With offices in Los Angeles, New York and Vancouver, indie studio Titmouse puts its special touch on a wide variety of popular toons.
Behind the ivy-covered walls of a large contemporary building near West Hollywood, there’s a statue of Big Foot and one of the most edgy and prolific animation studios in town known as Titmouse.
The company named for a sweet little bird was once just all about making t-shirts until co-founders (and husband and wife) Chris and Shannon Prynoski realized they could make bank and have fun creating animation. Nearly two decades later, their business has grown to include offices in New York, Vancouver and Los Angeles. These days, more than 400 animators, compositors, storyboard artists, writers and editors work in-house for the studio.
If you stop by their website, you’ll see a simple statement: “We make cartoons.” But the type of work and style of animation show a company doing that and so much more. The work covers a wide range—from edgy shows like The Venture Bros. and Son of Zorn to Disney’s Kirby Buckets. Khang Le, an art director with the company, just received an Emmy for Individual Achievement in Animation for work on the Amazon show Little Big Awesome. The studio’s first animated feature, Nerdland, which features the voices of Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt, is now on Netflix.
This past summer, Titmouse also produced a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Summer Short and completed character animation on a JAY-Z video. Meanwhile, the team’s stunning third-season trailer for Rick and Morty (“Exquisite Corpse”) has already racked up over 4.1 million views on YouTube. Among other recent credits are children’s shows such as Disney’s Goldie & Bear and Amazon’s Niko and the Sword of Light. The studio is also expanding into virtual reality projects that incorporate Google’s Tilt Brush audio reactive brushes.
“I think it was definitely word of mouth, because I started out doing a lot of stuff individually, and I worked with MTV doing more adult animation,” says Chris Prynoski. “From there you have a lot of stuff that shows a certain kind of animation so you tend to get more of that work.”
As the company grew and Prynoski started pitching more kids’ shows, that became a larger part of what Titmouse focused on. But they didn’t drop their signature approach even when moving away from adult animation for other projects.
“I think we have more of a house sensibility than a house style, based on the feedback we get on social media,” says Prynoski. “There’s a little something in our humor or the way we do things that’s different somehow.”
“When I was in high school, my best friend and I would shoot little movies and things. He decided he was going to NYU to go to film school and that made me think that the drawing I was doing and the movies I was making could be a job,” says Prynoski. “So, when I was a senior I started making little animated movies and I got into the School of Visual Arts in New York.”
Beavis and Butt-Head Open Doors
After Prynoski graduated in 1994, the industry was going through an adult animation boom, so he found work on projects such as Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, Freddy Got Fingered and Liquid Television. The time he spent with director Mike Judge while working on Beavis and Butt-Head gave him a glimpse into running animated productions and where he’d like to take his skills later. He says he discovered early on that it wasn’t his diploma from art school that would take him places. He would need to use his skills as an animator, producer and creator to build a career and a business.
As the business has grown, Prynoski and the management team have had to accept that they can’t always be the ones to directly work on each and every project. They’ve grown the company in a way that makes it possible to have skilled artists on each show.
“These guys are so key to the running of the studio and to me, they became indispensable,” says Prynoski. “With somebody like Antonio Canobbio (VP and creative director for Titmouse) and the rest of our officers, we have a group that can handle anything that comes our way, and we’re better with the input of all these artists.”
The studio continues to create shows that reflect its beginnings. Its work on Netflix’s new series Big Mouth—co-created by comedian/actor Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg (Family Guy) and writer/directors Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin (Little Manhattan)—relies on a more simple style of animation.
“To make the sincere and serious moments feel genuine, we designed Big Mouth’s universe to feel real and relatable,” says Otto Tang, art director for Titmouse and the show. “The backgrounds are drawn with a bit more maturity and sophistication, compared to the exaggerated proportion of our character designs. This gives a lot more space for the writing to jump between absurd comedy and serious heartfelt subject matter. The art direction for this show isn’t something audiences will pay attention to. But it will be felt beneath, sort of like the bass line of a song.”
Goldberg has been thrilled with Titmouse’s work on the show. “Titmouse really has a way of doing things that supports artists exploring how they create a show,” says Goldberg. “You see how much they want to be just right for what you’re trying to do, so you always have a feeling that they’re giving everything.”
Prynoski sees the current adult animation boom as part of his Beavis and Butt-Head fans getting older but still having a taste for the renegade humor that made that show such a big part of pop culture in the 1990s. The audience may be aging, but their sensibilities still leave them craving similar shows. With more streaming services hungry for animated content these days, the demand for what Titmouse can bring to these projects has also multiplied.
“It’s a great time for animation and for us to be in the animation business because there’s definitely an audience for the kind of work we do,” says Prynoski. “It’s great to be part of making the shows we want to watch.”
For more info about the studio, visit www.titmouse.net.
Hormonal Change Comedy
Big Mouth Offers an Animated Snapshot of Puberty
In the premiere episode of the new Netflix original animated series Big Mouth, pubescent boys Nick and Andrew find themselves simultaneously embarrassed and fascinated by their changing bodies and the hormone monster that threatens to remake their entire lives. If this makes you think of your own journey through the seventh grade, there’s good reason for that. The scene comes by its authenticity because it’s based on the childhoods of real best friends Andrew Goldberg (Family Guy) and Nick Kroll (The Kroll Show) and their experiences as they went through puberty at completely different rates.
“Andrew is pretty much the same height as he was in the seventh grade and I’m a foot taller,” says Kroll. “For me, it didn’t really start until high school, and by then I’d felt frustrated about not changing much for a long time.”
The 10-part series, which debuted on September 29, was created by Kroll, Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett (who created the romantic comedy Little Manhattan). All of the collaborators added bits and pieces of their own personal experiences to the series.
Naturally, topics like hormonal changes, female sexuality and sexual arousal became part of the discussion in the writer’s room. Many told stories from their own lives that became incorporated into the show or the central idea for an episode of the first season. Kroll and Goldberg both focused on making the shows funny as well as honest and real— despite the possibly excruciating memories they and the other writers might have to recall while creating the work.
“We made sure that everyone understood our writer’s room was a safe space so we could talk about these ideas in a way that made everyone comfortable,” says Goldberg. “Once we all felt okay—like we could talk about these topics —we right away developed a lot of ideas, like the Hormone Monster character, for example.”
Kroll says he immediately knew he wanted to voice the Hormone Monster with a scratchy, growling tone since it would pop up (no pun intended) at the most inopportune times to taunt and tempt the male characters on the show. As in life, the boys aren’t the only ones trying to ride out the biological storms that start in junior high school. Maya Rudolph gives a saucy, naughty voice to the Hormone Monstress as she brings Jessi through female puberty.
The show’s subject matter also lured actors John Mulaney, Fred Armisen, Jenny Slate, Jordan Peele, Jason Mantzoukas and Jessi Klein into the hormonal fray.
“Nick basically cast this show from his cell phone,” says Goldberg. “He went through and reached out to all these people and asked if they were interested, and luckily they were — I think because this is something we’ve all gone through and, in many ways, we’re all still dealing with the experiences that happened to us around that time.”
All 10 episodes of Big Mouth are available to stream on Netflix this month.