Ask a Ba­boon

Animation Magazine - - Content - by Mike de Seve

What’s the Story, John Foun­tain? by Mike de Seve

Ba­boon An­i­ma­tion team­mate John Foun­tain is a vet­eran sto­ry­teller. As su­per­vis­ing di­rec­tor and sto­ry­board su­per­vi­sor on such hits as The Fairly Od­dPar­ents, John has brought count­less silly sto­ries to the screen. We talked about what visu­ally-minded sto­ry­telling can bring to a show.

Ask a Ba­boon: Once you’re given a script, how can pic­tures be used to tell a bet­ter story?

John Foun­tain: It’s im­por­tant to look at the story as a sin­gle tale with sev­eral peaks and val­leys in it along the way. I like to re­ally soak in the script—like sit­ting in a hot tub for too long—and then, when I’m good and wrinkly, that’s when I’m ready to draw.

On a board-driven show, the board cre­ates the story to a large ex­tent. Of­ten we start with a short para­graph of an idea and have to cre­ate a work­ing be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end. When you con­sider that an­i­ma­tion is a vis­ual sto­ry­telling medium, get­ting the draw­ings just right can make or break a joke. In an episode of Nick­elodeon’s My Life as a Teenage Ro­bot, Jenny be­came jeal­ous of another girl mov­ing in on her best friend Brad. When she hears that the cou­ple are go­ing on a date, she cracks, “That’s just su­per!” Get­ting that “fake-smile-that’s-try­ing-to-look- sin­cere” was tricky, but it came out and al­ways gets a big laugh. In one line and one pose it re­layed her en­tire mo­ti­va­tion for the episode.

Fairly Od­dPar­ents was script­driven, and Teenage Ro­bot board­driven. What did that mean in re­al­ity for those shows?

On FOP we were given a com­plete script, but were ex­pected to punch up the com­edy through­out. Then we’d pitch the board to the whole crew. I loved it be­cause I’m a big ham. It’s a golden op­por­tu­nity to “sell” your gags. If they laughed, it worked—if they didn’t, it didn’t.

On Ro­bot, sto­ry­board artists were given an out­line from a half a page to a page-and-a-half long, so we re­ally had to flesh out the sto­ries, cre­ate a co­he­sive flow, di­a­logue, mo­ti­va­tion, ten­sion and—of course—gags. On one episode, “Ro­bot Riot” (a per­sonal fa­vorite), the end called for a swarm­ing army of ro­bots to ap­pear and an epic bat­tle en­sues... I knew that draw­ing a mil­lion ro­bots fight­ing would make my fin­gers shrivel up like beef jerky, so I changed it from a mil­lion lit­tle ro­bots to one gi­ant ro­bot and, as a re­sult, it wound up be­ing much more visu­ally in­ter­est­ing to see tiny Jenny fight­ing a huge foe.

Is one way bet­ter than another for mak­ing a great car­toon?

Ab­so­lutely not. It’s “The Right Tool for the Right Job.” Very re­cently, I sto­ry­boarded and di­rected a project for one of the big new dig­i­tal net­works, and they gave me tremen­dous cre­ative free­dom and so the work turned out spec­tac­u­larly. I was free to get in­side the heads of the char­ac­ters and jump around like a ma­niac. I be­lieve this is the fu­ture of the medium... dig­i­tal net­works seem much more keen on let­ting cre­ative peo­ple take risks—and that’s how I work best. I can build a per­fectly nice sandcastle in a sand­box, but put me on the beach and watch out!

In an­i­mated fea­tures, even though there’s a script, the sto­ry­board depart­ment is truly a story depart­ment, shap­ing ev­ery as­pect of the story. On a script­driven se­ries, how much can the board

depart­ment add to the sto­ry­telling?

De­pends on the show. In all cases I’m a big stick­ler for clar­ity. If the board artist com­poses shots in a con­fus­ing way, you could be work­ing off of a stellar script but the au­di­ence will find them­selves taken out of the mo­ment. That’s why close col­lab­o­ra­tion with the writ­ers makes the strong­est sto­ries.

What else is new with you?

Adult Swim has a new show called Rick and Morty on which I boarded half of the episodes... I’m re­ally proud of it. I just fin­ished board­ing a pi­lot for a new Car­toon Net­work show that we all have high hopes for.

I’ve also been do­ing a lot of board­ing and di­rect­ing for a num­ber of over­seas pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing with Car­toon Net­work South Amer­ica and Car­toon Net­work in Hong Kong. The HK project is called Toonix, and I don’t be­lieve it’s avail­able in the U.S. yet but my fin­gers are crossed that it will be soon. It was my first CGI project—I had a blast on it.

Mike de Seve is cre­ative di­rec­tor of Ba­boon An­i­ma­tion, a group of multi- Emmy- win­ning, Os­car-nom­i­nated writ­ers and di­rec­tors based in New York. You can write him at mike@ ba­boo­nan­i­ma­

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