Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Batman & Robin Commercial Series for Zellers Department Store

I haven't thought about this series of commercials for years. That is, until Bob Jaques  made mention of them on his blog, and I'm flattered that he remembered them.

I animated them back in 1988 under unusual circumstances. For those who don't know, Zellers is a Canadian nation-wide clothing store chain. At that time, the Batman franchise was heating up and the first Batman live action feature was heading toward the theaters. I was asked to animate the commercials, but I did not live anywhere near the studio that was producing it, so we settled on my drawing at home and faxing the drawings in to the studio. Yes, I said faxing each and every one of my drawings.

Also, these drawings were all done on 8.5 x 11 inches photocopy paper...not the standard sized studio animation paper (10.5 x 12 inches

Fortunately, I bought the best fax available at the time, which sent out a very crisp and clean representation of my drawings through the telephone lines. The studio received the copy output on their end and repegged them using my cross-hairs I placed on each drawing for registration on that end. This is years before the internet as we know it today, so the sending process took hours. At the end of each day, I'd stack up my drawings on the fax machine's automatic feeder, push the button and let it go.

The series featured Batman & Robin dealing with four iconic villains: The Joker, Catwoman, The Penquin, and The Riddler; each in a separate commercial for broadcast rotation.

Anyway, shortly after reading Bob's blog post, I went on YouTube to look for some other movie clip and POW! BAM! there amongst some "suggested" clips was a mention of these commercials.

Now, I did receive video copies of them for my portfolio (months after finishing the job), but I had never seen them on broadcast TV. Also, I animated all this without benefit of pencil testing the drawings before faxing them. There was no time to fax the first pass roughs to the studio, have them repegged, shot in pencil test, then have a video cassette shipped to me to look at, etc, etc. Time was of the essence. So, I had the layouts and X-sheets with general timings on them. A cassette of the soundtrack had been sent over-night to me right at the beginning of the project. That's what I worked with. I'd rough out the poses, flip them, refine them to semi-rough stage, then send them by fax. The studio DID pencil test the drawings they received and we'd talk on the phone regarding what adjustments (if any) needed to be done to the timing, each of us referring to the filled-out X-sheets I'd faxed along with the scene drawings.

This is why X-sheets are so important! (see my previous blog post on X-sheets)

Since I have all the drawings I created for this series of commercials, I intend to do a thread using them. But that entails lots of scanning and then shooting pencil tests. For now, I'm including some artwork from the Joker commercial, along with the link to the finished clip on YouTube.

Note in this commercial how extreme the mouth positions are for the dialogue and the punch the timing has. The pacing of the animation is revved up on purpose -- the advertising agency wanted it that way. I intend to take some of the scenes with physical action and re-time the drawings to show how the animator's exposure of each drawing affects the animation. A drawing on 2 frames here, a drawing on 1 frame there, can make a subtle but real difference.


  1. Beautiful artwork. I don't mind the hyperkinetic movement; it seems to play off the original BATMAN tv series but in a realistic way. Again the drawings are beautiful.

  2. Thanks for the compliment, Michael. In the future, I will be posting my roughs of the more active scenes from the entire series of 4 commercials.

  3. Never big on superheros but I love that commercial.

    Your story of having to send the drawings via fax made me think of all the animators who did work for studios that's nowhere near where they live. One NYC-based animator told me about the time he freelanced for a studio located in Hollywood. Every week he FedEx'd all the drawings to them.

  4. That was a common way of working if you had a good and reliable reputation. I was on staff with Rich Animation Studios for ten years, living in Cincinnati and every week receiving and sending my scenes via FedEx to the studio in Los Angeles. In fact, I was on staff for almost nine years before I finally visited the studio and met face to face those with whom I had worked and spoke on the phone all those years!

  5. John, I especially loved the Joker at the end, the way he kind of flails around before running off. Wonderfully done.

    Jeff P.

  6. Wow, you're hardcore, sending the drawing by FAX! These commercials are wonderfully animated!

  7. That was hi-tech back then! Especially since the drawings were going through the telephone line faster than FedEX could deliver them! ;-)

  8. Amazing now that fax is considered "old technology" now :-)

    I'm glad someone put these up on Youtube, they are fabulously done.

  9. John - I leaned a lot by single framing your work on the Batman commercials. Great stuff.

    I was at Greg Duffell's place recently and he reminisced about the working on the Batman commercials with you.

  10. John,

    Would you ever consider selling some of this artwork - i loved these commercials!


  11. @Bob S - I haven't thought about selling some of the artwork. I only have the pencil drawings...some are roughs and some are clean-ups. I don't have any painted cels or backgrounds. Those were created in Greg Duffell's studio. I'm glad you like the work!

  12. I had to comment. I can not stop watching these short animations. The way the characters mover and their facial expressions are brilliant. Great work

  13. Im you fan...!! Mr John i from Perú

  14. I've always thought these commercials were worthy of their own hyperkinetic style animated series. Modern version I guess would be Batman Brave and the Bold cartoon. Also loved you were able to sneak in the Barris car.