Home Channels For Kids Toonzone Interviews Creator and Executive Producer C.H. Greenblatt About “Harvey Beaks”

Toonzone Interviews Creator and Executive Producer C.H. Greenblatt About “Harvey Beaks”

C.H. Greenblatt Harvey Beaks

C.H. Greenblatt Harvey BeaksC.H. Greenblatt began his career as a storyboard artist and writer on SpongeBob SquarePants and continued on to The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy before creating and executive producing Chowder for Cartoon Network (where we interviewed him right before the premiere). Toonzone News caught up with Greenblatt to talk to him about his newest show, Nickelodeon’s Harvey Beaks.

TOONZONE NEWS: You worked on SpongeBob, and then you went over to Cartoon Network and did a bunch of stuff for them. What’s it like returning to Nickelodeon?

C.H. GREENBLATT: It’s like moving out of your parents’ house, and then you come back years later. At first you’re like, wait a second, I remember this place, it’s kind of weird. And you’re all grown up and you feel different, but then after a while, you make it your own thing again. At first it was a little surreal, but it’s been really nice, actually. It was a bit of a homecoming. Everyone was really happy to see me come back. There’s tons of new faces, so it’s a lot of different people than before. So in a way it feels like a homecoming, that’s the best way I can say it.

TZN: That’s certainly a good thing.

C.H. GREENBLATT: It is, but since this is where I had my first job, it’s nice to be back to that.

TZN: Where there some things you learned on Chowder and working at Cartoon Network that you find useful on Harvey Beaks?

C.H. GREENBLATT: Yeah, of course. Obviously doing a show, you learn a lot just going through the process. I think coming into it, I knew what to expect a little bit better as far as the amount of work that was going to be necessary and how much help I would need along the way. It was nice that Nick was really open in saying, “What do you need?” and I could say “Well, last time I didn’t have this and it’d be really helpful to have people along the way to give me a hand doing this stuff, and I’m not having to do it all myself.” Knowing that kind of stuff was a really big help and Nickelodeon said “Sure, if that’s what you need, then no problem.” I didn’t really know to ask for that kind of stuff at Cartoon Network, and I don’t even know if we’d have had that budget for that. Just having staffing, having a lot of help on certain stuff.

C.H. Greenblatt Chowder Harvey BeaksThe other thing that I think I learned was to focus on what’s the most important part of the show. The first season is really different than late second season, third season, going into that because at the beginning of the first season, everyone is really excited. It’s a new thing and everyone’s kind of figuring it out and there’s lots of potential and possibility. Then when you start going into second season, everyone starts to burn out. It’s a very grueling process doing TV animation, and once you’ve done however many stories you start with, you have to try and find ways to keep the characters exciting and alive to you without feeling like you’re starting to have to mess with them.

I think looking back there was a point even on Chowder some of the artists on the show for the sake of comedy would start messing with the characters. For me, it was like “Oh, that’s funny,” but then you realize later, “Oh, that’s not what we should do.” People don’t tune in to a show to see the characters messed with. They tune in to see the characters they like doing funny things and behaving in the ways they want to see them behave in. I think that’s something I think I can take away from the whole experience of Chowder. You don’t really see it at the time, but looking back, it’s easier for me to see that. What’s really important, what do we have to stay focused on? We gotta make sure that if people are getting tired of writing the characters—which we’re not really at that point yet, but that’s something that’ll come down the road—how do I make sure that doesn’t affect the work that’s coming out? How do I make sure that we have new challenges for them without doing it at the expense of the characters?

TZN: Could you tell me a little bit about designing the world of Harvey Beaks? It came through your character designs, correct?

C.H. GREENBLATT: Yeah, I guess once I had the initial characters, I knew I wanted it to be like a forest world. I knew I wanted it to be this fantasy forest that lives in its own place and not really connected to our world at all. It’s not in a backyard you could walk out and visit it from our place, but it had to feel like a real forest. At the same time, it had to have almost a Miyazaki quality where you can have forest spirits, you could have living mushrooms, you could have lake monsters, you could have all kinds of things show up. Most of the characters would be real animals, but you could have things like Jeremy, who’s a big mushroom guy. There’s a character we have coming up, his name’s Officer Fred, and he is a caterpillar with taser hands. There are some weirdo characters here and there.

In Chowder and in this, I like having worlds where you can make any kind of character that you want to make. You can have fantasy and imagination show up there, but this is a lot more grounded place than Chowder was, so it had to have certain rules. Most of the characters behave like real people and follow the physics of real people. For the people who have magic, it usually works in the way like a gatekeeper would have it. There’s a metaphor to it. For instance, in the “Pe-Choo!” episode, the guy who kicks people out of the lake is basically a lifeguard, and he can blast them out of the lake like blowing a whistle and kicking them out of the place. So the magic exists for a reason. Rarely will it be any of the main characters who have those abilities, it’ll be other creatures in the world they run into occasionally. Not every story has that, but I wanted the world to be surprising in a way. So as I kept thinking of that and adding more characters to it, that’s how it came about. Usually I think of a personality when I add a character to a show. What do I need, what do I not have, what’s a good dynamic for a relationship, who is missing from this group? Then if we have an episode where they’re going to meet some kind of person, how do we make a metaphor of what that person represents and how do we do it in a fun, visual way? To me, that’s how the world keeps expanding.

TZN: Could you talk a little bit about the casting process?

C.H. GREENBLATT: Yeah, from the very beginning, I wanted it to be kids. It’s got to be like Peanuts, it’s got to be real. The whole mantra of the show to me was the sincerity, and even though it’s kind of weird and there’s comedy, it’s got to feel really grounded. You’ve got to believe in the characters, and I just said they have to be kids because I don’t want it to be cartoony people being kids. I wanted it to feel like you’re hearing real kids talking. That’s something we did in Chowder, which I really liked, but even in this, it is a lot more important because Harvey is all sincerity. To have Fee and Foo do obnoxious things, to me it’s a lot funnier if a kid says something obnoxious because they don’t know any better.  They’re kids, they can get away with it.

TZN: That’s very true.

C.H. GREENBLATT: So it was a lot funnier than if you had adults do that, so most of the kids are played by kids. As far as the rest of the casting, it was finding voices of people that we thought were funny that didn’t have to put on a huge character. They can kind of embody the character more. Again, they’re all actors, it’s not always their straight voice, but I didn’t want a big, loud, screaming cartoony show. I wanted something that’s a little subtler and more natural and quieter. There will be big loud moments, but it should never be the whole way through.

Harvey Beaks C.H. GreenblattTZN: Are you planning on doing any voices?

C.H. GREENBLATT: Yeah, I do a couple of the characters. There’s a bunny, Dade, who is one of Harvey’s friends who hangs out with the kids, and he’s even more uptight than Harvey. He’s the version of Harvey if Harvey didn’t want to be exciting and adventurous and really would just follow the rules with no thought of what that would actually mean to people. Then Jeremy, the mushroom guy. The idea for him was I wanted a character who was completely ill-equipped to do anything and everyone kept giving him responsibilities he shouldn’t have. Nobody seems to notice that this is a terrible idea, so he gets to be pretty fun. Episodes where he’s babysitting and episodes where he’s a lead singer of a band, and he’s the worst person to do that stuff.

TZN: How about finding animators for the show? You’ve taken the task to scour the Internet for them, is that right?

C.H. GREENBLATT: Yeah, in a way, I’d say it’s like an extension of how I got into the business. It’s the same idea. They liked my comic strips, and that’s what got me hired on SpongeBob. I didn’t have animation experience, I had cartooning experience. For finding storyboard artists, this show is storyboard driven, so the storyboard artists are really writing the dialogue and the characters in the episodes off of the outlines that the writer’s room provides, and so I wanted to find other storytellers. People who are maybe doing their own projects. Whether or not they came from animation school or art school or doing their own things, it didn’t really matter. They had to have some base level of drawing, obviously, to be able do the job, and all the people draw really well, but they didn’t all necessarily come in through the traditional method.

What I tell people when they write to me online is that it’s not about putting together a portfolio and sending it in anymore. It’s really about putting your work online and constantly getting it out there and making yourself better and getting people to notice it by being good and being prolific and finding your own voice. People will find you that way. That’s kind of how I came across a lot of people online, slowly following different people, finding artists I liked, people I thought were funny, people doing interesting work and reaching out to them and seeing if it was the right fit or not. It’s worked out really well, and it’s not that any of these people weren’t qualified. They’re all very qualified for it. They were out there putting their own work out and doing their own things. It’s just they wouldn’t have even thought to submit for us. It’s an interesting way of doing it now. To me, it’s not that it changes the art, it just changes the way you could see people’s art.

TZN: That way you get to really hear individual voices.

C.H. GREENBLATT: Right. You can see a portfolio and it would have some sketches and some designs and some life drawing and it would be hard to get a sense of someone’s own personal work. It would be hard to get a sense of someone’s own personal taste. It might be something they did for school, other projects from school. Here–to me there’s value of putting out your work every day and getting feedback and constantly going at it and not being super precious about it because I think that’s the best way you grow as an artist. It’s just by being prolific and making a lot and trying to learn and get better constantly. A lot of people are like “How do I get better?” It’s like everything else. Just do it. If you wanted to learn to play guitar, you play every single day. You practice and practice and practice. If you wanted to be good at sports, you’d be out there every single day. Getting into animation is no different. Draw every single day and put it up there. Constantly strive to be better.

Seeing artists online, I could look at their work a year later and see a big difference because they’re doing a comic every day and putting up doodles, and they’re working on stuff and learning from other people.  You see them growing very fast because they’re getting peer feedback that you would normally only get in art school, but because it’s decentralized from one location and it’s all online, they can get feedback from other artists all over the world really quickly and be influenced by other artists. I think you’re seeing a really rapid increase in talent at a younger age because of that.

TZN: To wrap up, what can you tell us about Harvey Beaks? What can we look forward to seeing?

C.H. GREENBLATT: You talking big picture or stories?

C.H. Greenblatt Harvey BeaksTZN: Anything you think would hook an audience.

C.H. GREENBLATT: Here’s what I hope people would get out of the show that they wouldn’t necessarily get out of other animated shows. My goal with the show has always been that you walk away with a feeling. You walk away feeling some kind of nice, warm moment. Hopefully, whether you’re a kid or an adult, it actually speaks to some reality of what you’ve been through and how you deal with it. Whether it is an exciting event or a worrisome event or a fearful event. Yeah, it’s a comedy show, but we keep trying to put something a little bit in it. I would hope that we try to make something that doesn’t feel disposable, like a sugar cereal. I’m not saying it’s a super important show, I’m just saying it’s something that sticks with you a little bit more. That’s what I hope people get out of it. That they see themselves in the characters and they hopefully are entertained by the crazy things that happen, but at the same time they can kind of connect to those emotions. And again, it’s a surprising world. We have a lot of fun, weird characters, but we’ve got a lot of people that I think you can relate to, even though they’re kind of weird. So to me I think it strikes a really fine line. I would say it’s like sweet and sour. Harvey is the sweet one and the twins are the sour ones, and it’s this dichotomy that somehow together make a really nice experience.

TZN: That sounds great, I’m looking forward to seeing it. I saw a couple episodes. It’s a funny show.

C.H. GREENBLATT: Thanks. Like any show, it gets funnier as you get a hold of the characters and you figure out what to do with them and the crew vibe with it. I really like the early ones, I think there’s a really nice vibe to them, but as it goes on, I think we really hit a groove. The comedy gets stronger because you know what to do more with them. That’s any show, you see that when you look back. I feel like coming out of the gate, we’ve got a nice strong opening. You feel like you know who they are, you feel like the voice of the show is there.

Toonzone News would like to thank C.H. Greenblatt for talking with us as well as Jessica Smith from DKC Public Relations and Katelyn Balach from Nickelodeon for setting it up. Harvey Beaks is airing now on Nickelodeon.