With two hit series on the air, Bob Boyle barely has enough time to dream up new show ideas, much less talk to reporters about his humble beginnings, his burgeoning career and his love of titular exclamation points. Nonetheless, we managed to nail the toon creator down long enough to get a glimpse into the mind behind Disney’s delightfully twisted Yin Yang Yo! and Nickelodeon’s just plain delightful Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!, which just got nominated for a 2006 Annie Award for Best Animated Television Production. Boyle himself was also nominated for his production design on the series.
Animation Magazine Online: We hear that when you first came to Los Angeles to get your career started you called up [Ren & Stimpy creator] John Kricfalushi?
Bob Boyle: I knew no one in L.A. at all. Well, actually, I knew one person and he just happened to know John K’s phone number. That’s the one guy who inspired me to get into animation. I called him coldly when he had just been fired from =I>The New Adventures of Beany and Cecil over at DIC. He picked up the phone and said, ‘Yeah, come on over.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing! Your hero’s inviting you into his home.’ He was great. He sat down and looked at my horrible, horrible, awful portfolio.
AMO: At that point, what did your portfolio consist of?
BB: Before I came out to L.A. I was in New York doing editorial illustration for like the New York Times Book Review, very serious sort of dark, brooding kind of New York things. I came out to get into animation and had this portfolio with awful character designs and my original little storyboard stories that I would come up with. It was really pretty awful. I wish I could find it, actually, because it’s pretty amazing how far I’ve come.
So he took my portfolio and took a piece of paper and actually started drawing over my drawings, drawing over the shapes, and started drawing Warner Bros. cartoons, I remember he was drawing Porky Pig and showing how the characters were really constructed because I really liked stylized designs but there was really no structure to it and they just came off looking flat and not quite right. So he gave me a tutrial, almost like a little character design course right there. It was great, I was blown away. Then he invited me over for a poker game that night with a bunch of guys from Warner Bros.’this was pre-Ren & Stimpy and pre-Spumco’and there were names that I vaguely remembered from reading the credits of cartoons that I liked. I got to be in the inner circle and see how it all works and I was just mortified.
I’ve heard horrible stories about John K., how he treats people poorly, chews people out and is hard on people, but I must have caught him at the right moment and it was great. It really opened my eyes.
AMO: Did that give you a foot in the door?
BB: It didn’t, not with him personally. But I got my Warner Bros. book out and started drawing Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. My portfolio got mildly better and I was lucky enough to get a job at Film Roman when they were a very small company of about 25 people. I was hired on for some reason as a character designer on Bobby’s World, the Howie Mandel show, and spent the next six months thinking I’m going to get fired, they’re going to catch onto me. But it was a great place to learn because it was so small and it was the kind of place where they said, ‘We need someone to do freelance background design,’
and I said ‘I’ll do it.’
‘Now we need someone to paint the backgrounds.’
‘Can I do it!’
I was there for like seven years. That was the early ’90s and most of the cartoons were things based on existing properties or that had celebrities attached to them. At Film Roman you had Garfield, Felix the Cat, Bobby’s World ‘ Then in ’97 Fred Seibert started doing his Oh Yeah! Cartoons and it was the first time in forever that artists were actually getting to create their own cartoons for TV. Luckilly, I got hired to work on [that] and met a bunch of great people there’Butch Hartman, Rob Renzetti, Dave Wasson, of course Steve Marmel’and all those guys went on to do great stuff. It was inspiring to be around a group of people who were really passionate and driven to work on their own stuff.
AMO: And so when Butch created The Fairy OddParents he brought you along?
BB: On Oh Yeah! we would pitch our own cartoons and hopefully get to do those and, in between, you would help out with other people’s projects. While I was developing my pitch I was helping Butch do storyboards and designs because he did a number of Fairly OddParents shorts for Oh Yeah! before it became a series. So we built a relationship there and when it went to series he asked me to be art director and I jumped at that. We spoke the same language and I learned quite a bit from him. Then I met Steve [Marmel, head writer and exec producer of Yin Yang Yo!] on Fairly OddParent and Danny Phantom.
AMO: Now you’re the creator and exec producer of two new hit shows. What’s it been like having two series come out at relatively the same time?
BB: It’s a real blessing, obviously. It all kind of happened at once and it’s been the busiest, craziest year of my life. Luckily the timing worked out so that Steve could work on Yin Yang Yo! He’s really been the one who’s allowed me to do both. Wubbzy! is my day job. I’m here during the day, and I sneak away for meetings at Disney through the underground tunnel [laughs]. There’s lots of back and forth, especially early on. On the first six episodes of Yin Yang Yo! I was back and forth all the time because we were trying to establish what it was going to be and all that. Once we figured it all out, Steve and I sort of have the same mind meld and it was great to have him there and know that things were taken care of.
AMO: How do these two shows differ fundamentally in you opinion?
BB: Wubbzy!‘s a preschool show. It’s very soft and warm and has a real gentle heart to it and Yin Yang Yo! is the extreme opposite. It’s a comedy-action-adventure that’s very wisecracking and has a lot of smartass humor. Basically, it’s night and day. But at the heart of it, you’re still trying to communicate and tell stories. On a preschool show, you have to be more deliberate in how you tell the stories and deliver the ideas and think about what topics preschoolers might have a tough time with. Then, on Yin Yang Yo!, we just let it fly’anything goes. And there’s a lot more adult humor. But Wubbzy! has really resonated with parents as well. It’s hopefully the knd of show where parents can sit down and watch with their kids and not be nauseated. I’d never done preschool before this so I sat down and watched a bunch of shows and went, ‘Wow! I’m so bored.’ The thing with Wubbzy! is it’s not developmental so we’re not trying to teach anything. We’re just trying to be entertaining and I try to tell stories that make me laugh.
AMO: Thinking back to being in New York and aspiring to be in the animation business, has the experience met your expectations? What’s different from what you imagined?
BB: Living in New York is hard enough but making a living as an artist’ I was actually having to work at the Marriot as a bellman and would have to run out to job interviews at the New York Times and prey they wouldn’t laugh at my stupid little outfit. But I guess the collaboration and the openness of the community has been a little more than I expected. I think animation people are so helpful and willing to help others. At least I’ve been lucky enough to be around those types of people. Also, I guess I’m surprised by how many other talents people in the animation industry have. They either want to make their own show or do paintings on the side or do books, do comic books, do music’ And this is the one place where they all come from around the world. It’s just amazing.
AMO: Are there other avenues which you would like to channel your creativity into? Feature films?
BB: Maybe eventually. That would be a great opportunity. Definitely children’s books. I’m working on a couple of children’s books at this time. That’s actually how Wubbzy got started and it’s something I’d really love to explore.
AMO: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into the animation industry and reach the position you’re in?
BB: I would just say just keep at it and ask questions. Don’t be shy. Like I said, people are really wiling to help and if you ask for that help they’re more than willing to sit down and go over your drawings and help out in any way they can. And I think that with today’s technology there are really no excuses. When I came out here, there were no animation classes if you didn’t go to Cal Arts. There are even online drawing lessons now. With all these blogs’on John K.’s blog [(johnkstuff.blogspot.com)] now he’s giving away all this great information and with Flash technology you can basically learn on the intenet and have your own animation studio through the computer. There are no limitations, which is just mind-blowing!
Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! can be seen on Nickelodeon during the Nick Jr. preschool programming block, which airs weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (ET/PT) and is carried by CBS on weekends. Jetix series Yin Yang Yo! airs on Toon Disney weekdays at 9:30 a.m and 7:30 p.m., and on weekends at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.