Creating People Cat People
My name is Eric Polley, and I am the creator of People Cat People (2018-). People Cat People is an animated web series that focuses on the day-to-day lives of the characters of a small group of feline humanoids that inhabit a fictional planet called the People Cat People Planet. There is no main character or single overarching plot line. Instead the series focuses on several shorts that aim to introduce and resolve conflict within one standalone episode. I have given personality to the characters, and want people to fall in love with some (and hate the others). The turnaround is quick, with an animated short released every Tuesday. Across each of these episodes, I am building an animated fantasy world - I want it to expand, develop and gain in complexity, and I want human reaction.
When I was a kid I would sit in front of the living room television and watch the cartoon line-up on every channel until surfing the channels came up dry. My favourite part of any cartoon was the short clips that would play between segments. I would stray about and play with toys when Dexter and Dee-Dee from Dexter's Laboratory (Genndy Tartakovsky, 1996-2003) would be running amok, but when the Secret Squirrel (William Hanna & Joseph Barbera, 1965-1966; 1993) intermission cartoon short came on after the commercial, I was glued. I was in love with the rapid pacing and narrative style of short form content, including the animated commercial shorts like ‘Powdered Toast Man’ from The Ren and Stimpy Show (John Kricfalusi, 1991-1995) (see above). These kinds of animated shorts were a big inspiration for People Cat People, and I wanted to make shorts like the Last Day on Earth (2017-) series, or similar to the late-night adult animated shows I watched in early high school.
I started animating very late. I was in my late 20s. I have always been interested in the medium, almost longing from afar. I dabbled with a few short test animations over my teenage years, but always had inadequate tools and didn't really take it seriously. I concentrated on other forms of expression – music in my late youth, and stand-up comedy in my 20s. I honestly never thought I would have access to animation software, or develop the talent or ability to use it. For the most part I had given up on the idea that I would be an animator. I was given the opportunity to relocate from Portland Oregon to Las Vegas Nevada. Living in an apartment with no band, I decided to just pick up animation and try it. I downloaded several free animation programs to see what they could do. The software was limited, glitchy, and difficult to learn. But it was enough to gain an interest. I began by animating some terrible cartoons, with limited knowledge and tools. But like any skill, the tools and knowledge grew. Within the first year of self-taught learning, I created an unsuccessful pilot episode for a cartoon. After animating for 3 years I attempted an animated pilot at 22 minutes called Black Out 7. I took me years of animating to realize that I bite off more than I can chew every time. I would start a project much larger than I was willing to spend the time on. I would either reduce quality and rush it to completion, or simply not get to a position to finish it. Not only that, but these long form projects take months or even years to write, design, record, and animate. So realistically I was able to produce a handful of cartoons per year. I lost interest and motivation, and the viewer felt the same I am sure. It took me many years to come to the terms that long form series content is at the end near the goal, not the start of the race.
With People Cat People, I decided with this series to go back to my childhood, revisiting the kind of short animated segments I loved (see above). I have designed characters personality around people I know, and created a world I love, something that my child-self would have been glued to. When I designed the animated characters I had two priorities. I wanted them to be funny on first sight, and I wanted to achieve a smooth movement through the animation rig manipulation. It started with one humanoid cat (Jelly). After he was rigged and ready to go, I allowed myself to go about my business and allow random thoughts to come to mind, building the dialogue through lines and phrases that came to me. This is my writing process, but the hard part is pausing my current task and writing it down as I want to dialogue to feel improvised and spontaneous. Fantasy therefore plays a role in almost everything I dream up as my imagination tends to run wild. I my first imagine the character. Then, I must imagine what he or she says. Animation provides the perfect medium to enact these fantasies of character, and plays a key role in how (as an animator) I want my characters to act and react.
On People Cat People, however, this process is reversed. I start by recording dialogue first thing. I then integrate the recorded audio into the animating program, and one lonely night later you’ve got an episode. So the animation comes out of my spontaneous thoughts, designed to fit in with what I have imagined. An example of this process came in my production of the episode, ‘Last Day on Earth.’ In this episode, two characters approach a friend at a bus stop and start a conversation. The approached character then goes on about an event, with a crazy background and trumpet players, they disappear when one of the other characters interrupts. I was adamant that the timing of the trumpet players be accurate to the music, while maintaining a comedic feel. I actually animated one trumpet player and duplicated him. I wanted the background to be exaggerated and over the top, so I went with a very bright colour as part of the design, complete with flashy yet tacky decals. I really enjoyed creating this scene.
I enjoy animation. The social commentary that the medium enables and the flexibility in creating characters. But I really love the loose rules of reality. I build and set up the rules of a world, then break the rules down in order to change the world. It is really as open as the limitations set by your own imagination. Sometimes I just get hung up on stupid things that qualify the world onscreen, such as should the talking fruit have arms and legs? Every character, building, bench, circle; every single thing is placed on purpose one detail at a time, and so you must use your imagination each and every time. So yes, there is a piece of me that loves the control and controlled aspect of animating. Especially with a short and sweet short like People Cat People. Reaching people with a cartoon I made and getting laughs is just good for the soul. My love for fantasy in animation comes from the limitations, or lack thereof. I love that the rules of reality can be broken at any time, specifically if the rules of reality are broken so smoothly that as a viewer you don't notice on first sight, like the adventures of Wile E, Coyote in Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes (1930-1969) series. Fantasy and animation have always been a part of my life, and now I can distribute my own contribution to the fantasy and animation fans through the development of my own cartoons. The short term goal is to get People Cat People seen by more people. The long term goal is to be a showrunner on a network television show.
Go hard, dream big.
Eric Polley is a freelance animator from Spokane Washington, and is the creator of the People Cat People (2018-) animated series. For more shows and information, please visit http://erpolley.com/peoplecatpeople.