I’m happy to write that once again I’ve been privileged to interview a great storyteller and pretty good animator. This time it’s Alex Dudley, the man behind Dtoons Productions, Conroy Cat, Toons These Days, Kassandra: Goddess of Awesome, and much more. Alex hails from Virginia USA; I interviewed him over the course of May and without further ado here it is:
My Interview with Alex Dudley
Q. So what do you currently do to make a living?
A. Making cartoons is how I make a living! I work full time producing my cartoons at home. It’s not exactly enough to live on my own, but it’s working out alright.
Q. What are your career goals?
A. To continue producing cartoons, build strong partnerships, and hopefully run a full fledged studio so I can produce 2D animated movies.
Q. Now that’s cool. So is there anything unusual you do in your daily or weekly routine?
A. I talk to myself a lot when working on a cartoon. Mostly to figure out dialogue, jokes, timing, sound effects, and plot consistencies.
Q. Alright. Who do you admire and look up to most in the world of Animation. Who really inspires you and why?
A. Oh man, there’s so many people. If I have to pick one, I’d say Osamu Tezuka. He made so many cartoons while he was alive. I wish I could churn out the amount of content he has without burning myself out!
Q. Osamu is indeed one of the greats. My favorite work from him is his Phoenix series. What’s your favorite?
A. Black Jack. His adventures are pretty cool. And I like how so many other Tezuka characters make cameos. As a surgeon he’s pretty cool. Not many surgeons can perform surgery on themselves while fighting dingos like he can!
Q. True. Do you have anyone personal who’s a major influence or mentor to you?
A. Well there are some of my teachers I like to keep in contact with from back the Savannah College of Art and Design, namely John Webber. He taught a Flash animation class and he worked at the now defunct Disney animation unit in Florida.
Also a major influence would probably be Andrew Dickman, who’s currently storyboarding for “Teen Titans Go!”. His Flash animations showed me that making animated shorts were easy and fun to do!
Q. Let’s go back to the beginning for an abridged version of your life story. Focused on how and why you became interested in Comics & Animation.
A. I guess it dates back since I was 2 or 3 years old. I watched the Muppet Babies and other Nick Jr. cartoons at the time and I thought there were great, because it was colorful, cute and funny. As I got older I watched Nicktoons, really got into reading Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield, and I drew those characters a lot. During that time, I was also into learning the solar system and considered being an astronaut. Then I saw Apollo 13 and I changed my mind. After that I focused more on cartoons and becoming a cartoonist. I made that as my career choice all the way back in fourth grade. I figured since I love cartoons so much, why don’t I try to make them for a living?
Q. What major challenges did you have to overcome to reach this point and what are you still struggling with?
A. I guess reality is the biggest challenge. A lot of people don’t see being a cartoonist or animator as a good career choice unless you go through the hoops that the industry set up. (Un)fortunately I’m stubborn, persistent, and I just made it my goal to do what I love to do and to do it my way; I just believe that everything will work out in the end.
The biggest struggle is trying to produce cartoons at a fast pace. People like getting content on a weekly basis and that’s not easy in animation unless you plan months in advance. Cartoons like “Toons These Days” only takes a week to make yet something like “Kassandra” takes much longer. I hope someday, I can churn out a 2-3 minute cartoon within a week.
Q. It seems you started with WebComics. When did you start producing WebComics and what was the process like?
A. I started back in 2008 with my first webcomic, “Balbians”, and it was mostly me practicing using Adobe Illustrator. The comic was fairly generic, and the updates started to slow down when I ran out of ideas for gags.
I tried again in 2010 with “The Cartoon Chronicles of Conroy Cat” to keep making comics while I focused more on my minor in animation at college. I saw a lot of webcomics focused on gaming so I thought making one focused on cartoons and animation would be more unique. Looking back a lot of these jokes weren’t really that funny, pretty hit and miss. When I tried to stay relevant with animation news I didn’t spend enough time thinking the joke through and that made the humor suffer at times.
Q. Still the Conroy Cat comics are pretty entertaining. How did you come up with the idea for the character?
A. The original concept for Conroy Cat was about a young kid who created a cartoon character that was connected to him in the cartoon world. I put the idea on the backburner until the next year when I took a Cartooning class. I needed an idea for a newspaper strip and I came up with the idea of a toon-in-training; the strip would poke fun of all the tropes and cliches in cartoons. Someone had to train Conroy Cat so I created a black and white toon named Doggy to teach him. Funny thing about Doggy is that originally he was a plucky character until people and the class suggested I make him sour and grumpy to make him a stronger contrast to Conroy. Conroy had a more Disney-ish design at the time so to make him more of a contrast to Doggy’s retro look Conroy was changed to look more modern, like he was drawn by Butch Hartman.
Q. Besides Conroy & Doggy were there any other characters whom you thought would be a major part of the Conroy comics?
A. A lot of the side characters that barely appeared like Officer Coldstone. He’s the toon cop that would’ve appeared more if I made more story arcs. Joe Censor, who only appeared once, was a parody of network executives and their BS&P policies and he was going to appear a couple more times as well.
Q. Before we move on to Animation could you tell me about some of the other comics you made and how well they turned out?
A. Well, a lot of the comics I made were class assignments, but the stories and characters that appeared in them I hope to bring back in animated form. Aside from “Balbians”, Kassandra made her comic debut in “Teen Goddess Kassandra” which was published in SCAD’s comic anthology, “Shoujo Phonebook”. I also tried making a fan comic called “Nicktoons Nexus” where various characters from Nickelodeon cartoons teamed up to save the world. I actually tried to pitch that to a rep from Nick Magazine, but they quickly shot it down. The comic barely made it through the second chapter before I gave up on it.
Q. It seems you’ve always wanted to make the transition from Comics to Animation so what was that transition like? Why did you wait to make the leap to Animation? Did you feel you weren’t ready, did you just not know how, or what?
A. I got back into animation during my last year in art school. I had to finish taking my minor courses and I chose to take Flash animation classes to relearn the program. After spending the past few years making comics, animation was a great change of pace. I used to make Flash animations back in high school and in my senior year my love of making animated cartoons was rekindled. I even find it easier to do than making comics!
One of the reasons I didn’t pursue animation as a major was because I always wanted to make animated shorts but didn’t feel like I could make anything good and that I’d have great difficulty finding voice actors or music. Someone then told me that if I was really passionate about it I shouldn’t let something like that hinder me. That’s kind of why when I started making shorts back in 2011 I made them with mute characters like Tortoise Tiberius.
Another piece of advice I got, which I received the day before I graduated, was that it was best to focus all my efforts on either animation or comics, not both. So I chose the former and haven’t drawn a comic since. I couldn’t be happier.
Q. I’m glad you’re following your passion. Your animations range from pretty good to great and I can clearly see both your potential and passion. Please keep up the great work.
Now about Tortoise Tiberius please tell me more about that character, the inspiration behind him, future plans for the character, and how you feel his animations have turned out thus far.
A. I dunno, Tortoise Tiberius was a quick easy character to make. He was originally a concept I had for a syndicated comic strip. Something that could pretty much write itself with crazy science shenanigans on a daily basis; a super genius animal who’s a cyborg that helps out the other animals in the forest. Since I was still playing around with ideas for the character, he was the first in the wave of shorts I was making in 2011. After two shorts, I pushed him to the side to give Conroy, Doggy, and other toons more attention, especially since those two were more popular. He’s more likely to make cameos now then star in his own series. I’m actually pretty proud of his shorts. I admit, they were crude, but I like the simplistic cute slapstick feel they had.
Q. Alright then what about Toons These Days, how did that come about and what are your thoughts on how it turned out?
A. When I had auditions open for Doggy, Brian Fisher did a complete ad lib of a grumpy character who rambled on about how the cartoons of today didn’t live up to those in the golden age. I thought it was hilarious. A month later I realized that an old toon rambling about current TV would make for a great webseries. After all, people online are always complaining about how cartoons today are horrible so I figured people would connect with that. And it ended up becoming the most popular cartoon I ever created.
I did the art and animation, while Brian wrote the episodes and did the voice. Unfortunately, Brian got too busy to keep doing both so me and my friend Steven Hohenthaner wrote the last seven episodes. Andrew Hingson, who voiced Doggy in “Falling With Grace”, returned to voice him in the Gravity Falls episode, whilst Brad Smith voiced him in the remaining episodes. I personally feel that the series wasn’t the same after Brian left. His feelings for how cartoons are today were more genuine because he doesn’t watch a lot of the cartoons Doggy discussed until just when he had to review it. His episodes were just more funny. I guess I also started to grow bored with Toons These Days and wanted to make cartoons that didn’t talk or reference other shows as a gimmick. Which is why I ended it to work on “Kassandra: Goddess of Awesome”. Though I admit, under certain circumstances, I wouldn’t be against bringing the series back.
Q. Now let’s move onto Kassandra your newest animated series. Tell me how that came about, what you think of it so far, and what direction are you planning to take the show?
A. Kassandra has been in development for a long time, dating back to around 2001. It basically started off as a fun idea where a kid befriends a powerful entity and they go on adventures with limitless potential. It has changed a lot over the years. Originally the magical person was a genie, the lead characters were going to be male, and Kassandra’s original name was Gabriella (Gabby for short).
Wanting to actually make something with these characters, I submitted a 12-page comic into my art school’s anthology, explaining how Kassandra met Helen. I’ve been wanting to do a follow up, but I put it aside to focus on Conroy and Toons These Days. I finally got tired of waiting and just put all my attention to it, found two talented voice actresses (Brittany Lauda and Emily Koch) to voice the leads, and made the animated short. I’m pretty happy with how the cartoon came out, and even more happy when Project Million Entertainment came on board to help produce and distribute new episodes. Future episodes will still have Kassandra trying to make Helen’s life more exciting and the stunts will keep getting crazier. If there’s a second season I’m hoping we can introduce Kassandra’s family, and showcase other deities from various myths as well. I even have a couple ideas for a movie!
Q. Wow, if there’s one thing I love it’s ambition! Now let’s get to the technical aspects of animation or more specifically how do you personally create animation and what equipment do you use?
A. My methods of animation evolves over time as I try to find ways to make it easier yet still somewhat maintain a level of quality. Before the fifth episode of Toons These Days, I drew each character pose basing them off of the rough storyboards. Now I use character rigs to help keep a more consistent look, and so I won’t have to redraw parts of the character over and over again. Essentially, I start off with a story idea which either takes a few minutes or I plot it out over several months. When I have it figured out, I write a script for the voice actors. While they record, I create storyboards. When they send me the audio, I create the animatic. Depending on the number of scenes I often split each scene into separate files and begin animating. I use a mix of tweening, but when that ends up looking like crap I try to do some semblance of frame-by-frame animation. If I want to give any scene some more flair I add lighting or camera effects via Adobe After Effects. When it’s all done I composite it all into Adobe Premiere. Animation is all done in Flash and I draw directly onto the computer using a Wacom Cintiq.
Q. After you’ve figured out the story how long does it take to animate a typical episode?
A. It usually takes about a month; though I’m working hard to churn out content faster. It all depends on how much movement the character is doing.
Q. Besides yourself and the voice actors is anyone else involved in the creation of one of your animations?
A. I get tips and suggestions from family member and friends, but Steven Hohenthaner is my main guy. We’ve known each other since high school and we chat online discussing ideas. I tell him my latest ideas for series, and concepts for episodes. He even wrote a few episodes of Toons These Days and came up with gags for a few of my other shorts.
Q. Okay, we’re finally nearing the end of the interview. What advice would you give to others interested in making their own cartoon, besides the obvious one of practicing a lot?
- Be persistent in your goals; but flexible when it comes to reaching them.
- Even if you’re bad at drawing that’s not a good reason to stop doing it.
Q. Great advice! Any books or webseries, etc. you’d recommend to someone interested in getting into the world of Animation?
A.There’s too many books to recommend (through “The Animator’s Survival Kit” is the best start); look at the shorts from Shut Up! Cartoons or Mondo Media and look closely to see how they animate it. Try to imitate their method of animation and then exceed it!
Q. And finally… your favorite cartoon?
A. Too many to name: Justice League / JLU, Avatar, Ed Edd, n’ Eddy, El Tigre, American Dad, The Simpsons, Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, Regular Show, Digimon, Gargoyles… the list goes on!
Alright then that’s everything. Thank you for your time.
I’d like to once again thank Alex Dudley for his time. I’d also like to thank you for reading this and stay tuned for future interviews. I don’t know who I’ll be interviewing next but please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments below. Finally enjoy a strip Alex sent to me titled “The First Conroy Cat Strip”.