John is responsible for development and marketing for ka-chew’s animated commercials group. Previously he spent five years at MTV, where he was named Vice President/Animation in 1995. Andrews produced the popular MTV series Beavis and Butt-Head, co-produced its feature film spin-off and supervised The Maxx, Aeon Flux, The Head, and Daria. In addition, he was responsible for the management of MTV’s in-house animation studio. A 20-year production veteran, prior to MTV, Andrews spent 7 years as a Producer/Creative Consultant at Alvin H. Perlumutter, Inc. There he earned three Emmy Awards and five Emmy nominations for his work on the groundbreaking PBS/WNET business series Adam Smith, and also produced animation for various other PBS projects.
What brought you into the world of animation and what medium do you most like to work in?
I came in to animation working in mixed media at an audiovisual company. We did TV titles and promos as well as slide shows, sixteen millimeter industrial films and all sorts of corporate work. The first "animations" I was involved in were in the Monty Python tradition, involving manipulating stills and illustration. A real animator might call that motion graphics. I still like motion graphics and we do a lot of it here at ka-chew. My trajectory into the world of animation as a producer has been a gradual learning process which thankfully started with limited animation, ie Beavis & Butt-Head & Daria, led into more full animation, ie The Head, The Maxx, Aeon Flux and the Beavis movie and then into the worlds of full traditional animation and CGI that I’ve experienced in the commercials. At every juncture, my next step has been appropriate to my level of knowledge at that point and taken me quite naturally to a new challenge.
Animation techniques are slowly breaking away from the traditional 2D ways of Walt and Chuck. What is your take on the future of 2D and traditional animators?
Of the existing community the best animators will have work. Some will stay in the game as directors, story board artists and animation consultants in both CGI and 2D projects. Others will apply their skills directly to new technologies. 2D will continue to be a hugely important part of an animators training, particularly if the person seeks to rise to the director level.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 12 years since we were all introduced to Beavis and Butt-head. Tell us what it was like to work on the show. How did you come up with all the wacky ideas and plotlines? Why do you think the show was such a hit with audiences?
The primary thing that made B&B work was that Mike Judge had a clear vision of his creation. He absolutely knew what his characters would and wouldn’t say and he absolutely knew what he wanted his cartoons to look like. He communicated a lot of this to me, often just by his gut reactions to scripts and drawings. I made sure that I conveyed what I understood to be Mike’s vision to every writer I brought into the series and every artist we hired. Because the vision was so clear, our team of writers, directors, and artists got it and stuck to it for the most part once we got on a secure path.
David Silverman once told me that at the beginning of the Simpsons he and Wes Archer would look over each other’s shoulders and say "How are you drawing Homer?. The first season of Beavis, before we brought it into MTV in-house was a bit like that, very inconsistent. I think some of the artists thought that the way to draw the characters was just to draw badly, rather than to recognize that it was a style, just like the Flinstones or Simpsons, and the characters were meant to look and act a certain way.
The plot lines were pitched by the writers and the ones that fit the characters, and didn’t disobey certain rules– like the fact that we never introduced parental figures in the series, never took Beavis & Butt-Head out of Highland and never revealed whose house they were in, stuff like that — are the ones that got made. Also, there was something about Mike Judge’s voice acting that really drew the characters out and the audience in. He revolutionized voice acting for cartoons and took it away from stock cartoon voices into the realm of funny caricatures of recognizable types. Everything in Beavis & Butt-Head was meant by Mike to closely mirror and parody things that the audience would recognize from real life. Rather than having his burger restaurant look something stylized out of the fifties, Mike wanted it to look just like the places that our audience bought their burgers.
Since music videos filled up half of the 22-minute-long episodes of Beavis and Butt-head, how was the animation process different from your other projects? How fast would you get through an episode compared to Beavis and Butt-head Do America and are you using the same techniques on your projects today?
I outlined the original rundown of the Beavis & Butt-Head half hours and my idea was that you could mix up the story lines with the secondary timeline of the two of them watching the videos and that the audience would follow the stories and enjoy the video interruptions. In later years I found that people often reference the videos when telling me that for instance they really liked that episode where Henry Rollins puffs up his neck in the video. Since we produced the video segments totally separately from the cartoons I have almost no memory of which video eventually got cut into which episode.
One thing I brought along from the Beavis days is never to be overly precious with the work. Do the best you can but respect the budget and the schedule. I used to tell our artists to give Mike anything he asked for in terms of changes but at the same time I had a rule that we would never do creative retakes of more than 10% of our total footage. This had to be in order to keep on the highly aggressive schedule MTV gave us for airing. When we started Beavis, MTV wanted a five-day a week show. I realized very quickly that the only way to do that was to mix up new or "premiering" cartoons with reruns in every half hour. This was a hard thing for the accounting department to understand because they depreciate inventory based on premier dates but some how I got it through.
You were involved in the character design of Daria and later oversaw the series. Could you tell us a little about how you came up with the look and personality of one of the most sullen animated high-school characters?
I drew the very first Daria. Mike was not super comfortable with drawing females and I gave it a shot. I had a couple of little tricks that involved simplifying features which I thought worked to make a girl character look feminine. They end up making her look slightly Asian as well. JJ Sedelmaier took my drawing to his studio where I believe Tom Warburton, now know as the creator of Code Name Kids Next Door, did some versions. Mike Judge then redrew the character with his line style and made some further tweaks. Personality-wise Mike had in mind the daughter from Rosanne. There was also a bit of Janine Garofalo. The character Daria was originally conceived by the Beavis writing team to address a criticism from Judy McGrath, who was head of the channel, that there were no smart people and no girl characters in the show. So the time saving solution was to take care of two birds with one stone. The name Daria seemed to fit. You’d have to ask Mike or our executive producer Abby Terkuhle or somebody else where it came from. I think her last name Morgendorfer was writer David Felton’s mom’s maiden name.
Later when we updated the character and gave her own series, I polled the development team on whether she ought to live in the world of Beavis & Butt-Head or move to her own new world. The latter idea won out. Then I suggested that we should design a new look for the character and art direct the new series in a drawing style that would appeal to the teenage female audience that found the look of Beavis & Butt-Head too male.
MTV artists like Edward Artinian, Willy Hartland and Karen Disher designed the characters and came up with the line look. Producer, Susie Lewis, who knew teen culture, had a lot of input in the style of clothing and other details. Glenn Eichler, who also wrote on Beavis, headed up the writing team and developed a tone somewhat in the style of My So-called Life which had recently impressed us all during its run on MTV. Artists like Karen Hyden and Mike Zod defined the bg line and the color styling with its clean cel paint approach.
These days, you work on a lot of animated commercial spots. How is that experience different from working on animated series for television?
Well the great thing is that I get to work with a bunch of great directors with a broad range of styles. I find interesting people and I market them to the ad agency community and eventually the work starts coming in. The projects are fast, usually just a few weeks to a few months and then you’reon to new stuff. It really suits my attention span! I have done it for several years now and I still love it. After the Beavis movie, I interviewed in features. Everyone was interested in meeting a guy who had co-produced (with Abby Terkuhle) a successful and profitable animated film. But nobody really wanted to follow our model of taking our TV property to the big screen while staying true to the simplicity of the original and enhancing it as economically as possible. South Park followed that formula to great success. Also, we did our movie in a year. Typical animated features go three or for years and often go through multiple production teams. It started to look like hell to me and I bounced to the other extreme, the thirty-second spot!
We hear that you are very helpful when it comes time to give talks and lectures to art classes and schools. What advice do you give the young animators of the world based on your own experiences so far in this industry?
Decide what you want to be. Is it a director in a small studio? Is it the head of layout at Pixar? There are many different paths and you should identify where your skills and interests lie and figure out how to get there. And don’t delude yourself that it’s going to be easy. Get the training appropriate to your goals.
What would you like to be doing in a few years from now? Would you like to work on another feature or a TV series? What would be your ideal project?
A series would be great but it has to be the right one, one I develop with my buddies or something that comes up that just knocks me out. I loved Kid Notorious. I love South Park. My favorite live shows are The Office, both versions, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. I’m not into making kids shows at all. Maybe if I have kids that will change or if someone I really want to work with is behind it. Personally I’d love to write and sell a movie script. Everything I do comes out black comedy and for years that has been a no-no to development people. Mark Cherry who created Desperate Housewives said he shopped it as a black comedy for years until he finally thought to call it a soap! So yeah, a movie soap.
How do you feel about the lovely Charlize Theron starring in the live-action version of Aeon Flux, MTV’s animated series you worked on in 1995? Since you were so close to the show, don’t you wish the feature was actually animated?
Of course. I think they really missed the boat by not doing a big animated film. However the proof will be in whether they capture the mood of storytelling and action of the original and some of the manner in which it addresses subjects of truth and deception, loyalty and betrayal symbolically through the bazaar mix of sexuality, violence, and poetry that marked the series and the original shorts. The plots were like elaborate tea rituals, difficult to decode, but riveting in their oddness. I had a fantastic time working with Peter and the writing team. My challenge was to convince MTV that they were getting something comprehensible enough while protecting Peter to create something as close as possible to his vision. Haven’t seen the movie yet so don’t want to judge it.
Which five animated DVD’s would you take on your deserted island hideaway, if you could also carry a DVD player with you?
South Park Bigger Longer Uncut
Looney Toons Volume II (mine is on laser disc!)
Which animated show will be playing 24/7 in your version of hell?
Sorry to say Father of the Pride, although I like the Siegfried and Roy characters and my girl likes some of the animal designs. Not funny.