Interview: Animator Mike Scott Talks Disney And Africa
Animator Mike Scott is riding high on his successfully released Disney licensed short A Dogshow With Cat. The show is the first result of last year’s pan-African Story Lab hosted by South Africa’s Triggerfish Animation Studios, which also featured Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu’s The Camel Racer.
If you’ve seen the YouTube teaser for A Dogshow With Cat, you’ll agree that it’s awesome- kiff, Mike would say (a South African slang word for ‘cool’).
Mike is now one of the few animators from the African continent to have worked projects with both The Walt Disney Company and Nickelodeon. We caught up with him and asked him about the state of African animation, whether it’s ready to get indelicate, and working with Electronic Music band Goldfish.
How does it feel to be a Disney creator?
Pretty kiff . Lucky, bewildered, inspired.
How would you compare this experience with that of Nickelodeon?
Fairly similar in that both meant developing a kids show that I create with Triggerfish. Both are awesome opportunities, both provided lots of support where I wanted it, and both have the potential to be series. I’m not sure one is better than the other. We’re still busy with Disney so it’s hard to compare. Hopefully one or both of them go to series.
Dogshow With Cat is quite different from Moosebox, from the animation style to the pacing. Were you deliberately going for that?
Yep, Moosebox is pretty frenetic and I purposefully went with a slower pacing for A Dogshow with Cat. We had two minutes to tell a story for the Moosebox pilot, so some of the hyper pacing was making sure we were able to showcase the characters, their relationships and the world in such a short time.
We had up to five minutes for the Disney short, and I was keen to let things ‘breathe’ this time around. The style is also different - where Moosebox is meant to be a homage to early videogames with its 16-bit pixel sprites, A Dogshow With Cat is full frame-by-frame 2D animation with hand-drawn backgrounds. We had a small but talented team of people working on A Dogshow With Cat.
Was the Dogshow With Cat idea born at the Triggerfish Story Lab?
Yes. It was borne out of my original show Bru & Boegie that was optioned by Triggerfish and Disney and that was later taken off the table for various reasons. Together with Raffaella Delle Donne and Anthony Silverston from Triggerfish and input from Nicole Paglia (a story editor from Disney who’s worked on Gumball), and Orion Ross from Disney (VP of content for Disney EMEA), we developed the show. The extra animators we brought on also contributed story ideas for the short. It was one big team effort.
Doggy Poggy has gone from cameos in The Bru & Boegie Show to starring in his own show too?
They look similar, but for various IP reasons they’re two different dogs . They may be cousins. Yes, Doggy Poggy started out as a normal dog that lives with Bru & Boegie, but when we made the dog and cat the main characters of the show, Doggy Poggy came into his own and became his own character. He feels like a human trapped in a dog’s body - a sophisticated dog trying his best to be a good boy.
What inspired Catlyn’s character?
Catlyn’s back-story is that she’s a street cat who’s ‘seen some stuff’ and her best friend Doggy Poggy is helping her get back on her feet. He loves her as a friend and it’s in his nature to want to help. Catlyn’s a frenetic, strung-out cat who is determined to put her feral life behind her and instead channels her energy into a new obsession every few days.
She’s addicted to late-night infomercials and gets interested in new activities every few days - last week she came first in a 48-hour crocheting marathon. The previous week it was duct-tape origami. Unlike Doggy Poggy, she’s accepted her ‘feral’ side and isn’t trying to rise above her animal nature like Doggy Poggy.
I think what partly inspired us are real cats. When my one cat Harry is sitting in his special chair, Angie jumps up and knocks him off so she can sit there. She’s a little selfish. Harry also sleeps in a particular spot for a few days and then finds a new favourite place, it’s kind of the fickleness of Catlyn’s new obsession every few days. If there’s a loud noise, both cats go wide-eyed and are ready for action- Catlyn’s pretty ‘wired’ like that.
She’s at the age where she’d be at University, thinks she knows better but doesn’t really know that much about how life works, and would spend all day on the couch playing videogames without worrying about food.
What’s next for Dogshow With Cat?
At the moment we’re in the middle of development for the show. We’re developing it for a longer 11-minute episode format and with any luck we can take it further once this stage is complete.
What did you think of the other African applicants at the Triggerfish Story Lab like Kenya’s Wanuri Kahiu?
I so enjoyed spending time with Wanuri. She pitched her movie so well in class, and used her whole body to communicate the story, really wrapped me up in the story and transported me. Camel Racer was one of my favourites from the get-go. Even just the name conjures up great visual imagery.
I’m a big fan of vast open plains like you’d see in the desert and in some surreal paintings, so the idea of people racing yellow camels against a stark blue sky pushes my buttons. It also immediately makes me think of Africa as its location, maybe combined with Star Wars somehow, and that excites me.
Spending time with the other Story Lab applicants was also great. I spent quite a bit of time hanging with Shina Ajulo from Nigeria - a larger than life character, both physically and personality-wise, I think we share a similar sense of humour. Story Lab really was an amazing two weeks, spending time in class learning about the business of script-writing and also getting to socialise with remarkable individuals from around the continent.
How does Africa inspire your animation?
When I go to first-world countries, I appreciate how everything works really well, and how well-behaved almost everybody is. But I kind of miss the mad energy of Africa. It’s a bit of a Wild West here and I really miss that vital energy. Last time I got back to South Africa, even the passport control lady called me ‘sweetie’ and was cracking jokes.
It’s almost like, if you want to be anything, you can do it in Africa - it’s hands on, and if you work hard and persevere, nobody’s going to stop you. Want to make a movie? Start writing. Want to animate a music video? Pitch it. Want to create a series? Get cracking. Pro-activeness often leads to success here, particularly it seems in the animation industry.
What would it take for Africa to have a mega studio like Disney?
Well, Triggerfish is a start, in that they’re already making 3D animated films for the world market. If we got the nod to make a 2D series and it made sense to create it in Africa, we’d probably build a team for that and that’d be the start of another branch.
Apart from the logistics, I think self-belief and confidence in our own voices go a long way to seeing our experiences through our own eyes as opposed to extremely prevalent Western eyes. And I really mean ‘our own unique voices’, not some disembodied generic ‘African’ ideal.
Is Africa ready for edgy adult-animations like South Park or BoJack Horseman?
Absolutely! I think for a long time we may have unfairly patronised ourselves by believing there’s no market for edgy animation. Africa is MASSIVE, there are so many different kinds of viewership groups and it’s ludicrous to lump everyone together into one lowest-common-denominator. Bleh.
You have a recognizable animation style. How would you describe it?
Sometimes I like a thick black outline, kind of like a direct-to-paper black marker. I like the spontaneity of the line and not keeping things *too* neat, keeping it loose and expressive. It’s a lot more fun to create this way too, once the prep work has been done.
I have a colour palette that I generally use as a base and that may give my projects a fairly consistent look. I try and make the action readable at first glance. A viewer’s eye has limited time to figure out what’s happening on screen so I aim not make a person have to work too hard to read the action.
Every now and then I fall in love with a particular concept/style and use that for a project. I’ve done hundreds of Bru & Boegie comics and I think I stage animation fairly flat and symmetrical sometimes, a bit like a Wes Anderson movie, or comic panel where the composition needs to be understandable at smaller sizes.
What do you think are the advantages of 2D animation over 3D?
I don’t really know how to animate in 3D, so I’m not really in a position to say, so - at least I know 2D - that’s an advantage, right? I find that characters’ expressions and action silhouettes are sometimes stronger in 2D than in 3D, though I do see that 2D sensibility is being brought into 3D, which is great.
Mike, Phil Rynda - lead character designer, Adventure Time & Pen Ward - creator, Adventure Time
You’ve created animation for comics, music videos, mobile games, commercials and now TV. Which platform do you enjoy creating for best?
At the moment, I’m loving making my own Bru & Boegie animations because I can pretty much do what I want without having to explain myself.
With TV, there’s a sense of officialness and having ‘cracked it’, also because there are usually quite a few hoops to jump through, but the plus side is nice budgets and a potentially large audience, and I’m warming up to creating my own content for the web - I enjoy both for their own reasons.
Commercials I don’t really like at all. I started off making webcomics and illustrating for magazines, and that was a great base for animation.
For music videos, if the song’s great, it’s a great job. Animating a music video already solves a major piece of the puzzle by providing the soundtrack, mood, length of the piece, and often suggests its own narrative, and the animation’s there to enhance the enjoyment.
Are you going to do more work with Goldfish?
Yes! I’ve recently started on a new music video. We’ve spent quite a bit of time on the concept stage and are moving towards locking down the idea. Goldfish have been touring the US extensively and recently relocated to San Diego; they’re flying the African flag high over there. They’re such great clients. Once we get started, they generally trust me to do my thing and as a result I go the extra mile for them. It helps that I’m a big fan of their music.
Who are your top 5 favourite animated characters ever?
Beavis & Butthead, Felix the Cat, Octocat by David OReilly, Wile E. Coyote and Earl of Lemongrab.
What are your top 5 animated movies ever?
Spirited Away, the first Spongebob movie, The Incredibles, Waking Life, Ratatoing.
What’s your ultimate goal in animation?
Creating world peace would be nice.
My personal goals though include making Bru & Boegie exactly how I want to make them and that being able to generate enough income to support me without me having to compromise the artistic integrity of the show (a new episode is already in production), being able to successfully express myself and ideas in the animation medium, and being able to support myself making the art I feel I need to make.
I’ve found the animation community to generally comprise of really nice people, many of whom have become friends, so, what a great gig.