Bee and PuppyCat, Adventure Time, The Fairly OddParents, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Fanboy and Chum Chum, and Courage the Cowardly Dog. These are just a few of the hit series that were born out of Fred Seibert’s independent Frederator Studios’ multiple short-form animated anthology series.
Frederator’s shorts programs, including What A Cartoon (1995-2002), Oh Yeah! Cartoons (1998-2001), Random! Cartoons (2008-9), and the most recent Cartoon Hangover’s Too Cool! Cartoons (2013-present), have yielded 200+ creator-driven animated shorts. These short animated films have showcased the early work, and eventually 15+ series, of creators including Seth MacFarlane, Genndy Tartakovsky, Butch Hartman, Craig McCracken, Pendleton Ward, and Natasha Allegri. Frederator’s series can be seen on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and YouTube.
Eric Homan, Vice President, Development at Frederator, joined up with Seibert in 1998 and has worked on more than half of the shorts. Homan spoke with Frederator Times about why animated shorts are important and work for Frederator, identifying new creators, and giving them freedom to create, as well as about developing and producing these short independent films.
Frederator Times: What makes short-form animated content work so well for Frederator?
Eric Homan: There a few reasons. One is that Frederator’s always been much more focused on finding hitmakers rather than hits, and the way we go about; that is to give filmmakers as much creative freedom as possible. The longer the film—and the more expensive it is—the more the folks who finance our shorts shows want to add critical voices to the mix. Another is, creatively, we look for star characters above all else. The shorter format forces filmmakers to concentrate less on story and more on character.
Are the Too Cool! Cartoon shorts developed as pilots for longer series?
Yes and no. We try not to use the word ‘pilots’ as most, more traditionally-developed pilots are saddled with extra, non-essential baggage that gets in the way. That said, we’d love for every short we produce to cross over into series territory. We just don’t want these stand-alone shorts to act as set-ups for those series. Our feeling is if there’s a character with whom an audience falls in love, the series can be figured out later.
What kind of ‘non-essential baggage’ are you talking about?
Anything with the purpose of answering executives’ questions rather than having an audience fall in love with a character. Traditional pilots seem to be designed more to present what a series would be. That’s not our goal; if the audience falls in love with a character, we feel there’s a series to be made. (Pen Ward’s first “Adventure Time” short was about only a boy and his dog rescuing a princess. All the business about Ooo didn’t come till well after that short.)
A lot of companies give lip service to creator driven content - but then micromanage the process with lots of notes and changes. What is Frederator’s take on creator-driven?
If we were in the business of telling creators how to make their films, why would we need them? Of course, I’d like to think with our experience we can add something to the mix as well as troubleshoot, er, troubles, but we’ve succeeded as producers by supporting creators in what they want, not what we want.
How do you identify the creators that you want to work with? Do you seek out a creator whose work you like and hope they have some great characters - or do they all find Cartoon Hangover?
We look for creators, and they look for us. For instance, of the eleven shorts greenlit for Too Cool! Cartoons so far, four creators sought us. With the rest we either had existing relationships or we reached out to them.
What are some of the specific ways/places you have found creators?
Film festivals, recommendations, students’ work, unsolicited emails, indie comics, and, of course, the Internet.
When creators pitch a short concept to you - what do you focus on most?
Character, character, and character. Of course we want terrific stories and lots of comedy, but if there isn’t there a character with whom we want to spend time, what’s the point?
What is the pitch process like? Do you look at storyboards, scripts, comics, sketches on napkins?
To get the greenlight we need to see a beatboard — not a detailed storyboard, but rather maybe a third of the drawings. Those drawings can be very rough. Most, if not all, of the dialog should be there. A thumbnail pitch, really. That’s all we need. Pitch bibles aren’t necessary, nor are future episode ideas. (ed. note: above - see a portion of Mel Roach's pitchboard for Rocket Dog)
Are the Cartoon Hangover Too Cool! Shorts all storyboard driven?
Well, we take pitches in board form, so from our perspective, they have been. However, maybe the creators wrote scripts before thumbing out their ideas.
What’s the difference between storyboard driven and script driven?
Script-driven shows, including The Fairly OddParents and most primetime animated shows you see, are written first, with that resultant script (or, often, the cast recording) going to the board artists. On the other hand, with board-driven cartoons, the boarders will work from short outlines generated by a writer or writing staff. These boarders are effectively writers, as well.
Most often the creators are the board artists. In other cases, since we require thumbnail pitches —complete with dialog—for the greenlight, it’s usually that pitch—and a couple of conversations—which goes to the board artist.
Is there a hybrid of those two styles?
Maybe, but I can’t think of any examples (though boarders on storyboard-driven shows will often get chunks of dialog from the writers).
How do you go about matching up a specific creator who - might not be an animator - with the right team to create their short?
It’s rare that a creator will animate his or her film (“Rocket Dog’s” Mel Roach did). In most other cases, Frederator has a production team in place to oversee budgets and schedules.
It’s less common when a creator hasn’t got a good idea of whom he or she wants to bring on board (for instance, Natasha Allegri and Jesse and Justin Moynihan have pretty much brought on board all the artists on their projects). In other cases, you try and get a good feel of what the creator’s looking for (“I love the backgrounds on Flapjack”), find out who fits and who likes the project and is available. Maybe I’ve missed my true calling as a shadchan.
How long does it take to make a short like the ones debuting this year?
It varies. We’ve been producing shorts for Cartoon Hangover on a model that’s closer to the more traditional TV production model: a few months for pre-production; a few months for production; a month for post-production. Roughly seven months.
Are the shorts all animated in the same place?
No. Though Dong Woo Entertainment in South Korea has handled the brunt of Cartoon Hangover animation (Bravest Warriors, Bee and PuppyCat, many of the Too Cool! Cartoons), we’ve also partnered with Bardel Entertainment up in Canada for SuperF*ckers, Mel Roach in Australia for “Rocket Dog” and “Dead End,” London’s Wonky Films for “Ace Discovery,” and solo animator Dave Ferguson in Glasgow for “SpaceBear.”
Why do you think that creators like working with Frederator?
Creative freedom, gaining experience via our production team, tremendous support for them and their work beyond the production of their cartoons, being part of a decades-long legacy of talent, and free pretzels in the breakroom (though that last one may be more of one of my likes).