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Interview with Ben Bocquelet, creator of ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’

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UPDATE: Watch our exclusive video interview with Ben Bocquelet in our LIGHTBOX special:

The Amazing World of Gumball stems from the wild mind of French-born British animator Ben Bocquelet,  who created the show after joining Cartoon Network in 2007. Originally intended as a show about a remedial school for cartoons to learn how to be funny, the show was redesigned into the comedic family romp we know today featuring blue cat Gumball and his adopted brother Darwin, a goldfish, who go on highly energetic and often bizarre adventures along with the rest of his family and friends. 

gumballSet in the fictitious American suburb of Elmore, the 2D animated characters inhabit real-world environments. Nothing is out of bounds in Gumball’s world, which is  just how Bocquelet likes it. Skwigly had the pleasure of talking to the show’s creator himself at this year’s Annecy festival.

Can you tell us a little about your career and the origins of Gumball?

As soon as I finished animation school I went to London. For my first job I was hired by the people at Studio AKA to do commercials, but what I did instead was mostly waste their money by not getting any jobs! I worked there for three years, never ever winning a pitch. Ever. It was a long losing streak, I left blaming the world for not recognising my talent (laughs) but I was hired by Cartoon Network to help other artists develop their projects. So I was sort of a Swiss knife – a bit of animation, a bit of design, a bit of background – whatever they needed me to do. After a while I was offered the opportunity to pitch my own project and what I pitched was a show about a remedial school for cartoon characters. The idea was I’d use all these characters I had and put them in school were they learn to be good cartoon characters – it turns out that children are not so psyched about deeply sarcastic, depressing explorations of my commercial failures, so they said “no”. But they loved the look of it and said to come back and try pitching something more like what they were trying to accomplish, more comedy /family kind of stuff. So I left the room and then came straight back in and said “The shows about a family…” using the same image and they were sold! Then after that I developed the characters based on my own family, so my Dad is Richard, my Mum is Nicole, my sister is Anais. I’m not as dumb as Gumball but there some character traits…

Gumball

‘Gumball’

How have you have found the reaction to the show across the world?

It was overwhelming! I didn’t expect people to like it this much to be frank, I thought everyone would be like, “It’s kind of weird but okay”, that was the best I was hoping for, but it turned out to be very successful! We’ve won a bunch of awards and have very good ratings, it’s been a real surprise. I was worried everyone would be weirded-out by the look and the fact that sometimes the narration is a bit weird – we do take some liberties and do bizarre things – but the audience has really bought into it.

'Darwin'

‘Darwin’

The show has a lot of surreal elements and the characters are generally quite hyper, what was the inspiration behind that? 

Well, visually it’s inspired by everything I’ve ever seen in my life! Everything I see I just steal and put into my show. It’s a show were we can mix everything and everything can fit in there so I can pretty much steal anything I like, which is nice.

As for the characters, they’re either based on people I know or my own family. It’s a caricature of who they really are but, y’know, my Dad is giant man-child, and my Mum kicks ass and my sister is very clever and I’m a bit of an idiot.

'Anais' based on Bocquelet own sister.

‘Anais’ based on Bocquelet’s own sister.

The overall look of the show has a very different look to anything else that’s happening at Cartoon Network, was that intentional or just an organic use of your style? 

Well I was obviously trying to get noticed, so I wanted the show to really stand out visually to give it a chance; I wanted something arresting when you switched channels. Also I was very influenced by things like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and there is something utterly magical about cartoon characters living in our world, I think it makes them more real and relatable, especially from a child’s point of view. I loved the idea that young children would ask their parents to go on holiday to Elmore because they wanted to hang out with Gumball, I wanted them to believe it exists.

'Richard' based on Bocquelet Dad -" a giant man child"

‘Richard’ based on Bocquelet’s  “giant man child” of a Dad!

Is there anything coming up in the next series that we should look out for?

Oh yeah, we have big plans so right now. We’ve just released season three in the US, it will be in the UK in September. First off, we had to say goodbye to our two main actors because they’ve grown up, their voices have changed and, despite are best efforts, short of chemical castration there was no solution to this problem (laughs)! So we did an episode about how it feels to grow up and change, passing it on to new actors, but it was good to say goodbye to Logan (Grove) and Kwesi (Boakye) who have been fantastic and really embodied those characters and made them who they are today. Then we continue with some interesting character developments, like what Gumball’s real name is. We’re going see what’s under Penny’s shell, that’s a really beautiful episode – it’s a kind of Kamikakushi-esque story which I think people are really going to like. We’re also exploring the true nature of The Amazing World of Gumball – why is it like that? Why does it look like that? There’s this mysterious reason why everything looks the way it does and why things work the way they do which we’re developing. I’ve now designed this overarching plot running all the way to when we finally finish the show. And we’re going to build up to that, which is very exciting.

'Nicole' based on Bocquelet "kick ass" Mum.

Nicole’, based on Bocquelet’s “kick ass” Mum.

The Amazing World of Gumball is shown weekdays on Cartoon Network, with new episodes to be broadcast in the UK from September. For more information you can visit the official Cartoon Network site for the show. You can follow Bocquelet on Twitter @benbocquelet

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