Monday, August 31, 2009

Exit interview with C.H. Greenblatt

Carl Greenblatt (37) has a dirty secret: he's the creator of a hit cartoon Chowder, which currently has new episodes airing at Cartoon Network on Thursday, 7:30 8:00 pm E/P. CN has decided to pull the plug on the show after only 2 years, with the final episode scheduled to air at the end of the year.

Mr. Greenblatt agreed for an exit interview, regarding the show and what's coming up.

What was the process of the making of an episode, from story to final editing?
It takes about nine months to create an 11-minute episode. Each week we’d start a new episode, and they’d all be overlapping like a big assembly line, with some coming in as others were going out.

We start with the outline. Either one of the writers will come to me with an idea or we’ll brainstorm one in the writers’ room. The outline is under two pages long and covers the main beats and motivations of the story. Then once the network approves it, we hand it off to the storyboard artist. Here is where the real meat of the episode is written: all the dialogue, jokes, and details. In fact, the beats would often change as the story was worked out. The storyboard artist gets six weeks to finish the board. Usually about halfway in, they would pitch it to me and Bill Reiss (the creative director) so we could make sure the story was clear.

Once the board is turned in, Bill would take a few days to add any jokes or tweaks needed. Then I would take a pass to do the same, sometimes reworking a scene if needed. Then the network made their notes. Once all the revisions were finished, we’d record the episode. With the voice track we’d build an animatic of the storyboard, like a slideshow, to be used for timing. Usually the episodes were a bit long, so we’d sadly have to cut a lot.

Then it entered the design and timing process. The designers drew and colored all the new characters and costumes and all the new backgrounds. The directors timed out all the action. Then everything was shipped to China for about three months.

We’d get the footage back as digital files and post-production would begin. First we do retakes, fixing animation that came back incorrectly or need tweaking. A lot of our retakes happen because we have to make the image fit both 4:3 and 16:9 fielding. So everything has to fit in 4:3, which means there’s lots of unused space on the right and left of the screen in 16:9. Once we have all the retakes, we being editing. We ship the episode at up to 12:30 in length, but have to cut it down to 11 minutes for airing. After it’s cut, I sit with the composers and sound effects editor to decide where and what kind of music cues and effects we should use. Two weeks later we mix all the sound. Then we do a final pass to make sure all the final visuals are correct before we deliver it to the network.

When Chowder got picked up for second season, did you make any changes, either in the show or behind the scenes?
The changes happened naturally. When you draw the characters hundreds of times, they start to fall into a simpler design and the proportions sort of lock into shape. So I made some model tweaks based off that.

The hardest part about starting a new show is getting the writing to sync up with your vision of it. So first season I spent a lot of time re-working scenes to make them more “Chowdery.” By second season, everyone had a better sense of what the show would be, so I eased off control, giving more creative freedom to the board artists.

Were there any episodes that required more work than usual?
Both Flibber Flabber Diet and Elemelons were tough. Pretty much any story with Truffles was hard at first. She can be so abrasive that we had to be a little more sensitive about finding her softer side. Eventually we realized that a little Truffles goes a long way and we decided she’d be like Oscar the Grouch, mostly hang out in her room and only showing up for a little at a time.


Is it hard coming up with stories related to cooking?
We often have a ton of interesting food ideas, but figuring out what the emotional drive attached to that story is the challenge. Each story usually involves food in some way, but they aren’t all about cooking. For instance, Chowder’s Girlfriend has them at the farmer’s market, we see the grabbles, and he bakes a cake at the end, but the story is Chowder dealing with Panini’s affection.

The funny part is when I first pitched the show, the network was afraid that every episode would be about cooking a different recipe each week. I had to convince them that is was a show about people who cook, not cooking itself. Sort of like how ER is about the people who work in a hospital, not the ins and outs of being a doctor. The pilot was The Froggy Apple Crumple Thumpkin. After that, I wrote Mahjongg Nite. It involves Chowder’s quest for mevilled eggs but it’s about him not being allowed in the kitchen. Then I wrote The Heavy Sleeper to show more of the city. These were all done before the show was even greenlit.

You wrote that Panini (then known as Borlotti) and Endive went through major changes during development. Did any other characters go through similar changes?
They didn’t change so much during as after. In development, they were just ideas. Once we started writing them, they became who they are now. As far as development goes, I was insanely lucky. Nothing major changed from the day I pitched it through series. The show ended up exactly as I had wanted. Any changes that happened occurred naturally, from bringing the characters to life and letting them grow.

You also wrote that the finale will have Chowder as an adult with his own apprentice. What will it be about (that you can tell us, at least)?
The title of it is “Chowder Grows Up,” so that should give you a pretty good idea. I had always wanted to do a Dragonball Z, where the series jumps a few years ahead but keeps on going as a normal series. So knowing we were finishing up, I figured it’d be nice to end there. It was really important to me that the fans get to see Chowder achieve his goal.

The story focuses on Chowder’s refusal to let go of his role as Mung’s apprentice. By not becoming the chef he was meant to be, his future negatively impacts the lives of everyone he cares about, like in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Ultimately he has to decide if he’s ready to take up that mantle. His new apprentice, Scraps, is introduced in the story, but the focus is still very much on Chowder. I would liked to have done some more stories with the two of them. They have a good chemistry.

Did your writers take turn writing those puppet sequences that appear in the closing credits?
Yeah, each season different writers wrote the puppet skits. I think we learned a lot as we went on; mainly that 30 seconds is hardly any time and the idea must stay very, very simple.

I'd figure I'd ask. Was the scene of Chowder moon walking in "Paint the Town" a last minute addition as a tribute or was it just good (bad?) timing?
It was done way in advance. Not only are we writing these much earlier than you’re seeing them, we have been delivering the final episodes to the network months before they air. So the timing was just a coincidence.

Are you optimistic about the future of creator-driven cartoons (or cartoons in general)?
I actually think that creator driven-cartoons have a great future ahead of them. And luckily, most executives at other networks I’ve talked to genuinely believe that the best shows come from that process. There’s a lot of good opportunity out there now, and I think we’ll see some good stuff coming out in the next few years.

What's your favorite moment in the show?
I’m going to cop out on this one and say there’s at least something in every episode that I love. Some of the best surprises for me are when I first see the stop motion footage. I love seeing those.

From what I can gather you're a big anime fan. Were there any anime influences that you deliberately included in the show?
Akira Toriyama is a big, big influence. I love his work, especially the early Dragonballs when Goku was small and cute. And one of our character designers, Serapio Calm, is also a Toriyama nut. If you look at his blog, you can see how much his designs are influenced by him.

One of Carl's influences.

Gankutsuo was another influence. I had the pattern-fill idea before I saw it but seeing it in motion solidified the fact that I could pull it off. I used it as reference to show the network and the overseas animation studio how it would look.

Anything about "Chowder" that nobody knows about?
Chowder’s a robot. Oh wait, we already revealed that. But this is actually true. In one of the conversations I had with the new regime at CN, they told me that while Chowder may be my baby, they technically paid for the parts that made it. So in effect, it’s a cyborg baby. This exact phrase was said to me. Now I know this is technically true, it’s their show, but when this person says this to justify pointless notes that go against everything you’ve been doing on a show for the previous year, its not the kind of thing that warms your heart. And it’s not the kind of thing that was ever said at CN before.

I don’t know if most people know that we did a different oven opening for almost every single half hour. There are a few in second that are repeats, but the rest are unique. The network doesn’t always run them because of the way they break up the shows.

Now that Chowder is finished, what's in store from you?
There are new ideas I’m working on that I’m very excited about. Some are very different from anything I’ve done before, and I like those kinds of challenges. So right now I’m just about to start the pitching process to other networks, and hopefully someone will let me make a new pilot.

My time at CN is definitely over for now. I’ll only be there until the end of the year when I deliver the last Chowder episode. After that I’ll be joining my friends over at Disney for a while.

So what can we expect from the remaining episodes yet to air?
I think we hit a really nice stride at the end of the second season into the third season. Hopefully the fans will enjoy the end of the run. We’ve got stories about: Shnitzel’s mysterious past, a new girl makes Panini jealous, they drive an explosive delivery around the world, Chowder becomes a musical star, Mung’s tongue gets ruined, a demonic turkey possess Chowder, Shnitzel falls in love, Endive kills Mung, the kids go scouting, everyone switches bodies, and Gazpacho gets his own episode.

Who would win in a fight between Truffles and Gazpacho's mother?
Gazpacho’s mother for sure. Truffles would fight dirty, but Gazpacho’s mom is huge and mean and would ultimately sit on her.

Any final comments?
Chowder really is a love letter to the cartoons I grew up on, and I’m glad the response has been so overwhelmingly positive. We still have many more to air so I hope everyone enjoys watching the end of the run as much as we enjoyed making it.

Interview © Charles Brubaker
Chowder © Cartoon Network

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Doug Goodwin sheet music

Thanks to Dave Mackey for the link. TV Prod. Music Museum uploaded a bunch of sheet music Doug Goodwin did for various titles, notably at DePatie-Freleng.

I'd kill to hear the Misterjaw theme song.