The Man Behind Mr. Man, Part 2
Earlier this week, CHF launched the first half of the Steve Whitehouse interview. He discussed his earliest Flash work, and how the internet has changed artistic collaboration. We’re back with the second half, in which we touch on Steve’s work with Dave Cooper and the ‘Mr. Man’ series.
AARON SIMPSON: You worked with John and Arna on their series of ‘Coolman‘ shorts. How much of this project did you animate yourself?
STEVE WHITEHOUSE: I boarded 4 of the 5 episodes. I did all the Flash design, including the turnarounds, walk cycles and lip sync. And I animated the entire ‘Deep Sea Blues’ episode. Quite an enjoyable experience. John (JVB as he is known) is also a drummer, who I’ve played with since the early 90’s.
AARON: You animated Dave Cooper’s short film ‘Bird, Bug, Goat.’ How did you two team up?
STEVE: I got a call from him. As it turns out, he knew an animator pal of mine (Ian Jeans) who recommended me as someone who knew Flash. I was/am a big fan of Dave’s work. In fact, I always take a book of his when I go overseas as part of my treasure box of goodies that remind me of home. so I was quite excited to be a part of what he was doing.
AARON: Tell us about the The Petrie Lounge and your short film ‘Kunstbar.’
STEVE: Well, its sure got ‘legs.’ The Petrie (pronounced PET TREE as oppose to PEE TREE) Lounge is: myself, Paul Teglas, John Halfpenny, Chris Labonte and Denis Gonzalez. We’re all ‘traditional animator types.’ The Petrie Lounge comes from ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show.’ His character is Rob Petrie and he worked as a comedy writer for ‘The Alan Brady Show’ in the writers lounge (with piano!), hence, ‘The Petrie Lounge.’ However, our lounge was not static. It changed to whichever bar we were at!
One day, whilst sitting around having a ‘meeting,’ Paul said he had had a drink the other night consisting of part beer, bloody mary and gin and tonic. Don’t ask. Another friend deemed it a Tangy Tanguy, as in Yves Tanguy (surrealist painter). I posed the question: ‘What would actually happen if you drank an Yves Tanguy?’ I could immediately see the ‘film’ completed in my head. At least in form, if not exact details.
We discussed which artists each of us would represent. John took Chagall and later incorporated Dix, Paul took Morisseau and Chris took Bosch and Rodin. I did the rest. I’ve gotten a lot of emails from art teachers who use it in their classes which is very satisfying and it’s won a number of international awards. I still get emails for it today!
AARON: Was the inspiration for the ‘Mr. Man’ series truly drawn from a piece of dada-ish art?
STEVE: Yup. Years ago, I played in an improve/noise band called Bonepusher where we played spontaneous soundtracks to super 8 movies behind a projection screen. One night, after a jam, we went upstairs to listen to the tape. On the walls were some artworks by another friend of mine (Steve White – no kidding) and I saw this ‘figure’ in one of the pieces. I got a scrap piece of paper and drew what turned out to be the character eventually named Mr. Man. I got up to take a closer look at the artwork (which was at an angle from where I was sitting) and as I neared it the pieces started to shift into proper alignment it looked NOTHING like what I had drawn (Mr. Man). It turned out to be some diodes, a block of wood and some other doodads. So I had this character now. While supervising a pilot for Nickelodeon in Seoul, S. Korea, I made ‘The Pest‘ in my spare time and sold it to Animation Express. They, in turn, asked me (and 3 more artists) to do 4 more shorts. Which turned into the ‘Mr. Man’ series.
AARON: What was the most gratifying acclaim you’ve received for your ‘Mr. Man’ series?
STEVE: The Grand Prix Vivendi for ‘Interactive’ from the FIFI (Festival International du Film de l’Internet in France) was a nice surprise. In fact, I’ve won a number of awards from FIFI since. But, the most rewarding thing has been the emails from so many different people from so many different places. Boys, girls, men, women – ranging from 3 olds to 83 year olds! From France, Italy, Russia, Australia, South Africa, South America – all over the world! The fact that it has crossed so many boundaries is something I’m very proud of.
AARON: I read that you’ve created over 140 ‘Mr. Man’ shorts. Do you ever intend to release these on DVD?
STEVE: Eventually. Just a matter of time.
AARON: Are there any more ‘Mr. Man’ shorts in the pipeline?
STEVE: Yup. ‘Abstract,’ which is a tribute/homage to Norman McLaren, Stan Brakhage and others. And of course the somewhat controversial ‘The Prophets‘ has just come out.
AARON: Are the e-cards you created for Shockwave still viewable on the web?
STEVE: If so, I can’t find ‘em. Shockwave discontinued their ecards a number of years ago. I occasionally still get emails requesting them. I would like to get then up and running again as I’m told that they were pretty popular.
AARON: Are you working on any new original projects?
STEVE: Constantly. In my head at any rate.
AARON: What animation DVDs have you picked up lately?
STEVE: The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 3. Warner Bros. cartoons are the best! I look forward to getting ‘Howl’s Moving Castle,’ and I highly recommend ANYTHING by Miyazaki. Also purchased ‘My Neighbors the Yamadas,’ ‘The Incredibles‘ and ‘The Point.’
AARON: What animation websites do you check in on regularly?
STEVE: Unfortunately, none. Too busy to go on any mystery tours these days. The only times I check out anything online is when someone sends me a link.