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Q&A with George Gendi (‘Apple and Onion’)

// Featured, Interviews

As we reach the end of October, the clocks have turned back and we’re stocking up on winter woollies, the Annecy Animation Festival seems a very long time ago. Together with Daniel Chong (director of Cartoon Network’s We Bare Bears) and Elizabeth Ito, another future director, we caught up with George Gendi about his project at Cartoon Network, Apple and Onion after the presentation of their short films in the Salle Pierre Lamy.
In the short that was presented,
Apple and Onion are invited to a cool party by French Fry, a girl that Apple has a crush on. Not knowing how to be cool, they are teased by bullies and though a wacky twist end up in a jail cell for disturbing the peace. They escape with the aid of Beef Jerky, return to the party and end up showing up the bullies for what they are by being their own weird, cool selves.

How did you come to be working with Cartoon Network on this idea?

Well, shortly after graduating I was working for a company called Sherbet and at the time I had some student films online. I got an email from Cartoon Network saying that they were making this new show and they needed a team of storyboard artists, would I be interested? They liked something about my film – there was a sense of humour there that might work out. So they got me on for a couple of months as probation, it worked out, and I kept going. I forgot to say that that show was The Amazing World of Gumball! So at the end of that first season I pitched my own show to Daniel Lennard who used to work for Cartoon Network, and then I got Matt Layzell on board and together we made two pilots. Then I went to pitch both pilots to the Americans, then they opted to make a full-length, 11 minute, fully animated piece, which is what you saw today.

Can you talk me through how you came up with the idea? Why is it an apple and an onion?

Well the reason why it’s an apple is because once I read a story that my older brother had written – he did this really rough illustrated story that he was planning to make into a kid’s book I think – it was about this apple who decided to leave his tree and follow his dreams to the big city. He goes to the big city and he has a really rough time – he ends up dying – and he becomes a tree in the middle of the city and brings life to it. That was what he wrote, and I thought there was something about that that I liked. So I thought ‘I’m gonna board this! I’m going to make it into a short film!’, so I did it and I adapted it.
In my original adaptation when Apple gets to the city he meets Beer Can – this alcoholic beer can – and they become friends – real friends – and he starts showing him around and they have a really good time. Apple is really innocent, really naïve, he knows nothing about city life – his life had just been in his tree and growing in the countryside – he sees the city as really far away. So they’re having a really good time but at some point Beer Can starts drinking, he starts getting really drunk. Apple has a couple of sips so he’s a little bit buzzed, but at one point Beer Can pushes him away, and so Apple’s now on his own in this city and he knows nothing about anything. Basically what ends up happening is he gets tricked and then this worm eats him up. But then, when Beer Can comes around he remembers and he’s going ‘Where’s Apple? Where’s Apple? What’s happened? Oh no he’s gone off on his own…’ Beer Can knows it’s not a safe place, so he looks in all the places they used to go together and eventually he finds Apple in this alleyway, on the floor, on the concrete. He goes up to him and inside there’s this little seed – a pip – and he picks it up and it’s got Apple’s face on it and he’s dead and he thinks ‘what have I done?’. Beer Can buries the seed in the crack in the concrete and then he falls asleep next to the crack, and then – probably a time-lapse or something – Apple sprouts up and he grows into this big tree, taking Beer Can up with him, into his branches, and then – the same as my brother’s story – he ends up bringing life to the city.

Apple and Onion (Cartoon Network/George Gendi)

Apple and Onion (Cartoon Network/George Gendi)

The message is that his good heart, his good intentions, his innocence brought life to people, just by him being himself, without him trying to be good, just by him being good and staying true to himself. Anyway, so that was where ‘Apple and Onion’ came from! I boarded this whole thing! I was going to make it into a film and I was, off the back of that, going to pitch a series to Cartoon Network. I thought that if they see this then they’d know what I can do. This was at the same time as I was boarding on Gumball but then I realised that it’s going to take far too long to make, so I thought I’m not going to do this, I’m just going to give Apple a friend – the friend was Onion, because he was a different shape, one was small and round the other was long and thin. It’s still about those two characters going to the city, the same intentions are there where they’re good-hearted, you know, they bring goodness to where they are. I made all the other people foods as well because that made sense and I got rid of Beer Can because I was going to pitch this as a kids show. That’s it!

While you’ve got that moral story it’s funny too; it’s got that zany humour of Cartoon Network.

Yeah, I mean the humour was always there. When I was boarding that first film it was funny, even though it sounds really poetic, it was funny – what was happening was really funny. But that’s the thing – the comedy stays and the depth of what is happening stays as well.

Do you have any advice after all of this for someone else who wants to do a similar thing and make their own series?

I think that a really good way to get on that sort of thing is to be a board artist on another series. That’s how I did it – I always wanted to do my own thing – and I knew that boarding was a way to get me to pitch a show. So what I would say is that if you can board on someone else’s show, and you can do it well, then when you pitch your idea to them they’re more inclined to trust you. But even before that just do what you think is good and do it as well as possible. If you’re doing a joke, don’t do a kind-of joke that you think is supposed to be funny – do something that’s funny; something that makes you laugh when you first think of it! Do that!

Apple and Onion screens today at 3:30pm and Saturday 3:15pm as part of KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival’s Animation Shorts 4 screening.

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