation for our January trip to L.A. Amy, Sarah, and I would be traveling with our parents, plus Amy’s little brother and Sarah’s two little sisters. What would be the first plane flight for most of us would be on a turboprop out of the regional commercial airport, connecting to the cross-country flight. And we’d have a camera crew along (of course) filming for the 20/20 segment.

Our flights went fine (and here I just want to pause for a moment and fondly remember the days when the only real stress of flying was in the actual flying itself). Unfortunately, I’d picked up a cold a couple days before we left (the packing list I made in my journal mentions cough drops), and my ears never popped on the descent to L.A., so for the rest of the evening, everything sounded muffled. It was an annoyance, but I didn’t care — we were finally in Hollywood!

Thankfully, after the long flight, there wasn’t much planned for Friday night. The only item on our itinerary was being in the audience for a taping of the sitcom Family Matters, which was pretty cool since it was a show my family already watched (along with the others in the TGIF lineup). We provided the laugh track for a prerecorded episode (season 2, episode 17, “High Hopes,” a.k.a. the one with the hot air balloon, aired January 31) and then watched them film scenes for another episode that wound up airing near the end of February. (Don’t remember which one that was, unless somebody knows which one had a scene where Steve is in the lunch line and has Laura’s picture on his cafeteria tray.)

We also got to meet one of the stars of the show, Jaleel White, who played Steve Urkel, the character who had pretty much stolen the show by then and became a sensation for his nerdy laugh and catchphrases. Much more low-key than his alter ego, White was friendly and funny. It was a pretty brief encounter, but he made a gracious first impression. I found a line in my journal that he offered to go bungee-jumping with us, which made absolutely no sense until I found the scribbled footnote explaining that I’d misunderstood the conversation. (Ears again.)

SARAH: Could you sign an autograph for me?
JALEEL: Oh, sure! I thought you were going to ask me to do something really daring, like go bungee-jumping with you or something!

(I’m guessing she must have asked kind of hesitantly — but hey, we were still getting used to this whole meeting-people-we’ve-seen-on-TV thing.)

In the end, we did get autographs, each one signed with a different Urkel catchphrase:

UrkelWhen we got back home, sometimes we ran into people who, when told about our L.A. trip, got way more excited over us meeting Steve Urkel than Steven Spielberg.

That’s the ’90s for you…

From Hollywood to Waynesboro

A couple weeks or so had gone by when Jean called again — and this time asked to talk to Mom.

They had decided to use the material we sent. In other words, they were making our story into a cartoon. That alone was enough to get us excited.

But then they said that they were flying into Washington for some sort of other business. And that they would then fly from Washington to Charlottesville and then drive to Waynesboro — our small hometown. (And when I say small, I mean small.) They said that they would be coming next Thursday, which was December 13th.

We were stunned. But the bigger surprises were yet to come.

Everyone — which in this case meant the three of us, our moms, Jean MacCurdy, and Barbara Brogliatti (senior vice president for publicity and promotion) — gathered at my house for the visit. They’d brought a few gifts for us — character plushes, buttons, figurines, things like that — which had been in the suitcase that had not gotten lost. (As for the one with all their clothes in it, well, I’m assuming it caught up with them eventually.) Amid coffee and probably ham biscuits and pizza rolls (our go-to snack), Jean made the announcement.

They said that we would go on an airplane (all expenses paid, of course) to L.A. and then literally watch the story be made into a cartoon. She also briefly mentioned that there would be a press conference and a story meeting with Steven Spielberg. Steven, she said, was filming a movie in February, so he wanted to get all of this over before then.

The movie was Hook. And his side of it probably was pretty much over by then, but ours would go on for quite a while longer.

The followup letter provided the details. (It strikes me now how short and general that fine print is. Somehow I doubt it would be so simple today.)

I started my journal five days before we left on what I would come to mentally categorize as “the L.A. trip.” By that point, we had already done several interviews for both print and TV, so my journal has something of the feeling of a story I’ve told many times before. What surprises me now is that there’s very little in the way of emotional content in its pages; it feels as if it were written more for public consumption than as a private diary. Because of that, I don’t have much of a historical reference for how I really felt at this point. Were all this happening to Forty, she’d likely be more anxious than excited, but I don’t remember Thirteen being particularly nervous about any of it. The intensity may have simply faded out of the memories with time, but from what I can recall, from start to finish it just felt…

Well, like an adventure.

Up next: In the spotlight

 

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

(We’re back! New posts will be scheduled for the 10th and 25th of the month, with occasional bonuses in between. To make sure you don’t miss anything, you can subscribe using the “Follow Blog via Email” widget in the right sidebar of the website, or follow our Twitter account for notifications of new posts. As a reminder, or for those just joining us, the quotes in these posts are taken from the journal I kept in 1991 at age 13.)

 

Since other kids at school kept reading this stack of notebook paper and saying “You should send that somewhere,” or “You should send that to Spielberg,” we finally figured hey, why not, if we can find somewhere to send it…

Amy ended up finding the address for the Fox network in a magazine. It was one of those teen magazines where it gives celebrity addresses. I think it was there if you wanted to write to somebody on that show “21 Jump Street.”

I have a feeling that “somebody” was probably Johnny Depp. (Hey, Thirteen was pretty lousy at being a typical 13-year-old.) Therefore, let it be known that were it not for Johnny Depp, “Buster and Babs Go Hawaiian” might never have become an episode. Um… sort of.

Of course, we had no clue that Tiny Toons was a syndicated show (at that time, at least; it later went to Fox exclusively). The only thing we could think of was to send it in care of the Fox network where we watched the show, so that’s what we did.

By this time, it cost almost three dollars to mail it.

*waxes nostalgic about 1991 postage rates*

We never made another copy of it. We were going to, but Xeroxing it would’ve cost too much change, and we didn’t want to take the time to make another handwritten copy. We just figured that if it got lost in the mail, then it did. So we didn’t worry about it.

(We didn’t number the pages, either, so a few of them were missing when WB graciously sent us a copy.)

In a way, the story did end up getting lost in the mail — or at least, it took a winding path to its intended destination.

Our story was sent to Fox in Burbank. Jean [MacCurdy, executive producer] said that, under usual circumstances, it never would have gotten past Fox. It would have been stamped “Return to Sender” and sent back.

I think you’ve caught on by now that nothing about the next several months is going to involve “usual circumstances.” Bear in mind that sending an unsolicited story or script to a television show sets off a whole host of alarms from a legal standpoint — for example, if they were to inadvertently do a similar script in the future, we might claim they stole our story and sue — so nothing’s supposed to be opened or read.

However, the people at Fox opened the envelope. They took our story (and the letter that we enclosed) and put it in one of their envelopes. Then they sent it on to Steven Spielberg. Steven’s secretary sent it on ahead to Warner Bros. Jean said that the secretary probably figured if it got this far, it must be okay. She said that it was basically sent to people who didn’t really know what they were doing.

*polite cough* Which is not, of course, to imply that Steven Spielberg’s secretary was incompetent…

This was all told to us second- and third-hand and maybe some other hands besides, so it’s possible the timeline isn’t 100% accurate. The point, though, is that our package looked legit when it got where it was going, which eventually was the desk of Jean MacCurdy, the executive producer of Tiny Toons and, at that time, president of Warner Bros. Animation.

And she picked up the phone…

Up next: Out of the blue

Nostalgia Critic interview

No, this blog has not been abandoned; it’s just been a temporary casualty of real life/the day job. To start the resurrection, here’s an interview I did recently with the Nostalgia Critic webseries.

By the way, since there’s apparently been some confusion on this point (even from my husband, no less): In that graphic below showing the three of us as cartoon characters, I’m the one on the far right, in green. Just to set the record straight. XD (You’ll also notice that toon-me is wearing a watch on her left wrist. I don’t remember all the details now, but somehow someone or other took notice that I was wearing my Bugs Bunny wristwatch when we were meeting with the writers/staff of the show, and it wound up getting a nod in my character design.)