Inside The Marvelous Mind Of Thurop Van Orman
BuzzFeed - Latest 2014-09-15
The silly and strange animator behind The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack discusses the inspiration for his charmingly bizarre work — and how he learned to embrace failure.
Thurop Van Orman politely asked if it was OK if he showed "nips."
Ariane Lange / BuzzFeed
Thurop Van Orman sat on a stump. Speaking through his long, reddish beard in his garden, he described Cartoon Network's reception of the animated Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack — the children's show he created that ran from 2008 to 2010 about the eponymous naïve boy whose best friend is a washed-up captain who gets drunk on maple syrup. Both main characters live in the mouth of a whale, hate vegetables, and eat nothing but candy. Before its premiere, Stu Snyder, who'd just taken over Time Warner's Turner Animation unit in mid-2007, laid out a new set of rules for kids' shows.
"'We don't want anything weird or anything where any mom would come out of the kitchen and say, 'What are you watching?'" Van Orman remembered Snyder saying. Snyder also recalled this guideline, although he said he supported Flapjack "from day one," while another source from Cartoon Network also remembered tension in Snyder's early days. Since one of the earliest episodes of the weird show greenlit by Snyder's predecessor has Flapjack and Captain K'nuckles racing a terrifying mechanical shark through the "Sea of Teeth," Van Orman's response to Snyder's dictum was, "It's a little late for that."
Network executives quickly warmed up to Flapjack, which Snyder described as "a charming, nice show," after it premiered and viewers connected with the bizarre fictional Stormalong Harbor and its often degenerate denizens. Roz Ryan, the voice of the big blue whale in whose mouth Flapjack lived, said she gets more fan mail for Bubbie the motherly cetacean than for any character she's ever played. After that initial bump, Snyder and Co. fostered Van Orman's fun factory. "Cartoon Network, especially at that time, was like, Wild West, and I could do anything that I wanted to," Van Orman said. "Not that I didn't get any resistance to the stuff that I wanted to do, but they were open to experimentation."
With Flapjack, Van Orman and his storyboard crew were their own target audience. "It was, like, a bunch of buddies making stuff that made each other laugh," he said as he stroked his beard.
"We were funny to him," said Pendleton Ward, a writer and storyboard artist on Flapjack who was only vaguely aware of the conflict with executives. He described the Flapjack offices as "carefree," adding the writers and artists lived by Van Orman's motto: "This is the fun factory!" "I learned that from Thurop, how to create a fun factory," said Ward, who went on to conceive the Cartoon Network cult hit Adventure Time. "You're having conversations more, and not dictating things."