Interview No. 162
Interview By: @The-Great-One
Today's guest is one of new fame here on Newgrounds, yet he has been here for quite some time. He most known on here for his series Sublo & Tangy Mustard. He has other series including Fester FIsh, and he has done work on the Netflix Original Series, BoJack Horseman. I am most pleased and privileged to welcome, @Aaron-Long.
Q: How did you find Newgrounds and why did you join?
A: I must've found Newgrounds around 1999 or so. A friend showed it to me at school and we would sneak onto it to play Flash games. Then we'd go home and watch parodies and tell each other about the best ones. Our early favourites included Sesamea Street and Scooby Doo Tension Tent. I really miss that early era of the internet when there were a bunch of small independent sites that had their own flavour, and you were just as likely to stumble onto weird art made by independent creators as you were a slick expensive product. Before it had been figured out how to algorithmically manipulate people's attention. Now it seems like most people mostly just browse a few major sites but I'm so happy that Newgrounds is still around and active.
Q: What can you tell us about Hot Rod and Stinker?
A: Hah I'm surprised you know about that! Hot Rod and Stinker was one of my earliest cartoon ideas, from when I was a kid. It was basically just a sibling duo based on my sister and me. I wrote a full season of scripts, drew a bunch of comics and storyboards and even wrote a short novel or two. Their parents, teachers and friends were based on ours, the stories were all just stuff I did as a kid... The funniest thing in retrospect is that as an 8-year-old, I thought by the time you were 11 you were pretty much an adult and so I had an "older cousin" 11-year-old character whose main personality trait was that he was always drunk. Later on I tried aging them up and writing high school stories with them but those were awful.
Q: Your influences include Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and Chuck Jones. Three mavericks in their own respect at Warner Bros. How did each one influence you? Who is your favorite Looney Tunes character?
A: Hmm well with Bob Clampett, I guess it's more the animation in his shorts that I love rather than his direction or storytelling, which is often pretty sloppy. A lot of animators did their best, wildest work under him. But more than anybody else I feel like he leaned on the comedy crutch of pop culture references which mean his shorts don't hold up as well. Tex Avery is just the all-time master of staging a gag. His posing, timing, composition and everything are unparalleled. Chuck Jones, in his prime (about 1945-1955) is probably the best of the Looney Tunes directors at personality, although a lot of that is due to Mike Maltese's writing. Friz Freleng and Frank Tashlin were also pretty great. I guess the downside with Friz and Chuck is that they stuck at it for so long you can see a long slow decline in their stuff, but at their peaks they were both amazing.
It's really hard to pick a favourite Looney Tunes character but here's a few-- Bugs, Elmer Fudd, Cecil Turtle, Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre.
Q: At one point you considered your drawing abilities terrible. Looking back on them what did you consider bad about them? What brought you to Max the Mutt College of Animation, Art & Design?
A: I mean I wasn't TERRIBLE, I was better than most kids my age at drawing, but I kind of rested on my laurels and didn't really improve between age 8 and 16. I just thought "ok I'm pretty good at drawing for now, I don't have to work at getting better." And then once I started making my own cartoons and thinking about applying to colleges I realized how much work I had to do. My drawings just didn't have any solid construction, my line quality was weak, I was stuck in lazy bad habits. I started getting better when I did a high school co-op internship at Chuck Gammage Animation. Chuck was great to me and gave me a lot of advice, and made me come to life drawing classes with him on Sundays. He also introduced me to the work of Jim Tyer, who's still one of my favourite animators. As for Max the Mutt, I was impressed by the art they had on display and figured it would be great if they could teach me to draw like that. Another big reason I went to MTM is simply that I didn't get into Sheridan haha! But it ended up being good that I wasn't at Sheridan living in residence because right after I started college, my dad had a bad head injury and I needed to be around a lot. If I had been out in Oakville at Sheridan I would've had to drop out and move back home, but Max the Mutt was only a 20-minute walk from our house at the time so I was able to keep going to classes.
Q: Counterpoint - The Story of the Baroque Orchestra was made for your music class and you got a perfect score on. Where did you get the idea for this? This has the potential for a fun educational series, any chance of expanding it in the future?
A: At that point I was starting to use Flash and I was delighted that I could finally make animated shorts like I'd wanted to for years. So I kept talking my teachers into letting me do projects as animated shorts. That was a music history project for my teacher Roy Greaves, who I also got to voice a character in my early cartoon Space Goose (which I used an episode of as another high school project!)
Q: What can you tell us about Fester Fish?
A: I made up Fester Fish shortly after starting at Max the Mutt, after watching a bunch of 1930s rubber hose cartoons. Space Goose had been very talky and I found it tedious to animate the scripts I had written, so I decided my next thing would be storyboard-driven. Fester Fish is basically a love letter to 30s and 40s animation. I completed one short each year while I was in college, although the school never had anything to do with the production and probably discouraged the extra-curricular work taking time away from my studies... It got me featured on Cartoon Brew a few times, and a bit of attention in the industry although I didn't realize it till later. People kept telling me to pitch Fester and I thought there wasn't much of a premise to pitch. But maybe I will someday, it's definitely a series I want to revisit!
Q: We now come to the series that has become a household name on Newgrounds and that is Sublo & Tangy Mustard. I work as a deli at a sub shop so this show does hit me on a personal level and I love it! Where did the idea come from? Will there be a Season 3?
A: After I moved to LA I didn't make a personal short for a couple of years but I was brainstorming ideas for them. I had plans to do more Fester Fish but I also wanted to do something that wasn't a pastiche of existing stuff, something more inspired by my own life in Toronto with my friends in my early twenties. I put a lot of my own personal experiences into it and the mascot suit idea was just sort of a gimmick so that the two protagonists were visually interesting and that it wasn't just a totally self-indulgent autobio project. Season 1 was written as six episodes but ended up just being the first 4, which we recorded in 2015. Then season 2/episodes 5-15 were written and recorded in 2017, and I'm only just finished that batch now! Yes I do want to make a season 3 and I have a bunch of episode ideas, but I'm not sure when it will happen yet. I think I need to take a break from it again (as I did after season 1) and recharge while I focus on my day job.
Q: There are two episodes I want to talk about more. The first one is Sublo & Tangy Mustard #13 - Convention. From beginning to end I love this episode, it has everything I like in a cartoon and more. There was a collaboration to help fill the other mascots, which I thought was a brilliant idea! Also I can tell you from experience that you hit the nail on the head when it comes to these conventions (although with a little hyperbole). How did you come up with this? Why did you decide to go with a train instead of a plane with plane jokes?
A: Yeah "Convention" is definitely based on a lot of real experiences at conventions. The gross crowds, the lame shows, confusing schedules, annoying youtubers filming stuff, VIP areas etc... it just seemed like there was a lot of material to mine, and I thought a performance evaluation would be a good topic for an episode that would stress out the characters. As for why the train, I just really like trains! I was excited to do a train scene and feature Toronto's Union Station.
Q: The season 2 finale hits home closer than it probably should've for me. Sublo & Tangy Mustard #15 - Picnic. How friends and co-workers lose their friendships and connections. How Katy doesn't want to be making sandwiches for the rest of her life. It was quite the serious moment and that ending was just perfect. How did this episode come to fruition? Why a picnic for the setting? Will we get to know these other characters more down the line?
A: Right from the beginning of the series I wanted to have the characters' relationships evolve over time. So in the first couple of episodes, Sublo and Tangy Mustard aren't really friends yet, they're just getting to know each other. And for the first few episodes Katy is kind of keeping them at arm's length, figuring they won't be around long. Eventually they go through enough experiences together they start to bond, despite the pranks and teasing, until by the end of episode 15 she actually considers them her friends and is hugging them, having vulnerable conversations with them, etc. She sees that deep down they're pretty decent, even though they're immature and a little obnoxious. I love in the Scott Pilgrim books how the friend group starts to dissolve about halfway through the series. I remember reading that and being shocked at how relatable it felt. So I wanted to hint at that happening in Sublo and Tangy Mustard too, with Sublo taking for granted that things will stay the same while Tangy Mustard and Katy only see this as a stepping stone to the next chapter of their lives. I related to both perspectives because I never want to stop hanging out with the same group of people, whether it's high school, college or a job... But it can also feel stifling to stay in the same place doing the same thing indefinitely. Particularly at the time I was writing season 2, I was debating whether to stay in what felt like a comfortable rut or take a chance and try to find more satisfaction in life.
Q: Your writing process for Sublo & Tangy Mustard I absolutely love. It is similar to what I do for my own writing, except using E-Mail for brainstorming is just genius. Do you use this process for your other works? When did you come up with this writing process? What changes have you had to make to it over time?
A: I don't think of it as a particular technique I came up with, it's just the easiest thing to do when you have a phone in your pocket! I wind up making a ton of notes and once I have enough notes on the same theme I start to piece them together into a story. Sometimes the notes are an actual story, but mostly they're just little snippets of dialogue, a visual idea, a scene or even a bit of music. Then I just piece together the plot in a way that uses the ideas effectively and hopefully fits a 3-act structure. It tends to be kind of like filling in the blanks, like "ok I need to get this character from X to Y so what plot can make that happen?"
Q: Despite Sublo & Tangy Mustard, my absolute favorite by you is DMX Meets David Bowie. This was hilarious! Why these two together? How difficult was it to get the dialogue together and then create cohesive conversations?
A: Thanks, DMX Meets David Bowie was probably the most purely fun time I've had making a short. I'd like to do more quick and dirty stuff like that. I'm obsessed with both DMX and David Bowie, and I had been doing audio mashups of DMX rapping over other songs-- some ABBA, Bo Diddley, Perfume, Yuji Ohno, Bowie and others. I started splicing DMX lines to make new sentences for the Perfume "Polyrhythm" one and it made me laugh so hard I started thinking about putting a little story together. DMX Meets David Bowie started as just a radioplay, sort of inspired by the bit in Winnie-the-Pooh where Tigger first shows up in the middle of the night. But when I played it to people they didn't find it as funny as I did-- and found some of the dialogue hard to understand. I figured adding visuals would help them see what I found so funny in my head. I really didn't want to spend a lot of time on it, and it seemed like it could be worthwhile even if it was a little rough and messy, so once I put together the characters' photo libraries I think I ended up animating the whole thing in about a week. Not doing lip sync really saves time!
Q: When and how did you become part of SHADOWMACHINE? What can you tell us about your work on BoJack Horseman? As a storyboard artist, animator, and director? What can you tell us about working on the series finale?
A: Hah I could write a book about working on Bojack, it was 6 years of my life! I got hired at ShadowMachine in 2013 based on some freelance animation I'd done for Scout Raskin, who was a producer at the studio. She had hired me to animate an independent short called Bakerman and the Bunnymen which she'd written, because of seeing my Fester Fish shorts which were in a similar style. Bakerman was like my part-time job in my last year of college. It finished right around when I graduated, so she invited me to come work on a sketch comedy series called Triptank. I moved to LA for what was initially just a few months, but then before the season finished I met my girlfriend Elizabeth and got hired on season 1 of Bojack, and it seemed like I may as well stick around in LA a little longer! Bojack was supervised by Mike Hollingsworth, who was also my director on Triptank, and still a great friend of mine. Working with Mike is always fun, and a big reason I stayed on Bojack for so long. After season 1 I was offered the choice of boarding on Bojack season 2 or directing on Triptank season 2, and I picked directing-- but I don't regret it because Triptank was SO much fun and very free, while season 2 of Bojack was a really tough production. I dodged a bullet there! And it ended up being good because it gave me some experience as a director, which eventually led to me directing on Bojack once a spot opened up in season 4. The team on Bojack was so great, I love all of them! I miss sitting in that room with the other directors, just constantly joking and laughing. A lot of it seeped into the show in small ways. There are a bunch of in-jokes that you probably wouldn't notice unless you worked on it!
Working on the series finale was hard because it was a bit like the "Free Churro" monologue episode-- it's a bunch of long, still conversations and it was a challenge to make that visually interesting! We also had a very short amount of time to do that episode but it ended up coming together alright. It's not my favourite episode I directed (that would probably be "Time's Arrow," "The Showstopper" or "Xerox of a Xerox") but it was definitely an honour to do the final episode and help figure out how we say goodbye to all these characters.
Q: What is in your opinion, the definition of animation?
A: Oh jeez I dunno, 'still images projected in sequence to create the illusion of motion' or something. But if you're asking what KIND of stuff I like-- I love acting that takes advantage of the medium to move characters in impossible ways that show their inner feelings. I also like really dynamic action. I like seeing complicated shapes being turned in perspective and knowing that it's all hand-made. I like seeing funny drawings move in funny ways. I like cutout, stop-motion, cel animation, stuff that's tactile. I'm not big on rigged animation or 3D. I prefer when stuff feels organic and handmade, when you can feel the life that people have put into it, and little imperfections that come through that process, rather than things being technically perfect. So I'm happy to keep a little aesthetically pleasing sloppiness in my animation.
Q: At what age did you become interested in music?
A: My parents were both musicians, so it was always kind of inevitable! I had a toy drum kit with my initials on it when I was about 3, and I used to take my mom's guitar and strum it upside down to mirror Raffi on TV. My mom made me start taking piano lessons pretty early, and for years I didn't really enjoy it, but I'm so glad I did it now because it gave me a solid basis for everything else. The lessons were all just simple classical songs but as I got older and more interested in the Beatles, I started teaching myself songs I actually liked which made a big difference. I have 'perfect pitch' which is this weird flukey thing where you can instantly tell what musical notes you're hearing, so it's not hard for me to learn songs. I played drums in band classes at school, jammed with friends and taught myself guitar and a tiny bit of banjo. It all helps with animation too because so much of animation is about timing, rhythm and spacing.
Q: Take a Break is a song that sounds like it was made with a bunch of samples, without using any samples. How the hell did you achieve that?
A: There have been a few moments when I've loved a song and then felt tricked when it turned out the part I liked best was just a sample. Stuff like "Shangri-La" by Denki Groove or some of Nujabes' stuff. I really like the sound collage effect that Pogo and others use in their music. I wanted to try capturing that 'sample' feeling but with original sounds so I treated them with different EQ and filters, and sometimes messed with the tuning a bit so that they'd sound a bit like warped vinyl.
Q: We are all guilty of procrastination. You were procrastinating on animation and made Stay Focused. What project were you procrastinating on? Why turn to making music for your procrastination? Should other artists switch gears to something else when procrastinating?
A: Hmm it was probably Sublo and Tangy Mustard! Sometimes you just get an idea in your head and have to record at least a demo before you lose it, and then sometimes that demo ends up getting so worked out that it becomes the final recording! And yeah definitely if you're stuck on something creatively, a good solution is to take a mental break from it and distract yourself with some other activity.
Q: What is in your opinion, the definition of music?
A: Definitions are hard! I guess any audio can be considered music. I think at this point more complex definitions are irrelevant! But in terms of my favourite music, I like a lot of 60s pop, UK post-punk, a lot of cheesy disco and funk and early electronic stuff. Some of my favourites include Beatles, Kinks, Bowie, YMO, Orange Juice, Talking Heads, Stereolab, De Lux, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Joe Hisaishi, Yuji Ohno, Daniel Grau, Raymond Scott, I should stop but I like a lot of music.
Q: I tend to ask creators what advice to those looking to get into the medium. You have answered that question before...
Always work on your personal stuff; it's what makes you stand out from the crowd
Do you still stand by this message? If no, then why? If yes, what would you expand on this piece of advice?
A: Yeah that's still my big advice-- don't wait for permission or funding to start making stuff, just do it on your own! I think it's good advice for people just starting out because making your own animation/art/comic is just a good way to get hired in general, and specifically on the kind of job you actually want because people will be able to tell what your strengths and interests are. And it's a good way to get recognition beyond just being an anonymous part of a show's crew.
Q: What can we expect from Aaron-Long in the future?
A: Pretty sure there will be more Sublo and Tangy Mustard coming up, and hopefully another Fester Fish short or two! Something new would be nice too-- I have ideas but I just don't have time to work on more than one personal project at once!
Aaron Long is Newgrounds modern day Adam Phillips. An animator whose works are regaled on Newgrounds, but has done a lot of professional work outside Newgrounds. It is a testament to the site that whether you move onto bigger or smaller things outside this site, it is a wonderful foundation to start on. A building block to expand beyond this site. If you are willing to put in the hard work and effort into your craft. Aaron Long is a wonderful example of this.
The Interviewer is a part of Dohn's Desk Productions