“Mommy, where do cartoon characters come from?” It’s the question every parent has to answer eventually. For many classic animated TV series (particularly in the 90s), the main characters of these shows were conceived in shorts, which later served as network pilots. Here you can see the crudely animated beginnings of a few great crudely animated series.
Mike Judge created this short, starring Beavis and Butthead, in 1992 for the Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation. It was aired on MTV’s Liquid Television and the rest is… uh… history. Heh heh…
Also in 1992: Craig McCracken created The Whoopass Girls (aka The Powerpuff Girls) for a CalArts short. I can’t imagine why Cartoon Network made him change the name.
The Simpsons began as a series of shorts on "The Tracy Ullman Show" in 1987. God, remember "The Tracy Ullman Show?" Anyway, the first short was called “Good Night,” but there wasn’t a decent video of it on YouTube, so the short above is a stand-in. Here’s the real deal.
“The Arnold Waltz”
Craig Bartlett’s Nicktoon “Hey Arnold” began as a "Clay" Arnold, with a series of claymation "Sesame Street" shorts in the 90’s.
“The Life of Larry”
Seth McFarlane’s college short from his RISD days in 1995 would eventually lead him to create “Family Guy” for Fox. [Cutaway To: Seth McFarlane swimming in a vault of money, a la Scrooge McDuck.]
Pinky and the Brain were created by Tom Ruegger as part of “Animaniacs,” beginning with the above short from 1993. He based the personalities of the scheming mice on two co-workers. So if you don’t want to become a famous cartoon character, don’t work in the same office with Tom Ruegger.
“The Spirit of Christmas” (Jesus vs. Frosty)
At the University of Colorado, Trey Parker and Matt Stone animated the first “Spirit of Christmas” short in 1992, with some construction paper and a sick, crazy dream. Three years later, they created a video Christmas card for a Fox executive, which caught the attention of Comedy Central. And that’s the story of The South Park.
Geoffrey Golden is the Editor in Chief of The Devastator: The Quarterly Comedy Magazine For Humans!