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Interview with Ben Bocquelet – Creator: The Amazing World of Gumball

Cartoon Network

Where did you get the idea for The Amazing World of Gumball?
I got the idea for The Amazing World of Gumball whilst working as a Development Artist at the Cartoon Network Development Studio, based in London.

Previously whilst working in commercials, I’d created a load of characters for commercial pitches. These characters, with their variety of styles and formats, inspired the visual mash-up that became the final look for the show.

Initially as a Development Artist, I helped other people develop their projects. A year into my time at the studio, Daniel Lennard, Vice President of Development and Original Series, asked all the Development Artists to pitch their own ideas.

I pitched a couple – The Amazing World of Gumball (called just Gumball at the time) and another about crypto-zoology.

Tell us about the initial development process?
We were very fortunate that working for a big studio like Cartoon Network, we were able to learn from a wealth of experienced and super talented animation artists. Don Shanks, Greg Miller, Charlie Bean, Aaron Springer, Derek Drymon and Chris Reccardi all came over from the US to give us a hand with our development pitches.

It began with the characters, a number of whom you see in the end series, but the real dilemma was to figure out what the show was really about. After the first concept was rejected, I decided to base the show on the archetypal family sitcom, replacing normal human characters with nonsensical creatures.

I wanted to treat the show like a sitcom and use the funny aspect of the characters and the freedom of animation to expand the humour and the stories into places that wouldn't be possible in live action. In all, the development process took nine months from the original idea to the time when it was greenlit.

Why did you call it The Amazing World of Gumball?
The show has always been called Gumball. The name in fact came before the character. I wanted to call it something, which reminds you of childhood; of something a kid might have in their pocket.

Is it true the show is loosely based on your own childhood?
Some aspects, yes. My sister is very clever, and like the character in the show she's not to be messed with! We’ve always been very close, and remain good friends as adults. She’s now a computer programmer.

My dad is a real character and yes, at some points he was a stay-at-home dad. My mum is incredibly strong and she really held our family together. We went through a lot but we always had a good time. We’re a close-knit family and we found our strength in laughter.

How similar are you to Gumball?
I do share his sense of optimism, but I wouldn’t say I’m similar to him. He’s a made up character, a comedy vehicle, so he is an amalgamation of many aspects.

What has been the reaction from your family to the series?
They love it – they’re the first and most loyal fans of the show. They could recognise certain gags or storyline threads from our own lives.

Like the time when my dad made me wait for two days so he could grow stubble and look tough enough to scare the guy at the mall into giving me a refund on a defective video game.

I think that tapping into the life of real people like my family is what makes for endearing characters who you warm to, and my family is very proud to be a part of that.

Tell us about the production process?
Due to the mixed-media format, it was a very complex production process.

Myself, the show writers and director Mic Graves would firstly write the story outlines for each episode, which we’d then deliver to the storyboard artists, who would put the story into visual form. After which, we’d have sessions where we’d add jokes, check time lengths etc. Sometimes we would literally change everything!

Once we’d finalised the storyboards, Richard Overall our editor would start cutting them into animatics, record voices and Ben Locket, our music composer, would start working on the score. We would make the final backgrounds and design all the new characters and props.

Then work with our two animation studios – Boulder Media and Studio Soi – to create the animation. Then the compositing, and finally the postproduction with Jim at Fitzrovia post.

It sounds a lot simpler in summary than reality!

What was the specific role of each studio?
Studio Soi in Ludwigsburg was in charge of creating 3D backgrounds and characters, and also did a lot of the CG rendering. They are a fantastic bunch of talented guys. They even got nominated for an Oscar this year. Boulder media was in charge of the 2D and 3D animation, as well as parts of the compositing.

How did the mixed-media format come into it?
I had always wanted it to be 2D, 3D and live action. In my mind that's what makes the show distinctive. The Gorillaz videos were a big influence on me in animation school. I just loved the way they mixed their awesome designs with photos or films. It wasn't the first time I'd seen animation mixed with live action though.

Windsor McCay had a show where he interacted with his cartoon dinosaur back in the 1900s and there have been landmark films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which blew my mind as a kid.

The technology now allows for this kind of approach on a series scale. It’s really exciting to be part of this, and also that Cartoon Network committed to making the show in mixed media, despite the challenge of the process.

It looks incredibly seamless. Was it difficult to achieve?
Antoine Perez art directed the show with me. He supervised the backgrounds and the compositing, and gave the series its modern integrated look. He basically used a VFX approach to compositing, incorporating tricks that you would normally use to integrate special effects in live action.

What do you think the mixed media adds to the show?
It gives it a really unique look, which we hope, gives it an instant appeal. I also think the live action element adds to the scope of fantasy more than if the show were solely animation, by creating a possibility that the world might actually exist.

It excites the human mind to see the boundaries blurred between the real world and invented characters.

Where did you shoot the live action backgrounds?
The Watterson’s’ house and the Robinsons’ houses were filmed in Vallejo, near San Francisco. It’s a place, which has the type of 1950s/1960s houses where you’d imagine a family sitcom to happen. We found Elmore High in San Francisco.

Tell us some more about the storyboard-driven element?
We were inspired to make it a storyboard driven show by our counterparts who came over from L.A., it’s a more common practice on the big US animation series. Normally a storyboard artist works from scripts, where the jokes and all copy have already been written.

However with the storyboard driven process we only write a story outline, and let the storyboard artists work up the humour and the gags. It enables the visual and the storyline to converge in a really fluid and organic way. It also helps make the stories more interesting, and keeps it spontaneous and fresh.

It’s a very funny show, how did you sustain the humour?
Some of the best jokes happened really quickly, and others we really laboured over. There’s no hard and fast rule. It was very much a collaborative process and involved lots of rewrites.

To gain consensus that we’d got a joke right, we basically all had to laugh at it ourselves. If we didn’t laugh at it, then it had to be changed. A lot of effort went into the humour. In essence that was the whole purpose of the show, so we wrote and rewrote...and rewrote. Then rewrote again.

Some of the characters are voiced by real kids aren’t they?
Yes, Gumball was voiced by Logan Grove, Darwin by Kwesi Boakye and Anais by Kyla Rae Kowalewski. All three kids were absolutely fantastic, and a sheer delight to work with. As well as bringing the characters to life, they brought a real sense of charm to them.

They each completely got their characters, were spontaneous and funny, had phenomenal range as actors, and also had fantastic comedy timing. I wish their moms would sell them to me.

What’s the most weird and wonderful thing about Elmore?
It might be Sussie the chin. She's an elusive character that appears in the show from time to time. Words wouldn't do her justice so you'll have to watch the episodes. Just so you know, she's also my girlfriend in real life.

How big was the team who worked on the series?
Pretty big, at some points there were at least 100 people working on it.

How long does it take to create an episode?
About nine months from start to finish just like a baby.

How long did it take to make the series?
About two years, like a baby elephant.

What have you learnt the most from making the show?
I still get nosebleeds from all that learning!

One of the things I learnt is that you have to give something of yourself in order to touch an audience. It sounds obvious, but it's easy to forget that in the midst of production. You have to let your guard down and let some of what you really feel transpire through the story and the characters.

Which is your favourite episode?
The End, it's a story in which Gumball and Darwin think that the world is coming to an end. I like it because there are jokes in that episode that keep on making me laugh even though I've seen it a million times.

There are quite a few film references. Anything funny to tell on that front?

We are all film geeks and fan boys at the studio. One thing that united us all was our unconditional love for the entertainment cinema of the 1980s and there are various nods to this cannon of films in Gumball. These movies were roller-coaster rides with great stories and awesome special effects as well as a real heart.

So do you think this show will appeal to adults too?
I really hope so. We wanted to make a kids show that we ourselves would enjoy watching as adults. We tried to multi-Iayer jokes and stories as much as possible. I like the idea of a cartoon that is for everybody and not just for children.

Kids are also much more sophisticated than we often give them credit for. My wish is that people watch the show together as a family with the lights off like we used to do with my parents when Looney Tunes was on.

When did you realise you wanted to work in the animation industry?
When I saw the movie Akira when I was twelve. I didn’t know it was possible to work in animation at that stage, but I knew I was enthralled by what I saw. At 18 I realised it was possible to work in animation and that’s when I began to pursue my career.

What shows did you watch as a kid?
I watched everything that was on TV and was an avid member of the video club. Film, animation, TV shows, I loved it all. The Simpsons was a big influence, and I’m also a big fan of South Park.

Who are your heroes who work/ have worked in animation?
Miyazaki is a big hero of mine. I’ve always been very inspired by Japanese animation.

What do you think you would be doing if you didn’t work in animation?
I’d probably be working in a DVD store.

What next for you?
Hopefully a second series! I’d love to do features as well, that would be awesome.

(Interview February 2011)

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A Visual Introduction to The Amazing World of Gumball

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The Amazing World of Gumball is an animated sit-com following the misadventures of Gumball and his family in the weird and wonderful town of Elmore. The 36 x 11 minute series, which combines 2D and 3D animation in a live-action setting, is aimed primarily at Cartoon Network's core audience of kids 6 - 11.

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Cartoon Network’s Hotly Anticipated New Series Launches In South Africa!

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Turner Broadcasting is proud to present the brand new kids comedy series The Amazing World of Gumball – airing in 166 countries, the highly anticipated show hits South African screens on Thursday 6th October on Cartoon Network.

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Biography of Ben Bocquelet

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Ben Bocquelet is a show creator at Turner Broadcasting. He is responsible for creating The Amazing World of Gumball, an exciting new 2D/ 3D animation and live action series for Cartoon Network.

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