By now you have watched Dead End, Cartoon Hangover’s newest Too Cool! Cartoons, at least 10 times. If not — what’s taking you so long? Created by animator Hamish Steele, Dead End premiered on Cartoon Hangover on Thursday, June 26, 2014, and features the voices of Zack Pearlman (Barney), Cameron Goodman (Norma), Stefan Marks (Pugsley and God of the Internet), and Maria Bamford (Pauline). Hamish lives in London and graduated from Kingston University in 2013. He has worked on projects for the BBC, Frederator Studios, BOOM! Studios, Random House, and Nickelodeon, as well as his own projects. Luckily for us the “God of the Internet” was on our side when Hamish took some time to answer some of our questions.
How did you connect with Frederator Studios for your new animated short Dead End for Cartoon Hangover?
I first became aware of Cartoon Hangover through a call for submissions that was going around Tumblr. I was still at university and I only answered the call as an exercise for myself to try and come up with a cartoon idea. I never thought my short would be chosen because I thought Cartoon Hangover wouldn’t be interested in people with no previous experience in the industry or even people who weren’t from the US. But they were incredibly welcoming and patient and seemed to love my stuff.
Where did the idea for Dead End come from?
I originally didn’t pitch Dead End, instead I showed them a few pages from a comic I was working on at the time called Killing Time. It starred Barney and Norma but was about a time-traveling fighting tournament. Cartoon Hangover said they loved the characters but that the story wouldn’t work, so I put them into a new setting, along with a dog character I’d been drawing called Pugsley and it just ended up being ghost related. Classic horror cinema is something I love. The feel of the short is inspired by a 70s Japanese horror movie called Hausu and there are a few tiny references to it in the short.
In addition to creating Dead End, what other roles did you perform on the short?
I seemed to do a bit of everything. I helped direct the voice actors, I storyboarded the short, I designed stuff and ended up animating a lot of it. I was a jack of all trades. But the animation work from director/layout artist, Mel Roach, animators Leanne Lee and Dale Anderson, and background painter Andrew Onorato was incredible. My job while animating was mostly to color in and polish off their amazing work.
How did you meet Mel Roach?
I didn’t physically meet Mel until after production as I live in London, UK and she lives in Melbourne, Australia. But, Mel’s Rocket Dog was my favorite Cartoon Hangover short and part of the reason I pitched Dead End to them, so it was a dream come true having her work on the short!
So, you didn’t know Mel Roach before? How did you get put together for Dead End?
I think possibly because I had no experience, Cartoon Hangover wanted to put me with someone who’d been through what I had been through and asked if I’d like to work with Mel.
Where was Dead End animated and produced?
It was so interesting - I was working it from London, it was being animated mostly in Melbourne and then it was being produced by Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover in the US.
Is it hard/weird working on a show with you in London, Mel in Australia, and Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover in the US?
Strangely it seemed to work fine and since then I’ve done animation productions solely based in the UK and I’ve not noticed a significant difference. We all shared a Dropbox and were emailing each other every day so it just felt like normal to me! It was sometimes hard not having face to face contact with the animators but we were still in constant communication.
Do you have a favorite moment of Dead End that just worked out even better than you could have imagined?
I have a lot of favorite moments in the short, but, my favorite moment of working on it was getting the first bits of animation back from the guys in Australia. There was Norma! Talking, moving! This character who had been in my head for years was suddenly alive and I got a bit more emotional than I expected! The scene that was animated was the bit when Norma is lying on the ground, sulking about not having any internet. So that moment always makes me happy.
How did you decide which characters would be American voices and which would be British?
I’d always imagined them all as American. Surprisingly, it was the producers at Cartoon Hangover who wanted to make Pugsley British. I think the Cartoon Hangover team had found my initial delivery of the lines when reading through the storyboard funny. “It might explain the wallpaper” they just thought sounded funniest in a British accent (I’ve never really understood why!). But in the end in it gives Pugsley a unique charm - dogs don’t speak so it’s no stranger that he speaks with a British accent then if he didn’t.
I’ve said this a lot to the team but Barney’s voice is so spot on it almost weirds me out. The entire cast are amazing but Zack Pearlman as Barney sounds exactly like the voice in my head when I was doing that initial comic.
Are any of the characters based on you or people you know?
There’s a little bit of me in all the main characters. Norma’s a bit addicted to her blog, Barney’s a bit self-conscious of his rear end and feels the need to prove his masculinity all the time and Pugsley backwards rolls out of windows when he’s scared - just like me!
If viewers pay close attention they will see some interesting things in the backgrounds — like swords, skulls, axes, spears, and a heart in a jar, to mention a few. There are also the social media comments fly by too. Were those all your ideas?
Most of the in jokes and background references were background painter Andrew Onorato’s doing. He was in charge of the backgrounds but luckily we have a similar sense of humor and a few shared interests so there are references to some of our favorite comedy shows such as Tim & Eric and Look Around You. However, I wrote out all the tweets and YouTube comments you see flying past the camera in those scenes. They’re all unique so be sure to pause the short and go through them all. I thought it’d be fun to make a few little in-jokes about Cartoon Hangover - I was delighted that they got what I was doing and didn’t think I was making fun of them.
Those are some of the more obvious ones - are there other hidden things that fans should look out for - or maybe some private jokes you can share?
There are a couple of references to Mel’s Rocket Dog in the short (neither of which she actually requested!) There’s also a passing reference to a certain Bravest Warriors character. Perhaps the most obscure reference is for a cult BBC mockumentary from the 90s called Ghostwatch . Ghostwatch is probably my favorite horror film/TV show of all time and I reference it in my stuff all the time but nobody ever seems to notice because there are only a handful of people who know what it is - and my reference is so “blink and you’ll miss it” that even people who have seen it might not catch it. Maybe in the future I’ll do a comprehensive list of all the references in Dead End!
What are some of your favorite cartoons?
There are so many… Ren and Stimpy was a big influence on me growing up - I don’t think any show has made me laugh as much as some episodes of that. I also adored The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack - I love cartoons which feel textured and grimy. Aardman’s Rex the Runt is probably my favorite British cartoon and Dead End’s sort of deadpan sense of humor is definitely inspired by that show (three people who have seen the short have asked me if I’m a fan of Rex!)
I’m obviously a big fan of Adventure Time. I’m also really enjoying Steven Universe and Clarence. Clarence especially appeals to me because of its almost realistic and downbeat tone. Even though Dead End is full of ghosts and magic, I always like to capture that realistic edge.
What else are you or have you recently been working on?
Well, Leanne, Dale and Andrew worked with me again on an upcoming short for Nickelodeon called Badly Drawn Animals. It’s set in a zoo that’s facing a mutiny. After that, I have my first graphic novel coming out - Pantheon! It’s a humorous take on the Egyptian myths but its still completely faithful. I’m hoping that leads to me doing a lot more comics in the future. I’d love to do a Dead End comic, taking a sort of Tales from the Crypt / Goosebumps formula.