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SDCC 2016: Toonzone Interviews Titmouse Studios’ Chris Prynoski

by on August 24, 2016
 

Chris Prynoski

Chris Prynoski

Titmouse Studios hit San Diego Comic-Con 2016 in a most unusual way, driving around the convention center in its custom RV and picking up people to take a ride and chat with president and co-founder Chris Prynoski. Mr. Prynoski welcomed Toonzone News into the RV, whose interior was wall to wall black light posters, with ice cream and water.

TOONZONE NEWS: The thing I would say I think of you most of is “Chirp.” (laughs)

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah, that’s good. Then our title card thing is effective!

TOONZONE NEWS: It is. How long have you been doing that for?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Oh, man, I guess we started that one with Metalocalypse. That aired in 2006, so it’s been 10 years. Any show that we can get a card on, we’ll put Chirp on. Sometimes, we work on a show that we can’t contractually get a card on because there’s too many things or whatever, but for the most part we have that Chirp on every show. One of my friends who also works at the studio did the voice of the Chirp. His name’s Jody Schaeffer. He’s one of the creators of Megas XLR, if you ever saw that show.

TOONZONE NEWS: I loved that show. You guys did the intro, right?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah, I directed the whole first season. The second season, I supervised it and we got a few other episode directors. The two creators were guys that I knew, and I helped them pitch it. It was my idea to make his head a car. So I was very happy about that. Initially, they were in his chest cavity, and they played video game controllers. I said, “What if there was a car on his head, and they drove it like a car?” And everybody thought that was cool…

Megas XLR Chris PrynoskiTOONZONE NEWS: It was cool! I was a fan of giant robot stuff like Voltron or whatever as a kid. It was very Japanese. Megas XLR was completely American. We’ve got Jersey, we’ve got these two slacker guys.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: That was the idea, was go full-on America with it, you know? It’s tough to do parody in anime because anime is so big. I’ve seen people try to hit it, and it’s like anime parodies itself so well, it’s so big and so crazy and so built-up that you have to give it that different point of view, which is what we did. Just make it this big fat American guy who likes wrestling and eating cheesesteaks and stuff.

TOONZONE NEWS: What are some of your animation influences then?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Oh, man. Early influences were, like, a lot of the anime that we could get back in the 70’s and 80’s. Early 80’s was when I was first aware of a lot of that stuff. Back then, it was Yamato, it was dubbed as Star Blazers. Or Gatchaman, that was Battle of the Planets. Robotech…all of these things that they changed slightly. Cut some stuff out, made some new stuff, melded some episodes together. So that was an influence, and then later, when I started to find weird adult movies like Ralph Bakshi movies…

TOONZONE NEWS: Fritz the Cat?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah. I thought “This is crazy!” That this exists. So I think those are pretty influential. And then just like general Saturday morning cartoon stuff, like Scooby Doo, and whatever. That’s a pretty boring part of it, but a lot of people like that stuff. Then, I think when I was in college, I was working as a freelance animator for this one company, back when CD-ROMs were a thing. They were doing the CD-ROM for Project A-Ko. That was one of the anime that really felt like one of the first, real, over-the-top anime parody things. It was a series of movies. You’ll watch that, and a lot of the Gainax stuff was influenced by that. When you watch FLCL, you’re like, “Oh! This is what the FLCL guys watched,” and that’s what they were influenced by. But it was the first time I had to animate anime stuff, so it gave me an appreciation for that, because you’re trying to hit the model and trying to hit the kind of poses they would do and stuff. CD-ROMs…I don’t even know how you would find that now. I would love to go back and look at that and see if I did it…and I’d probably be like, “Oh my God, this is awful!” (Laughs) It was probably, now that I think of it.

TOONZONE NEWS: Did you always want to be an animator, or…

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah, I mean, I was always interested. I always drew. When I was a kid, I probably more wanted to be a comic book artist, and then when I was in 7th or 8th grade, and a friend of mine got a video camera. Not a lot of people had video cameras then because they were really expensive. His folks were divorced, and his dad had already gone out and bought a lot of cool stuff (laughs). So we were like, “Oh, video camera!” So we started messing around and making movies and stuff. And that made me think, “Oh, I can combine this drawing with the messing around and making stupid movies” and started doing little tests, like stop-motion tests of drawing stuff on pieces of paper, and learning animation. I was like, “Animation seems like a thing!” So then I got into the School of Visual Arts in New York and focused on animation there. I guess from the time I was about 13 or 14, that was when I figured I’d want to do animation.

But it was way harder! There was no Internet then, you really had to find folks. It was hard to find the right folks about animation and stuff. You just had to dig around and figure it out. Now, I think, it’s a way better situation if you want to become an animator. The information is out there, you can learn way quicker. I find a lot of young animators are really good because they’ve been practicing longer, and with digital tools, you get so much faster feedback. A video camera back then, in the late 80’s, couldn’t do frame-by-frame animation. So I had to shoot stuff on Super 8 cameras, and then go get it developed, and I wouldn’t know if the animation was good until I put it on a little projector and watched it on the wall (laughs). Now, you’re doing it, you just press “Play,” and you’re like, “Oh, that doesn’t look right. Let me take a couple frames out of there. I’m going to change this, make this smoother.” You get that instant feedback.

Daria MTV Chris PrynoskiTOONZONE NEWS: So moving into some of the stuff you do now, obviously a lot of Adult Swim stuff. How did you fall into that?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah, I always liked that. I started working at MTV in the 90’s. I worked on Beavis and Butthead, and The Head, and Daria

TOONZONE NEWS: I loved Daria.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah, I worked on the first season, and then I did a show called Downtown on MTV, but it only lasted one season. When it was cancelled, I decided to move out to L.A. I knew a bunch of people out here, so I started doing commercials and working on shows, but Adult Swim was one of those things that was starting to come about at that point. I had worked with Dave Willis, who was one of the creators of Aqua Teen. He was one of the guys in Atlanta. He actually called me when they were starting that up, looking for animators, and I was like, “What is it?” He was like, “Ah, it’s this thing, it’s kind of like a spinoff of Space Ghost, but not really. It’s fries and a shake and a hunk of meat and they fight crime, but they don’t really,” and I was like, “What? What are you talking about?” And he’s like, “Ah, I don’t know, we’re just trying to do this show,” I gave him a couple of guys’ names, and I was like, “Man, I am sure I will never hear about that again.” I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what it was. But then when I saw it, I was like, “Oh, that’s great! I love it! (chuckles)”

So I knew a lot of the Adult Swim guys, and when we were doing Megas at Cartoon Network, Mike Lazzo was the guy in charge of the whole Cartoon Network, so I knew him. And Chris McCulloch, or Jackson Publick, was a friend of mine from way back in the 90’s, and he had just started Venture Bros., so I knew a lot of those guys. Basically, Metalocalypse came to us in this way, where I knew Brendan Small and Tommy Blacha separately, and was talking to the network, and they needed a place to do Metalocalypse and they didn’t have any visual style or anything. They really just had a basic premise, so it was great to get into that when it was in its infancy, and be able to totally form that show. Sometimes, shows come in and they have an art style or whatever, but we were able to really develop Metalocalypse. We didn’t do a pilot. We just went straight into the first season of 20 episodes, which Adult Swim doesn’t really do any more. They were very trusting, at that point.

So I guess it’s become kind of our thing. But we do kids stuff, too. I created a show Motorcity that was on Disney, we do Future Worm for Disney now. We do Home Adventures with Tip and Oh for DreamWorks. We do a show called Niko and the Sword of Light for Amazon. That’s got a lot of anime influence to it. That one’s really good. We just won an Emmy for the pilot of that one, so I think people will like that. And I just directed a movie, an adult R-rated movie, that will be out this fall. Either November or December. I like the adult stuff, but I also like the kids stuff. I like making cartoons. And even when we make a kids’ cartoon, I think it has a little bit of something. Megas was like that. Technically, it’s a kids’ cartoon, and Motorcity as well. Niko and the Sword of Light is like that as well. It’s for kids but it will appeal to…at least adult weirdos who like watching animation when they’re not kids any more (laughs).

TOONZONE NEWS: And that’s OK now. That’s the best part about it. Animation is for everyone. So you can put yourself into this no matter who the audience is.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: That’s true, yeah, yeah. That’s what I like to do. We don’t have as much of a house style as much as a house sensibility that we try to just make stuff that we like. So somehow it comes across. I think people see that somehow, in there.

Venture Bros Season 5 Dermott, Dean, and Hank Chris PrynoskiTOONZONE NEWS: Let’s talk about Venture Bros. Your involvement didn’t come on until a little bit later.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: We started between the fourth and fifth season, so we did the Jacket special, if you saw that, and then the fifth season and sixth season. Now we’re working on the seventh season. I knew Chris McCullough, way before, and he had me read the script to the pilot before he even pitched it…or maybe he had just pitched it, but I was already out in LA. I didn’t have a studio at the time that that started. They got that started in New York.

Then a few years later, he was having problems. The studio he was at was not functioning. It was about to go out of business. Adult Swim also needed a studio for Superjail. Christy Karacas is another guy I knew — I worked with him on Daria and …actually, I don’t think we worked on Daria at the same time. We worked at MTV at the same time. He was my neighbor. We lived like a block away in Brooklyn.  Augenblick Studios did the first season of Superjail, and then they got Ugly Americans. Aaron Augenblick wanted to keep the studio small, so they passed on the second season of Superjail. I called him and was like, “Look, why are you passing?” and he said, “Man, it’s a hard show. And the budget is low, and this Ugly Americans has got a good budget and it’s easier.” And I was like, “OK, that makes sense. It’s not some weird reason or whatever.” So Christy was like, “Hey, I need a place to do Superjail, I know you, I like you.” Chris was like, “We need a place to do Venture Bros.” So we started up a New York studio basically to do those two shows, and that’s been going ever since. We’ve been doing a lot of work out of the New York studio. So, that’s cool. And Christy’s new show looks bananas, man. It’s great. It won’t be out for a while, but it’s called Ballmastrz 9669. If you’re familiar with Rollerball, it’s kind of like Rollerball. Kind of like how Superjail was set in a jail, this is in a weird future sports arena, with this crazy future sport. It’s supposed to be really old school anime-looking.

So there’ll be some cool weird stuff coming out soon. Right now, we’re doing Brad Neely’s new show, Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio. That’s on Adult Swim right now. That’s kind of comedy, weird songs and comedy sketches and stuff.

TOONZONE NEWS: He’s a composer, right?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah, he does a lot of music. He got famous on the Internet for doing weird little songs and stuff. He did that George Washington one, and Professor Brothers, and Babycakes. And he did the one where he dubbed the whole Harry Potter movie where he just talks over it the whole time, and he makes up his own story. It’s called “Wizard People,” it’s really funny. So his new show is hilarious. They’re actually doing a signing right now, inside, so that’s a great show. That’s super fun. But anyway…we were talking about Venture Bros, (laughs) we kind of went off on a tangent.

So yes, I guess the short answer is that we took it over after the fourth season. We did whatever you can call that special, and then seasons five and six, and now we’re working on seven. I gotta say, this last season, I can’t believe how good it looks, man. It’s crazy how much these guys stepped up their game.

Venture Bros Season 5 Rusty Venture Chris PrynoskiTOONZONE NEWS: I have to say, it’s been on for years and years and years, but you can see the art evolution from season to season and it looks much, much better every time.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Chris is always trying to push it, and we want to also make sure that we at least held the bar if not make it better. This last season was bananas. I can’t believe how good it came out. Technically, season 6 is all done. It’s all there. But you know how it is. There’s more story to be told. You’ll have to wait for season 7, which is going to take a little while, as usual, because the writing takes a bit. These guys, Chris and Doc Hammer, they write everything. A lot of shows have a writers room, but these guys keep it all. It’s very personal. And the shows episodes are very connected to each other and to previous seasons, so there’s a lot of re-writing that goes on as they’re writing the season to seed stuff that’s coming later. With a lot of networks, it’s very strict. It’s “bam-bam-bam, you’ve got to get this done by this time, and it goes on air and you’re done and on to the next one.” Adult Swim is the coolest network as far as being loose about stuff like that. Mike Lazzo is really a creative guy himself and understands the process, and understands…weirdos…

TOONZONE NEWS: And the weird audience.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah, exactly!

TOONZONE NEWS: I’ve always been impressed, at the fact that the Venture Bros. team is so small. I remember the episode where Dean is looking at colleges, and Hank is running his own business, and at the end of the episodes, you see this alternate Doctor Venture. Like they wrote it at the time knowing that the end of the episode would be the same…

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Oh, yeah yeah! They’re really in cahoots with that, and that’s why I think it helps. Unfortunately, the writing takes a long time for the fans, but I think it benefits the show, because they can really think about it, and think about how to incorporate things. Like, “This is going to happen later, so let’s seed that in this episode” and so on and so forth.

TOONZONE NEWS: What is it about the show that appeals to you personally?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Well, first of all, I’m a fan of a lot of the stuff that’s being parodied. The Jonny Quest stuff, even the G.I. Joe stuff. Superhero stuff, and all the genres they mash together. And it’s really smart and funny. It’s that weird kind of funny. It’s just broad enough to, but also super-specific. It’s funny jokes, but there’s some real specific references in there.

TOONZONE NEWS: I feel like you don’t have to get every reference, either.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: That’s true, yeah.

TOONZONE NEWS: There’ll be like 10 jokes, but even if you get 1 or 2, they’re so specific you’re like, “Oh, man, I remember that!” It’s the most hilarious thing ever.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah, right on. I agree.

TOONZONE NEWS: What else can you talk about? Any other upcoming projects?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah, Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio is on right now on Adult Swim on Sunday nights at 11:45. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Son of Zorn. They’ve done a good job of promoting it. That’s going to be on Fox Sunday nights, Phil Lord and Chris Miller are the creators, the guys who did…you know who they are.

TOONZONE NEWS: They did Clone High, back in the day.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Son of Zorn is super funny, about this barbarian who’s from this world like Thundercats or He-Man or Thundarr the Barbarian, and like 17 years ago, he had sex with this lady and now they have a kid, so he’s coming back to take his kid, who he assumes is going to be a bad-ass, but he’s a sensitive kid from LA, who’s a vegan and stuff. He doesn’t know how to deal with this and he has to learn about how to be his dad. I think that’s coming out September 25th. And one show we’re in production on now is called Big Mouth, that’s for Netflix. That’s another adult show. That’s Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg. Nick is the one you’ll probably know. He’s an actor, he was in The League and his sketch show, Kroll Show, was on Comedy Central. So he’s real funny.

And the feature, Nerdland, is coming out soon. We’ve done some festival circuit stuff, and I’m really stoked about that. I directed that, and it was written by Andy Kevin Walker, who wrote Se7en. He’s written a bunch of really dark, dark movies, so it’s a comedy written by a guy who normally writes really dark and intellectual movies. Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt are in it, and Hannibal Burress is the main secondary character. It’s got a bunch of other cool other characters. Mike Judge does a voice in it. Paul Shear and a bunch of other folks. It’s fame for fame’s sake, these guys who just want to be famous at all costs, and they’re kind of assholes. So that’s what that’s about.

TOONZONE NEWS: Was that the biggest project you’ve taken on?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: It’s my first feature that I’ve directed. A real feature. I’ve done made-for-TV stuff, but this is my first…I’ve done parts of movies, or made-for-TV movies, but this I my first real movie. I guess you can say it’s the biggest project.

Nerdland Chris PrynoskiTOONZONE NEWS: Did you find it too difficult, or was it an extension of what you usually do?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: We approached it a lot like a TV show. The hardest thing was finding time to focus on it. I couldn’t just dedicate everything to that movie because it had a real low budget. We had to be creative with how we produced it. I’d be working on other jobs at the same time. So the hardest thing was finding time to actually think about the movie.

TOONZONE NEWS: How long were you in production?

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: It’s hard to say, because there’s a lot of stuff up-front. It depends if you count doing the deal and casting the movie and that stuff. I’d say about 2 years was what the real production time, but it’s probably more like 4 years, because doing the deal and casting took a while because they wouldn’t release the money until the movie was cast. Stuff like that. That part took two years. The recording and the story boarding took about a year and a half. The animation production was actually the shortest part. That took less than a year. I’m stoked. It’s super weird. It’s 2-D, it looks like an Adult Swim show or something. It’s kind of crunchy and weird, rough around the edges.

TOONZONE NEWS: That’s part of the appeal I’m sure.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah, yeah. Really hoping Sausage Party does well, because I think if more of these R-rated animated features do well, the more we’ll get to see them.

TOONZONE NEWS: Yeah you had the Aqua Teen movie, but that already had a built-in fanbase.

CHRIS PRYNOSKI: Yeah,the first thing that I directed was a section in the middle of the Beavis and Butthead movie, where they take peyote and they have this hallucination. But the Beavis and Butthead movie, the South Park movie, the Aqua Teen movie, they were all based on successful TV properties, so now it’s cool to see that they’re doing movies that are not based on anything.

Toonzone News would like to thank Chris Prynoski for taking the time to talk with us, and the Titmouse PR team for setting up the ride in the Titmouse RV. Check out some more Titmouse videos on:

 

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