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From: lazlo@triton.unm.edu (Lazlo Nibble) Date: 8 May 92 15:22:35 GMT Newsgroups: alt.tv.ren-n-stimpy Subject: SPUMCO: interview with BOB CAMP jeffy@athena.mit.edu () writes: > In other exciting news, two major domo interviews with Spumco folk > should be appearing on the net any second now. Hey, I'm excited. D-uhhhh . . . that would be ME! This is from issue #10 of X MAGAZINE, available Any Second Now for a mere $2.50 from X Magazine P.O. Box 1077 Royal Oak, MI 48068-1077 Order MANY copies! ---- In today's market for children's animation, shows that aren't created by some worthless suit as part of his multinational marketing plan are harder to find than hot dogs without rat hair in them. So when you come across a cartoon that's obviously created by someone with an attitude and and a gleam in his eye, it's cause for some serious public celebration. Nickelodeon's /Ren & Stimpy/ is definitely that show. WE'RE ALIVE! ALIVE, I TELL YOU, ALIVE! The program makes its permanent home as part of Nickelodeon's "Nicktoons" lineup -- a collection of original, non-licensed animated kid's shows that the cable channel started running on Sunday mornings late last year. The other shows in the lineup, such as the cartoon babies' world of /Rugrats/ and the junior-high angst festival of /Doug/, are nice, quiet little shows . . . good quality, decent writing, and not much to offer anyone over the age of ten or so. /Ren & Stimpy/ breaks the mold. The show is one of the most twisted pieces of animated chaos ever to grace the television screens of North America, and therefore qualifies as fine viewing fodder for psychos and screwups of all ages, shapes, sizes and belief systems. The man behind the show is animation bad-boy John Kricfalusi (kris-fa-LOO-see), who you might remember -- by visual style if not necessarily by name -- as the driving creative force behind Ralph Bakshi's Saturday-morning revival of /Mighty Mouse/ of a few seasons back. /Ren & Stimpy/, like /The New Adventures Of Mighty Mouse/ before it, is a nonstop barriage of homages to popular culture and disrespect for its conventions . . . with the most disrespect reserved for the Prime Directives of Children's Animation: Dumb It Down, Don't Offend Anybody, And Sell The Damn Toys. The Setup: Ren Hoek (frayed-at-the-edges chihuahua) and Stimpson J. Cat (reddish blue-nosed feline pillow) experience assorted buddy-buddy style adventures, with plenty of graphically- depicted bodily functions thrown in for good measure. Bizarre situations and gratuitous grotesqueries are the name of the game. Ren has to be eaten by Stimpy to avoid blowing their covers as mouse and professional mouse-catcher. Stimpy takes pity on his bad-tempered buddy and creates a helmet that will make Ren happy -- whether he wants to be or not. A trip to an alternate universe causes the pair to break out in a neverending stream of mutations that include chicken feet, detached floating eyeballs, and eventual transdimensional implosion. A bedridden Ren sticks to the sheets and has flakes of skin peeling from his nose. A bored Stimpy passes time by collecting Magic Nose Goblins. Horses plummet to earth and suffer severe spinal-cord injury. Unshaven yaks paddle across the sky in enchanted canoes. It ain't Disney, folks . . . not by a long shot. WE'RE NOT HITCHHIKING ANYMORE . . . WE'RE RIDING! Spumco, the studio responsible for /Ren & Stimpy/, is housed in a sprawling second-floor walk-up on Melrose Avenue in L.A., about a block from the Paramount studios. We arrive there on a bright Tuesday morning and get the Grand Tour. John K. is extra-busy that day, so the man we talk to his his right-hand fella, Spumco Big-Shot Bob Camp -- an upbeat, energetic human cartoon, with lots of enthusiasm for the world he and Kricfalusi have worked together to create, and not much patience for anything or anyone that might get in their way. His path to /Ren & Stimpy/ is convoluted, twisting from Marvel Comics to a stint on the /Ghostbusters/ cartoon, and then to the job at kiddie-mation factory DIC (/Inspector Gadget/, /Heathcliff/) where he met up with Kricfalusi to work on the extremely-short-lived revival of Bob Clampett's classic /Beany And Cecil/. "We did, like, four of five episodes of that and then they came in one day and just fired us all," Camp explains. "We really pissed 'em off -- we put /jokes/ in it. That really made 'em mad. Then we did some freelance stuff here and there, bounced around, and ended up starting this studio. "I was working over at Warner Bros. on TINY TOONS, and John was hanging out at home, being unemployed 'cause everybody was scared of him. I got a call from a guy who wanted me to design a board game for him, and I said "well, what kind of board game is it?" Cause I thought, "oh, it's gonna be good money" . . . and he said, "well, It's to teach kids /not to do drugs/." Camp laughs. "I went, "you know...that sounds a little dry...tell you what: I know a guy who draws better'n anybody alive and he's not doing anything right now, he'll do some great stuff. So I gave him John's number, sort of as a joke, and so John calls me up, says "hey, I got some work, you need some work?" I said "yeah, I'll do a little freelance, what is it?" he goes "eh, I just got a job doing this board game", I go "yeah, I gave the guy your number." I said "what're you getting?" he goes "twenty-five grand", I go "WHAAT?" So, we did the board game, and that's how we started Spumco." Anybody who visits Spumco expecting to see the sweatshop-meets- a-viking-longboat layout of most animation studios is likely to be sorely disappointed. The studio has a labyrinthine feel to it, the feel of a place that's grown to fill all the space it has available without much time for a master plan to take hold. Corridors twist this way and that; artists and office staff dash hither and yon; frenzied laughter from nowhere and everywhere pops up to punctuate the morning. The painters' studio has jars of colors with names like SCAB and OLD SOCK, with old Little Golden Books scattered on the tables for inspiration and color reference. The halls are lined with cel setups and background painting from /Ren & Stimpy/ and other, unsold Spumco creations: The World's Most Manly Men, lost in thought ("Trying to think of what a woman might look like," Camp informs us). Hee Hog, The Atomic Pig ("bitten by a radioactive man"), using his Super-Tastosity to determine the guilt or innocence of a lineup of suspects by sucking their heads. The sultry Dr. Jean Pool, about to perform chromosome experiments on a vial of sperm collected from Spumco's club-footed closing-titles mascot, Jimmy The Retarded Boy. "The first time we got together with Nickelodeon, we pitched 'em a show about Jimmy," Camp tells us, "but they wanted us to sell out the character and own it. For a new studio, that's acceptable -- sorta what we did on /Ren & Stimpy/; Nickelodeon owns the characters. But John didn't want to sell out Jimmy, and he had some presentations from six or eight years ago laying around with these Ren & Stimpy characters, and they loved 'em. So we did the show." FORTY-SIX MILLION BUCKS? /IIIIIIII'M/ THE CAT! The first /Ren & Stimpy/ short ever made was /Big House Blues/, which toured the art-house circuit as part of one of Expanded Entertainment's ANIMATION CELEBRATIONS a couple of years back. The cartoon, from which /Ren & Stimpy/ gets all the clips in its opening credits, finds Ren and Stimpy locked up in the local animal shelter. It's a pristine masterwork of the animation form, but some parts of the storyline went a little too far for Nickelodeon. After a single, heavily-edited airing early in the show's run, Nick decided not to air /Big House Blues/ as part of the usual sequence of episodes . . . despite the fact that they only have a handful of episodes to air in the first place. "I think the reason they're not showing it is because there's a death-message to it," explains Camp. "[The character] Phil the dog dies -- they don't like that, and I think some parents wrote in about it. Something we've got to keep in mind is that we're making cartoons for kids, even though we make what we like . . . it's the old rule that I'm not gonna go see a film that I made that I can't enjoy." The show started on Nick with a relatively small audience that probably consisted mostly of eight-year-olds. But eight-year- olds have parents and older brothers and sisters, and word quickly spread about the singlemost bizarre program on television and its hiding-place on Sunday morning cable TV. The dam broke wide open when the show was picked up for a Saturday-night air slot by Nickelodeon's sister channel, MTV. "Yeah, with their stupid logo in the corner," says Camp, "that's the most annoying thing in the world. But MTV brought us out. Nobody watched Nickelodeon. It was out there, the /kids/ saw it, but as soon as it started running on MTV we got lots of calls from people who didn't even know it existed. I get calls from people out there in America who just call information: "Hollywood, Spumco", and they ask to talk to me. I'll talk to 'em for ten or fifteen minutes and tell 'em all /kinds/ of crap." When we visited Spumco, the word had just come down from Nickelodeon ordering another twenty half-hour episodes of /Ren & Stimpy/ . . . forty new eleven-minute cartoons in all. The second season episodes will be a little more streamlined -- no more commercials for "High-Fashion Log for Girls" or "Powdered Toast"; no more bumpers like "Yak-Shaving Day" or "Ask Dr. Stupid". The extra clips took almost as much time to put together as the regular-length cartoons did, and with over seven hours of new animation due to start airing sometime this summer, time isn't a commodity that Spumco has a lot of lately. "I didn't see any way we could do forty shows," Camp explains, "but the budget that we got for forty shows allowed us to all keep working through the dry time between seasons, and we used that time to set up a layout school for all the layout artists to hone their abilities . . . to watch cartoons and make notes and get paid for it. It's like an animation school /and/ a studio. "When we first started Spumco, John would make me watch cartoons and write thesis papers on 'em. For /real/. I mean, if you can imagine watching a Tex Avery cartoon ... a Deputy Droopy cartoon or something and writing a paper on it... but it taught me a lot about writing and cartoon form as a film form and stuff. It's tough because John is a perfectionist. Like all good filmmakers he's a dictator...what he says goes, and we do it. He's really intolerant of fucked-up looking work, but he's always /right/ too. He can be infuriating when you do your best and then he sits down in one second and does it better, and you think [whispers] "oh, shit...I suck!" But then, you know, you end up doing a better job in the long run. As in most skilled professions, every Tom, Dick, and Harry thinks that /he/ could work on /Ren & Stimpy/ if he just had the chance. Last February, Spumco gave the world of Dicks that chance by opening their doors to anybody with a pen who thought they could work in the show's frenetic avant-kitsch animation style. As production on the second season ramped up, the studio ran ads in magazines like /Comics Buyers Guide/ asking would-be artists for the show to send in samples of their work. "The first season there were like, eight or ten people here," Camp explains. "We have no idea where we're gonna get the people from. Every now and then somebody straggles in here and we get somebody, but it's real tough . . . there's a lot of people that want to do this stuff, but there's very few people that can actually /draw/ it. Most people are young and lazy and they want to come right out of Cal Arts and get a $1,000 a week job sitting on their ass fucking off, and that's like: "No...go to Tiny Toons, they pay /lots/ of money for people fucking off over there." "You look at the cartoons and you think, well, we're all running around stoned with hats made out of dildos and stuff, but it's a like a complete work environment. What we're trying to do is systemize it. It's funny: people that there's no method to the way we're doing this. We get artwork from people wanting jobs, and it's just /chaos/ . . . it doesn't make any sense. They think "Hey, these people are like me! They're anarchists!" We're not. We wanna make cartoons that anybody can understand." YEP, THAT'S A CAT ALRIGHT . . . It's hard to believe, especially in the current stifling environment for childrens' animation, that Nickelodeon lets Spumco do half the things that they eventually get away with -- retched hairballs, bathtub farts and all. But Nickelodeon really is involved with the creative process every step of the way. When each phase of preproduction is completed, from the initial premise through the final storyboards, the result is sent off to Nickelodeon for approval. Bob Camp explains that the show's amazing popularity gives Spumco a lot more breathing room than one might expect. "They're beginning to realize that the stuff that people really love is the gross stuff," he says. "But the people we deal with [at Nick] are mostly women, and they tend to like the stuff that has a lot of heart in it, so we try to put a lot of heart in the stories . . . " And nose hair. "Nose hair, yeah. Nickelodeon's been really cool, they let us do pretty much what we want. They're very strict about form and consistency and stuff, which we're not that much...we're getting more that way, it's been sorta good in a way because it's sort of taught us the discipline that we didn't have before." FLESH AND BLOOD, NOT WAX! "This shit is *murder* to do," says Camp. "Each cartoon takes like eight or nine months to do. And the only way we can get 'em done is assembly-line style." PREMISE: That's simple enough: "Ren and Stimpy get sucked through a black hole" or "Stimpy goes in search of his first fart". OUTLINE: The writer pulls together a rough idea of everything that happens in the story. STORYBOARDS: If a cartoon is a moving comic book, the storyboards are the cartoon equivalent of the comic book's script. The board shows the full cartoon in comic-strip form, one 8-1/2x11" page per panel, with all the dialogue and camera moves indicated. Camp pitched the board for an upcoming episode where Ren and Stimpy go into the Army for us -- meaning, simply, that he acted the whole thing out. (Watching a full-grown human being act out an entire episode of /Ren And Stimpy/ is an experience best left to those with robust brain stems.) TIMING: Once everybody's happy with the writing of the episode, it's timed out to make sure that it flows quick'n'snappy. Anytime you watch an episode and are waiting for something interesting to happen (say, for example, /Marooned/), that's bad timing. LAYOUT: Now the script's farmed out to a crew of Spumco staff people who draw all the most important poses for all the characters in the episode, to give the actual animators a more precise version of the storyboard to work from. ANIMATION: The most important step of all takes the show completely out of Spumco's hands -- after layout, the artwork for the short is shipped out to any of a half-dozen animation houses all around the world. The reason for doing the animation overseas? "Everybody in the United States wants a lot of money for doing no work," says Camp. "And over there they're tireless -- they work seven days a week, and we don't even pay 'em. /They/ pay /us/. [laughter] So it's sort of a necessary evil. No way around it." The first set of shows was animated in the Phillippines, Korea, and by a couple of studios in Canada, most notably Carbunkle Cartoons, the studio that handled the three best shorts of the first season: /Fire Dogs/, /Stimpy's Invention/, and /Space Madness/. But shipping the work to Korea or the Phillippines introduces a brand new set of problems to the process. Most of your neighbors probably don't understand REN AND STIMPY . . . how likely is it that someone in Korea is going to do any better? "We get scenes back with /millions/ of errors," Camp explains. "And we send it back to 'em to fix it, and it's like fucked-up different when it comes back. They're millions of miles away and they don't speak the language, they don't understand our sense of humor, they don't /get/ anything. We're lucky to get the stuff back at all. "I /wish/ we could get it all done in Canada, 'cause, you know, Canadians are barely discernable from Americans. [laughter] In fact, we have a lot of Canadians here. But it'd be great if Carbunkle could do it all, 'cause they're the best. All the ones with the great lip-sync and the great weird Ren & Stimpy animation, that's them. They're the best ones." EXPLORE STRANGE, AAAALIEN WORLDS! Camp doesn't hesitate to share with us his vision of Spumco's position on the animation dogpile. "Everything else blows big chunks, as far as I'm concerned. I've worked at a lot of studios, and they're all run by dipshits that don't know what they're doing, and they're more interested in toy sales than they are in product. I call it The Dogfood Theory, because most of the people who work in animation are people who would rather be working in live-action . . . it's sort of a transitory job to them, and they don't give a shit about it. You feed your dog dogfood -- you're not gonna taste it, you don't care what it tastes like as long as the dog eats it. It's the same thing with childrens' programming. "Look at Disney . . . they did "Roller Coaster Rabbit", remember that short they did? They spent /seven million/ on that. For an eight-minute cartoon. It's because they don't know what they're doing, so they do shit over and over and over and they nit-pick and they have committee decisions on everything. That's the way most stuff is done -- a lot of people who don't know what they're doing making decisions instead of one person who /does/ know what they're doing. "I hope that shows like [/Ren And Stimpy/] will put those guys out to pasture, because they're /weak/. They're doing /crap/. The only people that are entertained by that are five-year-olds. They're like, "pretty colors...". They don't know, they're kids . . . "I know that Tiny Toons is doing a rip-off of us now . . . I'm not sure what it is, but I've heard from people I know that are working over there that they're trying to do "our type" of stuff. It's funny -- places that we used to get fired from for doing the kind of stuff we do are now trying to copy us. It's like that MC Hammer thing that DIC did [ABC's /Hammerman/]. They were trying to hire some of our designers because they wanted that "Kricfalusi look". What did they end up with? A lot of coathangers and stuff. [laughter] Pretty weak stuff." DON'T TOUCH IT! IT'S THE HISTORY-ERASER BUTTON, YOU FOOL! Spumco can't go on with /Ren & Stimpy/ forever. Time and comedy don't make for good bedfellows . . . after awhile the concept gets old, the humor gets forced, and eventually you're watching the eleventh season of /M*A*S*H/. Nickelodeon wants enough episodes of the show for them to be able to put it into syndication, and the twenty new half-hours currently in the works will make that possible. There's talk of releasing the best episodes on videotape, and the show's merchandising machine is barely getting started. But what'll come after that? Fortunately there's no shortage of bright ideas flitting around Camp and Kricfalusi's heads, and if all goes according to plan, /Ren & Stimpy/ will be a perfect springboard for them to get to do what they want to do next. "What I wanna do with Spumco," Camp exudes, "is branch out and do live-action. I wanna do comedy shorts . . . I've got /piles/ of ideas for skit-type comedy. Monty Python-type stuff. And I wanna do some features, I've got scripts lying around. "In Hollywood you might as well just write a script, wipe your ass with it and flush it . . . more people will read it that way than if you actually send it to people. But I figure we'll be a real studio here, we'll have some clout: "here's a script" "who's it by?" "it's by one of the writers from the REN & STIMPY SHOW", you know, "oh yeah, that's funny stuff". So I wanna do all kinds of stuff. "I wanna do a bunch of publicity stunts; I bought a Nash Metropolitan and I'm gonna radically alter it, make a SpumMobile out of it, and we wanna build a 14-15-foot statue of Jimmy The Retarded Boy and put it on the building. I wanna have it sort of like a clock, where every hour the top of his head opens up and his brain comes out and rattles around, and on every half hour he just wets himself. [laughter] You know, do stuff that gets peoples' attention." With ideas like that, getting peoples' attentions isn't likely to be a problem. -- Lazlo (lazlo@triton.unm.edu) Pose

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