Damien Barchowsky and Jeff Drake have a lot in common: young kids, wives who write or storyboard for animated shows, and a propensity for potty humor with heart. By fortune or fate, they moved into the same Burbank neighborhood and gave rein to our 12th and final Go! Cartoon, “Pottyhorse”. Below, Damien and Jeff talk sincere characters, spaghetti westerns, and finding a good creative pard’ner.
So what brought you two into animation, and what do you do?
Damien: I studied painting in school, but my professional career has centered on computer programming. When my wife got a job as a storyboard artist on Regular Show, we moved to Burbank and I took the opportunity to work professionally in animation. So I’ve been a background painter since, first on Regular Show and now on Close Enough, which will be on TBS when it premieres. And I’ve also made comics for a long time, which I post on damienjay.com.
Jeff: Well, I can’t draw. I’m a writer, currently for I’m Sorry, a live action show on TruTV. Outside of that I do freelance promotional writing for different networks, and I wrote on the Bob’s Burgers comic. I also got into animation through my wife: she’s written on Bob’s Burgers since the beginning. She actually got the heads up about the Go! Cartoons opportunity and told me about it. I asked Damien if he wanted to come up with something together, and he did.
How did you guys meet?
D: We actually met through our kids! We’re neighbors, we live 2 doors down from each other. Our oldest kids are about the same age, so they’ve been playing together since we’ve both lived there.
Aww! Where did the idea for Pottyhorse come from, what inspired it?
J: Basically sitting around throwing two words together. We had a few other combos before landing on “Potty” and “Horse”. That one made us laugh, so we went from there.
D: It was a bolt from the blue. Looking back on it, I think the fact that our kids are the same age – the age that thinks the words “butt”, “fart”, and “poop” are endlessly hilarious – must have been a big influence.
How did you build Pottyhorse’s character from his name—like deciding that he’s the town sheriff AND the town potty?
D: His first and foremost job was being the potty—he was always the potty. And then we got to Sheriff from that.
J: I think it was natural, because he’s a horse, to put him in an Old West situation. I don’t remember how, but early on we concluded that he was both Sheriff and the only toilet in town.
Laid on the responsibility. Have you brainstormed ideas for a full series?
D: Well we have lots of townsfolk. So that’s an obvious way to go, telling all their stories.
J: Yeah, there are a lot of fun characters. And we kicked around the idea that were this a series, probably every episode there’d be some new threat of destruction to the town. But I don’t know how sustainable that’d be, Pottyhorse saving the town every episode.
Who are your favorite characters in the short and why?
D: I like Heartery a lot. I don’t think I’ve seen an animated pillow before. And I really like her character, she’s very sweet. I like Pottyhorse too.
J: I like their relationship; I think explored more, it could be really sweet. Also, the Coffee Pot Guy and Angry Falcon. I think that’s what made me want to provide their voices—I found them very entertaining. But I kinda fall in love with every character Damien draws, because the way that he renders them all I just find endlessly entertaining. So I would be excited to follow the adventures of any of them, really.
What are each of your favorite cartoons?
D: Oh, that’s a hard one. But I am inspired by Bob’s Burgers, definitely. Adventure Time, and I love Hayao Miyazaki’s work. I’m forgetting a bunch, but those three come to mind fastest.
J: I would be remiss not to mention Bob’s Burgers, because I’m a company man, and I’m married to it. But I grew up watching old Warner Bros. cartoons, and love Bullwinkle, which I’ve gotten to rediscover with my 7 year old. But there’s tons of great newer stuff, like I loved Samurai Jack when it came out. I’ve always loved cartoons.
Was anything especially inspiring to you while developing Pottyhorse?
J: Spaghetti Westerns, and Westerns generally. Watching classics like High Noon, and trying to dial in that trope while keeping things from being completely old-timey.
D: I looked at Deadwood for visual reference. They did a great job of fleshing out a Western town. And I checked out a lot of old Westerns from the 50s and 60s and sort of studied the set designs, the structures and landscapes. I also searched Google Maps and settled on parts of South Dakota. I wanted to mash up old and modern, so for example, the scene with the town meeting: the building has this very old Western facade, but the inside is just a generic rec hall, instant coffee on a fold out table.
What do you guys like to do outside of work?
D: Art is what I really love doing. And I know Jeff has 3 kids, and my wife and I have 2 kids. My daughter’s 7 and my son is 3… so outside of work I don’t have a whole lot of choices of things to do.
J: Sleep is good. I definitely enjoy sleeping, look forward to it. My wife and I try to keep up on new shows as much as we can. But yeah, it’s mostly spending time with our kids and going to sleep.
Are you guys working on more projects together?
J: We are—in a very gestational stage. But we’re kicking around some ideas for a 22 minute animated series. We want to smash some common ideas together – familiar character types and situations – and see if we can find a new approach.
D: We’ve talked about making an alternative to the raunchy sensibility that reigns these days, especially in 22 minute animated shows. Like we wanted the “Pottyhorse” short to be funny, but we also put a lot of value in having sincere characters in Pottyhorse and Heartery. So we want to make something with humor and very earnest characters.
Anything else you’d like to tell the Frederator community?
J: I’m looking forward to seeing what people think. Animation is such a long process, so to finally have it air, I’m thrilled. I’m really proud of it; the job we did, and the work that everyone else involved in the project put in.
D: Yeah, everybody at Frederator was great. The story inputs were helpful and enhanced what we had, and everyone on the production did a great job. And I learned a lot in the process. I haven’t worked in animation for too long, and as a background painter, there are so many steps that I don’t really see, so it was great seeing every piece come together. I’d also never written with a partner before, so I’m glad that worked out!
J: Haha! That’s what I was going to say. It could have created an awkward situation in the neighborhood.
Last up: do your kids like Pottyhorse?
J: My son, who’s seven, loves it. He’s been looking forward to it and wanted to see it in all its various stages. He’s also a voice of one of the townspeople in the crowd scenes.
D: My daughter gives Pottyhorse equal standing with any other more famous cartoon characters. She addresses Pottyhorse pretty much the same as she’d talk about any Pokemon. But at this point, she is way over the short itself. She’s seen it, she knows what happens. Now it’s just something keeping her from her Let’s Play videos.
Thanks so much for the chat Damien and Jeff! Looking forward to seeing what projects you guys giddy-up to next.