When he was two years old, Juris Lisovs’s mom took him to a psychologist, concerned that something was wrong with her toddler: he was obsessively drawing circles with a crayon for hours on end. The doctor assured her that all was well, better than that, even: she had a little artist on her hands! Flash forward a few decades, and Juris – a self-taught animator from Latvia – is the creator of our 7th GO! Cartoon, “Both Brothers”. A huge fan of American animation, he is determined to make it in the US market, and we here at Frederator are proud to take part in his journey. Below, Juris talks conformist bunny rabbits, the egalitarian aspects of YouTube, and finding inspiration in your best buddies.
Where did you learn to animate?
I’m still learning! I’ve always drawn, but it wasn’t until I discovered YouTube tutorials on animation that I realized I could tell stories in that medium. YouTube is a great resource, because you have industry professionals creating instructional videos that anyone, anywhere can access. It provided me with learning opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
That’s so cool that you’re self-taught. Did you consider going to school for art or animation?
There’s really nowhere to study animation in Latvia; our population is only two million people! I considered going to school elsewhere in Europe, but the programs are very artsy and experimental-focused. I’m much more motivated to tell character-driven stories. I would have loved to study in the US, but it’s so crazy expensive!
You can say that again. How do you pay the bills in Latvia?
I work as a freelance designer and illustrator. It’s great doing art for a living, even with such random gigs as designing for tote bags. I make time for my own projects, though.
How did you come across Frederator and the opportunity to pitch to GO! Cartoons?
I was watching “Bravest Warriors” on YouTube and thought, “Maybe this production company accepts new cartoon ideas”. And surprisingly, they did! Frederator is one of the only studios that accepts ideas from outsiders. It’s rare, and awesome. I hesitated and doubted myself before sending my “Both Brothers” pitch because I was afraid of rejection; the idea was very close to my heart. But when I realized that I had nothing to lose, I presented my idea, and the rest is history.
What are you working on currently?
I’ve teamed up with a Latvian producer to make a short film called “Cycle of Life” that we hope to enter into international festivals. Quite different than my Frederator project: it’s very plot-driven. We’re currently putting together a bunch of materials – storyboards, screenplay, character designs – to apply for government funding to make it. It’s a competition for financing, so fingers crossed that we’re successful!
Cool! Sending you all the ~positive vibes~. What’s the short about?
It’s a metaphor for our society’s problems, explored through the life cycle of a bear.
It’s pretty abstract, and goes off onto little tangents – it’s certainly not a linear story. I wanted to explore how traditional education and the pursuit of wealth can really diminish people’s individuality and creativity. For example, there’s a part where all of these different species of baby animals are put into a mixer at school and mashed into a mass. They all emerge as identical bunnies. There’s a character who dreams of becoming a photographer, but in his pursuit of the literal carrot in the sky – which represents money – he gives up his creative ambitions. It’s about how chasing an income might disconnect you from your passion. Speaking of connectivity: I also want to explore the unhealthiness of phone and social media absorption. I’m alarmed by the depression and isolation that comes with it. There’s a part where a character grins for a selfie, and her face falls right after it’s taken. There seems to be so much performing of happiness in the selfie era.
(concept art for “Cycle of Life”; the meat grinder has since become a mixer)
Who are some of the biggest inspirations of your work?
Steve Cutts, especially for this current project. He’s a great role model for making art that’s critical of society. As for cartoon creators, I really admire Butch Hartman (The Fairly Oddparents, Danny Phantom) and Genndy Tartokovsky (Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack). Matt Groening too – I’m a big fan of The Simpsons.
Let’s talk “Both Brothers”: were Klod and Tod inspired by people in your life?
Definitely. Tod is a representation of my own ego. And Klod is based off of my best friend Martin’s best qualities.
Does he know that Klod is based on him?
Oh, yeah. I made two web series with these characters to put on YouTube, and he voiced Klod in both. He loves the character, and it’s cool that he’s been there for this whole journey with them.
(Martin, Klod’s inspiration, on the left; Juris is on the right)
Do you snowboard like Klod & Tod?
I actually never have! But Martin loves to, so he inspired that part of the story. They actually do close down the resorts here in Latvia when it’s too sunny and there isn’t enough snow, so that was based on his experiences! We talk every winter about going – one of these years he’ll convince me.
Where did the idea for “Both Brothers” originally come from?
In high school, my friend was driving me and a couple other friends, and he was complaining that the sun was too bright, he couldn’t see. He said something like, “Stupid sun, why can’t it just go away?”. It made me think, “hmm… what if it did?”. Careful what you wish for!
How much did your idea change throughout the pitch –> production process?
It didn’t change all that much. The main thing was when I started out, Klod and Tod would have very similar reactions to things – like both reacted with anger to the resort being shut down, rather than Klod being more sad about it in the final version. I was reading books about storytelling as production started, and I thought more about how I could differentiate them, and give them more distinct ways of speaking and acting. So those changes were made, and I think it made their dynamic more interesting.
What could we expect from a “Both Brothers” series, were it picked up?
I’d try to make every episode a miniature movie. There’d be more characters introduced, especially in their school environment – how they interact with other kids. They’re meant to be around 12 years old. I know that there’d be a very scary and angry neighbor that they fear; and we’d meet Klod’s pet pig that he saves from a slaughterhouse.
What’s your favorite thing about “Both Brothers”?
That the short got made! It’s crazy to see your vision materialize. I am thankful to everyone who was involved in making it. Frederator put together an amazingly talented group of people.
Did you ever consider trying to get “Both Brothers” made as a Latvian show?
Latvia does have a long history of animation; but these days, there may only be one TV cartoon made by and for the Latvian market. For a while, I wanted to push forward the creation of more. But my thinking has changed; the opportunities and mindset are better in the US. I’ve always loved American culture and programming, and it’s my dream to work in Hollywood. Ideally, I could make a show in the US that would cross cultural boundaries and find popularity in Latvia, and elsewhere too.
What are your favorite cartoons?
The Simpsons, Gravity Falls, Regular Show, We Bare Bears, and Ed, Edd n Eddy.
Did you always want to be an animator growing up – and what would you be if you weren’t?
As a kid, I never thought that I’d work in animation. I wanted to be an actor for a while, a soldier, all sorts of random things. It was in high school, when I started making films, that I realized I’ve been creating art and telling stories all my life. If I weren’t pursuing animation, I think I’d be a photojournalist, specializing in documenting the realities of war zones and remote locales affected by war. I’d want my work to represent the world as it is: showing the human impact of armed conflict. The reality that you never really see on the news.
That’s a big leap from kids cartoons. What are your interests outside of animation?
I really enjoy nature; Latvia’s very flat, so we don’t have many hiking trails, but it’s one of the greenest countries in Europe. Right outside of my house is a forest with a lake. Especially now that our already low population is moving toward the capital, there is a lot of green space to explore in relative solidarity. I like philosophy, politics, keeping up with world news, and watching documentaries. And I enjoy writing.
What are you writing currently, aside from your short film project?
I’ve been writing a screenplay for a live action film. It’s a drama about a man who survives a wolf attack on a frozen lake, and it’s set over the course of a single day. I’m writing it in English – my third language after Latvian and Russian – which makes it tougher and slower-going. But that won’t stop me!
Great talking with you Juris, thanks for the interview! Sending all the *good luck* we can for your film financing competition. Excited to see what the future has in store for you!