Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Lessons from Great TV #2: Roger Ramjet

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If adults these days can feast on an unprecedented range of quality television, that goes double for kids. When I was growing up, I had only a handful of viewing options, and most of the television I watched, aside from the usual bounty on Saturday morning, consisted of repackaged children’s programming from Canada. Today, kids have entire networks at their disposal, and children’s television attracts more talent and money than ever, especially in animation. Part of this is due to advances in the industry itself, in which computer coloring and design—not to mention cheap talent in Korea—have made it easier to produce beautiful animation on a budget; part of it is due to a generation of animators who grew up on Nicktoons and are eager to make their mark; and part of it is simple economics. Good kids’ shows are good business. And while you can argue about the quality of individual series, the airwaves are still full of funny, gorgeously animated programs for kids (and bronies) that have far greater resources than before.

Yet I sometimes wonder if we haven’t lost something by the elimination of the old constraints. The gold standard for telling great stories using limited animation remains Rocky & Bullwinkle, but instead, I’m going to focus on a series I only recently discovered: Roger Ramjet. Wikipedia notes that this show is notorious for its limited, “crude” animation, but watching it online, I felt quite the opposite. For one thing, it’s beautifully designed, and its obvious budget constraints give it a kind of weird poetry. Watching an episode like “Dr. Ivan Evilkisser” is like watching an artistic tightrope act in real time, as the show sees how much liveliness and interest it can squeeze out of the same two frames of animation, and the result is oddly thrilling. You can see the animators thinking in every frame: they’ll shake the camera, or cycle the same handful of drawings repeatedly, or zoom in on a shot to get a hint of movement. The result is a master class in doing as much as possible with very little: we find ourselves in a sort of conspiratorial huddle with the animators, trying to see what they can get away with for a few pennies more.

Tomorrow: What I learned from Evil Spock.

Written by nevalalee

July 3, 2012 at 9:50 am

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