Robot Chicken – How it all started

Strictly for adults ,robot chicken is one of the funniest examples of irreverent stop motion animation on the planet. I watched a very informative interview by Kevin Rose of G4TV with Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root, Head Writers for Robot Chicken, a stop-motion show from Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. I have transcribed some of the interview here for your reference.

interview by Kevin Rose of G4TV with Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root

interview by Kevin Rose of G4TV with Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root

Interview Copyright of G4TV

“Kevin: Now stay tuned because when we come back we’ll have an exclusive look at Robot Chicken with the head writers Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root. Robot Chicken is the newest member of the Cartoon Network’s adult swim cult series. It uses stop motion animation and well, as you can see toys. It’s full of random pop culture digs and is one of the funniest things that we’ve all seen in a while. In the studio today we are proud to have the head writers of Robot Chicken; Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root. Hey guys!

Tom: Hey

Douglas: Hey

Kevin: Thanks for coming on the show, I have to say I’ve watched all the clips and they were hilarious! Awesome stuff, where did you guys come up with the idea? Take me from the beginning, how did you put this all together?

Douglas: Well, a long time ago, Tom and I worked for a magazine company that produced many general entertainment things about toys and comics and Seth Green was a huge fan and he asked all of us, Tom and I and executive producer Matt Seritch if we wanted to do a stop motion skit of him and Conan O’Brien hanging out for when he was going to go on Conan O’Brien

Kevin: Oh Nice

Douglas: That eventually got around that we were doing that so when he said ‘hey produce some episodes for an upcoming website’ we did that, next thing you know, we’re on adult swim.

Kevin: Cool, so how did you guys come up with the name Robot Chicken, it’s kind of an obscure name.

Tom: Well, originally the name we came up with was ‘Junk in the Trunk’ which we thought was pretty appropriate but it turned out to belong to a series of porno films. So we had to come up with something else, so we went through hundreds of show titles and we were eating every day that we were brain storming ideas. We were eating at a Chinese restaurant up in the valley and they had a dish called Robot Chicken.

Kevin: Nice! So you’re like ‘if I can’t come up with any more names I’m going to call it Robot Chicken!’

Tom: Right and it ended up being called Robot Chicken.

Douglas: Always have a Chinese menu around when you’re trying to brain storm.

Kevin: Nice! No Seth got involved, is he actually producing the show with you or does he actually come in and help you brain storm ideas?

Douglas: He’s running his self ragged, he’s doing everything on the show, we’re all chipping in doing directing, producing, looking over the toys and he’s so passionate about the show that he’s working longer than anyone else. Every once in a while he’s like ‘I would like a nap’.

Tom: Seth’s killing himself.

Kevin: When you guys put this together you guys kind of all get together and is it like… what are some of the limitations with the toys, do you just get off the shelf type toys, do you buy them off eBay, old collectables that you’re using?

Tom: A lot of our action figures are right out the package you can find in the toy stores now or on eBay. Or yu know just old stuff you have in your closet and sometimes that has to be modified so it’s more articulatable. But a lot of what we call the puppets because the animators prefer to call them puppets, see there’s a puppet right now, getting his nuts squashed!

Douglas: And a lot of the times, like the toys you see there are really foam bodies with wires inside. We just use the heads and the arms of the toys because action figures can’t do anything and it needs to hold in place for the people to take the photos for the stop motion animation and off the shelf toys can rarely hold that well.

Kevin: Now this isn’t stuff that you guys are doing, obviously the sets look very professional do you have a team or crew of guys that puts these things together?

Douglas: Yeah, there’s about a dozen set builders, 10 or so puppet makers and these are the guys that have worked on everything from PJ’s to…

Tom: Some of our set guys worked on the Star Wars prequels making miniatures.

Kevin: Oh nice!

Tom: So it’s really quality stuff.

Kevin: That’s awesome, so you get the sets all built, you’re doing the stop motion, what about the actors who did you bring on to do some of the voice acting for you?

Tom: Well, because Seth has worked on so many big projects he knows a lot of big names so he’s brought in everybody from Burt Reynolds and Dom Dewyze to Scarlett Johansson to Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jnr.And he’s got them in our booth and they’ve done voices.

Kevin: That must have been a lot of fun to meet all those guys.

Douglas: I think our best experience wasn’t any named famous actor but we did a parody of the movie Seven using the smurfs because they’re all like gluttony smurf and they already exist so the original actor that played brainy smurf came in and did brainy smurf.

Kevin: So you actually got brainy smurf on your show that’s cool! So now we also have a clip of Rachael Leigh Cook actually came on, you want to set this one up?

Tom: Sure, Rachael Leigh Cook started her career an anti heroin PSA and it was all over the place 4 or 5 years ago, 6 years ago and so she came into our studio and a voice sort of poking fun at that commercial.

Kevin: Alright…

Kevin: That’s awesome that she came on the show and was cool enough to make fun of herself at the same time. So there has to be some limitations that you guys run into though. I mean is there anything that you really wanted to do but the network was like ‘no, no can’t push it that far’?

Douglas: Well the only two areas that they have comments on really is:

A) if they think it’s too obscure or really it’s not to their personal sense of humour they ask us to change it or not do it but that rarely happens. But they have standards and practices that we have to obey, we can’t get too violent, we can get pretty violent because they’re toys not people there’s a certain line we can’t cross. And we can’t be too sexual, we do a parody take off of the whole Paris Hilton sex tape using Beastman and Tila from the He-Man Universe. And they said ‘you know what, when you record this we’ll let you do little grunts like ‘uh, uh’ but it can’t be like..’ (thrusting) it’s really just got to be a suggestion of that you can’t make toys…

Kevin: You could still shoot that though and put it on the DVD though right, later on?

Tom: We’re going to have a killer DVD because we’ve got tons of stuff that’s been cut for content and cut for length; it’s going to be something once it’s out.

Kevin: Awesome! Well thanks guys for coming on the show we really appreciate it. No Robot Chicken the show that everyone’s talking about, it’s going to premiere on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim on February 20th. Be sure to check out the Adult Swim website for more information on Robot Chicken, you can find that of course on Now stick around because Douglas and Tom are going to be taking your calls a little bit later in the show.

Kevin: That’s so awesome. I’m back with Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root, the head writers for Cartoon Network’s brand new series Robot Chicken, and we’re going to be taking some of your live calls. So we have some, are you guys ready?

Both: Sure!

Kevin: Alright, Philip joins us on the phone from Auburn California. Hey Philip!

Philip: Hey how you guys doing?

Kevin: Doing pretty great.

Tom: Not bad

Philip: I’ve been a big fan of the show since the San Francisco days.

Kevin: Oh excellent.

Philip: Yeah, so I’ve got a couple of questions.

Kevin: Shoot

Philip: I’m wondering, how long it takes to make a 5 minute show, and also how many times do they have to move the characters to make that happen.

Kevin: Ah, so from the second you guys get started and you come up with an idea and you’re like ‘ok let’s do this’ how long are we talking?

Douglas: We’re producing most of the episodes in the same times as a 20 episode season. We started writing it in May and we literally just finished doing the sound for episode 1 the other week. So if I had to say that we’re doing one episode and that’s it, how long would it take all I can say is one animator can do 12 seconds of animation in a day?

Tom: As far as shots go there’s 30 frames per second so that’s how many times they have to move the toys.

Kevin: So it’s only 12 second though?

Tom: Per day, per animator.

Kevin: Wow!

Douglas: It’s a very patient line of work.

Kevin: Do you guys ever consider taking this thing digital and moving it into something where….

Douglas: It loses a lot of its charm that way

Kevin: I like those little stick guys

Douglas: Yeah.

Kevin: Cool, ok so we got one more call for you guys. Jason joins us on the phone from St Louis, Missouri. Hey Jason.

Jason: Hey how you doing?

Kevin: Doing pretty good. You have a question for us?

Jason: Yeah I sure do, my question was more or less related to the technology side. Once you get your characters together and you get your sets all set up, you start taking pictures with a camera and then you put it in the computer, how exactly does the process work?

Kevin: I had a feeling someone was going to ask this because the second they see this they’re like ‘I can do this at home too’.

Tom: It has a very homemade feel to it, the whole show. We use digital camera and we shoot frame by frame and sort of capture them as JPEG and sew them all together.

Kevin: These are computer controlled digital cameras though you can look at the previous frame and the next frame right?

Tom: Right, there a device called the lunchbox

Kevin: Right I’ve heard of the lunchbox

Tom: Each animator has their lunchbox and they take the digital imagine onto the lunch box. They can sort of toggle back and forth and make sure they’ve got the right increments of motion.

Kevin: Yeah I was checking out those lunchboxes, there pretty affordable, they’re not that expensive.

Tom: I would have no idea.

Douglas: We get paid to write.

Kevin: Yeah like we don’t animate that stuff! It’s cool though it’s very cool. So you could do this at home potentially if you wanted to?

Tom: You definitely could and the computers we use to edit on are just Macintosh G4’s most of the time.

Kevin: Nice, Mac guys, like to hear that, well thanks for coming on the show guys. I appreciate it , thanks for your calls, do not miss Robot Chicken. I can’t even say enough good things about it, it’s an awesome show, it’s going to premiere February 20th at 11.30pm eastern on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim

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