Stoopid Buddy Stoodios Talks Robot Chicken, DCU Specials and their Future
By Shawn Depasquale on July 30, 2014
Stoopid Buddy Stoodios was founded by Seth Green along with his partners Matt Senreich, John Harvatine IV (Harv), and Eric Towner, their origin is steeped in a tangled web of old friends, new friends and like-minded creative types. I had the great pleasure of sitting down with the visionaries behind the animation company that’s brought us Robot Chicken, the opening title sequence in the Lego Movie, and WWE Slam City (just to name a few) during a fairly hectic Saturday morning at the Hilton Bayfront in San Diego. They were in town, along with Robot Chicken co-creator Seth Green, to promote a slew of past and future work at Comic-Con International 2014. I was excited to talk to Senreich and Harv about Robot Chicken (of course), but even more curious about the future plans for the studio as a whole.
Nerdist: Okay, let’s dive right in. I want to start with something personal to me. Firestorm.
Matt Senreich: Firestorm? That’s… such a weird way to start a Robot Chicken interview.
N: Go with me here. Now, you keep taking shots at Firestorm, a character loved by… well there’s a couple of us anyway. But you took your shots. He’s the butt of a lot of jokes in the Robot Chicken DC Universe Special. But now we’ve just heard newsthat actor Robbie Amell is joining the CW’s new The Flash series as Firestorm alter ego: Ronnie Raymond. My question is this: Are you single handedly responsible for the reemergence of Firestorm into popular culture?
John Harvatine IV: Yes. (Pause) Oh. That’s the short answer. Sorry. Go ahead, Matt.
MS: I mean…being that Geoff Johns guy worked on both the DCU Special and The Flash… sure.
N: Was this a character Johns brought into the equation or do you guys have a secret love for the character?
MS: I think I always liked Firestorm and we wanted to mock the fact that, here’s this character that could be really cool, but no one gives him his due in any way. They could do something amazing with him and they haven’t.
N: He has a middle-aged college professor in his brain too.
MS: Yeah. See? He’s got a weird split personality… or two people forming one thing going on…
N: But these specials, as a whole, have been a huge success for you guys. Not just as an offshoot of Robot Chicken but as their own thing. I have friends that only know about the specials. That must be fantastic for you, as a studio, to have multiple brand recognition now. How did the specials come about?
MS: We did the Star Wars specials, and that paved the way. Geoff Johns and I broke into television together. We wrote our first pilots together. Then he got his job at DC and I started up Robot Chicken. We were just hanging out one night, having dinner and the idea came up, “We should do a DC special.” I was like, “Okay.” And it was that fast, we were just making it. It’s the same thing as Robot Chicken in that, we like to play with our friends, so that where everything starts.
N: Is there a desire to do a Marvel special?
MS: I’m all for doing a Marvel special, as I say with everything, these companies came to us. So if Marvel comes to us and asks us, and I know Jeph Loeb very well, if they ask us we’ll say, “Sure! Of course.”
N: Let’s jump back to the beginning a bit. This sort of started in ToyFare Magazine as a feature called “Twisted Mego Theater”. You guys would pose action figures and add word balloons and funny captions. This begets Robot Chicken. Then at what point after you’re now animating this original concept, do you go, “We should start an animation studio” or was Robot Chicken always a starting point to get to where you are now?
MS: I don’t think any of us started out thinking we’d be an animation company. I didn’t, anyway. Once we started Robot, after our fifth season, Seth and I realized we could do a ton of other stuff and we partnered with Harv and Towner to form our Stoopid Buddy Stoodios. We can come up with an idea, run downstairs, make it and then use that concept piece to go sell it.
JH: What’s great about Robot is that it opens up all the doors. It’s been on the air for seven seasons and that’s pretty incredible. So wherever we go know we’re asked, “What do ya got? What’s new with you guys?” So wherever we go from here it’s a huge door opener.
MS: I met Harv, second season of Robot. He was an animator. Midway through season three, he and Towner left to start their own studio. They did some commercial work, TV development, and they were growing. So when Seth and I started talking about doing our own thing, we partnered up with these fools. We remained friends and we love working with our friends.
JH: We all have similar tastes, and also, with our business sense too we know what we want as a company. It’s great to have a focused vision and be able to agree on where to go next.
N: Harv, how did you get your start in animation?
JH: I guess I was a failed artist. I wanted to be a cartoonist at Disney, but I don’t think my penciling abilities every improved, so I started doing stop-motion work on the side. I would animate my G.I. Joe figures, you can do some big stories with them, ya know? Then I got a job out of college doing stop-motion on the east coast. It was like 2002, and I’m looking for jobs on the internet. There were two jobs open: one was Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show or something like that, and the other was Robot Chicken. I was like, “Wow. Two jobs in LA.”
N: Were you like, “I really hope I can land that Drew Carey show!”
JH: [laughs] I really lucked out, huh? Plus Robot is a dream to animate on because I started out animating toys and now I was in a studio where I could animate toys. It was pretty incredible.
N: When you and Towner left, did you do it with the hope of eventually pairing up with a Robot Chicken, or another studio?
JH: We left and just felt like, as animators, we had nowhere to go. You tend to get pigeonholed as one thing when you’re an animator and we wanted to do more. We wanted to direct and produce our own shows… the whole thing. And at that point it we knew we could do it ourselves. We learned a lot of what not to do working with other studios.
MS: Well said.
N: You guys have had some awesome stuff come out lately. The Lego Movie opening titles, for one, which was awesome and must’ve been huge for you guys. Then you’re also working on WWE’s Slam City. How did that opportunity come about?
JH: That was also based on a previous relationship. We know Marge Dean (Consulting Producer for Mattel) and it came up from her. She brought it up and we were totally intrested.
N: Are you wrestling fans?
MS: I am. I went to the first two Wrestlemanias, so I’m old school. But then got back into it with the rivalry with The Rock and Mankind. Then got back into it when Seth got into the ring for one of those celebrity things. It goes in waves for me.
N: And how much input to you have in the show? How often do you hear from WWE?
MS: They’re doing it. They’re coming up with all the stuff, they’re writing it and then we’re their production house. We’re heroes for hire who come in and work hand and hand with them to direct and produce it.
JH: And it was a challenge cause we had to take their look, their toys and make it translate to the screen. We worked with them a lot on how the sets would look, making the puppets… because they’re all toys so you have to make… maybe I shouldn’t say this, but it’s essentially a long commercial. You have to make the product look really nice.
MS: You shouldn’t say that.
JH: But look, you have to make their toys look nice. That’s the goal, and I think we did a good job doing that.
N: The show looks great! Job well done! So what’s next? Robot Chicken is studio made, WWE, Lego… that’s all work-for-hire. The next original content is the Team Unicorn pilot, right?
N: And it’s been revealed that within that series you’ll be playing with live action and other forms of animation too.
JH: Yup. Some 2D work.
MS: That’s going to be good.
N: What’s the next big goal for you guys? Where does the dream go from here?
MS: I would be shocked if by Comic-Con next year we don’t have some huge announcements about original content. We have four owners who are creative and are creating their own stuff. So everyone will have their own baby by the time we’re really up and running.
JH: And as far as goals, we’re not thinking, “If we’ve made one feature we’ve finally made it”. We just want to keep creating shows. We want to have multiple shows. That would be fun.
MS: Oh yeah…
JH: Multiple shows…
MS and JH: At the same time.
JH: There we go. That’s what I meant.
N: And in the immediate future you have the Bitch Pudding episode [which aired Sunday], and then we have six or seven more before then end of the season.
JH: I have a question for you Matt.
JH: Is the Christmas Special the last episode of the season?
MS: Yes, Harv. I think our finale ends August 17th and then we’ll have a special for christmas that Adult Swim will hold until December.
N: Sounds fantastic! We can’t wait!
What’s your favorite Stoopid Buddy project? Slam City fans? Anyone catch the Bitch Pudding special? Shout at me online or in the comments below.