The Stoopid Buddy Stoodios crew is busier than ever. With Robot Chicken and Supermansion you’d think they wouldn’t have time for too many side projects, but it’s just the contrary. Thanks to a recent expansion, the crew is now working on more commercials and short form content.
Enter The Madden 16. A series of ridiculous shorts, The Madden 16 features celebrities, football players, and other athletes – oh, and a T-Rex, in situations from simple fantasy football problems to visits from the ghost of the 1960s Green Bay Packers.
ComicBook.com had a chat with John “Harv” Harvatine IV and Eric Towner, two of the founders of the studio who worked on the project alongside other studio members and co-director Dave Brooks, to find out how it came about, how it’s similar and different to their most famous work, and just which Madden 16 member would be the most useful on their own favorite teams.
Let's start out talking about Stoopid Buddy Stoodios in general, you've been very busy lately, with the Madden 16 series of shorts, the DC Comics Special that just recently aired, Supermansion, you're all over the place - how do you juggle all these different projects?
Eric: Yeah, there's no lack of interesting and cool projects around here, and I think we're pretty lucky on the people and things we get to work with. As far as expanding and balancing things, it's a lot of great people on the team here that can bounce from different projects. We started in Burbank with two buildings, and we've expanded out into a third and a fourth just down the street that are handling our 2D and CG animation pipeline, and then also a space more dedicated to commercials and short form content.
With Madden 16 in particular, how did this come to you guys? What's the origin story?
Harv: Yeah, you know, sometimes origin stories can be pretty boring, but it started with a phone call... (laughs) It started in 1993 when I was playing Madden. They wanted to know who had the highest score and finally tracked me down 20 years later.
No, I wish that was the story, but they reached out to us, and had a couple companies they were looking at. So we put our heads together and pitched our version of what the Madden 16 would be, and it's kind of embarrassing, but we're big football fans, and big Madden fans. We don't usually do this, but we did a video to show how excited we were for the product, of the two of us playing the game, being all fired up, and we had a bet - and the long story short of it is, I said that if I lost, my beard would be shaved, I've had it for about 28 years. I lost, and I had my beard shaved by Don Majkowski, who was my hero growing up, the quarterback of the Packers. So we show them this video and they were like, "oh my God, this is amazing. You guys are not only right for the brand and we loved your pitch, but your passion and we can't believe you shaved your beard!"
Well, the truth of it is, I shaved my beard last year by Don Majkowski for a different bet. But through editing magic, we made them believe it. So we got the job, and afterwards, they were like, "your beard grew back!"
I'm impressed that you're willing to talk about how you scammed into work.
Eric: If you could just not tell them that...
Harv: That's how we get every job! (laughs)
But yeah, we were super excited about it. Like I said, we're big football fans, and this was an opportunity to do puppetry and puppet animation.
The puppetry is relatively new for you guys - what's it like working with that versus working with action figures and clay?
Eric: There's a lot of crossover as far as just the techniques of putting the puppets together, but with stop-motion there's a lot of stuff underneath. There's armitures that need to be R&Ded, there's a lot that goes into that. With the live-action puppets it's more about the rods that can create the performance. Very different, but a lot of crossover too. For us it's an exciting new world, one that we got to explore a little bit on a Denny's web series we did called "The Grand Slams" that was very weird.
Harv: Yeah, that was our first opportunity to work with puppetry stuff, and we loved it so much, it was so silly. It's just another tool to tell stories for us. That's something that drives our studio, we're really visual and we just love to find different ways to tell stories. Whether it's 2D or CG or puppetry or stop motion or clay animation, it's always about finding something that feels a little unique, that will pop a bit and using it to tell the best stories.
So in telling those stories, what did you learn from Robot Chicken that you could apply to something like these very short vignettes? Obviously they're more like the short ones that go in-between the larger stories on the show.
Harv: I think what we learned with Robot Chicken is, it's been 8 seasons, and it's been a lot of fun, but what Robot Chicken does really well is boil down the stories and the jokes to just as little as it needs. I think that's one trick we've used on all of our jobs, getting down to the heart of the joke, what's the joke, and then moving on.
Makes sense, and you definitely see it in this show! So you guys managed to get actual players in and do voices for you; had you secured them, like Gronk, ahead of time before you decided he'd be a character in this, or was it the other way around?
Eric: It was a bit of a process. The agency that we were working with was writing a bunch of scripts and bouncing them off of us. There were actually other characters that had been written in and had to be swapped out with players that were willing to play. Sometimes you luck out and you get the guys that are willing to play.
A lot of that is like Robot Chicken, where we just shoot for the stars and hope they’ll come on, be a guest celebrity voice actor on the show, and we’ve gotten pretty lucky over the years.
You guys know how to make something good for comedy fans and good for Robot Chicken fans; how do you approach this to make sure it’s for Madden fans?
Harv: Well a lot of it is really just that Towner and I, like I said, are big sports fans. We’re football fans, so we’re relatable to what that audience would be looking for, the inside jokes that football fans get and look for. Football fans are just a different kind of nerd, they’re sports nerds.
Eric: We’re all part of the same family. As far as the animation community goes, there’s not a lot of die-hard football fans. Harv is a die-hard Packers fan and I grew up a Broncos fan, so it’s something we’re familiar with, something we know, and it’s a lot of just creating stuff that we want to watch.
Harv: Yeah, we sat around thinking about things we wanted to watch or that we think was funny and went from there.
Well, I’m a die-hard Bears fan, so with you being a Packers fan, I’m gonna go ahead and end this interview…
Harv: A lot of friendships and relationships have been ended that way.
Was there anything that surprised you as far as working with the NFL and Madden on something like this?
Harv: Working with the NFL, it was surprising just how particular they were with their logos and uniforms. We made puppet versions of the uniforms, and we had a style guide and tried to make it as close as we could on the miniature scale, but they really looked at the details: the size of the piping on the socks to the collar thickness. They really looked at that stuff, and it’s impressive that they care about their brand, but at the end of the day, it’s a small scale and they’re just wiggling around!
The other thing that surprised us, we do a lot of work in stop motion where we can kind of do anything we want, but on this project it was funny to think about people under the table that are moving these characters around live. There’s two or three humans under the table and someone over the table, it’s weird to think the puppets and puppeteers are one unit.
You guys obviously push things pretty far with Robot Chicken; this is for a bit more mainstream of an audience, so was there anything you had initially thought of or pitched that got shot down?
Eric: We do a pretty good job of pitching things that take it too far. That happens a lot with Robot Chicken too. It’s all in good fun, it doesn’t come from a place of being mean-spirited, it comes from a place of being a fan of the thing we’re poking fun at. Even on the DC Comics Specials, we work hand-in-hand with DC Comics on poking fun at that.
Harv: Yeah, on the show, we’ve done 8 seasons and we just know the boundaries by now. It’s pretty natural.
Okay, who are your Super Bowl picks, and which member of the Madden 16 would you want on your team?
Harv: Well, for my Super Bowl pick I’ll say the Packers and the Broncos, because that would be an amazing game for Towner and I to watch. Hopefully the Packers would win this time. My Madden 16 pick would be Sticky Bun (Antonio Brown); he has some good hands and I think the Packers could use some more good receivers.
Eric: As far as Super Bowl picks, I had a dream before the season of the Saints and the Broncos, but I don’t think it’ll work out that way (laughs). I guess I’m not clairvoyant. I guess I’d want Half-Top (Gronk) on my team – those washboard abs!