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SquiggleVision: An Animation Technique That Rocked the World

Let's begin with something on which we can all agree. In the history of animation, there has never been a development that has altered the popular creative landscape as much as the technique known as SquiggleVision (trademark pending). And can we also finally agree that the Comedy Central animated vehicle that introduced this stunning breakthrough succeeded not because of the performances of Jonathan Katz and H. Jon Benjamin and Laura Silverman, but despite them? Not because of Dom Irrera or Ray Romano, but despite them?

Comedy Central
On the shoulders of Squiggled (trademark pending) giants.

Interesting note: Inside the "industry," it is commonly said that H. Jon Benjamin is the luckiest man in show business, and that if he had not Squiggled (trademark pending) in his first animated appearance, he would almost certainly have gone nowhere. The point is not to denigrate H. Jon Benjamin or Louis C.K. or any comedian with capricious letters in his name, but to point out the ability of one technique to launch a thousand careers.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Adonis-like looks will only get you so far, kid.

Do I think of myself as the father of SquiggleVision (trademark pending)? Yes. Do I see myself in the same rarified atmosphere as Alfred Hitchcock or the incomparable Orson Welles? Let's answer that question with an anecdote.

In 1992, I was walking home from Chili's Restaurant in Harvard Square (visit their newly designed website at chilis.com), and I caught myself thinking, "How can I revitalize the ossified world of animation?" As is so typical of me, I decided to list my strengths. One, I could program virtually any computer running DOS. Two, I had inherited a rather severe case of familial essential tremor. And three, I am almost completely colorblind. You put those three things together and you find yourself running up Sparks Street, left on Huron Avenue, and right on Chilton. (I mention those specifics because they are part of history.) Within minutes I had created an algorithm that would Squiggle (trademark pending) any line drawing. I would not need to hire an animator. Ever. I had changed everything.

Mikael28/iStock/Getty Images
Math would later thank me for using it so wisely.

Interesting note: Years later, I was asked by someone (who may well have been on the same level as Charlie Rose) if I had created this animation technique to capture the essential urban angst found in every episode of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. Had I somehow found a fresh way to visually portray personal ambivalence? It was such a proud moment, and I didn't hide behind some false modesty. Yes, I said.

So Hitchcock, Welles, me? Time will tell.

Hasbro
It'll depend on whether future generations value Peabodys over cannibal robo-planets for animated achievements.

You must have other questions. I will anticipate and answer them as honestly as I can.

Tom, as with all triumphs, is the story of SquiggleVision (trademark pending) one of unalloyed success?

Great question.

Tom, what was your proudest moment?

A famous animator named Steve Jobs (of Toy Story fame) said of me and SquiggleVision (trademark pending), "I never want to be alone in a room with that man again!" I think it's pretty clear what was going on there -- jealousy is a harsh taskmistress. (True story.)

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"iEnvy."

Tom, were there any hurtful moments along the way?

Of course. After we completed and delivered our first episode of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, a producer from Comedy Central called me to say how wonderful the show was. Then she asked, "When do we get to see the real thing?" She thought we had sent a pencil test or an animatic. I said, "That is the final thing." She told me that it was not acceptable. The best of us are only human, and we do our darnedest to disguise defensiveness. I said, "Well, that's the fucking show, and we're not going to change a fucking thing, and in the future you don't need to bother sending any fucking notes." (True story.)

bsj/iStock/Getty Images
Although notes on fucking were, and continue to be, warmly welcomed.

Tom, were there any scary moments?

This is not easy for me to tell. SquiggleVision (trademark pending) was temporarily banned in a certain Asian country. Apparently the cycling effect caused mild epileptic seizures in young children. (True story.) I believe the ban was canceled after Season 6 when no one was watching anymore.

Tom, are there any true facts associated with your staggering animation breakthrough?

Yes, and this is easily verified online. True Fact: For every nine people who find the shaky, vibrating, jigglish line art effect thoroughly unpleasant, there are ALWAYS one or two people who don't mind it that much.

Comedy Central
Inside the "industry" they call them smart people.

Tom, was there any one guest actor or actress who literally breathed life into SquiggleVision (trademark pending)?

It is almost impossible to pick just one. But it was Whoopi Goldberg. I'm kidding, of course.

Tom, what are you working on now?

I am in the middle of two different projects, neither of which, by the way, will involve Bobby De Niro. The first is a slam dunk (which is my pattern ... to always include a slam dunk). This project is a one-second animated series. In a kind of homage to the wonderful television action-adventure 24, my entire series takes place over one second. It's kind of like 24 meets short form comedy. There will be 22 episodes per season, and each episode will be about 1/22 of a second in length. This has never been, nor will it ever again be, done.

JaysonPhotography/iStock/Getty Images
Here's me composing the entire score.

Tom, you mentioned a second very exciting project. Can you, without indulging in self-promotion, tell us all about it?

Thank you. My production company, Explosion Bus (ExplosionBus.com), will soon be releasing The Homo Erectus Show, with one-minute animated episodes where we search for new species of males. It's anthropological without being all up in your face -- no easy trick. The show boasts two of the finest voice-actors working today, me and my assistant. Is it experimental? Yes. Do I hope it will grab an Emmy? Of course. Do I dream of a Cable Ace Award? Not really.

That is all of the questions I will be taking.

CursedSenses/iStock/Getty Images
"Nuts, really?"
*no reply*

How to sum up a breakthrough and a career. Impossible. I should, however, mention a cute little guy named Jonathan Katz. In 1992, I went to his home in Newton, Massachusetts. I had always loved his work and that signature bald spot. I found him sitting on a couch. He was writing his new joke for that year. I showed him my staggering animation effect, and he said, "Tom, what you need is talent." It was his classic passive-aggressive humor, sort of a covert "fuck you," and I loved it! We decided, despite the fact that we were both married with children, to go all the way. I made him a promise that day, and I like to think that I have honored it without cease for 20 years. Neither of us can now remember the promise.


Tom Snyder invented SquiggleVision (trademark pending), but can currently be found working on his new show, Homo Erectus.

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