Cartoon Network’s Toby Jones sat down with the High Plains Reader over coffee amid his Fargo Film Festival visit.
Jones, a Fargo native and graduate of Fargo South High, is an Emmy-nominated writer and storyboard artist for “Regular Show.” The show reaches an estimated 2 to 2.5 million viewers per week and even features the voice of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) as Skips, one of its regular characters.
Jones was a featured animator in this year’s Fargo Film Festival. He hosted a workshop with his girlfriend/“Regular Show” writer Madeline Queripel and presented his 8-minute short “AJ’s Infinite Summer” on the big Fargo Theatre screen. The short is based off Jones’ feature film “AJ Goes to France,” which was screened at the 2006 Fargo Film Festival.
“AJ’s Infinite Summer” is a fun, light-hearted and gag-filled adventure that follows AJ and his friends (who happen to be based on Toby’s real high school friends) through the experience of working a summer job in business. Plenty of silliness and hilarious moments ensue, as AJ’s interpretation of the business world is quite naïve and playfully demented.
“We are seeing AJ’s point of view of the world, and AJ has a very childlike perspective,” Jones said. “And the way that the logic of that show works is, what does AJ, who’s this very strange character, think that business is like.”
Cartoon Network released “AJ’s Infinite Summer” last fall as a part of its “shorts program,” which gives animators a serious platform to create brief pilots that could potentially turn into series. “Regular Show” and “Uncle Grandpa,” among others, got their start from this program. Jones said his short hasn’t been selected, but it’s still a possibility. These days, his primary focus is working on “Regular Show.”
The following are highlights from our conversation with Jones, who was very kind, humble and candid:
The job of a writer and storyboard artist is to adapt (a 3-page story outline written by the creator and his team) into a full storyboard. And so we write a majority of the dialogue. There are usually some jokes in outline too; they are usually good because the writers are very talented … and we make sure the story actually works.
We do everything we can to work to our preferences and to make sure that we’re also executing what (the creators) want as well and so we draw out the storyboard of the whole thing. Usually in groups of two and it’s usually hundreds of drawings over the course of five weeks; we draw out a storyboard of the whole episode and that’s how the thing gets written in the final version. So you pitch that to the crew of the show and they give us notes and we go back and we do another draft based on our notes and that’s more or less what it is.
On his initial hesitations with animation:
I was afraid to get into animation because I didn’t know animation. I’d made fun animations for myself when I was growing up, but I didn’t study it in school. I went to school for film because I was under that impression that to be in that world you had to do this incredibly tedious job. I mean obviously there are incredibly talented, amazing people who can do it, but I was under the impression that I had to know all the minutiae of how to animate every frame and all that stuff.
And then I learned that this job existed, which is, yes there are a lot of drawings, but you don’t have to actually animate (every frame). Yes it can be very hard and tedious especially when you are doing very technical stuff, car chases or whatever, but that was kind of the fun part – that the job existed was like, “oh I don’t have to draw everything.”
I get to work on one of my favorite shows on TV just because I happened to be making personal work for myself that was compatible with what they were doing. And I think that’s what everyone at Cartoon Network and really everywhere was kind of looking for – is people with their own strong point of view who are kind of telling their own story.
When we are looking for people on Cartoon Network shows, it isn’t like who’s doing something (similar to) “Adventure Time” or “Regular Show” … They’re looking for original points of view.
A lot of stuff that I was making in live action (before doing animation) was about taking a real world (scenario) and doing a cartoony joke, much in the style of “Naked Gun” or “Airplane!” or “Wet Hot American Summer.” And so that was where I was at in my mind with what I had wanted to make at around the time I started at the “Regular Show.” And so when it came to doing my own thing, which ended up being “AJ’s Infinite Summer,” I had to kind of think about how do I do a joke that feels like a “Naked Gun” joke or “AJ Goes to France” joke in animation. Cause it’s a certain kind of laugh you get where it’s like you are living in the real world, you see it’s a live-action world, but something that would never happen, happens.
So in “AJ’s Infinite Summer,” what I was trying to do was create that type of laugh I guess, and so that’s why the reality is constantly breaking and bending. It almost has two levels of reality where it’s like these are the characters and what they are doing.
(“AJ’s Infinite Summer”) is definitely based on Fargo life, my friends and just the kinds of jokes my friends would tell to each other. My whole life was just me trying to make my friends laugh, and so this is kind of, sort of about that. You know, when you are hanging out at the high school lunch table with your friends and the kinds of jokes you make about your teachers and stuff like that; and how it immediately ends up being a surreal thing and it ends up being a joke that puts stuff in a mythical status that becomes this cartoon reality.
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