Howard Stern and Seth MacFarlane Trash Flash

Alright – here we go again.

Last week, Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and American Dad, was on The Howard Stern Show on Sirius Satellite Radio to promote The Cleveland Show. The conversation eventually steered towards Stern’s own latent cartoon ambitions. You see, back about 5 years ago, Stern was cooking up a series for Spike titled Howard Stern: The High School Years. Well into development, Howard ran into some budget problems. Spike reportedly wasn’t interested in paying $800,000 or a million per episode for traditional animation – ala Family Guy – so they started down the Flash route, or what Stern calls “cheap shit animation.” In last week’s interview, MacFarlane remarked on this production choice and subsequently pissed all over Flash (listen here – around 8:00):

There’s something so sanitized when they do it with Flash. There’s still no machine that can substitute for hand drawn. Some people like it. I have the same visceral reaction that you do. It just feels very cold.

To illustrate how ridiculous this comment is, I direct your attention to a Flash-animated project – one that MacFarlane may recognize:

How cold! How sanitized! The animators must have been replaced by robots! That was Up Late With Stewie & Brian, which was produced in Flash by Flinch, Zeek and Fatkat back in 2007.

There’s not accounting for taste, as it’s a personal thing, but Seth has bumbled into the same old mistake so many others have made – he blamed bad painting on the brush. It’s quite apparent that Seth hasn’t seen the volumes of excellent work produced with the Flash thoughtout the years. Go watch Superjail! or some of the work we highlighted in the Flash Animation 10, and you’ll agree it’s not the tool that’s sanitizing anything.

You can actually see the test Stern is referring to. In November of 2003, Mark Marek met with Stern and subsequently produced some animated tests, hoping to land the directing gig. He posted the results on his site, which don’t look all that bad to me.

Big thanks to Dave Redl (Family Pants) for the story tip.


  1. That’s one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever read. Family guy is such a crap cartoon in it’s own right, regardless of how it’s made.

  2. I.M. BLunt May 4, 2009

    Kinda an odd thing to say from Seth, i agree.

    Nevertheless, he’s got a point that most Flash television productions are boring(*at least design-wise)

    Flash was meant to design websites, not animated shows. Studios still want the cheapest, most un-genuine style of animation to hit our airwaves so these shows don’t surprise me.

    Regardless of the “look” though, Family Guy IS funny. But that’s my own two cents.

  3. I love Family Guy and American Dad, but Seth MacFarlane was so wrong in generalizing Flash. It’s absolutely the artist behind the program. Like you said, don’t blame the brush for the bad painting.

  4. oops… put the wrong link for my name. =)

  5. When your characters sit in a bloody chair for ten minutes, you may as well animate with Colorforms and a Polaroid camera.

  6. Nogfish May 4, 2009

    Haha Stern doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about…

    Family Guy can be funny in its best moments but I wouldn’t consider the animation good in any respect.

  7. I.M. BLunt May 4, 2009

    To add, shows like Family Guy and the Simpsons weren’t meant to be “visually” stunning or have superb animation. They’re script and actor driven. So Adobe FLash certainly serves its purpose here.

    It’s difficult to find interesting “animated” shows nowadays anyway. Skunk Fu or Foster’s Home(*and some others) as rare excemptions of course.


  8. You can do some really high quality feature level animation using flash. Unfortunately, it has a bad reputation with more than a few people.
    But here’s a perfect example of what you can do with flash if given the time and having the talent, the film is called “Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss” and I believe it was posted on CHF a little while ago…

    Either way, I don’t care about someone’s opinion on what program is good or bad. If it’s good for me, than that’s good enough.

  9. I.M. BLunt May 4, 2009

    Patrick: Of course, given time and budget, one can produce quality animation using Flash. But i believe this article is about television animation, not feature. I looked at your animation thru your site(*nice stuff btw :) and that’s not animation you see on tv nowadays. Certainly not looking “loose” and “fun” like you have it.

    I’ll i’m saying is studios don’t care about quality animation. I can list you ten examples of bad animation shows over good ones.

    But again, great stuff on your site(*especially the 2nd place piece)

  10. I.M. BLunt May 4, 2009

    Family Pants BLog:

    Great post! I agree wholeheartedly. Cudos.

  11. Hey thanks I.M. Blunt for the compliments, I wasn’t originally directing my comments at your post. I think what happened is that my post got in right after yours in the order that it appears.
    I do agree with you about flash being originally designed for websites. Even working with CS-4, sometimes I feel like I’m asking the program to do somethings that are naturally outside it’s capabilities.
    I think a program like ToonBoom would be better for a studios workflow.
    I’ve been on several TV productions using flash and know exactly what you mean, believe me, I’ve probably worked on three of the ten examples of bad TV animation that you can list:)

  12. Ha! That’s wonderful.

  13. Ralph Cirella, Howard’s friend, came up to my booth at NYC Comicon and loved the new trailer for Dr. Shroud, done in all Flash ( I just sent him and Howard my action figure as well….it sucks to hear those comments about Flash. Kick me in the balls whydontcha and say bad things about my mommma. Same thing in my book. Flash 4ever.

  14. I have been wondering for YEARS why family guy isn’t done in flash, actually…

  15. I will say this, though–there are ways to use flash to make things look really high quality and classy…. While I like elements of those tests quite a bit, they definitely look like they came out of Flash (which is not a problem, per se). If that’s not what Stern was hoping for aesthetically, I can understand why, in his ignorance, he would just assume that it was Flash that was the problem.

    Seth MacFarlane, who studied animation at Rhode Island School of Design, would hopefully have a better understanding of the tools at his disposal.

  16. seth sux. animation talent is wasted on family guy, they do more standing around talking then anything. what a waste of money. That Romeo and Juliet thing totally went under my radar. It looks good for flash, but sometimes that foreground work floats too much and makes you aware of its presence. It’s been said before and still it needs to be said again. It’s just a tool, the talent is the artists, how long they have to work with the tool, and how well they understand the tool. seth is a fool.

  17. Howard stern, animation commentator? I heard that show he has and he just talks a bunch of arse anyway… ‘today on the howard stern show we’re gonna talk about cup handles… yeah that’s right… are people really listening to this rubbish? Where’s the cheque?’ No one really listens to his opinion do they? no problem, this is really just a very small storm in a less than small sized tea cup.

  18. Oh, yeah Flash is boring and static. As opposed to the exciting, dynamic, fluid and well-designed worlds of Family Guy and American Dad.

    Come on…

  19. I don’t think of Seth McFarlane as a person who appreciates animation, much less someone I would want animation advice from. If I wanted business advice or how to make a quick buck maybe!

  20. I personally don’t think we should let this sort of stuff bother us. There will always be those who reject us for the sheer fact that they can. It’s obvious that Flash is in high demand and people enjoy it. So while some continue to hate, we should continue on a more productive path and show them just what we are capable of achieving in Flash.

  21. I don’t blame these guys for saying that.

    Much as Kleenex means “tissue” now, the word Flash tends to mean this:
    (which was actually done using ToonBoom) as opposed to this:
    which really was done using Flash.

    I’m just glad that Howard Stern can see the difference between tweeny “schmanimation” and the real thing, no matter what he calls it. I can’t even name a TV producer who can.

  22. Yeah, JoE C, you’re right. besides you have guys like Adam Phillips, who is like the poster child for how to do flash animation right.

  23. I did my own stern film for his film fest a few years ago. Stern goes back to in time, it shows his high school and that sort of thing.

    Obviously we’re all flash lovers here, but if Spike did a decent test of how the animation would look, Stern would have got a better idea of how to do it.

  24. While we’re at it, might as well debate evolution vs creationism…

  25. I’d put the limited traditional animation of Family Guy up against the likes of The work Ghostbot puts out on the Esurance commercials or Foster’s Home or Happy Tree Friends any day of the week

  26. I heard that, and was shocked, because when I think “good animation,” I think of some of my favorite Flash toons first, and Family Guy definitely does NOT come to mind when thinking about excellent movements and pure frame by frame animation. I honestly thought it WAS made in Flash LOL. I still like Seth, but that’s a low blow to people trying to come up in independent animation. Nice post!

  27. Wow…those were stupid remarks on both Stern and MacFarlane’s part.
    Stern fails to realize that it’s not the animation style that makes or breaks the show, it’s the producer. If Stern thinks his project didn’t look good in Flash, then what makes him think it would better traditionally? No wonder his show didn’t make it…
    And MacFarlane totally self-contradicted himself. He says Flash animation “feels cold”, and 2 years earlier, he made Up Late with Stewie and Brian in Flash! What’s up with that? Also, there’s a bit of irony in his statement: MacFarlane feels that Flash animation looks bad, yet Family Guy looks like it was made in Flash, and it’s traditionally animated! If anything, THAT animation feels “cold and sanatized”.

    Like I said before, it’s not the animation method that makes or breaks the project, it’s the producer. I like Flash, and it can be used to create beautifully animated projects like Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends, Superjail, Happy Tree Friends.
    Stern and Macfarlane really DON’T know what they’re talking about.

  28. A little side note. When Seth was at Hanna Barbera, he got taken OFF drawing duty because he couldn’t cut it. Luckily, he can write, but I don’t know if we should really value the critique of a guy who got transferred OUT of the art department.

  29. sebastian May 5, 2009

    What I found interesting: that Flash animated Family Bit piece has worse animation than the regular Family Guy. So our boy Seth did have a point.

  30. Seth MacFarlane can write? Get out of town. A computer could write better animated comedy than him. It’d actually be a pretty simple algorithm.

  31. wow this thread has hit a nerve!…Lets break out the pitchforks and torches boys and girls!

  32. Oh, that’s cute, Flash is ‘sanitized’. As opposed to Family Guy, which is just ‘bad’. I’m constantly surprised by the levels of suck that Family Guy can reach. The first two seasons were funny, but ever since then it’s just a long, poorly animated series of 80′s references.

  33. Dave Rigley May 7, 2009

    Just a heads up there sebastian. The team that did the anim for the Family Guy Flash dealio was 4 people and we had 1 work week to do it. The rest of the work(backgrounds, character art and rigging, post video and audio) was crammed into roughly a week and a half.

    So, if the quality ain’t up to snuff to 1 million dollars and 9 months for a single episode…Well… Sorry. We’ll try harder next time!

  34. They’re just not saying what they mean correctly is all. We smashed Up Late with stewie and brian out of the fucking park and Dave’s right, we did it in record time. It looked great.

    It’s all artist, not the medium that makes the show look great. It’s the creative ideas behind the show, the producer, director, writing team that makes the show. I can’t say I watch alot of Family guy anymore or Listen to Howard as much as I used to. But, they have millions of fans, and millions of revenues. They have a massive audience because they know the path to the audience, or they made one.

    Some paths grow over though, that’s where we come in.

  35. Dave and Gene, I thank you for taking time to tell this thread what really went down. Without your help, we wouldn’t really know any of that stuff.

    I personally think the the Up Late with Stewie and Brian was just as good looking as ANY Family Guy episode I’ve ever seen. It is not the medium, but the man behind the medium. Sometimes there is a middle man, but there is usually one mastermind behind it all. I like to consider myself a mastermind who is still getting behind his medium… LOL

  36. “There’s something so sanitized when they do it with Flash. There’s still no machine that can substitute for hand drawn. Some people like it. I have the same visceral reaction that you do. It just feels very cold.”

    He must be delusional .

    The Flash animation of “Up Late with Stewie and Brian” looks exactly as cold and bland as the animation any regular episode of Family Guy.

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