Sometimes working on a hit show can be both a blessing and a curse. For League of Buddies member John Harvatine, that’s certainly been the case. He co-founded L.A.-based stop-motion specialist Stoopid Buddy Stoodios with Seth Green, Matthew Senreich and Eric Towner in 2012. But prior to Stoopid Buddy, he and Towner first partnered up as animators on the second season of Robot Chicken, the hit Adult Swim sketch comedy series co-created independently by Green and Senreich. The rest, as they say, is history.
Eight seasons in, the whip-smart show, which Stoopid Buddy joined as producer in 2012, is now the longest-running stop-motion toon on television, and the winner of multiple Emmy and Annie Awards. But what most people don’t know about Stoopid Buddy is that the full-service production company is creating so much more.
In fact, it recently moved into producing kids series under the Lil’ Buddy banner. The new work showcases not only the studio’s stop-motion expertise, but also its capabilities in 2D, 3D and CGI animation.
In 2015, Lil’ Buddy partnered with American Greetings Entertainment on Buddy Thunderstruck, a 12-episode, stop-motion action/comedy that will debut as a Netflix original in March.
Also on the kids slate is hybrid animated comedy Toasty Tales (pictured) for kids ages six to 11. Created by Thomas Borowski and Caroline Foley (Rick and Morty, Robot Chicken), and written by SpongeBob and Adventure Time scribe Merriwether Williams, the project launched as an Amazon pilot in June and follows the adventures of three park-dwelling marshmallow best friends.
“One of our biggest challenges is that people think of us as the Robot Chicken guys, so we always have to kind of overcome that,” says Harvatine. “We love the show and it’s the most visible, but it’s a small part of what we do. We like to re-invent ourselves, so we’re excited to play around in the kids space.”
As the studio began to ramp up its pipeline in 2015, Stoopid Buddy tapped animation industry vet Marge Dean from Mattel’s Playground Productions as its general manager.
Dean notes that although Harvatine and Towner work on the company’s adult-oriented properties, their backgrounds are more rooted in kids entertainment.
“I met them when I was at Wildbrain. We bought a show from them called Go Figure that we sold to Disney as a stop-motion kids series,” says Dean. “I’ve always known them as kids content creators, so when I got here we talked a lot about expanding that part of our business and creating a sub-brand to Stoopid Buddy called Lil’ Buddy.”
One aspect of the company’s expansion involves new ways of creating hybrid animation.
“Toasty Tales, for example, is 2D animation shot against practical stop-motion sets. We’ve also developed some techniques where we use stop-motion puppets in a live-action world, and we can also do CGI characters in 2D worlds,” says Harvatine.
In terms of writing for a younger audience, he adds that it’s been surprisingly easy to tone down the snarkiness and pop culture references for which the studio is known.
“I have three kids now so my tastes have changed. They’ve changed how I see the world and media, and what I want to contribute.”
For Dean, the greatest opportunity for Stoopid Buddy’s move into children’s content is to make shows that are a little subversive and challenge the status quo sensibilities presented in a lot of other kids content.
“We want to create shows that are actually respectful about how smart kids really are,” she says.