art + design + style + ideas + junk

“Problem + Chainsaw = No Problem!” – the inspired animation of VDA Studios

In illustration, media, video on 13 August 2009 at 12:52 pm

A couple of mates, Rob Moffett and Benjamin Baker, were passing the time of day at work while making shipping pallets by kicking around ideas for a cartoon.

Their first idea was called Helpy the Helpful Turtle. “It was a faux-educational show about a man-sized turtle who spends each episode being abusive and failing miserably in his attempts to help children,” Ben says. “After a few voice recording sessions it was clear that making a cartoon based loosely on our own exploits was far more appealing.”

That cartoon became Friendcore, a few minutes of Flash animation they put up on MySpace and some blogs every couple of weeks. It was spotted by animator and visual effects artist Doug Bayne – from Double the Fist (he plays Mephisto) and The Chaser’s War on Everything – who was scouting for animated contributions for the ABC’s jtv, and in 2007 Friendcore started airing on national television.

jtv’s producer called about doing something similar for the new video game show, Good Game.

“At the meeting they asked us if we knew how to use After Effects,” Rob says. “I said, ‘Sure!’, and signed the contract. Then I had to do a crash course in After Effects.”

“We sort of jumped in the deep end on this,” Ben says, “but we figured learning a whole new program couldn’t compare to the hell of converting Flash animation to TV-compatible footage. Turns out it opened way more doors than we had anticipated.”

The first series for Good Game was Qtr Circle +A, “named after the controller move you need to do to pull off the Hadouken in Street Fighter,” Rob explains.

“Initially we wanted to avoid the standard of two-guys-making-sarcastic remarks-about-video-games,” Ben says, “and the next most obvious idea was parody.”

In the series they tackle the big names of gaming, from Pacman to Zelda, with Link becoming “Leafy Twigpants” and having trouble ordering a sword.

I asked them about their typical working process. “We usually first bounce ideas over some drinks,” Rob says. “Then Ben writes the script. We get together and record audio. While he draws up the art assets, I edit the audio. Then once he’s done, I pull it all together and animate.”

“We try to keep it to a fairly strict schedule, and time constraints pretty much control the entire thing,” Ben says. “Initially we were doing a cartoon a week, which was a huge struggle for just the two of us. By the second season it was one animation per fortnight.”

For the second season of Good Game they created the news parody, A Cartridge Affair.

In season three they joined forces with illustrator David McDermott for another take on the two-character format with Vs Mode. McDermott also supplied the voice of Green.

An archival-feel segment in one episode of Qtr Circle +A was the inspiration for a full series of videos featuring the insidious corporation, Wagglemax.

“Ben wanted to have a try more 50s-style animation, like in the game Fallout,” Rob says. “It was here that discovered we enjoyed a little taste of violence in our work. Also, we had the pleasure of having Doug animate two episodes because we were short on time, and he was bored.”

They’re currently working on the pilot of a web series called Spies, which they’ll be pitching to TV and film festivals, as well as cooking up plans for a new TV series Doug Bayne is starting.

“Trying to juggle Spies and a TV-based series simultaneously – presumably we’ve suffered some kind of head trauma,” Ben says.

Their aim is to take on animation full time and establish their studio, VDA Studios, as a contender for channels like Adult Swim. There’s certainly enough talent on show already. Perhaps Helpy the Helpful Turtle – who makes a cameo in this video – will get a run after all.

To see more VDA Studios videos or contact Rob and Ben, visit their new web site

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