The cartoon that thrilled teens and changed TV spawned a pack of mavericks unafraid to push into new territories. Today, Baboon Animation and others are helping transform some of the hottest new fields in entertainment — the iPad, transmedia, Adult Swim and international co-productions.
“The new Beavis show looks fantastic, but I think a lot of us can’t help ourselves — breaking the new ground is what excites us,” says original Beavis director Mike de Seve. “And what we learned on Beavis is still working for us today.”
De Seve’s company, Baboon Animation, then a two-man team with Brian Mulroney (Robotomy), was hired in 1993 by Beavis‘s production studio, MTV Animation, to direct nearly 100 episodes of the Beavis series. Today Baboon has grown, and is pioneering new media and markets on three fronts: international co-production, interactive iPad comics, and the much-ballyhooed world of transmedia.
“Every item on our plate breaks some kind of ground — a great feeling, like being on that same edge we were on back in the Beavis days,” says de Seve, who relaunched the firm in 2004 after his 2-year directing assignment at Dreamworks Animation.
Baboon’s 2011-12 slate underlines the point:
Baboon is collaborating with animation icon Kit Laybourne (Liquid Television, The Animation Book) to build out Kit’s new transmedia sports network for kids, The Whistle, to premiere this fall. Laybourne, with wife Geraldine Laybourne (a founder of Nickelodeon) was a co-founder of the Oxygen channel. The Whistle is being produced at New York’s Flickerlab.
“Transmedia is the future. It’s a blast.” says de Seve. A transmedia property is one that’s designed to work on many platforms at once, from iPad to game platforms to internet TV to cable. “It’s the Turducken of entertainment,” he says.
Baboon is also providing the writing and co-direction on the cutting-edge iPad app, Operation Ajax, which The New York Times called “one of the coolest media experiences I’ve seen on the iPad.” The interactive spy-comic app, due for full release this November, is from San Francisco’s Cognito Comics and is pulling a five-star App Store rating in pre-release.
Also on Baboon’s transmedia slate is a kids’ property for Harrison Media. Creator Harry Dubin notes that the show’s (yet unannounced) title is raising eyebrows, but raising funds even faster. “Let’s just say there’s not a kid out there that doesn’t crack up when they hear the name. Which is golden. It’s a show about what kids really laugh at, not what their parents tell them they’re supposed to laugh at.”
Which is why de Seve says he chose the project. “It felt like the real deal, like Beavis was. Working with Mike Judge, our mantra became, make it about real kids and what they really want. Not cartoon characters clowning it up.”
A philosophy de Seve took thru his own nearly-50 eps of Beavis, his directing on the Beavis feature film, his Emmy-nominated Beavis episode “Dream On”, and the original Office Space cartoons Baboon directed for Judge for SNL.
And it was the philosophy de Seve took with him when tapped by Jeffrey Katzenberg in 2002 to direct at Dreamworks.
“Mike was disarmingly honest, which definitely made the films he worked on better,” says Baboon collaborator Buck Lewis (Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda), who met de Seve at Dreamworks. “The first thing he did there was turn down an offer to direct Shrek 2 because he didn’t feel the script had enough heart yet.”
“They somehow fixed it without me” laughs de Seve, “It turned out just great.” De Seve instead went on to direct on Madagascar at Dreamworks, including on the iconic “Move It Move It” sequence, then story-consulted on Shrek 2 and 3, Over the Hedge and Shark Tale before co-penning the original story for Monsters vs. Aliens with Kung Fu Panda director Mark Osborne. Then he returned East to take Baboon into new frontiers.
Ben Gruber and other members of two writing teams de Seve formed at MTV are now breaking ground with their own Adult Swim hits: Gruber and Steve Warbrick with Superjail; Chris McCulloch with The Venture Brothers; and Matt Harrigan, with Space Ghost, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Tim and Eric Awesome Show. Adult Swim is now the highest rated programming block worldwide for adults 18-49.
And de Seve’s teaming with Gruber on another new Baboon project, KikoRiki, an international co-production for which Baboon is signed to deliver the full current season of writing. KikoRiki, from Russia’s Riki Group, is the #1 family show in Russia today.
Taking new chances is key, de Seve says, but most important is to make entertainment about relatable characters, like Beavis and Butt-Head did: “That means characters that want real stuff, and go after it relentlessly even if it looks like they don’t have a chance in the world. Whether it’s chicks and beer they really want, or to find Nemo, that drive is what people cheer for.”
It’s also a source of some of the biggest laughs, in any age group, he notes. It seems these Beavis alums have had plenty in his career.