When Emmy Award-winning animated series Uncle Grandpa was coming to an end, Cartoon Network basically gave the series’ creator and showrunner Peter Browngardt a free hand to pick what he wanted to make next. He asked to bring back the classic anvil-dropping, ACME Inventing, madcap slapstick comedy of the classic Looney Tunes cartoons. It’s a show that’s been around since the 1930s ‒ literally animation just like great grandma used to watch.

“I grew up loving the Looney Tunes and wanting to be a cartoonist or animator from a very young age. The classic Looney Tunes are my favourite cartoons ever made. To have the opportunity to make new ones was a dream come. They are great, universal characters that people of all cultures can relate to,” says Peter.

While there are currently other Looney Tunes series on screen like the New Looney Tunes series (2015-2019, with showrunner Erik Kuska), for his Looney Tunes Cartoons series, Peter dug back into the cartoon’s roots to rediscover its charm and appeal and create a classic revival. Just keep an eye out for Bugs Bunny’s yellow gloves – a quick visual clue that it’s Peter’s version on screen.

Peter told us more about his journey to reviving the series and the journey to on-screen chaos and anarchy in the studio.

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What does Peter do?

Peter studied character animation at CalArts. He’s been working in animation professionally since he was 19 years old and landed his first gig on sci-fi comedy series Futurama. As showrunners go, he is incredibly hands-on.

“I oversee the entire production from the writing all the way to final delivery of the episodes,” says Peter. “At the height of production I was bouncing around from writing meetings to design check-ins, to animatic editing, to picture lock editing, to sound mixes, the lot. So it's just a full, full day, every day, making cartoons because this production schedule is staggered. So I might be working on the writing of one cartoon, but then finishing the editing on a different cartoon, and then doing the post sound effects on another cartoon. I had an amazing team of over 50 artists at Burbank and then we work with 4 different studios around the world. So I had a lot of support, but yeah, I kind of go around and pollinate all the little creative flowers on the production to keep going and keep moving forward,” he explains.


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What a production

The new Looney Tunes Cartoons needed someone with that in-depth ability to work with drawings, since episodes are born as drawings rather than scripts. It’s all jokes, from the word go.

“Most cartoons are written in script form first, but for Looney Tunes cartoons, we didn't do that. We all got into the story room and we would draw gag drawings and come up with different funny drawings to try to make each other laugh,” reveals Peter.

“We took some of them, like one of them would have been Bugs crawling through a desert, thirsty, and we got a whole cartoon out of that. We were like, ‘Well, what if he's thirsty, and then he comes upon Elmer’s beautiful, mid-century modern Palm Springs estate and he wants to go for a swim? He's very hot…’ And that's what they did back in the classic era of Looney Tunes. Cartoonist wrote the cartoons, not a writer. A cartoonist is someone who writes by drawing. It's sort of a rare thing but some shows still do it that way. On SpongeBob SquarePants I did it that way. It’ll come up on some other shows like Adventure Time. They still write from the cartoonist’s point of views, as opposed to a screenwriter point of view. What that does, is it makes them more visual in the end.”

“Reading the history of it, they had writers, they had Michael Maltese, and you know, Warren Foster and a bunch of other writers. But those guys all drew as well. And they worked with story sketch artists to draw out the cartoon pictures. It wasn't like, ‘Bugs Bunny says this, and then Yosemite Sam says that.” It would be more of an outline. So we wrote our lines, we would do all that sketches and stuff. And then we did have a writer who was also a cartoonist in Johnny Ryan, he’s an accomplished underground cartoonist. He would gather all the sketches we made, scan them all, make a PDF, and he'd go back to his office and write up what we all talked about in the room. And we would break down the story on the dry erase board. And then he would write a 1-page outline of what the story is. And that would be handed off to storyboard artists, who would turn it into an actual cartoon and include the sense of the shots and some of the jokes and write all the dialogue and that kind of thing.”


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Starting from the past

Breathing fresh life into a show that’s been around since the 1930s is no mean feat. Peter’s first step was to request access to the entire Looney Tunes archive at Warner Bros for research. He then sat down with his team to analyse them obsessively – like Wile E Coyote plotting his latest trap for the Road Runner.

“We had every single classic Looney Tunes at our fingertips on our servers,” says Peter. “It's over 1000 cartoons, from the early ’30s, mid-30s, all the way to the ’60s. I really analysed the filmmaking and the gag structures of the cartoons and the story structures. There wasn't a lot of cutting. And there was a lot of deep space, meaning the characters’ background was almost a stage. I feel like this comes from the (original) creators, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson...I think it all came from Vaudeville. It was a stage. So if you look at Looney Tunes, the classic shorts, the backgrounds recede very far in the background. That's something we try to capture. The staging, not a lot of cutting. Also, just funny drawings, good animation. It’s some of the best comedy animation ever done in the history of cinema.”

“We really did our homework, we looked at the background painting techniques, layout design techniques. We did these little seminars where we bring all the artists into one of the conference rooms and talk through the cartoon, dissecting the cartoon and analyzing and having an open conversation to everybody in the room. I'm sort of going back to school. For one part, you're preparing your whole career for a moment like this, to make more Looney Tunes, but the other part is sort of back to square one. Alex (Kirwan), our supervising producer, would say it's kind of like learning ballet for the first time. You’ve kind of attempted ballet or could do some ballet moves, but then you actually have to learn to dance Ballet. That's not an easy task.”


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The World of the Looney Tunes

Peter’s spoken a fair amount about backgrounds because they are an oconoc, instantly recognisable facet of the Looney Tunes World. Before the first character even steps into the scene, you’ll have clues to what you’re about the see, from Bugs Bunny’s forest to the Coyote and Roadrunner’s arena, which is distinctly set in the American Southwest desert, or sweet little old Grandma’s house, where Tweety is about to tease Sylvester into a mouth foaming fit.

“We decided to hone in on a certain background painter from the 1940s named Paul Julian,” reveals Peter. “He was part of the Friz Freleng unit, and he was a genius. He had this amazing ability to capture mood and feeling. His paintings were almost a magic trick. They're magic to the eyes. They always seem like there's more there than there is. It's this incredible degree of sophistication where it's simplistic, but he'll put something very simple, and then he'll put something very detailed. And when you look at the whole scene, the whole shot, it captures the feeling of an alleyway or the woods, a forest, or whatever. But it's impressionistic, in a lot of ways. He was an accomplished painter as well. Just a total genius and I wanted to capture that. Maurice Noble’s style had really taken over the whole Looney Tunes franchise – him and Chuck Jones. So we wanted to try to change it up a little bit. Maurine Noble made some of the greatest cartoons of all time, but we wanted to get a different influence.”


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What a character!

Even Bugs Bunny was going to get a bit of a makeover. And part of that was selecting just the right voices for the characters, too.

“We went back to the ’40s as our sweet spot of what we were influenced by. And those characters were slightly different,” says Peter. “Bugs was even more of a wiseguy, more of a rascally rabbit. He would sometimes, in some cartoons from that era, do things unprovoked, which made him kind of a jerk and a little bit more like a Daffy character. Daffy was very crazy, more unhinged, but he wasn't such a greedy, angry duck like he became in the 1950s. We went through the personalities. Tweety Bird, he was more of a little demon in those early ones, more violent at times to Sylvester. We analysed their personalities from there and wanted to recapture that energy and that feeling,” he explains.

One of Peter’s key voice artists is Eric Bauza, who’s breathing life into Bugs Bunny – character made so iconic by Mel Blanc that if you know Looney Tunes, you can hear him in your head right now.

“I had worked with Eric prior on the Uncle Grandpa series, but what I wanted to do with the casting, as I wanted to with all aspects of production, was I wanted to start from scratch,” reveals Peter. “There's a lot of voice actors that were associated with Looney Tunes for long periods of time. I felt like for us to revamp it the way I wanted to have everybody throw their hat in and audition. We did a full open casting call. Eric had played some Looney Tunes characters like Marvin the Martian in the past. But Eric is new to Bugs to Daffy and Tweety. He does a lot of other smaller roles. It was his moment, his time. He was a huge student of the Looney Tunes and Mel Blanc, and he was able to tap into the feeling that Alex and I were going after with the characters. We weren't looking for someone to mimic the voices. There's a lot of people that can mimic them. We were looking for someone that could be a mimic of Mel as a performer, and that's a little bit different. Mel has sort of a style of his acting, and his voices. He wasn't afraid to break character, to prank voice into character. He could scream and it would sound just like an angry man scream or something, just for the comedy. Eric was really able to capture that energy. He really did his homework and he’s a one of a kind talent.”


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Cue the music

From the day production started for real, to the day that the first animated short was completed took about a year, from January 2018. And the final piece of the puzzle was the music, which brought it all together for Peter.

“It's pretty magical,” he says. “It's a journey when you are literally making stuff out of thin air. There's no cartoon that you just open up and play. You have to do every element of paint, every background, every line of dialogue, everything. One of the most memorable moments was hearing the full score. In The Curse Of The Monkeybird (the very first episode that we’ll see in South Africa, on Saturday, 26 June). That was done with a full orchestra on the Warner Brothers lot on the Clint Eastwood soundstage. When they played Merry-Go-Round Broke Down for the first time, that opening theme song to Looney Tunes, it wasjust emotional for myself and Alex Kirwan, my supervising producer. Being a cartoonist and an animator, it doesn't really get better than that, right? You're getting to make new versions of Looney Tunes stories in cartoons. So it's a pretty magic moment.”


New, from ACME!

Finally, one of the staples of the Looney Tunes world is those handy gadgets from the ACME corporation. Whether you want to drop an anvil on an enemy or need some hole paint to splash on a cliff face, or some rocket rollerskates, they’ll all come from ACME. We asked Peter about a couple of items that we can expect on the ACME catalog in the new series…

“They have some special super pills that Coyotes can take that can make them super fast and super strong. So it's kind of a joke on the health food stores, where bodybuilders get all their protein shakes and whatnot. Then we have a Zamboni machine (the kind of ride-on vehicle that smooths the ice on an ice rink) (because) 1 of the rules of Road Runner is that the Road Runner always stays on the road. Chuck Jones was adamant about certain rules that he defined for the Roadrunner-Coyote cartoons, one of which is he has to stay on the road. So we thought it was a funny idea of what if Coyote gets an ACME Zamboni machine that makes road and can take road away. It's kind of a road paver machine. So he tries to outsmart the Road Runner by making the roads go some terrible places but, of course, it never really works out for him!” says Peter.

Watch Looney Tunes Cartoons S1 Saturdays and Sundays from Saturday, 26 June on Boomerang (DStv channel 302) at 16:15. 

Boomerang (DStv channel 302) is available on DStv Premium, Compact Plus, Compact and Family. To get DStv or to upgrade your package, click here

 

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