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


Unknown said...

"And it’s not the kind of thing that was ever said at CN before." any case, I'm anxious to these upcoming episodes. Especially the series finale.

an unconcerned deity said...

...i'm incredibly sad that chowder's leaving the air. for me, it's been like watching an old hayao miyazaki film... but with poop jokes.

thanks for posting this.

Unknown said...

Hope Chowder gets some more years to run!

the thirtes knght said...

'a love letter to the cartoons i grew up on' i hear that! actually that's one of th ebig reasons i fell in love with chowder. for about 3 years i was gettign bored of the cartoons we have righ tnow, missing all the cartoons i grew up on- tnh ei saw chowder- it was like an evolved, creative homage to the cartoons i used to know and love =)

i love and see the infleunce of anime in there! this is the right way to go about the infleunce of anime! so i wonder mr.c.h. if you're next peice is going to pay more of a homage to thart side of your life?

Anonymous said...


Corey said...

Cool interview, thank you!

I hope he gets to make many more shows. I hope the networks start supporting creator-driven cartoons again!

Anonymous said...

I'm really going to miss this show; cartoon network is nothing to me without it. Is there any chance of another network picking up or something like that? Will all the episodes be released on dvd?

Samantha Vandefeller said...

This was a great interview. I love the opening sequences. That is one of the reasons why I watched the show in the first place, was because of the opening sequence :) I sure will miss this show. But C.H. has a great career ahead of him, it's only the beginning for him. I hope cartoon network will eventually release the entire series on DVD.

Anonymous said...

Man now I feel all empty inside. I hope cartoon network dies for getting rid of the only thing they had going for them. All their new shows suck anyway.

pl4y3r0n3 said...

Why do the Cartoon Network executives act so stupid? All they want is live action. I thought it was called Cartoon Network for a reason. They need to learn we don't want live action I want the good animated shows. Not Brainrush or The Othersiders. Who else agrees?

Tristen said...

Yes pl4y3r0n3 I agree! I hate most of the new action shows! Especially the Othersiders.

pl4y3r0n3 said...

Whatever happened to Ed Edd N' Eddys Big Picture Show? That's something I was really lookin' forward to. Cartoon Network took a wrong turn somwhere along the way. I saw this entire thing coming when Re-Animated started. I startd thinking. Don't worry it's just a completely terrible movie. Then they made the series. It was surprisingly watchable for a load of garbage. I think Cartoon Network needs to get back to it's roots before the unthinkable happens. Cartoons completely leave the channel and they change the name and start showing rality T.V.

Mukpuddy said...

Great interview!!

Kamata said...

Wow, I'm really happy that he looked towards anime as an influence too. I remember all my art teachers saying how silly I was, well now I can tell them that the creator of Chowder did the same thing. ~Thank you Greenblatt! <3

P.S. I love this interview and I love your work. I hope that even though your show doesn't continue that your work and inspiration lives on. Thank you for making such a good impact on future cartoon shows, I hope there will be more classic 2D/puppet cartoon shows in the near future.


Zazuwin said...

darn! i was just getting into Chowder and enjoying all the jokes! ("I am... Sour-onnn! LOL!). Yep, Chowder was making me tune in to Cartoon Network again... and now it's ending :(

James Sutton said...

Nice interview.

But 9 months to make 11 minutes? Whoa! It takes them 9 months to make 23 minutes of Simpsons!

It's so crazy. But I'm gonna miss Chowder.

Dorkotaur said...

It's really sad that CN has taken such a disgraceful turn. I'm saddened to not only hear, but actually see the way they're becoming. It's heartbreaking because, for a network that's supposed to be devoted to something so pure and joyful, the opposite is showing through the more they do. I hope they realize their mistakes someday.

As an adult (well, 24 year old at least) that adores cartoons, I have to say that Chowder was one of the only ones in quite some time that had any sense of genuine whimsy. It was honest in the way that it broke the fourth wall to level with the audience and inspiring in it's use of different types of media. I have such a great respect for the talent (all of the voice actors -- especially the kids -- are absolutely brilliant) and innovation that went into making it, and, for what it's worth, it made a difference to me. It's really rare to sit down and witness something that gives you genuine hope for the future of animation in a world of...well, you've seen what else is out there. If you ever see this, Mr. Greenblatt, the amount of love that you put into your baby (regardless of CN's tasteless cyborg comment) is greatly obvious and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for not only bringing that into our homes, but for genuinely caring about your fans enough to want them to know what happens in the end. I really wish more people in the industry were like that.

It was an honor to be an audience to a show like that. I wish everybody involved a wonderful future!

honghavok said...

Wow. Why cn, was it costing you too much money or something? Please answer c.h.g..
p.s. can you show us stuff you plan on doing?

honghavok said...

AAH F'in LUVZ YEW!!! p.s. Kamata, ditto.

Anonymous said...


Okay, I'm gonna respond to one of your SUTOruin comments here.

"ok, i don't care

the credits are pretty much fact and if you can't take them word for word it's not really my problem, you blithering idiot"

If anyone's being a blithering idiot it's you! Do the whole world a favor and jump in the middle of the Los Angeles freeway and stay there! Nobody is gonna miss your pathetic excuse of a existence!