The Ugly Americans Interview With Clark and Augenblick

The snow-capped peaks of South Park, Colorado have been witness to many horrors throughout the 14 seasons of the hit animated series. We’ve seen a headless Britney Spears, the rape of Indiana Jones and the all-powerful Mecha-Streisand. But starting this past March at 10:30pm, South Park viewers have been whisked across the country to a New York City brimming with science-fiction beasts that would kick Mecha-Streisand’s ass. Ugly AmericansUgly Americans, the new Comedy Central series created by Devin Clark that conjures a melting pot city filled with unspeakable ingredients. We meet vampires, demons, werewolves and aliens, but there’s also another horror lurking throughout the show – the beast of bureaucracy. You see, the central character is Mark Lilly, a social worker at the Department of Integration, which is the first and often last refuge of the squids, worm-creatures and talking trees that arrive in this gruesome Gotham.

After gestating the concept online, Clark developed the series with David M. Stern (The Simpsons, Monk), who also served as an EP on the project. Clark and Stern then turned to two animation studios to bring the show to life. First on the job was Augenblick Studios (Superjail!), appropriately based on Brooklyn, for development and pre-production, and then the majority of the Flash animation was produced at Cuppa Coffee Studios (Glenn Martin, DDS) in Toronto.

Ugly Americanspositive reviews and now the additional episode order for October 2010.

CLARK: I feel amazingly lucky to get the opportunity to have one of my ideas brought to life; and to have so many fantastic, creative and smart people helping. But it’s funny, I’ve been so caught up in production, so busy, sometimes I feel like I don’t even get an opportunity to get excited about how big a deal it is. So, only recently, I’ve been like “Oh, this is a show I made. It’s on air. Holy cow.”

SIMPSON: Take us back to before the Atom.com deal.

5ON.

SIMPSON: Why do you think that was?

CLARK: It was just more fleshed out as far as the look and feel. One of the biggest challenges I found with pitching animation is you really need visual proof in order for people to get the idea. With live action you can do say, “I’m going to do this,” and they be like, “I totally, I get it.” So, I had a lot more visuals for 5ON and I think that’s what helped. And it was, you know, a funny idea, I feel like. And there was actually interest both from IFC and Comedy Central, but Comedy Central seemed like a better fit so I ended up going that way.

SIMPSON: So you made the 6 shorts, and then how did the TV discussion start?

Fred Seibert created Oh Yeah! Cartoons, which kind of did the same thing that some of these web networks are doing. He approached young talent, gave them enough of a budget to do a short film, and hoped for the best. But I pitched him a bunch of stuff years ago for Oh Yeah! Cartoons and it was there that I kind of learned one of the biggest lessons about pitching shows – your passion and your excitement for the show needs to be extremely visible. I came to him with ideas for kids shows because I knew that’s what he was looking for and I think he was aware of it right away that my heart wasn’t fully into it. And he said to me, “Could you imagine spending the next four years working on this show?” And I was like, “Whoa, no way.”

SIMPSON: And how did that change your approach to pitching?

CLARK: Well, I went back to the drawing board, and I was like, “I love comics. I love horror. I love comedy.” And 5ON was born out of that. It drew on a lot of the elements that I was really excited and passionate about. And I loved coming up with all these crazy, weird characters and creations. And I think that passion and that excitement was visible because it was something that I was really stoked on trying to bring to life. And so, I guess that’s my advice. You have to really, really love the idea that you’re trying to get made. You have to feel that “I’m going to do this no matter what.”

2005 and 2008).

SIMPSON: How did Ugly Americans find its way to Augenblick Studios?

AUGENBLICK: Dan Powell was my producer when we made Golden Age for Comedy Central and we were always hoping to work together again. When he was developing Ugly Americans, he arranged for me to meet with David Stern and Devin Clark and we all hit it off. We made a pilot together which quickly led to a 7 episode series.

SIMPSON: How is Flash being used on the production – more as a design and traditional animation tool? A puppet tool? A mixture?

AUGENBLICK: We use Flash for everything. From design to finished animation, everything is hand-drawn directly in Flash.

SIMPSON: How did the show evolve, design wise, from the initial online shorts?

AUGENBLICK: When they told me that they wanted to make Ugly Americans a horror/comedy, my mind immediately went to EC Comics. Devin was also a big fan so we dove in head first. I was really excited to try using the visual language of the greats (Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Al Feldstein, etc.) as a launching point for the storytelling in Ugly Americans.

SIMPSON: How do make sure a character is streamlined enough to be “animatable” on a half-hour show? (not too inky, etc.)

6 Comments

  1. I think there’s a typo with the “Augenglick” name during his part of the interview. It should be Augenblick, right? :O

    Anyway, awesome interview. I’m in the middle of making a pilot myself, and it’s always cool to hear how these shows got on the air. Thanks Aaron!

  2. Author

    big thanks, gene, for spotting that. i just fixed it up.

    ya, i source so much of my knowledge of the process from stuff like this. the 100+ interviews i’ve done on my sites are like an online masters degree.

  3. Nick P June 1, 2010

    Great show for zombie lovers and kids who don’t mind a flat-comic-book-look show.

    At least it’ll give jobs to people.

    But i gotta stick to what Chuck Jones once said. TV animation is so flat and emotionless, the art of true character animation has really gone to waste(*not in so many words) We’re in an era of “design based” production. It seems like whenever i’m in need of original, fun and truly emotional animation, i need to attend a Festival. Heck, even tv commercials are more exciting and experimental!

    But once again, these kind of shows DOES offer jobs. And Flash IS cheap and quick to use. So.. (*sigh)

  4. R Jones June 2, 2010

    In regards to Nick’s comments, I think there ARE ways to use flash so that animation isn’t flat and emotionless.
    The only problem I suspect is that it’s just too time consuming, and expensive to achieve that quality of character animation consistently.
    It’s always a money thing aint it?

  5. Lindsey H. November 18, 2010

    What are you guys talking about – flat and emotionless? The fact that these stories are animated brings them off of the page in ways never before possible. It does it in a way that is cheap and reproducible as well. If these stories were animated in fashion that was any less “flat” it would deprive from the part of comics that is truly responsible for providing “fun” and “emotion” – the storyline coupled with the imagination. The animation is just a loose guide. It doesn’t have to all be there for it to be great – as miles davis says, it’s the space between the notes. As long as the art provides a solid concept for the feel of a particular storyline then it’s doing its job.

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  1. [...] cover) hammered home that Flash was a viable tool for casual animators and pros alike. 2. In your interview with the Ugly Americans‘ Clark & Augenblick, you talk about the leap between web to TV [...]

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