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Platform International Animation Festival: “AWESOME” CARTOON NETWORK

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October 28, LOS ANGELES, CA—REDCAT and CalArts’ Center for the Contemporary Arts devoted a screening and panel to Cartoon Network, in celebration of their 20th anniversary.  The event included a selection of a handful of Cartoon Network shows and featured guests Rob Sorcher, Pendleton Ward, J.G. Quintel, Pete Browngardt, and Rebecca Sugar for a Q&A.

First up was the Adventure Time episode “Boom Boom Mountain,” in which Finn and Jake must cheer up a depressed mountain who cries boulders when he sees the villagers below him fight. Finn is determined to make everyone happy, even when every creature in the area voices a different complaint.  It’s a good sample of the funny random humor Adventure Time is famous for.

Next was The Powerpuff Girls with “Just Another Manic Mojo.  After a typical morning routine, Mojo Jojo is bothered when the girls accidentally throw a baseball into his lair and try to get it back from him.  An odd choice for a Powerpuff Girls episode because it focuses on Mojo rather than the girls, but it’s funny and the perspective shift is a unique break from the typical episode.

Then came “Mordecai and the Rigbys,” an episode of Regular Show where Mordecai and Rigby decide to form a band and are aided by future versions of them.  It was amusing with a nice twist in the end.

Following that was the short Uncle Grandpa, which is being developed as a series.  The titular Uncle Grandpa, who claims to be everyone in the world’s uncle and grandpa, brings joy and excitement to those down on their luck.  In this episode, he visits a computer nerd and gives him some adventure to boost his confidence.  While the humor is random and even kind of gross, it’s a pretty great ride.

The finale episode shown was ”Fionna and Cake”, an episode of Adventure Time starring female counterparts of Finn and Jake.  While it’s odd not to see the stars of the show, the episode still managed to maintain the feel of Adventure Time.

The screenings ended with a video of a live action version of the song played in the Regular Show episode, featuring people dressed as Mordecai, Rigby, and Margaret.  It was strange and surreal, but it felt appropriate.

A Q&A with the panelists followed the screening.  When asked what makes Cartoon Network different, Chief Content Officer Rob Sorcher answered that it’s all about how they develop a series.  Artists are able to write episodes through storyboards.  “What sets us apart from the other people is working with visual artists and letting those people lead the process,” he said, following with, “It doesn’t matter what the idea is, it’s really about the execution.”

The panel was asked to talk about how they got their break in the business.  Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward answered “CalArts Mafia” in reference to the fact that many CalArts grads who work on shows at Cartoon Network hired fellow animators they met at school.  With the help of some networking, Ward was able to gain experience at Cartoon Network and eventually pitch his idea for Adventure Time.

Regular Show creator J.G. Quintel first worked as an intern at Cartoon Network before being hired to work on Camp Lazlo.  Through Cartoon Network’s “Cartoonstitute”, a vehicle for new creators and ideas, Quintel was able to pitch Regular Show.

Rebecca Sugar got her start storyboarding for Adventure Time.  Pete Browngardt’s work at CalArts got him noticed, and he began work on Chowder, after which he was able to pitch Uncle Grandpa through the Cartoonstitute.

Having a group of CalArts graduates on the panel invited questions about the importance of going to school to study film and animation.  “CalArts taught me how to be a filmmaker” said Ward, explaining that being a student helped him learn how to construct a film.

“It’s really important to make films”, Quintel said.  Through making films, he learned from his mistakes.

Ward then said making films is a great lead in to pitching shows and that preparation is important for when the time comes; “Every studio is always looking for something new, something that’s going to be really big.”

Sugar, who has done a lot of self promoting, said, “You can’t wait for someone to let you make something”.  She showed her work to professionals and got advice from them.

Browngardt said the experience of making a film is educational for many reasons, including the fact that it helps you learn how to tell a joke.

“It’s important to come up with ideas you want to do”, Quintel said, stressing the importance of doing something you care about because if a creator likes their work, so will an audience.

The panel was then asked what kind of pitch stands out.

Sorcher said they look for ideas that feel fresh.  Working on a cartoon in any capacity is a good way to learn what they’re looking for.  He reminded the audience that everyone on the panel had a key role on another show before they pitched their own show.

The audience asked if the panelists could have any cartoon character up on stage with them, who would it be.

Quintel responded “Bart Simpson” and Ward said “Pikachu”, adding “I had a crush on Patty Mayonaise.” Sugar said “Usopp from One Piece” while Browngardt answered “Skeletor”.

The panel was next asked how the business has changed since they began working professionally.

Browngardt talked about the idea of using storyboards to really show what the creator is thinking.  He added, “The biggest difference is so many different styles happening and technology to make things faster”.

The question of the importance of having a film school degree came up.

Quintel said the paper doesn’t matter so much as the portfolio you create and the contacts you can make.  Browngardt added, “The more time you spend there, the more time you develop as your own artist”.  His first job actually made him go back to school.  He was given the option to stay and work, but he decided that he needed the time in school to be able to make his own films.

Sugar was asked about her experience working in both New York and Los Angeles.  “I was just lucky people saw my work” she answered, stressing that she had to work hard, produce a lot of output, and improve.  “If you just make a ton of stuff, people are bound to notice.”

The panel was asked where they see themselves in five years.

“Pirate ship!” Ward exclaimed.  Quintel wants to make more shows while Sugar hopes to still be working on hers.

“I’ll be really tired,” Browngardt said.

The next question was about inspiration.

For Ward, he was inspired by childhood experience and anime.  Quintel answered “I watched a lot of The Simpsons, Rocko’s Modern Life growing up and British stuff.  The Mighty Boosh in college.”  The Simpsons and anime also influenced Sugar.

“Skeletor,” Browngardt answered, which he followed with “I grew up with a lot of old Warner Brothers Cartoons. Tex Avery, Mad Magazine, Gary Larson’s Far Side, The Simpsons of course.  Pee-Wee Herman.”

With fans being able to communicate with creators fairly easily these days, the final question was in regards to how fan interaction affects a creator’s work.

Ward recalled the idea of taking characters and swapping their gender from an idea that has spread through the internet.

Sugar, having been on the opposite side of it, realized she could show her work to professionals; “Being a fan is like a ridiculous form of escapism, but it’s so gut-wrenchingly personal and frivolous and ridiculous at the same time.”

Browngardt admits to being terrible with the internet.  He doesn’t even know if he has any fans.

Quintel likes going on twitter and having drawings of the show being sent to him.

“Having that instant feedback is the best,” said Ward.

“Or the worst” Quintel added.

Ward admitted to liking negative feedback when someone really hates something.

Browngardt concluded that any kind of affect you can have on a person is good.  If they feel nothing, then you’ve failed.