He’s one of the founders of Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, the minds behind the wildly popular and Emmy-winning Robot Chicken. I recently flagged-down Eric Towner to discuss the ‘Buddies’ latest show – Buddy Thunderstruck – which stars a cool dog who races hot trucks and, unlike all their previous creations, is actually for kids.
Jackson Murphy: You and everyone at “Robot Chicken” recently won an Emmy for Outstanding Short-Form Animated Program. Congratulations.
Eric Towner: Oh, thank you so much. Yeah, the whole experience is just surreal and insane. [We] just feel incredibly fortunate to be continuing to make this show that we love and that the fans are loving. And to be recognized with something like an Emmy is just super bizarre and surreal and really amazing.
JM: I know there’s a “Robot Chicken” Walking Dead special in the works. When can we expect that?
ET: That is currently in the works. We just finished writing and now we’re starting to do all of the records, so we’ve got obviously a great cast. I think, pretty much, all of the original cast is going to be on the show. So that’s something to look forward to later this year.
JM: And you also just did another Couch Gag on “The Simpsons”. The first one was a huge hit a few years back. You’ve got to be happy with how this one turned-out.
ET: This one is definitely a different direction than the first one that we did. We’re just such huge fans of “The Simpsons”. I grew up watching that when I was a kid, and that really helped me get into animation. So to work with Al Jean and Matt Groening and that whole team was just – again – such an honor and so amazing.
JM: At Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, one of your co-founders is Seth Green. I met him once at a “Harry Potter” premiere. He was very funny. Tell me a great Seth Green story.
ET: When I first started on “Robot Chicken”, I was actually an animator – so this was back on Season 2. I remember walking by, and he was coming down the stairs, and I was on my way to the stage. He immediately just jumped on my back and we ran over to the stage, and then we talked about this shot I was about to animate. He’s just a great, humble, very genuine guy and a lot of fun to work with.
JM: So “Buddy Thunderstruck”, unlike “Robot Chicken”, is for kids. Is it more challenging to write cleaner material?
ET: You know, it is with its challenges. You want to appeal to a broader audience. Obviously something like “Robot Chicken” is an equal opportunity offender. You try to offend as many people, equally, as possible, where something like “Buddy Thunderstruck” is not that huge of a departure because it’s still character-driven comedy. The animation is gonna be really funny. And…you strip away some pee and poo jokes and you’ve got a show for kids. Just that easy.
JM: Buddy is a dog who’s a semi-truck racer. Did you go to real-life races to get some inspiration for the show?
ET: Oh, man, that would’ve been a great idea. Let’s call that research. Let’s go to a bunch of Nascar races and stuff. I have actually been to some Nascar races, and they are intense and crazy. This whole show centers around this town called Greasepit – and the main attraction of this town is all these races. So, we tried our best to capture the intensity and absurdity of the world of racing. It’s got a little bit of “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” mixed-in there. And it’s a strange but fun brew.
JM: Does Buddy at one point scream “Help me Jesus! Help me Oprah!” as Will Ferrell does in the movie?
ET: (laughs) I’m sure we strongly considered that. We may have even recorded that at one point, but we probably had to leave it out for a couple different reasons.
JM: Buddy has a bit of an ego. Tell me about him and some of the other characters.
ET: Buddy is all confidence and charisma. For us, it’s portraying that personality without it coming across overly arrogant or unlikeable. He is just a very genuine character, kind of full of bravado…all in good, silly fun. His best friend is his mechanic named Darnell, who’s a ferret. The show centers around their relationship and their friendship and all the crazy, insane adventures that they go on around town.
JM: As many people know, stop-motion animation is extremely difficult. I feel like creating the racing scenes is like this Monopoly Nascar game that I’ve played, where you’re only moving the car a tiny distance at a time on the board – and you just want it to get to the Finish Line already. Is it aggravating to do those racing scenes?
ET: We love it. It’s kind of what we’re made for – doing this stuff. That’s why we love this show so much. For us, stop-motion does take a ton of patience. An average animator will be getting 8-10 seconds done in a day – an entire day’s worth of work. But I will say, as an animator in a previous lifetime of mine, once you’re in the zone and you’re actually animating the trucks flying through the air around the corner, that time just sort of disappears. And then this magical things happens: you get to the end of the shot and you play it back, and you’re like, “Wow. They’re something really magical and wonderfully tactful about the whole thing.”
Buddy Thunderstruck debuts Friday March 10th on Netflix
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