Cartoonist Pete Browngardt has been in the industry for quite some time working on popular series such as Futurama, The Venture Brothers, Chowder, The Marvelous Adventures of Flapjack and Adventure Time as well as his own series Secret Mountain Fort Awesome. Now he is bringing an all-new series to Cartoon Network that brings old school cartoon style back where it belongs. I had the chance to sit down with this talented and creative artist, writer, voice actor and creator about his latest series Uncle Grandpa to discuss where this magical piece of genius comes from.
Bobby: You’ve worked on a lot of other shows like Flapjack and Adventure Time, but where did Uncle Grandpa come from?
Pete: You know growing up I had some largest than life friends of the family as well as relatives that would take my brother, sisters, and I on some crazy adventures and experiences that really just made a big impact and I started trying to figure out how to make a cartoon out of that and that’s where Uncle Grandpa came from, but I wanted to push it with animation. So it defiantly came from growing up with family members that were pretty nuts.
Bobby: What kind of process do you go through when trying to create these crazy characters?
Pete: It starts from the sketch book and just drawing it over and over again trying to figure out the shapes and look. The more you draw it the more refined and I look for an iconic silhouette. If you could fill in black and still recognize the character then you are successful. If you look at all great cartoon characters throughout history they all have a strong similar value. From there and this probably sounds strange, but there is probably a dialogue in my head and the drawing thinking about what the character could be and do. It’s a very personal process of drawing in the sketch book and then talking back and forth with yourself in your mind. Then I try to write it out to solidify it so that other people can understand.
Bobby: So when you started developing this idea, did you have a set group of characters that you wanted a part of it or did they just kind of come along as you wrote the stories?
Pete: They didn’t necessarily come out of the stories specifically, but probably more out of my love of them. The dinosaur character I have been drawing that character in various forms since I was in junior high school maybe even younger. Pizza Steve came from my love of iconic mascot characters although he isn’t really a mascot in the show. In the 90s there were a lot of cartoon mascots from every major company and I just thought of that. The tiger story comes from when I was writing and storyboarding the pilot, I needed a way for Uncle Grandpa and the kid to get back to the adventure and I had an idea in my mind which was probably from He-Man, because I loved that as a kid and people loved that so I had to make her a character. That was the sort of world I wanted to build for a story that I think is fun and entertaining.
Bobby: Isn’t the fanny pack a character as well?
Pete: Yeah it is and I just think fanny packs are funny.
Bobby: So is it taking a jab at fanny packs?
Pete: It’s defiantly not a jab. It’s more of a love letter to fanny packs. Also the kind of stories that I responded to were like Dr. Seuss Cat in the Hat where he would take stuff out of the hat, Mary Poppins who had her bag full of stuff. So I wanted something that I could take items out of for the adventure that was like an endless void of the ultimate utility belt of goofiness or something, so I think it came from there too.
Bobby: Is each episode its own stand-alone tale or will there be some ongoing stuff happening?
Pete: They are very stand-alone entertainment. They don’t have big story arcs or continuity across the seasons and I think that comes from my love of old cartoons where things like Bugs Bunny would be in old times and then the next he is in contemporary times. I like the idea that anyone can just jump in and get the arch type of the characters and enjoy these silly tales.
Bobby: Going back to the tiger, how hard is it to incorporate the real tiger with the animation?
Pete: That is really challenging and it’s defiantly not just one guy pasting them. (laughs) We do a lot of photo shopping and matching the photos together as far as the color and tone. The studio that helps us produce the animation were very nervous about it and weren’t sure on how we were going to do it, but I kept telling them that they were over thinking it. It was supposed to look sort of crude, funny and dumb. We’re not trying to do CG or any crazy thing, what’s funny to me is that it’s just a cut out photograph on 2D. As far as acting with them, it’s a little challenging but we just do a lot of animation cheats to make it work. If we have the tiger’s head cocked in a different direction we will just have the characters fly along with it. It seems to be working very well and we have a lot of photos of tigers. A-LOT! (laughs)
Bobby: There is some really great old school things here like the clouds just being the old school scribbles.
Pete: I don’t know where that came from; I think I started doing it in my notebook and sketchbook. But I just love that as something to remind people that this is drawn. This is all stuff that just comes from scribbles. I don’t know I maybe just too heavy with it, but I just think it looks cool. Some people don’t get it and they think it looks like mistakes or that it’s not purposely done, but it’s very tricky though. I am very particular on how the scribbles are done and placed.
Bobby: Some of the more simplistic things are the hardest to pull off, but non-art people think “Oh, I can do that.”
Pete: Yeah, I remember someone saying to me at art school or something, talking about Beavis and Butthead saying that the crude artwork works so well because it looks like they drew themselves. People thought it was such a crude art style, but Mike Judge was totally on purpose and it worked so well and unique. People don’t understand that artwork like that that is so crude and strange is actually more sophisticated in a strange way. If you have one element of a character design off it throws it.
Bobby: With this show being put in the block with Adventure Time and Regular Show, what audience are you going for?
Pete: We are pushing it back to innocence and bringing surrealism back to cartoons where a characters body parts can detach or stretch and breaking the fourth wall, stuff like that. As far as the target audiences, I set out to make a really broad kids show that hopefully all ages can enjoy, but really didn’t target anyone specific I just wanted to make a silly fun cartoon.
Bobby: How much of the art and animation do you get to do?
Pete: Not near as much as I would like to do. I supervise all the design, all the storyboards, but I try to leave to people that are better than me to make me look good. I think that is the trick that all people should do. I’ve done a few of the storyboards for the season, but that’s one thing I had to get used to as a creator and producer that basically learn to communicate and dictate the work.
Bobby: It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a cartoon like this and it looks to be a lot of fun. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this.
Pete: My pleasure man, no problem at all.
Be sure to check out Uncle Grandpa when it magically premieres on September 2nd on Cartoon Network.
For more information head over to http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/