Self-taught animator John Kricfalusi is the creator of cult cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show. He founded the animation studio Spümcø, directed the animated music video for Björk’s I Miss You, and his show Weekend Pussy Hunt was acclaimed as the first interactive cartoon on the internet. On 17 November he’ll be talking about animation at the Bristol Encounters International Film Festival. IdeasMag got a taster…
How did you learn to do animation?
I used to copy cartoon characters out of comic books and colouring books. Then I found a box of Hanna-Barbera flip books of Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear. When I flipped them I saw how animation worked and started drawing my own flip books, mostly on the edges of the paper in my school text books.
How did you start out?
I got my first job in California at a commercial studio named Calico Creations. They had me do all different kinds of jobs: shooting camera, inbetweening, rotoscoping, storyboarding and a bit of animation. It was while I was at Calico that I created Ren and Stimpy.
How were Weekend Pussy Hunt and The Goddamn George Liquor Program unusual?
They were unusual for their day in that they were the first Internet cartoons and we did them in Flash. Everyone told me I was crazy, even my own crew. They all said, “This Flash stuff will never catch on.”
What makes a good animation?
I don’t know if I can come up with a clever enough answer for that but here are some ingredients: skill, creativity, entertainment value and charismatic characters. I believe that the best animation takes advantage of the medium, rather than trying to imitate live action.
How did you come up with the idea for Björk’s I Miss You video?
Björk gave me the song to listen to. When I listened to it all sorts of images dangled before me. I then drew a storyboard and sent it to her. She said, “OK” and didn’t have any changes!
Are Ren and Stimpy based on anyone you know?
Ren is based on [actor] Peter Lorre but his character evolved with each new story we wrote. Stimpy’s voice is based on Larry Fine of The Three Stooges, but his personality isn’t. Originally he was just a severely retarded cat. But his personality grew with the stories too.
Why do you think Ren & Stimpy has had such enduring appeal?
You’d have to ask the fans, but my guess is because the characters have rich personalities and contrast against each other. I grew up loving classic TV sitcoms like The Honeymooners and All in the Family. I always loved how the characters played against each other and tried to do that in my cartoons.
Would you say you are drawn to animating violence?
Is there a lot of violence in my cartoons? Cartoons are inherently violent, or as they used to call it, “slapstick”. It’s something it does really well because people are willing to suspend their disbelief more for cartoons than other media. Although there used to be a lot of great slapstick live action of course.
If you were starting out now what would you do differently?
I don’t know if I would want to make cartoons if I had grown up in the last 20 years. Everything I like about cartoons doesn’t happen anymore. I’d probably try to be a rock star or something else.
What advice would you give wannabe animators?
Learn to draw as well as you can and avoid getting trapped in a trendy style. Learn to draw from life, rather than just imitating some current style. Don’t try to start out at the top. Work your way up and learn how each department in animation works before trying to sell your own ideas.
John Kricfalusi will be giving a talk on animation at the Bristol Encounters International Film Festival, which runs from 16 to 20 November 2011.