Meet Klasky Csupo

Klasky Csupo, Inc. have hit animated television series, The Simpsons and Rugrats, on their track record. Marketing Director, Larry Le Francis, introduced the company at the Cardiff International Animation Festival. David Jefferson reports.

Marketing director Larry Le Francis.

Klaskv Csupo, Inc. was started by husband and wife team Gabor Csupo (pronounced Chewpo) and Arlene Klasky, literally out of their living room. Over the next ten years the company grew to occupy a 15,000 square-foot facility with over 150 employees.

Klasky’s background is in graphic design whereas Csupo trained in animation at studios in Budapest, Hungary. He eventually decided to leave the East. “Csupo put everything he owned on his back, went through a railway tunnel and found himself in Germany.” Klasky Csupo marketing and co-creative director, Larry Le Francis, explained to an enthusiastic audience at Cardiff. “Cuspo got back into animation in Germany and Sweden. He met Arlene Klasky and they both moved to the United States.”

One of the strengths of the company is the combination of graphic design and character animation. The company started doing motion graphics and graphics animation for film trailers, coming attractions and station ID’s for local broadcast television stations in the United States. They gradually moved up to making more fully animated adverts and music videos that were animated.

“Along the way we were approached by Jim Brooks of Gracie Films and Fox Broadcasting to provide animated inserts for a new show with comedienne Tracey Ullrnan.” said Le Francis. “At the time Jim Brooks wanted to use cartoonist Malt Groening’s characters from Life and Hell, which appears in counter culture newspapers in the USA. Mart did not want to give up the rights to that so he came up with the idea of basing the animation on his own family, in a rough sort of way, of course. His dad did not work in a nuclear reactor plant and he was considerably nicer to his sisters than Bart Simpson is.”

Jim Brooks liked Matt’s style of cartoon which was very rough line art with very clever writing. The people at Klaskv Csupo managed to convince him that since it was going to animation they should use animation colours. Once they agreed to this we said we do not have to be boring and use natural flesh tones and so on. Since it was set in a alternative universe why not colour them any way we want.’’

The Simpsons were originally one-minute teasers designed to be split up into four segments. There would be a gag followed by live-action sketches and music from Tracey. two others would follow commercial breaks and the joke would resolve by the final teaser. As the series progressed the segments were combined until finally there was the one long cartoon in the show.

Then Fox was convinced by Jim Brooks that The Simpsons would make a good prime-time television series. “With the persuasion of Jim Malt and us, Fox decided to take a chance on it. I guess the results worked out well for us.”

Klaskv Csupo also have a show called Rugrats that is doing well for cable channel Nickelodeon. Rugrats is life seen through the eyes of one-year-olds. They also make commercials and music videos and recently finished an animated title sequence for a new Jack Nicholson movie.

“We like to do unusual projects in our special projects division, which I co-run, because it is a wonderful way to find artists and animators, we pride ourselves on being a design propelled company. We are constantly looking for new styles.”

They are in the process of completing a pilot for Duckrnan which was originally an underground comic book created by artist illustrator Everett Peck.

They recently produced a Beastie Boys music video “Shadrach”. The band was shot on video in concert using about twelve cameras ranging from broadcast quality to little security cameras mounted on broom sticks held above the crowd. They transferred the video tape to film and did photo-roto blowups of every twelfth frame. There was an intense production schedule so they had teams of artists working on segments of the video and interpreting it in certain styles. Once a team finished one segment they would go onto another so there are recurring styles throughout the video. The artwork consisted of acrylic paint on heavy bond paper. Everything was then shot on a rostrum and transferred to one-inch video.

When asked if the company use computers for animation Le Francis said they are primarily used for design work. “One of our first major jobs back in 1983 was a television station logo for KCOP. At the time, computer animation was starting to become popular and the client asked for computer animation. It was actually hand animated by Gabor Csupo but when people saw it they would say it was terrific computer animation. We would explain it was done by traditional methods and they still insisted it was really good computer animation. After a while we gave in and said, thank you it is.”

The company use Macintosh computers for colour design on The Simpsons. Whilst the show has a set colour scheme for the main characters, interiors and so on, every show has new characters and up to fifteen new background set-ups. Various colour schemes are produced and the director selects the ones that work best. “We use paint from a Los Angeles company called Cartoon Colour, our computer approximates their palette of colours. It saves am immense amount of time that might otherwise be spent painting cels, just to get approval for each new character. -,

On The Simpsons and Rugrats all the writing, casting and designs of characters, backgrounds, layouts and key poses are done in the States. Then they are shipped over to studios in the Orient. The inking, painting and shooting is done there under the supervision of Klasky Csupo directors. They ship back prints for final editing in the USA.

would be prohibitively expensive to do the entire show in the United States,” declared Le Francis. “As we all know, animation is a labour intensive occupation and animation is very big right now in the United States.”

The characters in The Simpsons have evolved since the early episodes. “Lisa was always smarter than Bail but she could be just as mean as Bart, just as kids are in real families. She became softer as it went to series, but Bart has always been kind of nasty. The look of the characters changed too, as a result of working longer on it.”

When The Simpsons started there was Gabor Csupo overseeing the animation, Malt Groening writing with David Silverman and Wes Archer animating. David Silverman would refer to his job by saying, “Disney has nine old men and Klasky Csupo has two old men.” They were actually quite young, Wes Archer was just out of Cal Arts. There were also some people helping out with the inbetweening. and a camera operator. ‘‘It was kind of fun,’’ recalled Le Francis. “At the time no one knew who The Simpsons were and we could do whatever we wanted. We would sit there and start laughing at the various situations we created. When it became a media sensation it changed things drastically. It became a very large endeavour, before it was like a steam boat and it became a large ship. If you have to turn ship it takes a mile to manoeuvre it. The company still retains its creative edge but there are greater numbers of people involved. With more people involved more decisions need to be made.”

Printed in Animator Issue 30 (Spring 1993)