I had an opportunity to go on a Disney Studio TV tour last month with my students from AMVA (Advanced Media Vocational Academy) a school for students with disabilities put together by Actors for Autism. (Thanks to Alisa Wolf!) The tour was led by none other than Swampy Marsh, one of the creators of Phineas and Ferb. We had a chance to see the whole process of putting together a episode For Phineas and Ferb.
From props (I had a great visit with my old friend Anthony Vukojevich, a veteran prop designer), storyboards, writing, color, backgrounds, and editing. It was a great seeing these demonstrations of how the show comes together with amazing character color work by Nancy Ulene, and Art Director Jill Daniels showing us color scripts and the process of coloring and creating backgrounds for the shows she worked on. Seeing how they actually script the show was enlightening, considering they do outlines and basic scripts, and let two storyboard artists do dialogue, writing as well as doing the storyboards. They finish editing the show on an Avid. And we got to see how the animatic goes to a finished product. Seeing a particular scene from start to finish was intriguing. Some of the storyboards were just stick figures, but they indicated the story ,action, and camera well enough to understand what was going on. We got to see the “Tatooine song” from beginning to end which was a real treat. Swampy was one of the best studio tour guides I’ve ever had, showing us around the entire studio and telling us “war stories” about putting together episodes and some of the wonderful people he got to meet, like Damon Lindelof (Co-creator and main writer of “Lost”) who was on a tour of the studio with his son whom Swampy met at that time. Swampy actually got him to write an episode for Phineas and Ferb!
For me the highlight of the tour was hearing how Phineas and Ferb got it to Disney TV. Hearing Swampy telling us how difficult it was to get the show greenlit for production was fascinating. Swampy and Dan came up with the idea in 1993, but the show only got picked up by Disney in 2005! They pitched it to over 100 studios in the US and UK, yet it didn’t get picked up. It went into production several times at Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and even was slated for fall of one year on Fox Kids. And then Fox Kids network was dumped. But Swampy and Dan stuck to their guns, and persevered through the years by continuing to pitch it. Swampy said it was being more bullhead than actual perseverance. I believe its a bit of both. You have to believe in your idea so much that in the midst of adversity, you stand tall , not letting anything knock you down. Swampy and Dan would go back to their jobs in animation, yet they never give up, they continued to pitch their project. Even when the project got picked up in 2005. They had an unorthodox way at the time of scripting Phineas and Ferb with a basic outline and then it was given to the board artists who do the dialogue and visual elements further pinning down the script. The men at top did not like the approach, but Dan and Swampy stuck to their guns, even to the point that they thought that the show would be taken from them. But after several meetings, the executives granted them creative control to do the show as they pleased. And now Phineas and Ferb has been on the air with 4 successful seasons and been in production since 2005, and have done a number of movies and specials like Phineas and Ferb across the 2nd dimension, an animated special with the Avengers, and the Star Wars Universe.
It was a fantastic opportunity to have my students see how Phineas and Ferb was being produced. I loved the opportunity to hear Swampy’s story of how he got Phineas and Ferb made and how he persevered over numerous defeats. It was a lesson for any creator who wants to produced a show or get a show on the air. Don’t every give up on your projects. Nurture and care for them. Stick to your voice and hone it until it stands out. Don’t let anyone change your idea. Perseverance and bull-headedness pays off eventually! And most importantly you should always be showing and pitching your work. It was Swampy March, and Dan’s Povenmire’s philosphy but it was also Jim Henson’s philosophy. If you don’t get it out there, how is anyone going to know what you treasures you’ve created?
Enjoy this recent panel with the creators and voices of “Phineas and Ferb”