"Fixed", in this sense, means most of the episode is missing.
Once every year or so, a new television series aimed at a young audience unexpectedly penetrates the noosphere outside its target demographic. These shows have a tendency to use Flash-style animation and begin with the letters "My Li". This year, that show is My Life Me. And, I'm proud to say, that show is My Life Me thanks to YouChew! We did it, guys!
My Life Me tells the story of a delightfully charismatic teacher named Mr. Towes who regales his students each class with all manner of grandiloquent theatrics and didactics. If you look closely, you may also notice a few other protagonists sprinkled about, named Birch, Raffi, Liam, and... er... San... Sandy?
My Life Me's supporting cast
Today we have a special treat for fans of the show: an exclusive interview with My Life Me's creator, JC Little!
JC's photo by Kathy Slamen Photography
NW: How and when did you decide you wanted to get into the animation industry?
JCL: I was in university, studying graphic design when I met an animator named Joe Gilland who just finished working on Heavy Metal, the movie. This was back in 1983. He showed me how to do my first inbetween; after that, I was hooked and switched to the animation program. I started working in animation and never looked back. Joe went on to become a special FX guru, supervising on films like Mulan, Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch. He's a great friend and very talented. Obviously hanging out with him was pretty inspiring.
Was there a particular animated work that inspired you?
In those days, you saw films in the theatre; there was no Youtube, no DVD's; even VHS wasn't out there yet. Aside from Saturday morning cartoons, the media just wasn't readily available. I remember hearing that someone had a print of Red Hot Riding Hood and we all gathered to watch it projected in a church basement on a tiny screen. There was no other way to view these gems. And we didn't have the opportunity to watch it more than once. So, personally, I guess I was more influenced by those people I was lucky enough to work with through the years, like Joe Gilland, Jamie Sutton, Alex Williams, Cordell Barker, Gabe Hordos, Robert Valley and Alexandre Petrov. I've been really lucky. I tried to learn from their use of storytelling, acting and timing; visual style is not something that I'd ever try to emulate, in my own work. I'd rather collaborate with the actual artist who's style is right for the project. Casting is everything.
What's the story behind My Life Me's inception?
There's a hilarious moodiness in tweens and teens. I wanted to depict kids behaving badly, motivated by their insecurities and trying to figure out how they fit in; universal concepts. Putting a lock on four kids who don't get along precipitates conflict, one of the seeds of comedy. That's how the original treatment was written - four kids who are not friends, forced to work together - a comedy with conflict resolution at the heart.
Why did you decide to give the show a manga style and theme?
The manga styling came when Svetlana Chmakova joined Cindy and me as a co-creator. I liked the way she was using it in her books and
online comics and decided to integrate it into the overall art direction. The manpu and chibis fell into place as a way of encapsulating the fast-paced, roller-coaster ride of adolescent emotions. I also wanted to give the show a comic book feel, with sliding panel transitions and page turns, the characters moving from one panel to another, and adding black and white panels with toning to show the characters' alternate POV's. Originally the whole show was going to be black and white with spot colour, but this was considered a tad too bold.
Regarding the theme, while researching the content we decided to make Birch and Liam an aspiring manga artist/author team, noticing that so many kids out there were into it. The target audience (8-12 year olds) loved this aspect of the show in the focus testing. Interestingly, this particular theme seems to have touched a nerve in certain non-target groups, six years later. I encourage kids (and grownups) to write and draw, and it's evident in several of my projects, promoting literacy and self expression.
The title is notable for its use of nonstandard English. How was it decided?
It was just a working title at first, something to indicate the self-absorbed nature of the characters. The broadcaster and producers liked it and it stuck.
Do you personally enjoy anime and manga as much as Birch? If so, what are your favorites?
I guess you could say I'm a fan, but I'm certainly not a connoisseur. I just don't have the time these days. I wish I did though. I loved this one film I saw last year at the 2010 International Film Festival in Ottawa, it was called http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QqT1P4VO30, beautifully done and emotionally engaging humour.
Do you have a preference of Eastern or Western animation in general?
It's so varied, it's an impossible question to answer. There's way more to animation than just Eastern or Western. They all have great things to offer in their pure and hybrid forms.
How do you feel about Flash animation vs. traditional animation?
They're both great in the hands of the right animator. Story, acting and timing are what matter most to me, regardless of the technique. Even extremely limited animation can have all three. I've spent decades drawing traditional animation and loving it. It's important to note that with these new digital techniques prevailing, there are animators who are pushing the boundaries of cutout animation, and it's just as beautifully crafted, in its way, as traditional. Another advantage to Flash is that it enables one to make a film in a very short time with few resources.
Do you feel the Flash style is particularly well-suited for the show or was the animation done in Flash purely for budgetary reasons?
First, My Life Me was done in ToonBoom, Harmony - it would have looked very different if it was done in Flash. For example we wouldn't have been able to hand draw the characters in Flash without choking the software, and the character setup would have been much less complex and more limited.
Secondly, My Life Me could only have been animated here if it was done digitally. This has to do with the way shows are funded here in Canada; they want to encourage new media technology. Since we wanted to provide work for the locals, My Life Me was designed for a 2D digital pipeline.
It's also worth noting that two different studios animated this show. The more experienced studio did quite a bit of overdraw to smooth the joints to keep the characters from looking flat, and the animation is much more fluid and snappy, with great arcs in the movement and expressive acting. If you know what to look for, you can see it.
If you could, would you have had the animation done by a "real" anime studio in Japan?
There wouldn't have been any point in this: My Life Me was conceived, pitched and sold as "animated manga", distinctly not anime. It's a dialogue driven show so had to be much pacier than most anime. Also there are economical labour-saving techniques which exist in traditional animation that define much of the anime style most folks are used to seeing. These techniques are different from those which exist in the 2D digital process. As such the aesthetic in My Life Me does not follow the conventions of anime; it is a different animal.
For the record, I have worked with Asian studios before, including Japan, while supervising the final line department of a Dreamworks direct to video, traditionally animated. I believe many studios in Asia are now investing in digital pipelines especially for series work.
The most popular character around these parts seems to be Mr. Towes. What inspired his creation? How much of his wild energy comes from the writing and how much comes from the voice actor? Did the voice actor decide himself to have Mr. Towes break into foreign accents at random or is that scripted?
The Youchew gang know a good thing when they see it. Mr. Towes is one of my all time favourite characters. The voice actor is the wonderfully talented Terrence Scammell. He was actually auditioning for another character (one that we eventually cut) and we had him do lots of different accents for that one. At the time Towes was being written as a regular teacher, and I was still seeking a way to make him stand out. Witnessing these auditions gave me the idea to turn Towes into a performer with a captive audience. Terrence followed the script but interpreted it his own way. He nailed it every time in one take! He really was great. Since we were storyboarding after the voice recordings, it was a lot easier to give visual support to his vocal antics.
Why are the student groups called "pods"? Does Mr. Towes think of the students more as peas or as whales?
Hahaha! I think he does call them "peas in a pod" in the Unreasonable Facsimiles episode. The idea is that they are supposed to be looking out for each other, in a pod. Which they almost never do in the show. The jugular of irony!
Are any of the plots based on actual high school experiences?
Hmmm...I guess some writers have been known to mine their personal experiences, but I couldn't say for sure about My Life Me. We had a team of writers in Canada and France. They pitched plots to the creative direction team and the broadcasters and the scripts went from there.
If I read correctly, the show was completed before it was ever picked up by a television network.
This wasn't the case with My Life Me. It would be very unusual for a series to be produced here in Canada without a broadcaster.
How did you get sponsorship? What was the pitching process like?
I wrote the original treatment in 2005, and my friend Cindy Filipenko came on board as a co-creator to write the pitch. Then Svet joined us as co-creator and designer. We pitched it to the broadcaster, and the broadcaster liked it. There were about 5 production houses wanting the property at that point. We went with Carpediem Film & TV, and a development deal with Teletoon followed. That took about 2.5 years...pretty fast actually. Then the series was greenlit for production in 2008. It was a co-production between Canada and France, co-produced by Carpediem and TVLoonland. The producers and broadcasters were very supportive through the whole thing. The English version was meant to air in Canada in September 2009, but was held back by the broadcaster, along with several other shows, until 2011.
Will more episodes ever be made or does the episode count end at 52? If episode 52 is indeed the end, is it done as a series finale or as a standard episode?
A decision was made to make the series 52 X 11 minutes of non-sequential episodes. I believe this was to satisfy the broadcasters' needs. However there is a slow development of relationships over the course of 52 episodes and more would naturally occur if a second season should happen.
And finally, a guest question from my younger sister: Do Birch and Raffi ever get together?
That would be telling! Please say hi to your younger sister from me =]
And that's the end of the interview! Wow, where did the time go? A big thank you to JC Little for being such a great sport and giving such thorough answers. Remember, everyone: Terrence Scammell.