Interview By: Dubelyoo
As a kid, what was your very first passions?
Brandon: [My first] serious passion would have been skateboarding. I skated for like 15 years. The graphics of that got me into doing this.
Trey: I share a lot of similarities with Brandon. Skating and drawing. Sitting around for hours doodling and sketching.
Jacob: Comics... big, big into comics. Not necessarily super hero comics, but I was a huge Matt Groening fan. Like Life in Hell and any comics that were just really weird. A lot of drawing. My dad was an artist, so I was always experimenting with art.
Stewart: Probably computers mostly when I was little. I was really into building computers, and computer games, programming... We had a Power PC. My dad was a designer.
Was it your dream to be in a place like Adult Swim?
Brandon: Absolutely. For sure. Either working in animation or for a record label or skate company were my top three.
Trey: Absolutely. Creativity is a big part of me wanting to be an artist. I grew up trying to make my own skateboards. So it was like BIG to have this open forum to just create and make things. So design seemed like a natural way to get into that...an easier way almost, so yeah, this is a perfect fit.
Jacob: I, for as long as I can remember, was such a fan of Cartoon Network... From the days when “Power Puff Girls,” “Cow and Chicken,” and “Space Ghost” and all those things that were happening, and so when I first moved out here I started working for this temping agency. I didn’t even know that I wanted to design really, I was just sort of freelancing and stuff. And they said one of their clients was Cartoon Network, and like a fever just set in because I was so obsessed with getting in here. So the first interview that I had...I couldn’t even talk, because I was so nervous. I just had a stack of paintings and drawings and comics and stuff. It was a black leather portfolio, with sleeves. It looked like a photo album, and it had all my shitty paintings in it. And they were like, “Oh, cool! Come design for us.”
What was your role when you started at Adult Swim?
Jacob: It was mainly doing ad campaigns, media kits...any design that they needed. A lot of posters, a lot of t-shirts, art and all that shit...a lot of support for it. And actually I wasn’t focused on it completely. I was still working on Cartoon Network stuff as well as Adult Swim. But the minute I saw “Aqua Teen,” and this meatball sitting in the middle of the room, and the fact that they were doing that was just so exciting. At the time, everyone thought it was just a big piece of shit. This is never going to air and it’s never going to work. And it became... the thing. It was still over at Techwood at the time. Within a year or two, Lazzo (Mike Lazzo) brought it over here. This was this crappy building, this was an old carpet warehouse, and the original TBS building.
Brandon: Most of our doorways were just sledgehammered drywall. Like holes you had to go into to get to work.
Jacob: He literally came over here and knocked holes in the walls and set up a reclining chair by a window and just chain smoked by the window and told everyone what to do. Soon after he came over here, I came over and kind of became the art director. That was probably around 2003 or 2004.
Brandon: It was 2004.
Jacob: And then Brandon came over soon after that, I brought Brandon over and we were it...we were the only people in our department doing everything.
What was it like during the earlier years of Adult Swim?
Jacob: The early years were cool. They rebuilt this whole thing, but it was one hallway of offices all facing each other, and every single office had either the most amazing outdoor light from these big windows, or if you had an internal office it was just a dungeon. Nobody could ever adjust the heating or air or anything...
Brandon: There were like four people to every office
Jacob: At some point we had three or four people in our office...it was like a junkyard. It was cool because you could just ride your skateboard around and nobody really had any meetings...ever. There were no conference rooms to have meetings in. So, all dialogue, all conversations happened out in that central hallway. It was really organic; there was no real structure to any of it. Everybody was just experimenting in their corners and making shows or making art.
How does that affect the creative process, being open and having it just free flowing?
Jacob: I think it’s great. We struggle now with trying to keep that spirit around here, because he more and more success Adult Swim has, the more and more the corporate culture starts to leak in... So, it’s hard to stay true to that first thing we had going on, but for the most part it’s still pretty great, it’s still a really fun place to work.
Trey: I come from a corporate design background, and it’s so much different. It’s just so relaxed. The ideas we come up with happen mostly in this room with these doodles and stuff, and then it ends up being these giant campaigns. So I think that spirit is still very much alive.
What is the process from concept to production?
Jacob: Well, it depends. It’s different on every project. In general, it’s basically...
Brandon: ...We all talk about stuff. We all have ideas to add to each other’s things...it’s pretty collaborative.
Jacob: Yeah, its really collaborative. There’s no real structure to any one project, but we have to work with marketing, we have to work with PR, we have to work with on-air and some of the show creators. So there is a team that keeps us really focused on our end goals, so we don’t go too far off.
Jacob: We’re really hands-on, too. If we can’t get something made, then we make it ourselves or we hand draw the thing. We love working with all of our favorite artists, just hiring them to see their take on what we are doing.
Brandon: We start off with the craziest ideas, and just push it as far as we can. Everybody thinks we’re crazy, but it always ends up on a higher level than what it would have been.
Jacob: The main thing that we try to do is not get too precious about the brand of Adult Swim. Some people get so focused on what their brand is and what their look is and what...you know, it becomes formulaic ... I don’t like marketing in general. I choose not to look at marketing or any of that stuff because I think it’s so formulaic, and so what we try to do is contrast all of that with everything that we do. And if it contrasts...if it does that alone, then we’ve done our job. If it’s out there in the world and its doing the opposite of marketing to you, then that’s. That’s what we’re going for.
What is the craziest idea that you have come up with? When did they say, “You’ve gone too far?”
Brandon: The craziest building we’ve done is probably the golden owl on the roof. It started out with me, Drew, and Jake in a room and one of us was like, “Let’s build a giant owl,” and one of us was like, “Let’s add lasers to its eyes,” and the next person was like, “Let’s make it out of gold.” We ended up making a 20-foot golden owl with laser eyes that shoots smoke. We built two of them and brought one of them back here.
Jacob: It was actually for an event we have every year, called Up Front. That year we hired Jay-Z. We get all our advertisers in a room and show them what’s coming up. So, we built two of those things and we shot lasers out of those eyes and the lasers formed animation on the back wall...
Brandon: It was a laser show across the balcony
Jacob: So, through the lasers, it was telling our messages on the back wall.
Brandon: So there were four eyes, but they merged together and wrote, and did different graphics and playbacks and laser animations...
Jacob: We are trying to put a naked man on a billboard right now...with a ski mask. We were trying to spoof Calvin Klein and American Apparel, and now it’s turned into this. I don’t know how far we’re going to get.
Brandon: We’re trying to do Jon Glaser naked on a billboard, with just his mask.
What is it advertising exactly?
Jacob: Well, “Delocated” is cancelled and so it’s appropriate because it’s the end... I guess.
Brandon: We are trying to make the robot from “Robot Chicken” hump the actual the side of the billboard.
Who do you call when you want a robot to hump a billboard?
Brandon: It gets really specialized...
Jacob: We Googled “humping robots” for an entire afternoon.
Brandon: It can be done.
Jacob: A lot of the times what prevents us from doing our ideas, is money. We don’t have the budget of the other networks at all. And that works in our favor in some instances, because we have to become more creative about what we do. One time we put out a personal ad...
Brandon: ...in Creative Loafing and everything
Jacob: And we put a fax number on it, and said, like...
Brandon: “...18+. 60% male. 40% female. Great shape! Fun tempered. REALLY good looking...”
Jacob: “Fax me,” and it had a fax number. So all of our fans started just faxing us. We had a fax machine set up over here with a constant feed of faxes coming out ...
Brandon: All day long.
Jacob: And we trained the web cam on it, so that people could watch their faxes coming out online.
What were they faxing?
Jacob: Random stuff...
Brandon: Art, writing. Everything from like scripts, notes...
Jacob: ...Poetry, love letters.
People still use fax machines?
Jacob: I don’t even know how to fax anymore. Our goal is to use old technology that’s dying to communicate. I keep trying to figure out what the next thing is. We were actually talking about creating this box out in the street with a fax machine in it, and you just fax live to this location until the faxes fill up the box. Then we will go out there and make a bump out of our favorite faxes.
What void in television, art, and animation does Adult Swim fill?
Jacob: For those people who don’t want to watch infomercials, it’s the alternative. And it contrasts everything else on television. There’s nothing else like it. You can’t really put into words what it is...it’s just...very unusual. I think we’re all junkies of weird television. Have you heard of “TV Carnage?” You should check out TV Carnage. He basically takes all of bad television, late night stuff, infomercials, bad interviews and everything, and edits them down into these weird narrative, 2-hour pieces that you can’t stop watching. It’s so insane. It’s online. He may have changed it to “Street Carnage” now. He works with VICE Magazine. But that kind of thing feels right. THAT feels like it’s part of the family.
How long have you been in Atlanta, and what were your first impressions of the city?
Stewart: I grew up here. Born in Decatur.
Jacob: It was a huge contrast to what I grew up around, because I lived in the desert out in the middle of nowhere, in a town called Pioche. It’s right outside the Nevada test site. All of my friends growing up, all their parents worked at the Nevada test site, and nobody knew what their parents did...It’s like they were sworn to secrecy. I grew up fearing I was going to get abducted by aliens. Stuff like that scared me more than anything. I saw weird stuff in the night sky all the time.
What did they test there?
Jacob: I have no idea. If you took the wrong road out there, you could get arrested. I had a friend who was just driving around and they stopped his vehicle and they sprayed him down with some foam. They sprayed his whole vehicle down and sent him back the way he came. It’s a strange place. But coming here was a huge contrast to that. Out there you could see everything from wherever you were standing. You would know your relation within space. And then coming out here were just trees everywhere and you would be on roads that don’t make sense. It was a shock to the system. It took me a while to get into southern food and all that stuff, but now I love it. It’s the best. I love Atlanta.
Trey: I’m actually from a little bit north of Atlanta. It’s a little more country up there. I’ve always spent time in the city growing up. I knew I would always get closer one of these days. It’s a different world up there.
Brandon: I also grew up in the woods, on a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, right outside of Savannah. I left there and went to college in New York for visual arts. I guess I’ve been in Atlanta for like 15 years and here (Adult Swim) 10 years.
What are some of the music projects you’ve worked on?
Trey: I worked on a Killer Mike project. When I came into the project, Fahamou had already been working on the paintings, so when I took them up, I just had to figure out how they were going to work in the layout, and how everything was going to fit together as a package. The paintings are beautiful, and they are so proprietary, it led me to do everything by hand. So, I hand wrote all the lyrics. And when I was talking to Mike, he said the lyrics of this album were the most important thing to him. He stressed that so much that I wanted to give them a good platform, a good area for them to shine, so I just took the sleeves and just wrote from side to side so they made an impression when you slid it out. Then I went through and painted the type everywhere so it all felt like one piece. It was fun. And he was excited about it. We were all excited. It was great.
Jacob: We do this singles program every year. It’s basically an ad sponsored thing where Jason DiMarco, who runs the music, he goes out and chooses all these bands to work with and they put out a single every week for like 10 weeks or so. For the past couple years we’ve been doing covers that we release every week with the single, and it forms a larger image over time.
Jacob: We also did “Metal Swim.”
Have you worked with any other Atlanta based artists?
Jacob: MF Doom. It was bizarre. He’s sort of like this spirit that shows up every once in a while and then disappears. He’s kind of like, off the grid. He also doesn’t fly really. Right around the time when Danger Doom came out, I think it was around 9-11, so he got really spooked about flying. And we wanted Danger Doom to perform at this party, so apparently MF Doom shows up and it’s NOT HIM. And he performs and it’s not him, and people started finding out about it, and it was like this weird happening. Bizarre. He goes up with the mouse and the mask costume and somebody was lip-syncing.
Where is he?
Jacob: ...At home? I don’t know, eating at Taco Bell? That’s the interesting thing about him. He’s amazing and he’s talented, I think some of that mystery goes with the whole package. He’s a really interesting person.
How was it working on “Freaknik: the Musical?”
Jacob: I helped develop that show, but originally it was Nick Weidenfeld’s idea to this William Faulkner-type show about this messed up white family from the south that doesn’t realize that it’s 2007. And they’re all trapped in the old south, so all this really awful racist stuff is happening and they’re still living as if they’re in this other time period, and major rap culture is going on around them and their fortune has dissipated and they live in this disheveled house. David Banner was one of the characters in that show and it was called, That Crook’d ‘Sipp. And it really wasn’t that good. It kind of sucked as a show. There was no outstanding character in that show, aside from David Banner, who really brought something to it. But then, the second script we introduced this character, Freaknik, and he brought black spring break back to Atlanta. He was the spirit of spring break and they resurrected him. So that was the storyline there, and that has never seen the light of day. I don’t think it’s on the DVD as an extra, but Lazzo saw that character, and it was T-Pain’s voice that brought that whole character to life. So when Lazzo saw it, he was like, “That’s the show. That’s what I want. You guys make a special about Freaknik.” So then we focused everything on that. T-Pain brought his friends in and it spread like wildfire until we were in Cee Lo’s studio recording him. Lil Wayne was in there as Black Jesus. It was so surreal, the whole thing, but so fun. At the same time, T-Pain approached me about doing his album, so I did “Thr33 Ringz” for him. We did all of his tour stuff and everything surrounding that. We were kind of enmeshed for a while. He’s a really great guy...he’s straight up a cartoon character. We didn’t know what the character Freaknik was going to be until he started recording, then we were like “Holy shit, this is amazing!” It’s really funny. That was a really fun project. Some of the dialogue in that show was completely ad-libbed. We got on the phone to record Andy Samburg, and they totally ad-libbed that whole thing. We just hit record and animated to that. Everybody brought their own thing to it. Like, George Clinton at the end. It was so difficult to understand anything he was saying on the phone because it was a lot of these weird alien noises. So that’s when I drew the character that was floating with all the hair.
What is the biggest misconception about the team behind Adult Swim?
Jacob: That everybody’s high...all the time.
Everybody’s always saying, “What are you guys on?”
Brandon: ... Or that we goof around all day. That kind of thing. People come and are like, “Holy shit! I can’t believe all the stuff you guys do.”
Jacob: That’s the other thing. Behind all of the fun its HARD WORK. We’ve got the 4 of us, and I’m only here half the week because I’m working at Cartoon Network. But in general, the amount of work that we have on our schedule at all times is just crushing. So, the idea that we just mess around all day is a total misconception. But we do have fun.