Monster Magnates, part 2

Last week I posted the first half of my interview with Mark Ackland and Riccardo Durante, creators of the hilarious new shorts series, ‘Gruesomestein’s Monsters,’ premiering on YTV’s Funpak animation block. We’ve heard about how the gruesome twosome met, what inspired them, and their overall thoughts on Macromedia’s Flash software. In the second half, we dip into the nitty gritty – the nuts and bolts of their production method. So roll up your sleeves, and prepare to meet the beast within.

Aaron Simpson: Is most of your work designed on paper, and then imported into the computer?

Everything in Gruesomestein’s was hand drawn first. The BG’s, the characters, everything. All the poses were hand drawn, then inked, and scanned and trace bitmapped. It worked awesome! To get the clean up line we wanted with our time constraints it would have been almost impossible to do by cleaning up directly in Flash…especially when we were using so many poses.

AS: Are your BGs traditionally painted?

We’re glad that you didn’t pick up that they were painted digitally. Ian Hastings was our art director and BG painter for the episodes. Don Gauthier painted some backgrounds in the sixth episode as well. They painted everything in Photoshop, but did a great job of keeping the backgrounds looking traditional, which is what we wanted.

AS: Your credits don’t list a character designer. What gives?

Mark Ackland: I designed all the characters, and did all the posing; Riccardo did all the boards and all the backgrounds. We left this out in our credits in order to save time.

AS: Most animated series keep a consistent cast of characters, but you flip it every episode. Do you find that challenging?

It was a lot of work, but it was great! And refreshing! And perfect for our short attention spans! The original idea of the show (imagining it as a half hour series) was that all these ‘true’ stories would be in a big book written by retired millionaire embalmer R.M. Gruesomestein, who you’d never see. His manservant, uncle Wadsworth would be an animated anti-Mr. Rogers who would ‘read’ the stories to the kids (the audience), which he hates to do, but it’s one of his many chores. It would be formatted like the classic cartoons, where you have a roster of like maybe 10 really strong characters who each reoccur in their own shorts (there’s so many more monsters we have stories for!). We also find a lot of cartoons on TV these days kinda boring. On a lot of shows out now, you can watch any episode of the entire season and they all look the same. The thing with Gruesomestein is you never really know what you’re going to get. Each episode has a completely different mood, colour palette, and music style. Our editor, Scott Buscis, did all the music himself, and he did a killer job.

AS: In future episodes, do you have plans to revisit characters like The Yeti from ‘Freddie the Yeti?’

Definitely! That’s the idea. That’s why when we did the sixth episode, we did another Witchy cartoon. The Yeti would probably pop up again as well, but in future Freddie shorts, Freddie and his Dad would confront the lochness monster, get caught up in a dawn of the dead scenario, discover Bigfoot, etc. It might even be funny to do a Poltergeist spoof, where the ghosts take away Freddie. The deal with them is that they can never have a relaxing outing together. I think Freddie attracts this…he’s a little off.

Many studio executives feel that it’s too much work to brand a show with a large cast of characters. Our perspective was, just because it’s ‘tough’ doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Just as long as all the characters have strong personalities, and are funny. Warner Brothers, Disney, Hanna Barbera… They all built their studios on a huge cast of characters. It’s been well proven in the past.

AS: Is your animation team seriously made up of one person?

Yup. Each of the 6 shorts was done entirely by a different animator, and you can really tell the difference in timing. Each animator gave their episode a real mood. They did a great job. This helped keep the shows consistent and maintain a personal rhythm.

AS: I see that both of you are credited with voice work in ‘Freddie and the Yeti’ – what characters?

MA: I was Freddie, and Riccardo was the Ranger. And we discovered the new Mel Blanc in a man named Blayne Burnside…he played the Dad.

AS: What’s next?

Currently we’re directing a feature for Nickelodeon called “The Wayside School”. Our next series idea is for a stop motion animated series.

AS: Well, that’s it. Best of luck with the series and happy haunting.

Make sure to tune in for YTV’s anthology program “FunPak,” starting Thursday, February 3rd at 7:30. Then vote for your favorite short on


  1. My 12 year old son is an avid flash animation maker so he’ll be very pleased to see these clips. Hi first 40 second film was featured in an under 18′s film festival in Manchester U.K. recently and it was great to see his tiny film projected onto a big screen! We shall put your site in our favourtites and look forward to more news and clips.

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  1. [...] OF PART 1 Check back soon for the second half of my interview with Mark Ackland and Riccardo Durante, co-creators of the new YTV shorts series [...]

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