4/20/2020. Los Angeles. A global pandemic has cut off pilot season at the knees. The necessary halting of live action production has lead to mass layoffs in the entertainment industry, and from the looks of it, even animation production (which adapts much more readily to remote collaboration) won’t emerge unscathed. Even as the mainstream industry struggles to move forward, a recent wave of DIY creators continues to crank out genuinely funny, mysterious, and entertaining DIY digital series. Recent highlights include u m a m i’s bizarre YouTube series, “Interface”, Jonni Phillips’ Patreon-powered alien cult comedy “Secrets and Lies in A Town of Sinners”, and Aaron Long’s surreal buddy comedy “Sublo and Tangy Mustard”.
It’s in that spirit that we’re very excited to premiere the very funny pilot for Funny Bones, an independently-produced animated series from comedy collective Probably A Cult! The pilot, “Grounded”, follows hopelessly unfunny tweenager Floyd Funnybone as he struggles to earn the respect of his father and grandfather — both successful comics, and co-owners of the storied family-run comedy club that has cast a long shadow over young Floyd’s milquetoast attempts to live a normal, non-comedic life. Big thanks to Ben Kurzrock and Chris Kim for allowing us to share “Grounded” with DIY Animation readers. Check out the episode below, then read on for an interview with the creators!
Series Created and Produced by Ben Kurzrock
Episode Written and Directed by Ben Kurzrock
Character Designs, Storyboarding, Animation and Editing by Chris Kim
Studio Engineering, Audio Design, Scoring, Mixing and Mastering by Tyler Wennstrom
Theme Music by Joe Davies
Story Editor/Associate Producer: Courtney Burness
Kim Seltzer as Floyd Funnybone
Cory Lane as Fred Funnybone, Frank Funnybone, Officer Larry Liver, Bermilio Babytooth, and Professor Pelvis
Luke Moran as Wesley Wisdomtooth and Officer Lisa Lung
Special Thanks: Hunter Saling, Noah Tandowsky, Jeremy Kruger
Where did the idea for Funny Bones come from?
Ben: Funny Bones was first a Gary Larson-inspired one-off comic I made in high school with a simple, corny pun at its center: an unfunny funny bone. I had fun building the world around this one-dimensional word-play joke, and started developing it as a kids cartoon. At first, I wrote it as a family-friendly story about a kid who wants to be like his successful comedian dad and carry on his legacy. When I got to college, the concept evolved into a darker, adult comedy about a kid who is skeptical of his delusional comedian father, and rejects the pressure of fulfilling a family legacy. The project combines four of my passions: stand-up comedy, science, jazz, and cartoons.
How did the three of you meet?
Ben: We were all involved in the radio station at UCLA. Tyler was a production manager for the radio station, where he shined as an audio engineer. I was in the comedy department hosting a show about animated comedy that Chris interned for, and we hit it off pretty quickly. I was excited by Chris’s artistic versatility, and when I asked him if he knew how to animate, he responded, “No, but I can try!”
Where did you find your cast?
Ben: We were all involved in the campus and local comedy communities in college. Kim Seltzer (Floyd Funnybone) was managing the comedy department for UCLA Radio; Cory, who voiced about eight characters in Funny Bones, was an energetic and hilarious improvisor that performed all over campus; Luke Moran (Wesley Wisdomtooth) founded a satirical newspaper I loved and performed on campus as well.
What was your team’s collaboration on this pilot like?
Ben: Considering it was a first for all of us, it was very collaborative. It was going to be a radio-play with a few scenes storyboarded, but Chris ambitiously decided to use the project as an opportunity to learn how to animate. We gave him a lot of freedom to draw the story how he wanted to, and the actors improvised as much as possible as well. We relied on Tyler’s audio expertise to bring the world of body parts to life and Joe Davies’s jazz skillset to create the soundtrack. Looking back, I had no idea what I was doing, but I’ve learned a lot from this project. I would have loved to apply what I know now from working on SpongeBob to Funny Bones. I’m grateful I had a team of extremely talented people to work with, who were all willing to learn together.
Chris: Ben, Tyler and I hit it off right away. Ben liked to spew out a ton of ideas, and I would take them all in and produce them visually. Ben and I are like two halves of the same brain. Working with Tyler was so intriguing because he’s a bit of an audio genius in my opinion.
A lot of creatives can relate to professional pressure from older family members. What’s funny here is that the usual pressures are inverted — his dad and granddad both expect him to be a standup comic — a calling he’s not so sure he’s cut out for. In developing the series idea, and writing this episode specifically, did either of you drawn on anything autobiographical?
Ben: I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of family legacy, and particularly family-owned businesses, but did not grow up in one. My dad is a doctor, but never made me feel pressured to follow in his footsteps; however, him being a doctor did inspire my interest in human anatomy. I also drew from my awkward experiences doing stand-up comedy in college, which felt unnatural for me, and writing this helped me process that.
Chris: At the time I was designing the characters, I didn’t have much in mind. I had some preliminary Funny Bones characters to go off of and redesign, but didn’t really incorporate my life into the characters. It wasn’t until my parents watched it that I realized I had subconsciously drawn my family into the show! Floyd Funnybone looks like me with the glasses and the skinny legs. Fred Funnybone looks like my father and Frank Funnybone looks like my grandfather who lives in Korea.
How long did production last? How often were you working on Funny Bones along the way?
Ben: I wrote the pilot my senior year of college in 2016. We recorded, and edited the audio play that summer, and Chris started animating that audio-play in 2017. We finished it in 2018. There were definitely breaks throughout this project, as we all had to account for each other’s busy schedules.
Chris: The production lasted over a year. I didn’t know anything about animation, so it took me awhile to learn everything. Since I was in school at the time, I could only spend 1-2 hours a day on it and in the middle of the project, I had to take a break because my creative juices were depleted.
What software did you use? Any workflow benefits or limitations you could share?
Chris: I used Toon Boom Harmony, Photoshop, and After Effects. To this day, I am using all three for my current projects. One of the biggest limitations I had working on Harmony was the system itself. I had no prior knowledge of the program and was learning it as I went. One of the biggest mistakes I made was grouping all the scenes together in one project file. It was a chaotic mess that I sadly learned the hard way.
Any new projects in the works? Especially animated, but really any media type.
Ben: Chris, Tyler and I created an animated short for my brother’s food company, ReGrained, which will be released soon. We’re also developing several kids’ cartoon series, and I make live action comedy shorts, which I release on our channel Probably A Cult.
Chris: Ben and I are constantly throwing ideas at each other when we get the chance to; we have some projects in the works that we are excited for!
What animated series (or shorts?), if any, are you excited about right now, as an audience member?
Ben: I loved Green Eggs and Ham on Netflix. I thought the animation was beautiful, and the writing was smart and funny. I’m excited to watch Pendleton Ward’s Midnight Gospel this week. As an avid Regular Show fan, I’m definitely going to watch JG Quintel’s upcoming show Close Enough.
Chris: Currently, I am catching up on Adventure Time. As an audience member, I am constantly laughing at the variety of characters and the odd humor. As an animator and character designer, I’m in awe of the designs and color selections. One of the TV shows that I recommend everyone watch is Castlevania on Netflix. If you love vampires, beautiful animations, and bloody deaths, definitely check out Castlevania, pretty much devoured the series in a week or two!
DIY Animation Club co-founder Dave Merson Hess taught and developed animation curriculum for Aurora Picture Show’s youth workshops, 2014-2018. He also started Rush Process, a Gulf Coast-based festival celebrating animators who work with physical media, which ran from 2015 to 2018. Dave is currently an MFA candidate in Experimental Animation at Calarts.