Television Academy members, their families and friends tried out animation techniques, grooved to band music and attended a conversation with two top animation veterans at the Television Academy’s second annual event.
When you step into the lobby of the Television Academy’s Saban Media Center and are greeted by a Tony Award-nominated performer and his adorable pug puppet, you know it’s going to be a fun afternoon.
“Hello, how are you?” Vince the pug, voiced and operated by John Tartaglia, cheerily inquired of passersby, eliciting smiles from adults and children alike. “Can I have a sip?” he asked a woman carrying a drink, who good-naturedly offered up her straw. And to a little girl sporting pink ears, “Are those cat ears?”
Tartaglia was Tony-nominated as a star puppeteer of the Broadway musical Avenue Q. Nowadays he’s the creator, co-executive producer and a performer on the PBS Kids series Splash and Bubbles. On this Saturday afternoon, he was one of numerous animation pros who gathered at Academy headquarters in North Hollywood to help Academy members, their families and friends learn about the many aspects of animation in the second annual event, “It’s Not Just a Cartoon!”
The program included lobby demos in voiceover, virtual reality, stop motion and 2D; performances on the plaza by Tom Kenny and his band the Hi-Seas and a Q&A in the Wolf Theatre conducted by Kenny, the longtime voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, with Loren Bouchard, creator of Bob’s Burgers.
Tartaglia soon exchanged the pug for a stint at the controls of the ocean-themed Splash and Bubbles, which was featured, along with Netflix’s Word Party, at the demonstration station of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and the Henson Digital Puppetry Studio. “Am I your favorite character?” he voiced to a little boy, as Splash, an animated yellow fish, appeared on a monitor. “Please say Yes! I can breathe now.”
The boy, eight-year-old Ryan McCullough, was the nephew of Academy member Emily Ho. Said his mom Taylor, Emily’s sister, “I thought it was pretty cool. I’d never seen that before.”
Nearby, Ben Bayouth of Stoopid Buddy Stoodios operated the hand-held remote control box for a life-sized walk-around version of the title character of the Netflix series Buddy Thunderstruck, with the puppet, in the capable hands of black-clad Brett Horn, interacting with amused guests.
“I’m controlling the head, neck, mouth and eyebrows,” Bayouth explained. “I try to meet the eyelines of the people he’s talking to.” The show also had a stop motion demonstration station.
At the voiceover demo, actor Eric Bauza led guests through their vocal paces with a scene from DreamWorks Animation’s Puss in Boots. Sydney Tannenbaum, whose mother is an Academy member, participated with writing partner Ryan Roope; he’s developing his own animated show and they are writing a pilot together.
“I’d never done voiceover before,” Roope said. “It helps hearing the original dialogue, to know how things sound.”
At the Magnopus virtual reality station, Academy member Diane Nassau, who had been enjoying observing other demos, decided to try a VR experience, donning an Oculus Rift headset for a 360-degree VR scene from Disney-Pixar’s Coco. Magnopus co-founder Ben Grossman, who won an Emmy Award in 2006 as a visual effects compositor for then-Sci-Fi’s miniseries The Triangle, guided her: “For starters,” he instructed, “take a look up. You’re inside the Plaza San Marcos.”
“Oh, wow,” Nassau said, as the colorful Mexican plaza image came into focus. Grossman showed her how to use the hand-held controller, as she picked up a virtual hat and put it on her head.
The Academy’s real-life plaza was the setting for more festivities, including lunching from food trucks, face painting and listening to performances by Tom Kenny and the Hi Seas. When Kenny sang songs from SpongeBob SquarePants, adults whipped out their phones to record those special memories on video.
“SpongeBob has been on for almost 20 years now. Some kids are now grownups and know the songs Andy Paley and I wrote – they’re locked in their consciousness,” Kenny noted later. He, too, had learned about animation at last year’s event, he said: The panel he moderated then “was so much about the business of animation, the careers. In terms of being exposed to the nuts and bolts, when you’re the voice, the storyboards have already been designed, and the story’s been written.”
This year, the panel was replaced by a conversation between Kenny and Loren Bouchard, whose Bob’s Burgers, about a family who owns a hamburger restaurant on the East Coast seaside, premiered on Fox in January 2011 and is now in its eighth season.
With Bob’s Burgers winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program in 2017 and 2014 (of six nominations in the category, plus two for voiceovers), Bouchard is clearly successful. But, he said, “Luck played a huge part. You have to get lucky on some level. Which is not to say that hard work and your network of colleagues are not a part of it, but you also have to look for your luck.”
In Bouchard’s case, luck may have looked for him. At age 23, in a state of anxiety because he thought he’d messed up his life – he hadn’t gone to college and was tending bar – he was walking on the grounds of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and ran into a former teacher of his, Tom Snyder. Snyder had left academics and started a software company.
“He said, ‘I just started getting into animation. Do you still draw?’” Bouchard related. “This was 1993. He said, ‘Come by my house.’ I knew as I was talking to him that something was happening.”
The “something” eventually became the animated series Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist for Comedy Central, which Bouchard produced. He later co-created the series Home Movies, which ran five episodes on UPN and four seasons on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, and Lucy: The Daughter of the Devil for Adult Swim before co-creating Bob’s Burgers with Jim Dauterive.
In one’s career, he noted, it’s good to find what Kenny called “your tribe.” Said Bouchard, “It’s important to be looking for people – there are always going to be people you want to collaborate with. We’re always evaluating the people who come to work with us. Even when you’re starting out in your career, you could say, ‘Do I want this guy to be my mentor?’”
Of Bob’s origins, Bouchard said, “I’d been developing Lucy, and someone at Fox had liked a scene and asked me to sit down. They knew it was like The Simpsons, and wanted something that was a good fit. They probably wanted a family, and I had the idea of a family in a restaurant.”
Bouchard and team made a presentation piece; for the aired pilot, son Dan became daughter Tina, but was voiced by the same man, Daniel Mintz. Season one proved to be nerve-wracking. “There was always the fear, you’re going to do something and they’ll cancel the show,” Bouchard admitted. “What if that joke is the tipping point? Should Tina’s shirt be blue, and the wall color is blue?”
And now, how does he know when he’s done with an episode? “If you’re a control freak and you enjoy your work, you’re never done,” Bouchard said. “You have to be able to decide. You have to realize when you’ve overworked something and if a certain roughness is charming. It’s a tough call, but you build up those muscles.”
The day was certainly a fun one for Academy members. Said member Bernadette Rivero, attending with her three daughters, “I love this, that they can peek behind the scenes at the hard work and creativity that go into making an animated show. And maybe they’ll dream about doing it themselves one day.”