Interview w/ Chris Savino, Director of Johnny Test and Kick Buttowski

Chris Savino is a name that might make most do a double take. Its one of those names that you know you've heard of, but can't quite say where. That's because Savino, a talented creator in his own right, has worked behind the scenes on a plethora of animated powerhouses including The Ren and Stimpy Show, Rocko's Modern Life, Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Test, Kick Buttowski and (most recently) his creator-owned Bigfoot & Gray: On the Run.

Between directing Disney's latest smash hit, Kick Buttowski, and developing his own live action series, Bigfoot & Gray: On the Run, Savino was gracious enough to spare a few moments of his time and hang out at the clubhouse for a one-on-one with the Strange Kid himself.
Thanks for joining us, Chris. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure! Thanks for having me. I am originally from Michigan. I’ve drawn cartoons and comics since the age of four. I copied Peanuts and other great strips to teach myself how to draw. I always wanted to have my own comic strip and didn’t think of animation as a career until late in high school. I moved to Los Angeles in 1991 when I was 19 to start my career in animation.

You have a rather impressive background in animation, having worked for some pretty big names in the industry. What has it been like to work on so many beloved cartoons like Ren & Stimpy, Rocko's Modern Life, Powerpuff Girls and Kick Buttowski?

It really isn’t so much about the show, it’s about the people who work on them. I would say without a doubt that I have been able to work with some of the most talented and passionate cartoonists in the industry. It is their desire to make great cartoons that makes the cartoons great. Not the other way around.

Well said. In addition to the shows mentioned above you have also been developing a live-action short called Bigfoot & Gray: On the Run. What's the story behind that?

It’s technically a pilot in hopes that in can become a series either on TV or the Web. BF and G was originally an animated pitch. I am a gigantic fan of Jay Ward cartoons (especially Superchicken and George of the Jungle) and I wanted to make a show like that. It was totally within my personal style especially the quick dialogue and word play. I am often “accused” of being the Pun King. After a short option at a major cartoon network, I put BF and G on the shelf. It was years later that I was looking to do a live action short (live action is something I think I would like to get into at some point) and thought of BF and G. I figured it would be the perfect idea to incorporate my animation experience into live action.

What prompted the decision to break away from the major studios with Bigfoot & Gray?

No one wanted it. Ha!

There are many reasons, but the main one is that there is no reason why I shouldn’t. With technology the way it is, it’s become viable to make an entire movie with off the shelf hardware. That’s an exciting prospect and I think we will see more and more independent films being made this way! Projects can languish in development for years and never see the light of day. This way I can make this and sell the project the way I see it without much compromise.

I noticed that you recently ended a rather successful fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo. How do you think sites like IndieGoGO and Kickstarter have changed the way independent creators pursue their ideas?

Yeah! Crowd funding is another way to make content without major studio funding. I chose Indiegogo because no matter what anmount of the goal you have raised you still get the money. Unlike others where if you don’t reach the goal you don’t get the money. I would have hated to reached $3800 of a $4000 goal and not get it. 3800 is better than zero.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have so many generous supporters that I surpassed my goal. Now I can put the corners back on that I had to cut in order to make this thing. This whole fund raising experience has been both flattering and humbling. You’ve no idea how good it feels to realize how many people out there are willing to give you some of their hard earned money (and in this economy) because they believe in you and your project. I highly recommend indiegogo and the folks that run the site are fantastic and friendly.

You mentioned earlier that Bigfoot & Gray was originally pitched as an animated show. What prompted the change to evolve it into a live action short?

It didn’t evolve much. Like I said, I wanted to apply my cartoon knowledge to live action so I really went about it like I would if I was actually making a cartoon, both with design as well as storyboarding. The biggest change was in Bigfoot. I didn’t want him to be a guy in a full on costume, so I devised the idea that he shaves his arms, legs and face so it looks like he is a human wearing a big sweater (cable knit fur). The big letter B completes his disguise.

Still, even though doing this live action, I always wanted to see these guys animated. That was solved by a suggestion from my pal Chris Young. There is a cliff-hanger in the middle of the script that cuts to a fake commercial with Bigfoot and Gray as hucksters for a fake product. I planned on shooting it live action as well, but now that part will be animated. I am pulling some favors to get it done, but now I have the best of both worlds. I’m really excited by that.

What are some of the limitations and/or advantages you've found in producing a live action show as opposed to an animated one?

As I mentioned earlier, with the technology as accessible as it is these days, there should be no limitations. Obviously I had to keep cost in mind, so I limited my locations. So much so that I decided to shoot mostly on green screen and inserting plates of forest in post-production. This will give me way more control over the lighting and the camera than if we were actually out in the woods.

What were some of your favorite shows to watch growing up?

Rocky and Bullwinkle made a big impression on me. I’m 100 percent certain that most of the jokes went over my head, but that’s the beauty of a show like that. I could enjoy it as a kid, but appreciate it years later as an adult. I also watched Underdog, Looney Tunes and Popeye the Sailor.

Seeing as how you've been able to coax Bigfoot back on camera, what are the top 5 myths surrounding him that you can debunk for us?
  1. The Patterson film caught Bigfoot’s bad side. There would have been no doubt it was really Bigfoot had he been walking right to left.
  2. Contrary to popular belief it was a male Bigfoot in that film. Bigfoot was going through some emotional issues and was on an eating binge. He no longer has man-boobs.
  3. Just because you live in the woods doesn’t mean you can’t have good oral hygiene.
  4. Elvis is not dead, he is doing Bigfoot's laundry.
  5. Big feet does not always mean big...

What's the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?

Going to the Universal Mall in Warren, Michigan to see what was reported as a Bigfoot frozen in a block of ice.

So what did it turn out to be?

If I remember correct, it looked like a hunk of old carpet. Most likely was.


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