Before YouTube debuted with countless videos of dudes getting kicked in the coin purse, one of the hottest things on the Internet was Laid Off, a series of animated shorts about a guy in a blue bathrobe who reflects on his joblessness. The short webtoons were created by Todd Rosenberg, who was able to draw from personal experience when he was laid off from his business development job at AtomFilms in 2000. Turning adversity into lemon-flavored adversity, Todd used his time off to pursue his dream of becoming a cartoonist. He launched www.oddtodd.com and soon his comical, animated adventures in unemployment were being viewed by people everywhere. In 2003, Warner Books published The Odd Todd Handbook: Hard Times, Soft Couch, and a year later Comedy Central signed on make a half-hour series, which was eventually shelved. However, the network is keeping the character going by commissioning new shorts for its Motherload broadband outlet. Based out of New York City, Todd has also written a script for a live-action sit-com based on the property, which is in development at Paramount Television. On top of that, he’s creating animation for ABC News, and he’s doing it all without the aid of pants.
Animation Magazine Online: Tell us more about the cartoons you’re making for ABC News.
Todd Rosenberg: Every month or two on either World News Tonight or Nightline when they have a story that’s either kind of humorous or scientific or is kind of dry and takes a lot of explanation, I do a cartoon for it. It’s usually the thing at the end of the news like where Charlie Gibson says, ‘ Have you ever wondered this’?’ So that’s a freelance-type gig I do to pay the bills.
AMO: How did you get hooked up with ABC? Did they see your shorts and contact you?
TR: There’s one correspondent/producer guy over the named Robert Krulwich who saw one of my cartoons years ago. He’s the kind of guy who does more alternative news stories. He asked me what I was doing and we got together and started thinking about stuff. He was working on a piece about the price of gasoline, comparing a gallon of gasoline, which a the time cost about $3, to the price of a gallon of Starbucks coffee, which could be like $35. I animated along with that story and it worked out really well and the ABC people loved it. It’s been a very good, on-going relationship with him and I’ve done some other work for people at ABC as well. It’s sort of weird when you’re watching the news and then there’s something I made while I sat in my underwear.
AMO: How will the live-action Paramount show differ from the animated shorts?
TR: To be honest, it’s kind of a departure from the cartoons. It has the same sensibility in terms of what the overall tone of who the character is, but it’s not necessarily a blue-robed, unemployed character. It’s more just sort of a guy who is trying to find his way in the world, not sure what he wants to do in terms of getting serious with life and all that sort of stuff.
AMO: What’s it like working with Comedy Central?
TR: They’re actually really great. As disappointing as it was that the show didn’t make it to air, they were very cool about things in general. They’re really open minded in terms of saying ‘Do what you want.’ Now that I can embed Motherload cartoons on my own website, I’m more comfortable about it because the first time around it was like, ‘Hey, here’s my website! Now you have to go to Motherload to watch my cartoons.’ And the site was just launching, so there were some problems with it and it was a little frustrating, but I think they’ve hammered out the kinks.
AMO: How long does it take you to do one of your animated shorts for Motherload?
TR: The first round I think I did 11 cartoons for their launch and did them in I think it was 14 weeks. I usually don’t work that fast. Frankly, I’m lazy so that was the first time I really had to push myself to be working constantly to keep up. The fortunate thing is, in terms of my animation style, it’s basically simplistic because I’m limited skill wise. I like the way it looks and all that, but it actually makes things go a little bit quicker. The thing that takes the most time is I usually make the cartoons very long and then it’s cutting it back and cutting it back and then finally putting the voice-over on a tweaking it. The animation is actually the shortest part for me.
AMO: The simplistic, kind of minimalist looks really adds to the popularity of the Odd Todd brand, doesn’t it?
TR: Yeah, absolutely. I kind of go back and forth. The Laid Off cartoons are usually pretty simplistic, but when I do my Halloween cartoons ‘ this year’s was pretty animated because I can’t resist wanting to have monsters running around and stuff like that, and really get a scare in. I’m sort of learning how to animate, frankly, so I can’t resist wanting to make things look a little more animated. The cartoons I do for ABC are usually a bit more involved as well, in terms of more colors and things like flesh tones. Occasionally I’ll dabble in the dreaded lip synch, which I have yet to master at all.
AMO: What software do you animate in?
TR: Flash. For a while I was doing everything in Flash MX, which is an older version. The stuff that I use is maybe about 5% of what the whole program can do, so the more robust the program got, the more confusing it got for me, so I stopped upgrading. But I finally just gave in because I work with some other people on stuff sometimes and I just needed an updated version. I have succumbed to the latest version of Flash but I was trying to hold off because they were burying my favorite buttons.
AMO: There’s a lot of emphasis on mobile these days. Everyone’s looking for content and it seems that you’re in a really good position to deliver on that end. How do you see that whole market?
TR: It’s definitely a market. There’s so much content out there and so many people running at the same goal. It’s something I’m interested in but haven’t gotten into. A reason may be that I’m lazy. And it’s still just me running the show around here, so I’m just kind of happy to be paying my bills and stuff like that. But it’s interesting to think about what things are going to be like ten years from now. If you go back five or six years from now, people were laughing at the idea of watching video on the net because of the streaming and buffering. The way cell phones have their problems now, it’s going to be the same thing. As the younger people are growing up being comfortable with watching things on smaller screens, there’s going to be a real turning point when these kids start being able to buy these gadgets.
AMO: Are you branching out from the Laid Off character and creating other properties?
TR: Yeah. I have two desires and one of them is to develop a kids’ show that I have in mind and another is to develop a completely twisted horror-type animated thing. I guess it all depends on if I’m feeling good or bad. There’s a bunch of things I’m looking to do. Paying the bills sometimes gets in the way of what I’d like to focus on, but I’ve been happy to be able to try different things and keep the animation going. I think for a while now I’m going to be focusing on animation because when I get too far away from it I feel weird. In terms of how productive I am, it comes in waves. I think there’s going to be another wave coming toward the summer’most likely Motherload-sponsored stuff but there’s a game in development, too. One thing that’s really popular on my site is my Cook-ay Slots, which is a slot machine where you can win imaginary cookies and there are a lot of cartoons built into the game. I’m planning to build more games like that. A friend of mine, who does a site called ae4rv.com, he does the programming. I would really love to build a much, much bigger game, sort of like the Game of Life with the blue robe character, but when you have no budget, which is what I have, it’s kind of difficult to build the bigger games.
I could be hoping that this works out or that works out or whatever, but the fact that I’m sitting here being able to make a living drawing cartoons’and right now I am actually in my underwear’is just great. I was one of those guys who was a salesman for like eight or ten years and doing cartoons when I got home, sending out newspaper strips and things like that and just getting all these rejection letters. So the Idea of being laid off leading to this, giving me the time to focus on it and figure out a path for it, is a good thing.
To enter the unique world of Odd Todd, go to www.oddtodd.com or watch the shorts at www.comedycentral.com/shows/odd_todd.