The Boys of ‘Breadwinners’

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This month, Nickelodeon introduces viewers to the best-buddy heroes of its new 2D animated series Breadwinners: two booty-shaking ducks named SwaySway and Buhdeuce who run a bread delivery service in their awesome rocket-powered van. Created by Steve Borst (Teen Titans Go!, MAD) and Gary “Doodles” Di Raffaele (MAD, Metalocalypse) — who was discovered through Nick’s 2012 Animated Shorts Program — the 20-episode show combines rapid-fire humor with punchy designs and plenty of original music to keep tail feathers moving.

We managed to get the two creators/exec producers on the phone while they were busy preparing for Breadwinners‘ Feb. 17 launch, which will kick off with “Thug Loaf”, in which SwaySway and Buhdeuce lock their keys in the Rocket Van while delivering in the bad part of town, and must turn to a crew of Biker Ducks for help.

You also can check out our article in the March issue of Animation Magazine to learn about the show.

Animag: How did you two begin your creative collaboration?

Gary Di Raffaele: Me and Steve met at Warner Bros. Animation on MAD, and he was a writer and I was a storyboard, animator kinda guy.

Steve Borst: I started writing on MAD in May of 2010, and they rotate writers on and off so I knew Gary because he had been there from the beginning of 2010. Then, it was in November of 2011 — it’s kind of a funny story, I was in the coffee room getting coffee and Gary approached me …

Di Raffaele: I was so nervous! I was printing out my time card, and I noticed Steve and I said, “Hey, man, what are you doing when you’re not at work? Do you make cartoons outside of work?”

Borst: As if that’s a normal thing for any adult to be doing.

Di Raffaele: And he said, as a matter of fact, I do. And I said, well, maybe we can grab lunch and talk about our ideas and collaborate.

Borst: I felt like I was being asked out on a date! [Laughs] But, we sat down that November and checked out each other’s stuff. I saw some shorts Gary had made that were cool and fun and energetic, and we said, hey, let’s collaborate and see if we can make some cool stuff and pitch stuff around. Our creative chemistry was really awesome, and it kind of snowballed into pitching to Nickelodeon later on.

When did you come up with the concept for Breadwinners?

Di Raffaele: We spent several months coming up with ideas and developing things and writing little skits, doing little animations. Every year a bunch of my college buddies put together a screening thing [Mid Summer Night Toons]. … It was the perfect opportunity for me and Steve to try to come up with something that would show up in that screening.

Borst: It must have been February of 2012, we once again sat down pitching ideas, and Gary had a doodle of two ducks tossing up slices of bread in the air. We went back and forth on the characters, developing their voices and who they were, creating the basic idea of two ducks delivering bread in a rocket van. Based on that, I wrote the short and Gary spent two months jamming the thing out.

Is that similar to how you tackle the series production?

Di Raffaele: Steve’s the writer, I’m the artist — we’re two halves of one brain. I’ll come up with the drawings and he’ll elevate them, take them to the next level with names and personalities. We collaborate every step of the way. I’ll look at the script and give him comments, or I’ll do some animation and send it to him. … We’re always trying to crack the code and get the best thing we can make at all times.

One of the key words in the Breadwinners synopsis is “booty-shaking” — why?

Di Raffaele: We kind of developed a production process where the show is musically driven, with a constant beat going on. I ended up having [SwaySway and Buhdeuce the ducks] kind of dance to the beat throughout the episode and it became kind of infectious and “booty-shaking,” if you will.

Borst: And we like silliness, too. We’re silly. We like saying the word “booty.”

What influenced the show’s design?

Di Raffaele: I’m a big Flash guy. I think Flash is a really interesting and important tool for the animation industry. So, when I made the short originally, [the design] was based on the limitations of Flash. That sort of vector kind of aesthetic. Also, the old LucasArts videogames from back in the early ’90s were definitely an inspiration for the series’ art direction. It just so happened that Flash was a great tool use for that aesthetic, and it has this kind of videogame vibe.

I wanted something that felt like you’re looking at a cartoon — that’s why we do things like the black outline on the characters — something recognizable, but also fresh. For example, we have this pixel texture that we apply to the backgrounds and the characters have this kind of pixel shadow. There’s a lot of old school videogame nostalgia to the art direction. It’s this weird style that we’ve kind of stumbled into, but we definitely wanted that traditional kind of flavor.

Where is the animation produced?

Di Raffaele: We do all the preproduction at Nickelodeon Animation in Burbank — all the scripting and storyboarding, along with recording all the talent and creating music, and most of the designs, key art and characters. Titmouse in Vancouver is doing the animation, they’re bringing this really unique flavor of animation that I haven’t seen in a modern cartoon, ever. There’s really something very special that Breadwinners inspires in people. It’s also a result of enabling trust for the artists to do what they do.

What is your production flow like?

Di Raffaele: Steve and I, there’s not one thing that goes out of this office that doesn’t touch our hands. Since he’s a writer and I’m an artist, we can divide and conquer. We spend hours together on scripts, hours on the storyboards revising. Since the show is done digitally, I can go in and adjust the timing, redesign characters …. It’s a very clever project, but the heart and soul of it is Steve and I.

Borst: Gary and I also both kind of have our hands in everything. [Laughs] My focus is on the very first part of the premise: the premise, outline and scripts. I have several writers in-house who I work with. And I’ll sit down with Gary at every stage, and we will continually do our passes on the scripts.

Di Raffaele: We work together on the music, as well. Steve will write lyrics in the scripts and Tommy Sica, the composer [who also did the music for the original short], and I will write a riff or a melody and we’ll include it. Almost every episode we have has a little song in it. It’s super fun when you get to pull in all the things you love. Like, there’s an old school rock ballad in episode six, there’s some hip-hop …

Do you have a favorite moment from the show (so far) you can share with us?

Borst: Like the song that Gary mentioned, there’s a longer song in an episode entitled “Employee of the Month” and it’s like, the entire third act. It’s like two-and-a-half minutes long, and it’s very silly and heartfelt.

Di Raffaele: Every episode describes what Breadwinners is about, and there’s a different flavor and tone to each one. I don’t think we’ve repeated ourselves yet, and we’re up to 22 episodes or so. I think the greatest moments of the show are when people start seeing it and they’re trying to reach for the nearest Kleenex and then they’re like, why am I crying at a cartoon?! These characters transcend more than their 2-D genetic makeup, they’re actually alive.

Borst: At the end of the day, the show is about two best friends. We want it to be funny and silly, but also want to capture the heartfelt relationship between these two guys. Every episode is like our baby, and now we have like 40 babies that we have to raise simultaneously!

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  Pictured: Steve Borst and Gary "Doodles" Di Raffaele (in grey sweatshirt), creators and producers of BREADWINNERS with (second frm left) Robbie Daymond, the voice of SwaySway and Eric Bauza (plaid shirt), the voice of Buhdeuce  at the BREADWINNERS Screening on February 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 04: Pictured: Steve Borst and Gary “Doodles” Di Raffaele (in grey sweatshirt), creators and producers of BREADWINNERS with (second frm left) Robbie Daymond, the voice of SwaySway and Eric Bauza (plaid shirt), the voice of Buhdeuce at the BREADWINNERS Screening on February 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  Pictured: Steve Borst and Gary "Doodles" Di Raffaele (in grey sweatshirt), creators and producers of BREADWINNERS, with (center) Tommy Sica, music composer at the BREADWINNERS Screening on February 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 04: Pictured: Steve Borst and Gary “Doodles” Di Raffaele (in grey sweatshirt), creators and producers of BREADWINNERS, with (center) Tommy Sica, music composer at the BREADWINNERS Screening on February 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  Pictured: Jenna Boyd, SVP, Animation Developement,  Russell Hicks, President, Content Development and Production,  Rich Magallanes, SVP, Nickelodeon Animation, Current Series at the BREADWINNERS Screening on February 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 04: Pictured: Jenna Boyd, SVP, Animation Developement, Russell Hicks, President, Content Development and Production, Rich Magallanes, SVP, Nickelodeon Animation, Current Series at the BREADWINNERS Screening on February 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  Pictured: Steve Borst and Gary "Doodles" Di Raffaele (in grey sweatshirt), creators and producers of BREADWINNERS, Russell Hicks, (center) President, Content Development and Production,at the BREADWINNERS Screening on February 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 04: Pictured: Steve Borst and Gary “Doodles” Di Raffaele (in grey sweatshirt), creators and producers of BREADWINNERS, Russell Hicks, (center) President, Content Development and Production,at the BREADWINNERS Screening on February 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  Pictured: Steve Borst and Gary "Doodles" Di Raffaele (in grey sweatshirt), creators and producers of BREADWINNERS, Jerry Beck and  Rich Magallanes, SVP, Nickelodeon Animation, Current Series at the BREADWINNERS Screening on February 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 04: Pictured: Steve Borst and Gary “Doodles” Di Raffaele (in grey sweatshirt), creators and producers of BREADWINNERS, Jerry Beck and Rich Magallanes, SVP, Nickelodeon Animation, Current Series at the BREADWINNERS Screening on February 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)