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Posted at 9:30 AM ET, 05/28/2009

The Interview: Animator/Filmmaker MIKE JUDGE (Pt. 2)

By Michael Cavna

Mike Judge (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

In the interest of full transparency, Comic Riffs and animator/filmmaker MIKE JUDGE share many of the same influences. Not just some creative ones -- Terry Gilliam, Chuck Jones, Harvey Pekar and Charles Schulz, to cite a few -- but also physical ones. We both attended Warren College at the University of California San Diego, a heavily gray campus during the '80s and '90s that, to some artists, seemed to cry out for cartoon embellishment and cartoonish sculptures (which it thankfully received). We each used to take our cartoons to the "newsroom" of the campus's satirical newspaper. And we each reveled in the animation festivals that would barnstorm through La Jolla and San Diego.

Comic Riffs recently caught up with Judge, 46, to discuss how he discovered a career in animation, as well as his works that have highlighted a two-decade career. (NOTE: Part 1 of this interview, which featured his new ABC show "Goode Family," was posted yesterday.)

MICHAEL CAVNA: In one of the early episodes of your new show, one character talks about the need to "express himself" as an artist. Do you consider yourself an artist?

MIKE JUDGE: I don't know -- I try to be, but to me, whether or not something is art only counts if you're in the academic world or applying to get a grant. I don't feel like an artist. Maybe I am. ... I draw for fun -- for my own amusement.

MC: For me, it was eye-opening when the old Spike & Mike Festival would come through town, featuring shorts by Bill Plympton and John Lasseter -- and Don Hertzfeldt, whom you later, of course, organized "The Animation Show" festival with. What role did "Spike" have in your career?

MJ: I went to that Spike & Mike [in La Jolla] and the one at the Ken [Theatre] -- the Animation Celebration. That really blew my mind. ... Later, Spike ran three of my first five shorts in the midnight show he was doing. I was starting to animate stuff [in the early '90s] and mailing it out to [outlets like] Animation Magazine. I always wanted to do animation -- I did flip books as a kid. But good animation seemed like it was over by then. I hadn't seen anything like [those festival shorts], though. That's really what inspired me. I always thought it was too cost-prohibitive: "Boy, you need all the equipment and the money for film and all the sound equipment." I thought: Maybe if I'm rich someday. ...

The turning point was [a few years later] when the Animation Celebration played Innwood Theater in Austin. Paul Clarehout had his cels in the lobby. I thought: Somebody here in town actually does this. So I figured out ways to make films with a $300 Bolex camera. I did the lipsynch tracking with a stopwatch and a four-track cassette recorder. ... My first film was "Office Space," and I did the music all as one piece.

MC: So how did you learn to use an animation camera? I've always heard that you were self-taught.

MJ: Because I didn't know anybody who did animation, I called [a shop] to rent time on a camera. It was an Oxberry -- it was gigantic. The only animation camera operator [who knew how to work it] had just died. So the guy there asked: "We don't have an operator, but if we let you figure out how to use it, would you be willing to come in and learn it?" That motivated me to finish my film -- I didn't want to have to call back the guy in six months. ... I just randomly ran into Paul Clarehout and he showed me all the idiosyncracies. They hardly have [these cameras] anymore. I miss the way animation looks on them.

MC: Most televised animation seems to be computerized now. Do you know of any shows who use film?

MJ: "King of the Hill" and "The Simpsons" were shooting on film till about 2002, I think. In the last three years or so, people have figured out cool ways to use CG work to make it look like film -- discovering what you can do with it besides making it look like "Toy Story" -- which by the way, I love.

A still from the 250th episode of Fox's "King of the Hill." (© 2009 TTCFFC)

MC: Can you speak to the influence of [Monty Python animator/director] Terry Gilliam?

MJ:He was probably the first animator who [inspired me]. Starting out, I thought I could be a Terry Gilliam to a sketch-comedy show and present myself that way.So when my first short, "Office Space," aired on "Night After Night With Allan Havey" (on the precursor to Comedy Central), they flew me out to New York -- and the guest was Terry Gilliam. I went from animating a little thing to a month and a half later, I'm in New York and talking to Terry Gilliam for a while.

MC: Like a musician being asked to play "Freebird," do you ever get tired of requests to do the voices of "Beavis and Butt-Head"?

MJ:I get that a lot. But I do the voice of Butt-Head pretty quietly. If I'm in a restaurant or bar and someone asks me to do it, they can barely hear me. And they go: "You're not the guy! [Expletive!]" ... And I don't have anything spontaneous to say -- they're not the kind of characters that are [easy to make up] a conversation for.

MC: In your [2006] film "Idiocracy," you inaugurate a "President of Color." Were you being prescient, or was that just happenstance?

MJ:You know, I didn't write it that way. We weren't thinking race, or at least we wanted everybody to think "mixed race." Terry [Crews] just became the role. He came in and of all the people that read it, he kept making us laugh. I didn't mean for it to be any kind of racial thing -- we just wanted to make him a wrestler. Mostly when I wrote it, I was imagining Benicio del Toro.

MC: How do you feel about "King of the Hill" coming to an end after 13 [or potentially 13-plus] seasons?

MJ: I think it's probably a good time to stop. It's been such a great run, and I'm pretty proud of it.

MC: Does it feel momentous, or not-so-much?

MJ: It's weird, but we've had so many false stops along the way when I thought the show was canceled, the end now doesn't have that [momentous] feeling. And because there was a point when I thought I didn't want to do it anymore. It's all good.

MC: So do you have any animosity toward Fox for canceling the show?

MJ: Fox has been good to me. Besides, there've been so many different executives over the years, I wouldn't know who to have animosity toward, even if I had any.

MC: So, I'd like to get your quick impressions of a handful of folks in animation. Ready?

MJ: Sure.

MC: Don Hertzfeldt.

MJ: "Rejected." That says it all. One of my favorite animated shorts of all time. One of my top three.

MC: Yvette Kaplan.

MJ: She's the one person I could trust as an animation director on the Beavis and Butt-Head movie. She was my main collaborator. A great director.

MC: Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

MJ: They're great, also. "South Park" has spawned many imitators, [but] their sense of humor is very unique. ... I've never laughed out loud as much as reading the screenplay of "Team America" before it came out.

MC: Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and the gang.

MJ: They're my heroes. Chuck Jones was the greatest animator, and Tex, too. The Road Runner, to me, is right up there with man landing on the moon. Just incredible.

MC: Seth MacFarlane.

MJ: I just did a voice for "Family Guy." When I saw the pilot for "Family Guy," I didn't make the leap and I didn't get it. But my uncle said: "You've got to watch this." And now it really makes me laugh. Seth embraced what he's good at. Networks obsess too much over character and warm moments. He's just going for pure laughs -- that's a great thing to do.

MC: Matt Groening.

MJ: He started it all for the new generation. It's the Simpsons' world -- we just live in it.

By Michael Cavna  | May 28, 2009; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, The Animation  | Tags:  Goode Family, Mike Judge  
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Watched the first episode last night, and have to say it was pretty lame. Some amusing lines, but overall it may need a shakedown period. I really enjoyed Hank Hill and the clan because even though the main characters had their foibles, you could almost "identify" with them. Not so here (yet).

Posted by: capsfan77 | May 28, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

The first show was not lame, but it was in the scenes did not flow into each other for a whole...
The characters were not "real" yet...just cartoon figures. I will keep watching.

Posted by: ZeldaJane | May 28, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

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