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Animation by Mistake
Chatting with Danny Antonucci
The following has been formulated from talks with Danny that took place at aka Cartoon's studios and The Cambie pub in early October 2002 during my visit to Vancouver. I am very grateful to Danny for making me feel so welcome and for the wonderful 3 days I spent at the studio but most of all for giving up so much of his valuable time to simply sit and chat ... Kit
It's five o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon in the Gas Town district of downtown Vancouver, rain is drizzling dully against the windows in direct grey contrast to the vibrant atmosphere inside the room where sitting.
The room - Danny's office - is filled with cartoon memorabilia, models of Ed, Edd n Eddy jostle for position with old-time favourites Popeye and Bluto. Brightly coloured posters and cardboard stand-ups line floor and fill the wallspace. Skull-shaped fairy lights dangle from the ceiling in swaying festoons and Danny's desk itself is lost somewhere beneath mountains of paper - reference books, storyboards to check, sticky notes to read.
Danny himself sits at a smaller desk near the window and waves me over to the leopard-spot sofa that dominates the room, he lights a cigarette and smiles, 'Okay, what shall we talk about?'
I guess he must be sick to death of this one but its the obvious question to kick off with so I'm going to ask it anyway, namely, where did the inspiration for Ed, Edd n Eddy come from? Are they based on people you know as a child? Guys you grew up with?
He considers. 'The Eds actually came out as a result of my not wanting to be pigeonholed for my work, especially after all that gross stuff in the Brothers Grunt. ' He pauses and then laughs, 'My wife thinks Ed, Edd n Eddy is my therapy for mid-life crisis!'
'As for Ed, Edd n Eddy themselves, all three are me, or rather different parts or aspects of me. There's my Eddy side, brash, loudmouthed, constantly wanting attention. Much like the only child that I am. Eddy however is living under the shadow of an older brother so he's desperately trying to carve out his own niche in life. Then there's my Edd side, neurotic, analytical, must be organised. Also if Eddy & Ed single D weren't around, Edd would be happy with his own company, something that works for me too. Finally Ed is also me, following his own path and slightly dysfunctional, a daydreamer who while people are doing one thing, will be busy thinking of another.'
'So yes, the Eds are me. Many of their stories come from my own childhood, recollections of living in suburbia and having to make up your own fun. I grew up in a suburban cul-de-sac much like the Eds one and was always the outsider, always trying to get in and always being rebuffed, not wanted. Their clothes are indicative of their background too, they wear hands-me-downs, they're not rich. I think the show's been successful with adults as well as kids mainly because the kids have backgrounds and do things we can all relate to.'
Its been noted that there is a distinct lack of adults in the show ...
'That's intentional too, throughout the long days of summer you simply didn't see anyone else's parents about and sometimes you didn't even see your own. Take the 'Edd's parents' factor, their means of communicating with him via sticky notes, my parents worked long hours and they left me written messages in much the same way.'
I'm curious about the other characters in the show now too, do they have a similar background?
Danny nods, 'Absolutely. Sarah is of course a pretty common type and Nazz the unattainable crush factor, but Rolf ... Rolf is me and all of my cousins. My parents were right off the boat so I grew up playing to two worlds, the modern world and the 1950s Italian world. My parents like Rolf's lived - still live in the past, with strong traditions and strange cooking and having a hard time assimilating to modern life.''
I interject, on the Eddzone there has always been a lot of speculation amongst fans about Rolf's country of origin, yet he's never admitted to being pinned down to one certain place...
Danny nods again, 'Yeah, I purposely made Rolf with a non-nationality, especially after what happened with Lupo when we were accused of painting Italians in a bad light. But Rolf is me, take his proverbs - my family were always coming out with the strange proverbial stuff that only made sense to them and other family members. His vocabulary is always interesting, I've actually browsed through the dictionary sometimes looking for words he might use, we came in for some flak with 'jujubes' though, people were asking what on earth that meant, but its there, you know what they are right? (I nod) Leaving Rolf with no set nationality means he's able to adopt all sorts of quirks he couldn't get away with if we'd stuck a label on him. Its the same with Peach Creek Estates, its not anywhere specific, its just one of those countless suburban development regions.'
'Jonny and Plank ... well back in the days of my childhood he was there too, a bit of a loner who seemed to be out of the house all day long in the summer. He'd be more or less thrown out the door at 9am and only let back in when it got dark or if it was time to eat. He had an imaginary friend which was in fact not a plank of wood but blanket but of course the idea of the blanket had already been done in a cartoon with Linus in Charlie Brown (Peanuts) so I needed to come up with something else.'
'Jimmy's based on my cousin. Precious, delicate and spoiled rotten, he was always more comfortable hanging out amongst the girls than us boys and so of course we would tease him and do horrible things to him. His ears went bright red when he got upset.'
And what about the Kankers sisters, do they exist?
Another big grin as Danny exhales, 'Oh yes! They're based on a pair of Grade 7 girls who true to form were always on the lookout for potential boyfriends. They frightened us with their intensity and attitude yet they always wanted to play the innocent with the older guys whom they wanted to date.'
'Speaking of girls, the sprinkler party (as immortalised in Pop Goes the Ed) was a personal childhood experience for me, I was talked into going to a pool party when I didn't really want to and was given a many sizes too small swimsuit to wear that did indeed burst off mid party.'
We laugh at the misfortunes of youth and then I lob another ball up, so how did you get the idea for what the Eds would look like and where did it go from there?
'I was just sitting there one day and drew out the three of them, I think you've got that picture up on the Eddzone somewhere, anyway from that came ideas for their characters that I'd been carrying around and then from that came the ideas for show. ' Danny leans forward to emphasis his point, 'I always work the character out first then bring in the additional writers not vice versa.'
'With the voices for the characters, I knew right away that Eddy's voice was Tony (Sampson), strangely Ed was the hardest to get right, I didn't want the typical 'duh' dumb voice, its just too cliche.
'Jono was brought in as a writer because he works in a style that embellishes what I wanted to do. The show is made very differently from the usual way, I wanted it to be done the old fashioned way, capturing childhood spontaneity which is why the show often starts doing one thing and then moves on to something else - Each episode is supposed to read like a child's day and be a nod to the cartoons of the 40s - 70s...'
Danny pauses to reminisce, 'There was on episode called 'Special Ed' that didn't go through - it was just too real.'
He continues with the original question, ' It took a year to develop to the point where I was ready - and happy - to let it out. I did the drawings and faxed them off to Nickelodeon who went crazy and wanted more. I faxed them to Cartoon Network and got the same response and it developed from there with CN but only after they had agreed to leave me alone to do what I wanted with the Eds, I was adamant that it would not be turned into some moral, cutesy show.'
'Speaking of which for the season four 'If It Smells Like an Ed' I'd originally wanted to include the 'What the World needs now is love, sweet love' song but we ran into all sorts of problems with the people who owned the copyrights etc calling me and demanding insane amounts of money. So in the end I just sat down and wrote 'Friends are there to help you' instead.
We talk about the now trademark 'wobble' effect in the Eds animation. Danny explains, 'I didn't want the show to become so slick, its a jab against CGI! The wobble effect reflects back on the cartoons of the 30s when everything was black and white and hand inked and to R.O. Blackman's work in the 60s. The wobble comes because when you're inking it's impossible to do it the same way twice so in effect we're utilising human error, its animation by mistake!
(note: you can read more about the animation process & 'wobble effect' in the animation section)
The Eds have been a huge hit on cartoon network, being shown in dozens of countries around the world and translated into many different languages from Hindi to British sign language, this in itself must be inspiring but I want to ask what motivates Danny.
He doesn't need to think about the answer, 'What else but making cartoons? I get an enormous kick out of knowing I've made people happy, made them laugh. That feeling of having so many people enjoy what I love to do. Its fantastic.'
So what will is Danny planning to set his sights on once Ed, Edd n Eddy ceases production?
Another pause and then 'Whatever it is it will always be animated, I'd like to try an animated horror movie with Lupo and his family, I guess I'm trailing it out with Rolf. There's also the 'Cat With the Bat' (the kat wit da bat) which CN may be interested in.
Time drifts easily past and we continue to talk, discussing various factors surrounding the Eds and Danny himself. How did he kick-start his career for example?
'I always loved cartoons and as a kid I started drawing out of boredom and then I became much more motivated, I was always fascinated by how animation worked and I also performed puppets shows for cash (shades of Eddy there!) My parents were convinced that I was just going through a phase but I knew all along through high school and before it that I wanted to work in animation. I made upthe Adventures of Barfman - a man that could throw up, vomit at will on his enemies and had barf balls and a barf gun. When I was fourteen or fifteen I enrolled on an afternoon course in animation and later I started a course at Sheridan College of Visual Arts in Oakville, though I dropped out before majoring when I was hired to work on shows such as Scooby Doo, Ritchie Rich, the Smurfs, the Flintstones. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it but I wanted to be out there doing real animation'
'After this in 1984, I moved to Vancouver, liked it and stayed to set up a.k.a. - Lupo opened all the doors.' He mentions some of a.k.a.'s other work providing material for MTV, the Outer Limits and SFX in independent films and advertising, 'Don't provide a service - come up with original stuff.'
I ask how come aka Cartoon's not situated down in Los Angeles like the majority of animation studios and people connected to 'the business.'
Danny makes a wry face. 'Politics for one thing. Also I feel it's important to view and if possible always use the huge range of talent that's available locally, that's here in Vancouver where aka began. I'm just not into all that Hollywood fakery.'
Does Danny have a message for the fans of his work? 'Yes. A sincere thanks you for all your support. You are constantly in our minds when we make the shows and we hope you enjoy the rest of them. Its really touching when we're in here every day plugging away to get feedback from you. ' He smiles, 'The fans are incredible , I was down in South America for an animation festival at Sao Paulo and a mother brought in her autistic child to see me as he loved Ed, Edd n Eddy. She had waited three days for this opportunity, I was deeply moved.'
And what about a message for people who are hoping to follow in his footsteps, the animators of the future who see him as a source of inspiration?
'Its hard work. Very hard work. It takes a lot of hours to make a cartoon so you really have to love the art, stick at it and believe in yourself. Do what you want to do and never, ever take no for an answer. Don't rape and pillage. - contribute to the art form, its continually evolving so there is always new stuff to learn.'
He continues, 'Something I always say to people coming to work at aka is this: 'forget everything you've already done and give me everything you've always wanted to do'. Me, I'm still learning and still I'm having fun. If the day ever comes when its no longer fun or I do finally get it all what else is there for me to do? Give it all up and open Antonucci's Pizza I guess!'
Myself with Danny @ aka Oct 2002
Its lunchtime on the following day and together with many of the staff from aka I'm sitting in the Cambie, a pub just up the road from the studio. Naturally, we're talking about the Eds again and many voices chip in, talking about the variety of material that fans of the show have sent into the studio. The message board on the Eddzone is also discussed along with the website's artwork and stories section these too the work fans whose age ranges from eight years old to adult.
Danny comments how amazed he is that so many of the fans are so knowledgeable about the show, its flattering and gratifying. He mentions the fact that the show seems more popular with girls than boys, or at least it does from aka 's feedback viewpoint, from mine at the Eddzone I say, I find the amount of fanmail and indeed contributions, art, stories etc to the site is pretty evenly matched. Danny is pleased by this.
The others drift back to work around 2pm leaving just Danny and myself at the pub and we talk about his own children, Tex and Marlowe whose sweet tooth has been an accidental source of cartoon inspiration. Asking Danny why the Eds tongues are such strange colours I learn that it came about at a time when he was working at his office and his sons along with a bunch of their pals burst in to see what he was doing. They had obviously been eating some weird candy for they all had tongues stained different bright colours - as do the Eds right now of course!
Danny's sons aren't considering animation or cartoons as a career right now, instead they're more into sports, a fact he admits initially was something of a real 'gut punch' but of course he smiles, there's still time for a change of direction.
Marlowe in fact has already made his mark in the animation world - he's the one responsible for the wonderful 'Fishbowl II' that colourful 'fishes on sticks' video seen many times on the show and so beloved by Eds and Kankers alike.
Animation is Danny's first love and it shows in his eyes and voice as he enthuses about the subject, he freely admits 'its my hobby and my life' and he's particularly infatuated with animation still done the traditional way as opposed to that made under the slowly encroaching tide of CGI. 'I like to think, I hope that there will always be people wanting to do traditional animation', he says, 'If not in the big studios then maybe even down in their basements. It won't die away for good. '
Danny advises me to try and see some animation expos for myself, 'There's some amazing talent out there' he insists as he explains the different styles he's encountered recently. He's particularly impressed with an animation made in the form of movie about a landscape, 'It was all done like a pin drawing' (think of those toy frames where you press on the pins at the back of the frame and the pins stand out in the same shape but in 3D effect at the front). 'It must have taken the guy who did it years to produce' says Danny. 'Amazing, but sitting, drawing the same scenes over and over would drive me nuts! But its all relative, I'm happy in my work and that's more important than anything else.'
There's nothing more to add.
Driving to Vancouver airport later that day, Dan Sioui the production manager at a.k.a talks about the Eds and their creator's steadfast refusal to be labelled. 'You can't put a label on Danny's work - he's unpredictable, he can't be pigeonholed and he can go anywhere he wants. No matter how fat the contract is, if he doesn't want to do it then he won't and you can't make him.'
I can only say that I wouldn't want it any other way.
You can read a dairy-style account of my visit to aka
back in October 2002HERE
The contents of this page are copyright of Kit R R Topp 2002-3
Please do not copy/ reproduce the material found on this page without first seeking permission.
Photograph property of Kit @ the eddzone.com
Caricature by Scott Underwood @ aka cartoon inc