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This Buddy System Produces Animated Hits for Adult Swim, Netflix

Variety logo Variety 6/15/2017 Karen Idelson
© Provided by Variety

In the heart of Burbank’s bland office park, one of the most prolific, respected and twisted production companies in animation aims to make something you can’t wait to watch, especially if you share their skewed niche humor.

Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, the company behind the Adult Swim hit “Robot Chicken,” has a slate so full it has brought on an entire team of animators, writers and execs to help them manage the company launched in 2012.

Unusual for L.A., the company’s animation, recording, vfx and fabrication is all done in-house by more than 250 employees working on everything from stop motion to traditional 2D animation, commercials to feature projects spread across seven buildings.

But back in 2012, the shingle was made up of founders Seth Green, Matt Senreich, John Harvatine IV, Eric Towner and a Winnebago with bad brakes they bought in Compton for $1,000.

“It started out when we were doing ‘Robot Chicken,’ we realized we all had ambitions to do things beyond the one show because we’re creatives,” says Senreich. “So Seth [Green] and I partnered up with [John Harvatine IV and Eric Towner], two of our animators who’d left [“Robot Chicken”] sometime between the second and third seasons.”

At that time, Senreich and Green had formed Stoopid Monkey and Harvatine and Towner had their own venture called Buddy Studio Systems, which had its first offices in the previously mentioned Winnebago. Stoopid Buddy Stoodios was born from this mashup. When they got together, all they had was an order for two seasons of “Robot Chicken” from Adult Swim.

That vote of confidence from the late-night provocateur proved to be the launching pad they needed. They set out to make the kinds of things that they wanted to see and put in the time and effort to make create presentation pieces to sell execs on their ideas. Hard work and word of mouth has taken them far.

“Over the last five years we’ve done three seasons of ‘Robot Chicken,’ two seasons of ‘SuperMansion,’ we have a new show called ‘Buddy Thunderstruck,’ and in the last two years we’ve really gotten into 2D animation as well,” says Towner. “Now we’re not just focusing on stop motion, we’re getting into other forms of animation that are out there.”

Add to the list a slew of pilots, things they’re developing in the digital space and feature space. They’re also working on another 2D show called “Hot Streets,” which was just announced by Adult Swim at the upfront.

The company can put together such a loaded slate of shows because the founders are always on the lookout for the next great original voice. And they’re willing to look just about anywhere to find a like-minded writer or animator. It could be a short film online or some Tweets, but they know the sensibility that works for the company when they see it.

“We often find people who haven’t done much of anything before they worked with us,” says Senreich. “I always point to Rachel Bloom. We saw a short of hers online and loved it so we hired her to be a writer on ‘Robot Chicken’ and she was in that ‘Robot Chicken’ room when she got called up for ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ and it was amazing to see.”

Bloom is far from the only one to springboard from the Stoopid Buddy ranks. “Robot Chicken” writer Shelby Fero was discovered via her Twitter feed. Last year she won an Emmy for her work at the company.

Inside the dog-friendly offices there are signs of “Buddyhood” everywhere you go. Each department takes on its own spirit animal and every time someone at the company works on a project, they receive a unique patch — like a fabled Boy Scout merit badge — that they can then put on a shirt to commemorate the end of a show.

Then there is a “Buddy Code” of conduct that includes things such as “Thou shalt create every day” and “Thou shalt communicate, not complicate.” The company ethos clearly asks everyone to play nice in their collective sandbox.

Stoopid Buddy Stoodios also added two divisions to handle other demands for its work. One is Buddy Spots, which produces work for hire pieces for companies including Ziploc, Progressive, Carl’s Jr., Target and Lego Batman. The “spots” they create often showcase their unusual humor and animation techniques. The other, Buddy Builds, is a sort of puppetry department that creates such things as the 16-foot bird used onstage by Travis Scott for his show at Coachella this year.

“It’s probably 60% things we’re developing to 40% work for hire right now,” says Senreich. “As we grow it will probably become 50/50.”

The four founders have their eyes on new material on just about every platform so they’ve brought in a group of executives who will make it possible for them to stay in the creative driver’s seat. Recently, Elizabeth Porter, former senior vice president of development and special productions at Comedy Central, became their head of development. Marvel comics alum Zeb Wells is now an exclusive in-house producer. Emmy-winning industry vet Marge Dean is the general manager.

“I keep telling the guys that we need to get a business plan because people keep asking us what our vision is for the company and the guys keep telling me that they just want to make cool shit with their friends,” says Dean. “This company works because of deep friendship between them and, frankly, I think we’d have a lot of trouble if that wasn’t there.”

With a full slate of programs going forward, a team of some of the sharpest minds in animation and that Winnebago, Stoopid Buddy aims to be far more than the house that “Robot Chicken” built.

“It’s become a symbol of our friendship,” says Senreich of the Winnebago. “This is one of the few studios run by creatives. We just want to make things and it starts from there. For every project, we’re looking for the best format, the best look and asking ourselves what it should be. It’s about finding those creative partnerships and friendships.”

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