Believe it or not, I had a feeling it would take decades before the work we did for MTV was explained. Sue Apfelbaum does a really nice job in the New York City 2013 edition of Red Bull Music Academy’s Daily Note (download only, sorry.) Personally, I’m looking forward to other entries in Sue’s research.
LOGOS: The origins of iconic images from NYC’s musical history explained.
MTV, the first 24-hour music-video network, launched on August 1, 1981, revolutionizing both music and television. The brand image that emerged with brave new visual world was a radical as what it represented. Well before Google Doodles and GIFs, founding MTV creative director Fred Seibert flouted “good” logo-design standards when he lobbied for Manhattan Design’s block-lettered M and spray-painted T-V —and it’s concept of mutability— helping establish the channel’s personality as young, rebellious, and unpredictable.
Despite pressure to work with big-name designers, Seibert favored the unknown firm—it was cofounded by his childhood friend Frank Olinsky. Seibert and Olinsky grew up together in Huntington, Long Island, and Seibert credits Olinsky with turning him onto muisc and the revelation that cartoons are made by people. “My father was an animator and commercial artist, and he taught me how to use the tools of the trade,” says Olinsky.
Manhattan Design had a tiny shop in the back of a t’ai chi studio above Bigelow Pharmacy in Greenwich Village; it was there…0 comments Tagged: MTV logo, 1981, Manhattan Design, branding, graphic design, logo, MTVposts,.
I Want My MTV! Part 4
The “I Want My MTV!” story wouldn’t be complete without a look at Dire Straits’ music video “Money for Nothing.” Mark Knopfler originally wrote the song after seeing a store wall of television sets tuned to MTV. During recording Sting dropped into the recording session and added the melody of his “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” with the then unbiquitous ”I Want My MTV!” and forever pushed our battle cry out of advertising history and into the cultural slipstream (the film went on to be honored as the 1986 VMA Video of the Year). If there was ever a more effective branding accident I don’t know what it is.
I never asked Dale Pon about his reaction to this unusual turn of events. If he responds to my email about it I’ll fill you in.
…:::Update from Dale Pon:
Absolutely amazing! I was very happy.
Twitchy that the campaign was familiar, there were those ready to quit “I Want My MTV!” They hadn’t heard that change is good, but not for its own sake.
The Sting singing won them over; “I Want My MTV!” was new again – maybe there in 1985, we were still striking a “responsive chord.” Some say, it still resounds.0 comments Tagged: Dale Pon, IWMM, MTV, MTV posts, advertising, branding, lkj,.
Ah, the 80s.
Within minutes of getting out of the gate, Warner Amex was getting a lot of pressure to license out our logo for swag for the money we could make (it wasn’t like advertisers were lining up at the beginning), we were already the hottest thing in pop culture. Our MTV programming boss, Bob Pittman, figured that was the fastest way to spell “fad,” which was the last thing anyone wanted. We were in it for the long haul. So, instead, we commissioned Manhattan Design to come up with stuff we’d only give away to our closest friends and allies, and that cable operators could get for contests and giveaways in their local markets.
The hottest items? The blue t-shirt of course. But, the one most in demand, with the smallest supply was always the satin tour jacket, staple of every band in the 80s.0 comments Tagged: MTVposts, MTV, swag, Manhattan Design, WASEC, MTV logo, logo, branding,.
Click here for my other posts about MTV.
‘I Want My MTV’ 1-4 1982-1983 from fredseibert on Vimeo.
I WANT MY MTV! took the phenomenon that had taken over the imaginations of young America and supercharged it into a famous brand with just about everyone in the country. I just googled “I Want My MTV” and it popped up almost 4,760,000 results. Pretty amazing for an advertising campaign that ceased to exist 22 years ago.* Pretty potent.
The whole thing was the work of my mentor and friend Dale Pon. He’d been my first boss in the commercial media, at WHN Radio in New York when it was a country music station. He’d recommended me for my job at Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, as the production director of The Movie Channel, and eventually as the first Creative Director of MTV: Music Television. We’d fallen in and out over the years, but in late 1981, when it came time for us to hire an advertising agency again —at first, our big boss had vetoed Dale as not heavy enough for a company like ours— with a lot of help from my immediate supervisor Bob Pittman, I was able to convince everyone that Dale understood media promotion better than anyone else in America. Besides, didn’t he have “insurance” with his partner, legendary adman George Lois?
Dale Pon (via MTV: The Making of a Revolution)
No one had ever encountered an adman like Dale, because he had the unique ability to be completely and analytically strategic, and be wildly —and smartly— creative at the same time. An almost unheard of combination, especially in media advertising. Sure, he had a volatile nature, in advertising that was often a given (look at his partner). But it was his strategic, creative abilities that really set him apart.
Tagged: Dale Pon, MTV, MTVposts, WASEC, Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, advertising, branding, IWMM,.
We’d already done our first trade campaign, the “cable brats,” to the discomfort of most of the suits in the corporate marketing group (Bob and his team, me included, were in programming). But Dale didn’t buy into the efficacy of trade ads anyhow, so now were onto the big show, television advertising. The only problem was that we all recognized that an effective campaign would cost about $10,000,000. Our budget only had $2,000,000, and if we didn’t spend it quickly the corporate gods would probably take it away in the fall.
“I want my Maypo” commercials, created by John Hubley
Looking back, the core creative ended up being the most straightforward part. Dale’s closest friend and creative partner, Nancy Podbielniak had written the cable brats copy and had a tag line “Rock’n’roll wasn’t enough for them — now they want their MTV!” That rung a bell in George Lois, someone who never missed a chance to abscond with someone else’s good idea, and decided to rip off his own knock off of a Maypo campaign from the 1950s and 60s (animator John Hubley originated it as a set famous animated spots, and George had unsuccessfully knocked it off usin g sports stars) and presented a storyboard that completely duplicated his version. Rock stars like Mick Jagger were saying “I Want My MTV” and crying like babies, implying they were spoiled children being denied. No one was buying it until Dale let me know that there was no way he’d ask Pete Townshend or Mick to cry for us. “Pride! They need to show their pride in rock’n’roll! They’ll be shouting!” After a little corporate fuss we were able to sell it in.
AMERICA! DEMAND YOUR MTV!
Now, it was the next part that was completely and utterly brilliant. Because Dale came from the school that great creative was all well and good, but unless it could move the business needle, what good was it? In this case, the needle wasn’t ratings (cable TV didn’t have ratings in 1981), but active households, distribution for MTV. Cable operators were all relatively old guys who thought The Weather Channel was a better idea; they’d turned a deaf ear to their younger employees who were clamoring for us instead.
To dramatically simplify the strategy Dale organized, he decided to only advertise in markets where:
• There was enough penetration to justify a modest ad spend.
• But where there were critically large cable operators on the fence about taking MTV.
• And that we could afford a 300 gross rating point buy (three times heavier as any consumer products agency would suggest) for at least four weeks in a row (the traditional media spend would call for pulsing 10 days on and 10 days off).
The “G” in LPG/Pon was Dick Gershon. Along with data from our affiliate group, he crunched and crunched and crunched until he came up with a list of markets and dates we could afford. It was 20% of what we needed, but everyone figured if we could really start to knock off a bunch of cable systems, get them actually launch our network, the domino effect would solidify MTV’s hold on the market forever.
Strategy in place, the creative was back on the front burner. The basic campaign was a great way to get famous rock stars endorsing our channel, but where was the close? What would actually make the ‘ka-ching’ we needed? Luckily, back in the day there was only one way to for a homeowner get anything from your reluctant jerk of a cable operator (they figure they held all the cards, why should they do anything to make life better for their consumers?). And what was it that young adults loved to do? Dale knew immediately.
No one alive in front of a television set in the summer of 1982 could ever forget Pete Townshend, with the wackiest haircut of his career, shouting at the video camera:
“America! DEMAND your MTV! Call your cable operator and say, “I WANT MY MTV!!”
We shot the spots wherever the rock stars would have us for 20 minutes (they still weren’t really sure this MTV: Music Television thing was going to be good for them). Our director and producer, Tommy Schlamme and Buzz Potamkin, got together with some puppeteers to choreograph the ‘dancing’ stereo television. I asked my partner to go into the studio to edit the music sections when they weren’t rocking enough, and —poof!— famous advertising.
Nothing to it, yes?
* For comparison, “I Want My Maypo” posts 112,000 results on Google. Or “Where’s the beef?”, another famous 1980’s campaign for Wendy’s returns 176,000 (or if you only use that phrase, which has been appropriated for all sorts of uses, you get 2,640,000).
Before “I Want My MTV!” Part 1.
I was torn.
My mentor, Dale Pon, had suggested me for my job at MTV Networks (née Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company). He was the creator of distinctive, innovative, and successful campaigns for radio stations across the United States, was a creative and media wizard, if a little, um, intense, and had worked at WNBC radio with my boss Bob Pittman, MTV programming chief. Dale had recently started an ad agency, LPG/Pon with advertising legend George Lois.
John Lack, our executive vice president, was very close to Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency for American Express, our half owner. My first exposure to the idea that advertising could be actually be smart came from reading founder David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” (If fact, it was one of four books I gave to my young staff members.)
I wanted Dale to do the MTV advertising, convinced that only he understood how to promote media, a completely —completely— different beast from tradition consumer products. John wanted Ogilvy. They were the classy choice, and I had to admit it would make us feel, well, bigger. Better? Not so sure.
John won; he was the big boss, and Bob wasn’t going to fight him on this one yet. I became the MTV point person, but that was only a little good, because we had a corporate infrastructure above us that thought they should control the communications of the networks. From the first day it was a complete struggle.
We get to the first meeting, and the account team wants to convince us (me) that they deserve the account. They wheel in their resident hipster copywriter, wearing his green and yellow satin tour jacket. He says something about Bruce Springsteen. I point out that Bruce made the decision to rock not to write ads. This relationship was not going to end well.
Our first big fight was over the logo. Big agencies, especially O&M, wanted to control everything about the marketing of a product, which often included actually creating and naming a product. That was not going to happen with us. We’d battled for months about the name (reaching the no-one’s-happy compromise of MTV: Music Television) and I’d already been working on the logo with my childhood friend Frank Olinsky and his studio Manhattan Design for almost a year.
So an Ogilvy meeting happens where I tell them about the logo and why it’s awesome (this is after weeks of disagreement with our company suits who succeeded in killing the thing once before we swept it out of the fire). They all stare at us silently while the senior account guy pulls out a xeroxed “Ogilvy’s Rules for a Great Logo.” Checking off the points one by one I proudly point out that we’ve broken eight of the 11 rules. Perfect for rock’n’roll network!
After that the ads they did for us generally sucked. It was bad enough they kept trying to make logo look “good,” but they said nothing and lacked everything. No snap, crackle, or particularly, pop.
When it came time to do a TV ad, they came up with some thing with fancy computer generated purple grids that was supposed to be cool. I didn’t really know what a “national” commercial as supposed to be (I’d only produced local radio station spots for Dale) and everyone else seemed to think it was OK, so I went along.
When it came time to make the spot I was in the production company’s office (what was a production company anyhow? That’s how green we were) in the Hollywood Hills and I hear the producer say to the agency, “What do you want me to do with this logo?”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“We don’t do comic book stuff here. What do you expect us to do with this piece of shit logo?!”
You can imagine the screaming match that ensued, enough to make a wrestler blush. We came to an impasse, they made their junky (expensive) commercial, and somehow I became fast friends with the producer Sherry McKenna (now, the co-founder of Oddworld).
The commercial ran, no one noticed, we fired the famous Ogilvy and & Mather, and the company reluctantly agreed with Bob and me that we engage Dale and LPG/Pon.
On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m., MTV: Music Television launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,”spoken by John Lack. Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song, a crunching guitar riff written by Jonathan Elias and John Petersen, playing over a montage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. With the flag having a picture of MTVs logo on it. MTV producers Alan Goodman and Fred Seibert used this public domain footage as a conceit, associating MTV with the most famous moment in world television history. Seibert said they had originally planned to use Neil Armstrong’s “One small step” quote, but lawyers said Armstrong owns his name and likeness, and Armstrong had refused, so the quote was replaced with a beeping sound. At the moment of its launch, only a few thousand people on a single cable system in northern New Jersey could see it.
Weirdest part for me is Adam Curry’s line at the end: “combining the best of TV with the best of radio.” There’s been a line in Next New Networks’ materials since we began: “combining the best of TV with the best of the web.” No coincidence that Fred was involved with both.
I rarely reblog here, but this clip seemed like a good bet. (Though that last VJ was actually Mark Goodman.)0 comments Tagged: MTVposts, WASEC, Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, logo, branding,.
MTV: The Making of a Revolution, written by Tom McGrath
By the mid-1990s, a teenager who’d had his mind blown by the music video visual feast was old enough to be a damn good writer and reporter, so Scranton’s Tom McGrath (now the Executive Editor of Philadephia Magazine) decided to literally write the book. MTV: The Making of a Revolution told the whole story (it’s sadly now out of print, maybe since MTV: Music Television has become MTV) behind and in front of the camera.
As I remember, Mr. McGrath’s reporting was fairly complete and, all in all, accurate, in and of itself often a rarity in media reporting. He made me and the work my teams did look good, which made my mother and father very happy. Me too.
Click here for my other posts about MTV.
“Over the Edge with MTV”
It’s funny, but for all the influence the MTV graphics have had, not much has been written about them. Probably because we were all media people, rather than directly from the graphic design community, we never really worked the press on behalf of ourselves.
But the Oscar winning animator Jon Canemaker is also a dedicated historian. He wrote his thoroughly researched story in the September/October 1992 Print Magazine about the logo and its animation ten years after the channel’s debut.
You can read the original article (complete with illustrations) above. Here’s the entire text:
Over the Edge with MTV
By John Canemaker
The decade-old video music channel has profoundly influenced pop culture, in part through its dealing, innovative animation.
The broadcast phenomenon known as MTV was launched in 1981 by Warner Communications and American Express with a certain amount of skepticism and worry about its potential fur success. Robert Pittman, then Warner/Amex’s 27-year-old director of 24-hour cable service programming (now president and CEO of Quantum Media), had sold his corporate bosses on a concept for a video music channel “with no programs, no beginning, no middle, no end.”
After a decade, there is no doubting MTV’s enormous success and impact on popular culture. It has influenced fashion. graphic design, music, and movies, as weil as our attitudes about television and advertising, and even our concept of time. The idea for a TV music service was not new, hut Pittman’s vision and its execution were. “We realized that almost all TV was narrative in form,” wrote Pittman in the Los Angeles Times last year. “The appeal of music, however, has nothing to do with that structure. Music is about emotion and attitude—it makes you feel. It moves you. Within the creation of MTV. we changed the form of TV to fit the form of music, as opposed to trying to fit music into a narrative structure.
In opposition to the practice of the big three television networks, which broadcast a variety of fare to attract the widest possible general audience, MTV would “narrowcast,” targeting an audience between the ages of 12 and 35—that is. baby boomers and the generation that came after them. The music would be their music: rock-‘n’- roll, and all that that implies.
“It was meant to drive a 55-year-old person crazy,” MTV Chairman/CEO [Tom Freston] told the Washington Post in 1989. Conceived as a free-form, open-ended visual showcase of rock-‘n’- roll. MTV needed a graphic image that bespoke youth and anti-authority/anti-establishment attitudes, something forever-changing, ever-evolving, and totally cool—on-the-edge and in-your-face. The famous MTV logo—numerous 10-second animated station identification spots seen throughout each day for over a decade—conveys all of the above.
Constantly layered and manipulated, the basic blocky M overlapped by a thin, spray-painted TV remains the same, a logo that is now among an exclusive pantheon of instantly recognizable symbols, such as Coca-Cola bottles, Mickey Mouse, and the CBS eye.
The development of the logo and other MTV graphics, and the extensive use ol animation on MTV, was both organic and pragmatic, according to Fred Seibert and Alan Goodman, partners in the advertising agency Fred/Alan, Inc., which produces on- air promos, sales films, and network identifications for MTV, Nickelodeon, and VH-1, among other clients. Seven years ago, Seibert and Goodman were the team that defined, as Seibert recently explained, “the voice, the sound, the content, the ideas behind MTV the reasons it was important.
Both men come from recording and radio backgrounds: Seibert produced jazz records before Robert Pittman hired him in 1980 to create promotions and programming for the 24-hour Movie Channel, the Warner/Amex cable service that preceded MTV. When Seibert volunteered lo work simultaneously on the proposed music video channel, he brought on Goodman, who had run the copy department for five years at CBS Records’ in-house agency, which made album covers, advertisements for radio, and “promotional films that became known as music videos.”
“We grew up in a time when rock-‘n’-roll was characterized by album covers, as was the culture of out generation,” says Seibert. “These rovers defined what we liked to look at, as well as what we believed in. We milted to create little animated album covers for the new generation.”
“The MTV logo and animation,” says Goodman, “had so much to do with accidents, with ratings. and the limits of technology at the lime, rather than any artistic vision we had.” For example, the 10-second running lime of the ID logos resulted from the inability, of the old 2” videotape carts (custom-altered to play in stereo) to cycle cassettes faster. Ten seconds was “interminable” to Seibert and Goodman, who originally wanted three- to four-second IDs, as short as those heard on radio.
They needed an ID that would be memorable to viewers who, in pre-electronic ratings days, wrote down what they watched on TV in a diary. “We were competing against 10, 20 channels and knew We were going to compete against 50, although they didn’t exist yet,” says Seibert. “We knew we had to create an MTV not for 1980, but for 1990 We had to reach out of the TV set, shake every viewer, and say ‘Watch us!”
In developing the image, they considered the nature of rock-‘n’-roll—always in a slate of evolution—and its audience, which is always growing up with it and out of it. A certain anti-establishment attitude was apparent among the young turks who created MTV, must of whom, like Pittman, Seibert, and Goodman, were in their twenties. “We didn’t want in follow,” explains Seibert. “The hell with that. We wanted to lead with our generation. Why hire some designer or art director who graphically defined the last generation? Let’s create our own look.”
A kinetic, out-sized symbol glimmered undefined in their imaginations, but because neither idea man could draw, Seibert and Goodman sought a graphic design studio. There was only one such place, they felt, that could make their ideas visible: Manhattan Design, a small office run by friend (Frank Olinsky and Pat Gorman) behind a Ti Chi workshop in Greenwich Village. “Their studio was as big as this table. You tell Warner Brothers and American Express that this is who is going to define their logo—they had a cow!” Seibert exclaims.
Manhattan Design produced about 500 logo designs. “They kept coming back with more.” recalls Goodman. “The closest to being accepted was a squeezable musical note grabbed in the ass by a Mickey Mouse-style hand and the notes came out of the fingers. We liked it mainly because it was active. The notes were secondary. Our logo, we thought, should have action, unlike the CBS eye.” Goodman had, in fact, contacted the “CBS logo policeman,” who lead him a list of rules pertaining to the CBS symbol, e.g., it never moves; it never changes: and it can never be put on gym bags or hats, only on pens (or salesmen and top clients. Goodman went down the menu and said, ‘We’re not going to do this, we’re not going to do that, we’re not going to do this.”
The big M design was on the bottom of a pile of the last 10 sketches submitted, with the TV originally graftitied in, punk- like. “We said that one’s it. Go and develop it more, Frank came back with lots of color treatments. ‘Here’s one.’ he’d say, ‘that looks as if the M hadn’t shaved and the TV was shaving cream: here’s one where it’s a taxi with yellow stripes; here’s one with the bottom like linoleum; here’s one all spattered.’ We liked each one better than the last,” says Goodman.
“It filled the screen and was dimensionalized from the first. It reminds us of Superman comics and the 20th Century-Fox logo. It’s grand, big. The spray-painted TV implied action. There was the M and something was done to it. The shadow implied dimension and 3D image. It was more than a 2-D image. It was a logo that willingly accepted juvenile delinquency!”
At the same lime the logo was being developed, Seibert and Goodman were creating short snippets of sound to match the as-yet-undefined IDs. “For the most visually stunning network ever lo launch, we decided to make it sound-based. Build the pictures on top of it, like cartoons,” relates Goodman. With no idea how the music would be used, they kept working with musicians until they liked what they heard for 10 seconds and added it to a master reel.
“Again, it was pragmatic.” Goodman explains. “We’re sound guys, We started in radio and we know music. TV is a talking toaster, if it doesn’t sound right, who cares what it looks like.” Seibert concurs: “II we put brilliant sound together with medium-to-good pictures, we’d have something great. If we put great sound with great pictures, everyone would salute.”
Seibert and Goodman pinned the different versions of the MTV logo on the wall for days and thought about them. Minutes before their big presentation meeting with the powers-that-be at Warner/Amex, “we decided to use them all at once, all the time.” Seibert recalls. One of the marketing heads (an older man) balked (“I hate this! It’s a piece of junkl”), but he was overruled. “Running on pure adrenaline and instinct.” the creative team had six weeks before launch date to come up with nine videos versions of the logo.
They chose animation as a medium for yet another practical reason. Explains Seibert, “Virtually all the videos at that time were in live-action. We knew our M had to be different to stand out.” The pre-packaged sound biles were to be handed out to selected animation studios. The only problem was that Seibert and his colleagues didn’t know any animators. “We knew Disney’s name, that was all,” he recalls. They tailed in 100 sample reels from trade paper ads and “hated one more than the other.”
A few rock- ‘n’ -roll spots using Xerography (Xeroxed photos manipulated under the camera frame-by-frame) appeared on a reel from a small company in San Francisco called Colossal Pictures. “All of a sudden.” says Seibert, “everything else was Doc Severinson and this was Little Richard. These guys had the beat! They got it! We jumped up and down. ‘It can be done!’” They sought reels from other little-known independent animators, instead of large established cartoon shops, who wanted a package of spots for big bucks.
“Anything else that anyone was doing, we weren’t going to do,” says Seibert. Indeed, this idea became a kind of rallying cry. They surveyed the standard cel techniques used in the studios and went in the other direction- finding animators who specialized in alternative frame-by frame designs using clay, cut-out, puppets, and pastels, crayon, or watercolors on paper. “We wanted to do what everybody else was absolutely ignoring.” Budgets were small and schedules tight, but the independents eagerly undertook the work, for MTV offered a rare national showcase for personal, quirky, non-traditional animation.
Colossal Pictures filtered a group of West Coast animators through their company to MTV, to join a growing number of colleagues from the East and points north, including Eli Noyes, Broadcast Arts, George Griffin, Jerry Lieberman, and Joey Album in New York, Olive Jar in Boston, and International Rocketship in Vancouver, “We wanted on-the-fringe people, like us, People we felt comfortable with,” says Seibert. “To this day, we have our closest relationships with the animation community.”
Ironically. “Man on the Moon,” one of the most famous of the earliest animated logos, with a now-familiar electric guitar riff, was animated by Buzzco, a commercial animation studio. “At the time.” says Seibert, “we shared space with Buzz Potemkin, head of Buzzco, and we liked him. We said to him we felt MTV was as big a TV event as ever happened; it was going to change TV that much. We had this idea of copying the biggest TV event in world history—the man walking on the moon—usurp it to ourselves, the juvenile delinquents of MTV,” Potemkin agreed to produce the spot, which used public domain NASA footage of a rocket blasting off, cross-dissolving into stills of the 1969 landing on the moon. The American flag was cut out and various types of MTVs were substituted. The original piece, intercut with coming attractions, was 10 seconds, so Seibert and Goodman looped one of their prepackaged, free-form music pieces (a guitar solo) three times.
Over the last 10 years, the popularity of animation on MTV has been enhanced by top rock performers using the medium creatively in videos. The increased number of videos using animation, and using non-traditional frame-by-frame graphics, is a direct result of the audiovisual impact of the off-the-wall I0-second logos.
Among the more memorable videos in terms of imagery and an impressive variety of unusual animation techniques are “Sledgehammer,” in which Peter Gabriel’s face and body and other three-dimensional objects are pixilated; “Opposites Attract,” which features Paula Abdul’s tap adagio with a cartoon alley cat (modeled nostalgically on Gene Kelly’s workout with Jerry the Mouse); “Harlem Shuffle.” which intercuts Mick Jagger with Bob Clampett-like cartoon cats: “Hard Woman,” in which Jagger appears with a computer-generated female; and “Leave Me Alone,” in which Michael Jackson combines photo animation and Xerography of himself and Elizabeth Taylor in a surreal Jacksonland amusement park.
MTV’s decade of continuous showcasing of all kinds of animation has been an important component in its public acceptance, which is at an all-time high. Always on the lookout lor things other people are ignoring. MTV itself continues lo compete with its own brand of on-the-edge animation.
John Payson, director of creative, and Abby Terkuhle, VP-creative, are currently responsible for all MTV on-air promotions, as well as the overall look and packaging of ongoing and new programs, contests, and image productions, including network IDs and an breaks. Their commitment to animation on MTV is strong.
“Animation is a direct line from the director’s brain to the screen.” says Payson. “It’s become a viable adult entertainment medium. There’s no limn to what the imagination ran do.” adds Terkuhle, who keeps abreast of current animation designs and artists by attending international animation festivals around the world. The team produces a dozen or more logos annually, though now says Terkuhle. “we have global talents to lap into, including MTV Europe. MTV Asia. MTV Brazil, and soon,” international affiliates that have been established with MTV’s growing success.
Three years ago, Payson and Terkuhle look steps to develop and expand MTV’s animation offerings in a number of imaginative ways. They commissioned “short form” pieces (films longer than 10 seconds) to play between videos, such as the serialized “Stevie and Zorn” by Joe Zorn, “Brute” from Britain’s Mike Smith and Malcolm Bennett, and “Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions.” from Henry Selick on the West Coast.
With MTV U.S. and MTV Europe, they sponsored an international competition for IDs, and, more recently, animated public service announcements addressing world problems and solutions. Over 600 entries were received, 10 of which will be aired on MTV affiliates throughout the world.
Showcased on late-night weekends is a series originally produced for Nickelodeon. ”The Ren & Stimpy Show.” an anarchic throwback to the wild, stretchy squashy old-Style Warners/Bob Clampett animation beloved by boomers, who have made the show an instant cult favorite.
Most provocative of the current animation projects, however, is MTV’s “Liquid Television,” a half hour animated variety series combining “underground animation, over-the-edge graphics, and stories from beyond the fringe.” Colossal Pictures (the original MTV animation supplier, now a large and diversified animation/live action producer) shopped a proposal for an animated magazine first to HA! and then to MTV. With changes, “it was perfect for us,” says Terkuhle. “sort of a melting pot of different animators showcasing what we were doing in short forms and IDs in a half-hour show.”
Now in its second season, “Liquid Television.” with both self-contained and serialized segments, pushes the edge in animation looks, content, and format. Techniques are dazzlingly eclectic, ranging from traditional cel, 3-D puppets, and clay, to computer paintbox. Fifty-seven different segments composed the first “Liquid TV” shows, with nine Colossal Pictures directors creating segments and 13 other directors providing more. According to the trade journal R.E.R, “All of these pieces had to be woven into a continuous tapestry of animation and sound by Colossal/Music Amex Audio Post-Production,” which is based in San Francisco.
The programming is varied; there are the violent “Dangerous Puppets,” who beats the Stuffing out of one another: and “Aeon flux,” an action/intrigue, slick-looking cel animation serial, described as “non-stop death” by Advertising Age. “Stick Figure Theatre” presents reductions of scenes from famous movies, plays, newsreels, and music videos, performed by a forgotten troop of line drawings from “the other side of the inkwell.” “Invisible Hand’s” is a multi-plane animation by underground comix artist Richard Sala. “Art School Girls of Doom” uses live-action against collaged backgrounds. Clay animator David Daniels’s “Buzz Box” uses the so-called “stratocut” technique, which involves slicing through a lump of clay that has sequential images inside of it. “Ms. Lydia’s Makeover,” by director/writer Gordon Clark, employs Macintosh Photo Shop and Quantel Paintbox to present “Eastern European expert” Ms. Lydia, who weekly enhances the physical features of well-known celebrities with a “beauty computer,” and whose personal credo is “the better you look, the more you see.”
“We’re more into animation than special effects,” Payson told Advertising Age recently. “We’re more interested in animation per se—that direct line to the unconscious. We think simple, which is something I always strive for. Effects for effects sake are not what we’re looking for.”
“Liquid Television’ is the greatest,” comments Alan Goodman. “Payson is brilliant,” says Fred Seibert, “and we could never produce what Abby [Terkuhle] produces. ‘Liquid’ is never going to get big ratings on MTV because for the general audience it’s just a little too out there. But it’ll do well enough, and it maintains the image MTV has to have. Even if they don’l watch it, they have to know its there, they have to know MTV is pushing the boundaries.”
John Payson concurs: “One of ihe things we’ve had to overcome in ibis country it the perception thai animation is for kids, light and fluffy .mil Saturday morning. I like to think MTV is helping to overcome that misconception. We’re able to show the potential lor this kind of storytelling. We’re a small part of a renaissance, something really exciting in the industry-at-large.”
Click here for my other posts about MTV.
Jon Canemaker’s 1992 article on MTV’s graphic design included some of the original logo development I had forgotten about for 30 years, and it makes a nice companion to my first logo post. My creative partner Alan Goodman and I were interviewed, as was the Manhattan Design group that created the logo in the first place. Also, the teams put together by Judy McGrath and Abby Terkuhle are well represented with the great work they did after we left.
Our early 1980 logo choice came before the channel was even named, so we opted for a pure graphic. Manhattan Design thought it was symbolized “fresh squeezed music.” We thought it was fun.
We also liked the idea that musicians (like Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick) could interact with the logo. The network would hold onto the idea even when the logo evolved.
Finally, in the spring of 1981 we settled on a compromise name that no one really liked (really. “MTV” sounded clunky to some and reminded others of the really popular MTM production company), and Manhattan Design quickly tried to integrate the squeezable note into the call letters. Alan and I just as quickly decided we needed to go in another direction. Did I mention we needed to do it quickly?
MD partner Patti Rogoff came up with the “M”. Frank Olinsky drew this “TV” because of the prevailing “new wave” design trends. “M” good, “TV” *gong*.
I barely remember this version. MD’s Pat Gorman says in the article that it was because of “nervous higher ups.” She could be right.
MD’s Frank Olinsky spray painted the “TV”, drips and all, in the Manhattan Design stairwell. The “M” was painted later when someone was worried about the big M not reading. Or something like that.
There were very few “ideas” for spots I could claim as mine at MTV. Identifying talent and strategy were my strengths, and I felt from there everything else would flow. But this spot was different; it’s the one for which I feel complete ownership.
Bob Pittman wanted there to be a signal identification at the top and bottom of each and every hour of MTV: Music Television, where the VJ would identify the most important music videos in that half hour. We agreed it would be voice over animation, with stills IDing the songs.
But, what should the animation be? It had to be memorable, repeatable, and not drive a viewer completely crazy. After all, it was going to play almost 17,000 times every year. And we had only 90 days until launch.
It seemed to me MTV had the most stuck up and conceited view of ourselves. We were completely enamored of the fact that we had no TV shows on our TV networks (a new “show” every three minutes, when a new video started). That was world changing, right? (Well, not really. CNN beat us to it. But we conveniently forgot about that.)
My mentor Dale Pon had introduced me to the treasure trove of free images and film from NASA, a public government entity which we all “owned” as US citizens. It would be an inexpensive source of public domain video for us. As a start-up —no one was really sure this thing would work except us— we needed all the financial short-cuts we could find.
“Space is very rock’n’roll,” said senior producer Marcy Brafman.
This spot was going to be our most important. There would be over 30 changing video pieces every hour (music videos, promos, VJs, and commercials) and this would be the only thing all day that was constant. It would get a lot of scrutiny.
So, I thought the “top of the hour” spot should do it’s job and reflect our conceit, be inexpensive, and use our ever changing logo. Oh right, it had to have that indefinable rock attitude.
I thought the simplest way to combine all that stuff was to steal the shine from an already existing piece of video. Let’s take the most famous television moment ever and fold, spindle, and mutilate it to our nefarious purposes.
Our brainstorming turned up some famous, or really infamous, stuff. The biggest one we thought about was the Lee Harvey Oswald shooting by Jack Ruby that was live on television in 1963. Aside from it’s wrongness, it occurred to me that it was only an American moment. We were claiming that MTV would be “the world’s first video music channel.” We needed a world moment.
Right then it came to me. In the summer of ‘69 I was traveling behind the Iron Curtain with my family on the day of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. The streets of dirt poor Sofia, Bulgaria were chocked with walkers looking for apartments with televisions to witness this seemingly impossible achievement of man. Truly, the most memorable worldwide event in TV history.
Let’s cop it, I figured. The worst that could happen is that a generation of kids would grow up wondering why NASA photoshopped in an American flag with MTV’s used to be.
Alan Goodman and I enlisted Buzz Potamkin’s Perpetual Motion Pictures (soon to be Buzzco) to put together the spot. David Sameth produced for Buzz, Candy Kugel illustrated and directed (logos originally designed and illustrated by Manhattan Design), and music was by John Petersen and Jonathan Elias at Elias/Peterson.
By the way, this version of the spot never ran. The day before launch the lawyers informed me we needed, and would never receive, permission from astronaut Neil Armstrong to use his quotation. For launch night only —midnight, August 1, 1981— one of our big bosses did a voice over. John Lack, the executive vice president of our parent, Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, who’s idea had been the seed from which MTV grew, announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, rock’n’roll.” John, a huge music fan was proud of his role in jump starting this phase of the evolution. And from 1 a.m. until the very end, the rocket blast sounded with only a ‘beep beep beep’ in place of Mr. Armstrong.
The VMA Moonman
The spot ran more than 75,000 times, more than 15,000 each year, through variations of animation and music. Now, it’s sense memory DNA is left in the “Moonman” award from the VMAs (the idea of Manhattan Design’s Frank Olinsky, I believe); no one in the audience knows why it exists. It was only retired, tragically, on January 28, 1986, when the Challenger Shuttle exploded in mid-air. The end of the first space era.
This story’s shorter. A couple of months after the network launch, Bob promoted me to Vice President, MTV’s first (a big deal in those pre-title inflationary days); I was probably whining too much about how hard I was working. He put together a huge congratulatory event and asked Alan to make some video just for the party. He asked director Steve Oakes and producer Peter Rosenthal at Broadcast Arts in Washington DC to modify one of the awesome claymation spots they’d made for us. They put a plasticine me in the spot and ignobly ran me over. I got what I deserved.
My promotion party, October 1981. That’s my boss, Bob Pittman, to my right.
Photo by Pat Gorman, courtesy of John Sykes.