While podcasting may have begun as a convenient way to have audio delivered to your iPod, it has grown into an entirely new distribution method for all sorts of content. Despite the early fears that as the mainstream media discovered podcasting it would drive out independent content, podcasting remains an effective way for the little guy to get noticed and build an audience. Case in point is Doug Bresler’s Doogtoons.
Doogtoons is Bresler’s brilliantly idiosyncratic cartoon following the lives of two of his friends Nick and Haig. It’s one of a growing number of short animated podcasts to be found on the iTunes Music Store. The show is largely a collection of recordings of Bresler’s friends. Ribald, offbeat, and sometimes poignant, it’s the type of series that doesn’t lend itself to easy descriptions and would probably have been a hard sell had Bresler gone through traditional channels. Yet following the show’s success on iTunes, Bresler has inked a deal with G4 TV, where Doogtoons will begin airing in about a month, though it will continue to be podcast. We spoke with Bresler last week during his lunch break and, over the sounds of Los Angeles-area traffic, he told us the secret of Doogtoons success.
Playlist: How did you get interested in animation. Was there anyone in particular who influenced you?
Doug Bresler: Animation kind of came to me because it was the easiest way to get the ideas that I had out without having to hire an expensive crew, go on location and the whole shebang. It was the easiest way to express myself without having to rely on a whole bunch of resources.
Playlist: Is Doogtooons your first work?
Bresler: Well the Nick and Haig Show that’s on Doogtoons right now is my first work. The original cartoon was completed back in 2002, and it was not anywhere near podcastable. It wasn’t necessarily a student film, but I did it when I was at [the University of California, Santa Barbara], kind of on the side. I wasn’t really happy with production courses at UCSB. They weren’t really for everybody. There were just a select few people who got to do production there. So I went off on my own and did this project by myself. I interviewed a couple of my friends as a practice technique, and it kind of turned into a joke. And from a joke, it turned into something bigger than that, as I noticed a good response coming out of it.
Playlist: Can you tell me a little bit about [the show’s main characters] Nick and Haig? I gather these are real folks, right?
Bresler: They are real folks. Nick and Haig were my classmates, they were in different areas of study, but they were my friends. We’d always sit around and drink and [talk], and some of the stuff that would come out of their mouths would just crack me up. I was originally going to do this animated horror film, but I didn’t just want to jump into it. I wanted to get some practice in animation—I had never made a cartoon before. So I said, why don’t I just record these guys and I can animate their voices. And that’s how that happened.
Playlist: And is that true of the whole series, is all of the dialogue ad-libbed like that?
Bresler: All the dialogue is… Well, it’s kind of a secret. But I’ll give you a hint. Yes, it’s all ad-libbed (laughs).
Playlist: I wasn’t sure. Because while it can be explicit and bawdy, it can sometimes be really esoteric and deep, and it seems like you’re circling around to make a point. I thought perhaps it had been written out ahead of time.
Bresler: It’s hours upon hours of dialogue, and then I sit down and listen to it about 1,500 times and choose sound bites. Each clip itself has not been edited, or just in a minor way. Nothing serious, I haven’t taken bits of dialogue and put them other places. I’ve just cut out snippets and used them here or there. There are hours and hours and hours of unheard stuff, and some of the stuff that’s in the episodes I’m working on right now was recorded maybe two or three years ago. So I still have stuff that remains to be edited.
Playlist: And tell me about how you began podcasting. How did you decide to podcast the episodes and what was involved in setting that up?
Bresler: When I first heard the term podcasting I was kind of wondering what it was all about. I first heard them talking about it on KCRW. They would have this really calm voice come on saying, “you can find all of our streams online and podcasting at blah-blah-blah.” I was like, what is podcasting all about? So I looked into it more and more. But it wasn’t until people started doing video podcasting, or I saw a couple of video enclosures, that I realized the potential of it. I’m pretty tech savvy; I work on the side for Apple. So I knew all about iPods, and stuff. And then I looked on the directory I saw that there weren’t really any cartoon podcasts there. There was only one. Channel Frederator wasn’t even on there yet. I think their first podcast was the day after mine. So right when they came on I submitted to them and I got onto their show and got a little exposure.
But I had thought it was a hard thing to set up, and then I looked into resources and I found this amazing little thing called Podcast Maker, and I started using it. It was really good, it’s a great program, and I still use it. It’s made by Andy Kim and his brother, or someone else, I’m not sure. I contacted him and said I’m going to buy your program but you have to guarantee that you’ll continue to develop it. So I bought it and have been using it ever since, and it’s a really, really great tool. It’s very easy to use.
Playlist: Can you tell me a little about what you do to produce an episode? Are they split from the original film?
Bresler: I did split it up. I didn’t just want to just dump everything on there. There were about three or four short conversations per episode, and that was the original short film I was showing at UCSB and around on the Internet. And so for the podcast I split up each little short conversation as a clip and posted that as an episode, and it worked a lot better. I think in this day and age it takes a lot of time, effort and money to make a two hour movie, that’s probably not even going to entertain you that much. It’s a lot easier to go online and grab something that’s a minute or two long and get your fix for the week, for the day, and get the same kind of enjoyment without having to invest all that time energy and money. That’s why I decided the one to two minute format would be the best thing for my podcast.
Playlist: Do you feel the podcast shorts have helped you reach a wider audience than you otherwise would have?
Bresler: Oh, yeah, definitely. It does take a lot of investment to seek out entertainment. But if you have a podcast, it comes to you. That’s the beauty. You don’t have to constantly check a Web site for updates. You don’t have to get swamped with e-mail updates. You don’t have to go looking for it; it comes to you. But at the same time, it isn’t thrown in your face. People can choose different types of channels and podcasts, you can choose what you want to see and when you want to see it.
Playlist: You mentioned Channel Frederator. There seems to be a small but growing community of animators Podcasting. Is there a community developing there? And does it help shows that might not show up on a network on Saturday morning find an audience?
Bresler: I think there is a community forming. I talk to the Channel Frederator guys, I’ve sent the Little Buzzers guys a couple of messages. And yeah we’re starting to form friendships because we’re all in it together. A community is definitely forming. And I’m working with a fellow podcaster, who’s not an animation podcaster, and we’re working on something new that’s going to come out in the next few weeks, so watch for that.
Playlist: The last thing I wanted to ask you about were your production techniques. Is that all done in Flash, or how do you do it?
Bresler: The very first episodes were done completely in Flash. That was about five years ago. And then I started to learn how to use the tools more, and learn After Effects, Final Cut, Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator. Now my work method consists of doing all the sketches in Alias Sketchbook—I do everything digitally now I don’t draw anything on paper. I take that and import it into Flash and do all the character artwork there. And then for all the backgrounds and panels and that artwork, I usually start it in Sketchbook, take it into Illustrator do all that artwork there, clean it up in Photoshop, and then drop it into After Effects where I composite everything—the Flash stuff the Illustrator stuff, the Photoshop stuff, and then I take that and drop it into Final Cut Pro and edit it with Final Cut 5.
[ Mathew Honan is a San Francisco-based free-lancer whose work has also appeared in Macworld, Salon, Time, and Wired. You can check out his Mac and iPod weblog. ]