I’m sitting here with Mark Ackland and Riccardo Durante, the creators of ‘Gruesomestein’s Monster’s,’ the mirthfully macabre new series of animated shorts set to bow on Canada’s YTV. Okay, I’m not actually sitting with them. They’re in Toronto, Canada, which, is just slightly out of range from my little bungalow in Venice, California. But after watching ‘Freddy the Yeti,’ the series premiere episode, on the Nicktoons Film Festival, I feel like I just sat in a wild gag session with these two creative masterminds. Their show is quick, clever, and funnier than a barrel full of monsters. Errr – you get the picture. We’re only a few weeks away from their show’s television premiere on YTV’s ‘Funpak,’ (February 10th), and it’s yet another example of 2D animation flourishing by way of digital production.
AARON SIMPSON: How did you two first start working together?
RICCARDO DURANTE: I was working at a studio in Toronto, directing “Ripping Friends.” Mark was hired on to design and pose.
AS: How did the idea of Gruesomestein’s Monsters first come to be?
We both have a similar sense of humour, and we both love classic cartoons…mainly the Warner Bros. and Hanna Barbera stuff (Yogi bear, and the Flintstones in particular). We talked about what we thought was missing on TV as far as animation goes, and what we’d like to see on TV. Monsters! Of course! What else? So Mark began drawing these funny little monsters. We started laughing at the different personalities, and ridiculous situations we were coming up with, and it just grew from there. What’s funnier than cute, silly, stupid characters trying desperately to act scary? The scarier they try to be, the funnier they are.
AS: What are your major influences? Animation, Comics, Illustrators…
MARK ACKLAND: I love classic 50’s ad art, as well as some of the old Disney shorts. I loved “Tales of the Wizard of Oz” as a kid (which definitely influenced the design style) and a lot of the other Rankin Bass stuff. I also like Chris Ware, Jim Flora, the Provensens (Alice and Martin), Mary Blair, Tom Oreb, and (Miroslav) Sasek to name a few. And I can’t forget Ren and Stimpy.
RD: I also like the simple, stripped down 1950 illustrative style. I think Bill Peet is pretty cool. Some of the old Warner Brothers cartoons are complete genius. As for comics, (Jack) Kirby is King in my book. Oh, and monsters are cool! (Ray) Harryhausen rocks!
AS: What led to your choice of Macromedia’s Flash as your animation production software?
Originally, we wanted to do it 2D and have it animated overseas as opposed to using Flash. Firstly, because we knew very little about Flash. Secondly was due to the stigma that Flash has. In general, when people think of Flash, they think of that really squashy stretchy stuff. We didn’t want our show to look like that. We wanted to retain a traditional 2D feel to the shorts. But we were also worried about the quality control issue of sending stuff overseas. In the end, Flash seemed more feasible, and we just told our animators not to squash and stretch anything at all, unless absolutely necessary. In hindsight, Flash was definitely the way to go. If used properly, Flash is amazing! We just posed out our show a lot so that you didn’t need to force the character comp into doing things that it really can’t do.
AS: What other software did your team use besides Flash?
The one major downfall with Flash is camera moves. Sometimes they look terrible, and very amateurish. So we ended up importing a lot of scenes into “Toon Boom” and doing the camera moves in there. It handles them much better.
AS: What about Flash, when compared to other production methods, do you like best?
Flash is just so instant compared to everything else. You can fix timing, drawing, colour etc. in a snap! It’s also simplified nicely. Very easy to learn. Neither of us really knew too much about it when we started the production, but it was so easy to pick up.
AS: What would you like to see included in the next Flash version?
Well, obviously, better camera moves would be nice. As well, the new Opus program, which is a 2D digital animation program that Nelvana has been developing, while more complex than Flash, has some great features to it, especially in drawing tools. In Flash, whenever two vectored lines cross, those lines become intersected and essentially become four separate lines, or, whenever you put a brush stroke down, that brush stroke becomes one with the brush stroke underneath it (if it’s the same colour). In Opus, each line and stroke is separate unto itself.
END 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 ‘Gruesomestein’s Monsters.’
You need the Quicktime Plugin to view the clip.