By Joe Jaffa, 16, Crossroads School (Santa Monica)
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Joe poses in front of the microphone he used to record voices for cartoons during his summer internship.
Photo by Sasha Jones, 18, Crossroads School

Picture this: A kid is lying in bed as his dad sits next to him in a chair, reading a book. The boy asks, “Umm … aren’t you supposed to be reading that to me out loud, or something?” The dad thoughtfully looks up from his book. This scene was originally just a single-panel comic printed in a magazine, but thanks to my voice and the power of animation, it now has life.

This summer, I had a chance to get hands-on experience with animation. I’ve loved animation all my life and it was great to participate in the process of creating it.

It all started last spring, when my dad was talking to a family friend, Jim Cox, and found out that Jim had started an animation company called RingTales, which is run out of his house in Santa Monica. They have been given the rights to animate almost any comic strip in the newspaper. So far, they’ve been animating cartoons from The New Yorker magazine, but they’re going to start on others soon, including Dilbert, Zits and Pearls Before Swine. My dad mentioned my interest in animation and Jim offered me an internship.

It was a great experience. I got a good understanding of how the animation field works. I mostly helped out around the office and researched and wrote biographies on the different cartoonists for the RingTales website. I also got to do fun stuff. I created an animatic (a rough cut of the animation) for one of the cartoons. Whoever animates the final version will use my animatic for guidance. Starting with the original cartoon on the computer in Photoshop, I drew in images, such as an arm, to make it look like something was moving. I’m a pretty bad artist, but it was just a rough cut, so it didn’t have to be perfect. It was challenging, but I’m sure that if I were to do it again it would be easier.

I really wanted to record voices for a cartoon, but I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed to because I was just an intern. At the end of a day during my second week at RingTales, my boss asked if I would do a voice. I got really excited and headed downstairs to the recording studio. It was a small office with two computers and a long, thin microphone. He showed me the cartoon I would read for. It was the scene of the little kid in bed. He told me how he wanted me to read the line and I raised my voice to sound younger. Each time we recorded the line, he wanted me to sound a little different to give him options to use. One time he wanted me to sound confused and the next time he wanted me to sound confident. I did about 10 takes. Afterwards, he told me I did a great job. The cartoon isn’t finished yet, but I can’t wait until it is. It’s going to be really cool to have my voice in a cartoon that thousands of people are going to see on YouTube and The New Yorker website.

I got to do a few more voices. In one of them I played a fat kid. In the comic, he was standing at a door and asking his friend’s mom, “Can Johnny come out and eat?” I made my voice sound drooly and thick. In another cartoon I was a penguin flying above his colony calling out, “Hey, we just weren’t flapping hard enough.” I used my normal voice but tried to sound proud and happy. For those two cartoons, they used my voice as a stand-in and will use different actors for the final version, but I still had a good time doing it. I can see myself being a voice actor, maybe.
I like how anything can happen in cartoons

Ever since I was little, animation has been a huge interest of mine. Some of my earliest memories are laughing at cartoons. I remember after watching a Looney Tunes episode a few times, I asked my dad how the actor who was in the Bugs Bunny suit got shot, but still survived. When my dad explained that it was animated, and animation wasn’t actors but rather drawings that are moving, I was fascinated. I recorded episodes of Animaniacs and Tiny Toons and paused the credits to read through them. Some kids at the age of 5 can name different types of cars, but I could name the entire staff on my favorite cartoons.

Now I watch cartoons on Fox and Comedy Central. Sure, I’ve traded SpongeBob SquarePants for The Simpsons and Animaniacs for South Park, but I still admire all the shows I used to watch and have DVDs of some, in case I ever feel like reliving a childhood memory.

I watch cartoons for enjoyment and also to study them. I pay attention to the style of the animation and the writing (the plot and dialogue). If nothing else, I always get a smile out of it.

One thing that makes animation so great is that anything can happen in a cartoon. Elmer Fudd can get shot by his own bullet and be fine in the very next scene. It’s great because it allows the team making the cartoon to go crazy with the story and have wacky plots if they want.

At RingTales, I got a much deeper understanding of what is involved in making animation, from the initial idea to the final cartoon. I learned that animation isn’t just fun and games, but also a lot of hard work, and you need to know a lot about business and marketing. I’ve always thought about what it would be like to work in animation, but the internship made it even more real. Although I can’t draw, I may still be able to have a career in animation and maybe even have my own show someday. The thought of having my name listed in the credits is exciting. Even if I don’t end up working in animation, I will always look back on the summer and think about what a great time I had and how much I learned. For now, at least my parents can’t complain that I’m watching too many cartoons, because I can say I’m studying.