A Sweet Farewell to Those Cud­dly ‘Bros’

We Bare Bears cre­ator Daniel Chong opens up about the show’s hugely sat­is­fy­ing movie, which also served as a grand fi­nale.

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We Bare Bears cre­ator Daniel Chong opens up about the show’s hugely sat­is­fy­ing movie, which also served as a grand fi­nale.

Early this month, fans of Daniel Chong’s hugely pop­u­lar We Bare Bears got a big present in the form of a 70-minute-long movie that put a nice bow on the show, which de­buted in July of 2015 and aired its fi­nal episode last April. We caught up with Chong to find out more about the charm­ing movie and his plans for the fu­ture.

An­imag: First of all, con­grats on you very well-re­ceived We Bare Bears: The Movie. How did the idea for this movie come about? Daniel Chong: It started out when Car­toon Net­work asked us to do a movie. Frankly, I had al­ways wanted to do a movie with these char­ac­ters. We had these com­pelling char­ac­ters that could eas­ily ex­ist in a long-form project since we al­ways tried to give them emo­tional depth.I had a back­ground in an­i­mated movies. [Chong worked as story artist on fea­tures such as Bolt, De­spi­ca­ble Me, The Lo­rax and In­side Out, be­fore creat­ing We Bare Bears for the ca­bler.] We felt quite con­fi­dent that we could do it, al­though we had a lot less time to do it than your av­er­age Dis­ney or

Pixar movie.

How long did it take you to make it?

We spent about eight months on the script — and that’s while we were ac­tu­ally pro­duc­ing the se­ries, too. We boarded the movie for over a year, while still fin­ish­ing up the reg­u­lar episodes for the first half of sea­son four. There was a lot of over­lap. In re­al­ity, we didn’t know that the movie was go­ing to serve as the fi­nale for the show when we wrote it. We just as­sumed that we were go­ing to keep go­ing, even af­ter 140 episodes! But when it was de­ter­mined that we were go­ing to end the show, the movie achieved a nice book­end qual­ity.

How do you feel about the movie now that it has fi­nally landed on Car­toon Net­work, af­ter be­ing avail­able on dig­i­tal down­load for a few months?

This show was based on the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a mi­nor­ity in Amer­ica. So, I like that we were able to end the se­ries on this po­etic note, which is about feel­ing ac­cep­tance and fit­ting in and find­ing your place in the world. I couldn’t have an­tic­i­pated that this was the way we were go­ing to go out, but I’m re­ally happy that we ended with them help­ing oth­ers just like them and creat­ing a utopia of sorts.

Can you talk about the mes­sage of the movie and how it’s prob­a­bly even more rel­e­vant now than when you wrote it? We wrote the movie when we were see­ing all the news about ICE sep­a­rat­ing all these im­mi­grant fam­i­lies. We’ve gone through a pan­demic, wit­nessed the Black Lives Mat­ter protests, and we know that racism is not go­ing away. This is an on­go­ing bat­tle that we have to fight. We wrote the script two years ago, but un­for­tu­nately, the themes are even more rel­e­vant now.

Did you work with the same team that was on your se­ries?

Yes, more or less we had the same cre­ative team. There were peo­ple com­ing in and out, but we had about eight or nine story artists board­ing on the show. We had an ex­tra ed­i­tor on the movie. On the reg­u­lar show, we clean up all the boards, then we edit it to­gether and do all the small fixes. For the movie, we had lots of trial and er­ror. Our board artists would do lots of roughs and story ed­i­tors

‘You can’t make 140 episodes of a show with­out digging into ev­ery as­pect of your past and ev­ery movie and TV show that in­flu­enced you.’ — Cre­ator Daniel Chong

would do scratch di­a­log to see how it all held up. It was eas­ier to trou­bleshoot that way. We then sent the movie to Rough Draft. They also did lots of CG ve­hi­cles, fires and crowds for the movie. This movie wasn’t TV friendly, but they did a fan­tas­tic job. It was a hefty job. Out­side the CG stuff, they still hand an­i­mate and draw on pa­per with pen­cil and ink. They scan and com­pos­ite in Toon Boom Har­mony.

Why do you think the show was such a hit with fans all over the world?

You never know ex­actly what it is that peo­ple are con­nect­ing with, but I re­ally wanted peo­ple to love the bears’ personalit­ies from the start. The bears were flawed each in their own way: Grizz is fun-lov­ing, Panda is a bit too selfish or Ice Bear is a bit too weird, etc. but they al­ways had good in­ten­tions and tried to do the right thing. That’s what I wanted out of their personalit­ies. Hope­fully that was one of the as­pects peo­ple were drawn to them. When I look back 10 years ago, I re­mem­ber that I just wanted to make my own show. The in­dus­try was much smaller and there were very lim­ited projects to work on. I just wasn’t con­nect­ing with a lot of the things that I was work­ing on, so I wasn’t happy. I just didn’t think I could trust the in­dus­try to pro­vide me with some­thing that I would be ex­cited about, so I had to make it my­self. I had to go out there and pitch a show that I would be proud of.

What are some of the most mem­o­rable re­ac­tions you have had to your work?

You know, it’s funny, be­cause a lot of us get re­moved from the process and the au­di­ence. The best way to get feed­back is to go on­line. We don’t get to meet fans reg­u­larly. I’d say the times that I got to meet the show fans is when I travel overseas. The se­ries does very well in­ter­na­tion­ally, and it’s in­cred­i­ble to see how the show tran­scends cul­tural bound­aries and lan­guage bar­ri­ers.

A few years ago, I was a guest of the Pix­e­latl Fes­ti­val in Mex­ico, and these stu­dents came up to me, and they just said, “We Bare Bears” and pointed to their hearts. I could see the love in their eyes. The con­nec­tion was deeply emo­tional. That was one of the most amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. It’s al­ways won­der­ful to get these nice mes­sages from the fans.

In the past, you’ve talked about how much you were in­flu­enced by the work of Bris­tol’s Aard­man An­i­ma­tions. Can you elab­o­rate on that and your other in­spi­ra­tions?

My en­try into draw­ing and an­i­ma­tion came from the world of comic-strips. I adored Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side and Garfield. I would go through all the Sun­day comic pages, so I wasn’t hugely in­flu­enced by an­i­ma­tion when I was grow­ing up. Once I got into an­i­ma­tion, I re­ally loved stop-mo­tion. Nick Park’s The Wrong Trousers and all the other Wal­lace & Gromit shorts were huge. I saw them at an an­i­ma­tion fes­ti­val, and they were like noth­ing I had seen be­fore. I loved the Bri­tish hu­mor and the dead­pan qual­ity. Watch­ing that short re­ally opened my eyes to what an­i­ma­tion could be. [We Bare Bears was based on a we­b­comic that Chong had cre­ated.]

Any fi­nal words of ad­vice for an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try hope­fuls who want to cre­ate their own shows?

I think ev­ery­one will tell you that we live in a time that tech­nol­ogy has given ev­ery­one the abil­ity to make their own things and cre­ate ex­po­sure through the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia. Those things weren’t avail­able when I was start­ing out. So, with­out ques­tion, you should take ad­van­tage of those things. What ev­ery­one ne­glects to men­tion is the im­por­tance of per­sonal growth and de­vel­op­ment. So much of what you cre­ate is shaped by your back­ground and the things that shaped you. The bet­ter you un­der­stand your back­ground, the sharper your voice will be­come. You can’t make 140 episodes of a show with­out digging into ev­ery as­pect of your past and ev­ery movie and TV show that in­flu­enced you. Work on your voice, look in­side and try to un­der­stand what makes you unique.

We Bare Bears: The Movie pre­mieres on Car­toon Net­work on Septem­ber 12. A spinoff se­ries fea­tur­ing the baby ver­sions of the bears is also in de­vel­op­ment at the stu­dio.

Three for the Road: Daniel Chong’s We Bare Bears se­ries was based on his pop­u­lar we­b­comics and orig­i­nally de­buted in the sum­mer of 2015.

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