Stephen Neary

Animation Magazine - - RIS­ING STARS -

Cre­ator, The Fun­gies, Car­toon Net­work/HBO Max

David the Gnome. Gumby. Bat­man: The An­i­mated Se­ries. Frag­gle Rock. An­i­ma­tion cre­ator Stephen Neary says he loved watch­ing these four shows when he was kid grow­ing up in Fort. Wayne, In­di­ana in the early ’90s. “Watch­ing an­i­ma­tion as a kid is a to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence,” he re­calls. “Ev­ery­thing felt so sat­u­rated and warm. Later, Car­toon Net­work shows like Dex­ter’s Lab and The Pow­er­puff Girls were a huge in­flu­ence: They were sub­ver­sive and weird while still check­ing off all the boxes for a kid’s car­toon.”

These days, Neary is in charge of his own col­or­ful and im­mer­sive world. He is the cre­ator of The Fun­gies, a clever new an­i­mated se­ries which de­buts on HBO Max later this year. “I was read­ing about these an­cient fungi that grew on Earth about 400 mil­lion years ago,” he tells us. “Think­ing about the world in its ‘youth’ made me think about be­ing a kid, and what it’s like to grad­u­ally be­come more aware of your feel­ings as your world grows larger and larger. I wanted to ex­plore these ideas in a show that had a sin­cere tone but was still weird and funny, like other ‘crea­ture’ shows.”

Look­ing back at his early fas­ci­na­tion with an­i­ma­tion, Neary says he didn’t even know work­ing in an­i­ma­tion was a re­al­is­tic goal. “But I loved car­toons, drew a lot, and made lit­tle stop-mo­tion movies in iMovie,” he says.“I was study­ing live ac­tion at NYU when I started tak­ing an­i­ma­tion classes and fell in love with the medium all over again. Ev­ery time I watched a sto­ry­board pitch from a movie’s DVD ex­tras I thought, ‘That’s my dream job.’”

Then in 2005, when his pro­fes­sor Rob Mar­i­anetti asked him to help out with some car­toons for SNL’s TV Fun­house se­ries, he jumped at the chance. “I was so bad at draw­ing but helped composite and scan an­i­ma­tion. Fu­eled by cof­fee and Jamba Juice, we’d stay up all Fri­day night to fin­ish the car­toon for broad­cast the next night. It was in­sane, but Rob and his stu­dio part­ner Dave Wacht­en­heim were very prag­matic and calm about surf­ing the waves of chaos.”

When asked to name his an­i­ma­tion idol, Neary men­tions Gen­ndy Tar­takovsky. “He does orig­i­nal shows, adap­ta­tions, movies — ev­ery­thing. Pri­mal was in­cred­i­ble, and it’s cool to see in­dus­try vet­er­ans con­tinue to push the en­ve­lope through their ca­reers. It makes me ex­cited to keep learn­ing!”

So, how does it feel to be in charge of his own Fun­gies world? “Mak­ing the show is a dream come true,” he notes. “I work with so many tal­ented artists, writers and pro­duc­tion folks. But if I’m awake, I’m prob­a­bly think­ing about the show on some level. I’m do­ing the dishes and bam, I re­mem­ber we need to change some­thing about Scene 141 in episode 26. I love dis­tance run­ning and use that as an ex­cuse to zone out and recharge!”

“I re­mem­ber telling a re­cruiter when I was 18 that I wanted to be a di­rec­tor,” he re­calls. “Very po­litely, they told me to never tell any­one that: “A big stu­dio isn’t look­ing for an 18-year-old di­rec­tor.” First, I needed to be able to un­der­stand one part of the process in­side and out. Af­ter that, I tried to fo­cus more on the sto­ry­board­ing and sto­ry­telling as­pect of an­i­ma­tion. This seems ob­vi­ous now, but at the time, I was ex­tremely naïve!”

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