In his ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’, René Descartes tried to answer that very question, demolishing all of his preconceived notions and opinions to begin again from the foundations.
Sure, you have your senses. But your senses often deceive you. Maybe the body you perceive yourself to have isn’t really there. Maybe all of reality, even its abstract concepts like time, shape, color, and numbers are false.
And, who’s to say you’re not dreaming? When you’re awake, you know you’re awake. But, when you’re not, do you know you’re not? How do we know that this right here is not a dream? What if you’ve been tricked into believing that reality is real? The world, your perceptions of it, your very body - you can’t disprove that they’re all just made up. And how could you exist without them? You couldn’t, so - you don’t.
Life is but a dream, and I bet you aren’t row-row-rowing the boat merrily at all. You’re rowing it wearily. Like the duped, non-existent doof you are/aren’t.
Don’t buy it? Good. Have you been persuaded? Even better. Because by being persuaded, you would prove that you are a persuaded being. You can’t be nothing if you think you’re something, even if that something…is nothing. Because no matter what you think, you’re a thinking thing.
Or, as Descartes put it, “I think, therefore I am.”
Frederator’s old friend John Dilworth (”Courage the Cowardly Dog,” “Garlic Boy”) is looking to make a long-overdue sequel to his wildly classic cartoon, “The Dirdy Birdy” (1994). See if you can cough up a few bucks on the project’s Kickstarter to help make this happen. The short will, as John puts it, have kids “start dropping their pants to their mothers and grandmothers!” In other words, how can society move forward without another Purdy cartoon?
Interview: John R. Dilworth, Creator of "Courage the Cowardly Dog" and Founder of Stretch Films
Yes, you read that right! Today, we’re incredibly honored to share with you some words of wisdom straight from the mad genius of animation – John R. Dilworth!
John R. Dilworth was the creator, producer, director, and co-writer of “Courage the Cowardly Dog”, one of Cartoon Network’s top-rated series, which aired for four seasons. The show is about a farm dog named Courage who constantly struggles to save his owners from supernatural/paranormal villains, and was developed from Dilworth’s Academy Award-nominated short film, “The Chicken from Outer Space”.
Dilworth has earned many awards in film festivals all over the world for his work as producer and director of 13 independent and sponsored short films, including “The Dirdy Birdy”, “Smart Talk with Raisin”, “Life in Transition” and “Rinky Dink”, as well as awards for his commercial achievements. In addition to Cartoon Network, Dilworth’s work has appeared on CBS, Showtime, HBO, FOX, Nickelodeon, MTV, Canal +, and Arte. His films have been shown in exhibitions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. He is the founder and president of Stretch Films, Inc., a prominent animation design and production studio in NYC.
Dilworth also shares his animation/film-making expertise by giving animation lectures at college and universities, serving on film festival committees and juries, writing and editing for animation magazines and newspapers, and serving as a longtime Executive Board Member of ASIFA-East International Film Organization.
Please join us for this interview, in which Dilworth dishes some tantalizing behind-the scene tidbits on Courage and his other past (and future) works!
Hi John! Thanks so much for the interview! It’s such an honor–you’ve been one of my favorite animators in the business ever since I first saw your work in “Psyched For Snuppa”. How did you come up with “Psyched For Snuppa”?
John Dilworth: PFS was the creation of Michael Pearlstein, a comix book artist discovered by Linda Simensky at Nickelodeon during the early Nineties. I was brought on to translate the comix material into an animated pilot. I worked closely with the Michael in re-designing his characters for animation. I was the director and supervised every aspect of the production for the production studio, Jumbo Pictures. It was a heck of a challenge and not one I wanted to continue.
Would you ever consider using those characters again?
Nickelodeon attempted to make a re-work called Sniz & Fondu, with another team, but I don’t think it succeeded.
One of my favorite things about your work is how dramatically your drawing style changes depending the cartoon you are doing, as opposed to how most animators seem to stick to one style that they’re recognized for. For example, your drawings in “The Limited Bird” look totally different from how they look in “Rinky Dink”. How do you go about developing how you want your cartoons to look?
Each film occupies a specific location in my life. The design of my work is in part a desired outcome. For LB, I wanted to teach myself how to draw human faces. I made the film ( it’s really an unfinished film, more an animatic ), in realistic drawings. With RD, I was in Barcelona and wanted to learn how to work in Flash and work with the indigenous stop motion culture there.
The Chicken From Outer Space" is what got “Courage the Cowardly Dog” into the public eye for the first time, so I’d like to ask, where and when exactly did you come up with the idea for that short in particular?
Who could say definitively? I am aware that there was a nexus of a need to make something that reflected a more simple lifestyle meeting the horrors of modern progress. I was keen on the family farm myth and the atomic age madness. Personal life ingredients also factor in… my love of dogs, for instance, and of horror/sci-fi.
Were you aiming for it to become your big hit and to be developed into a series, or would you rather have had one of your other creations made into a series?
I was pitching DB to Fred Seibert’s H&B shorts program. They passed on it for what I believe is un-airable behavior by the bird. I needed to find funding to start my next short, TCFOS and I pitched the storyboard to Ellen Cockrill who championed the short. The whole business from indie short to Oscar nom to TV series was an unexpected and dramatic event like an asteroid crashing through the kitchen ceiling while eating your morning muffin.
One of my favorite things in Courage is that Muriel is a master of the sitar. Where did you get such an amazing idea?
In honor of Linda Simensky, ( who was the champion of Courage at Cartoon Network ), I had Muriel play the sitar. Linda plays the sitar. It is Linda’s playing the sitar we hear whenever Muriel is playing.
Do you play a musical instrument yourself?
The “Freaky Fred” episode is one of those things that will be ingrained in my brain for all eternity. Where did you get the idea for that episode?
I was speaking with my Head Writer, David Steven Cohen about how much I wanted to make an episode that rhymed like Dr. Seuss. And David has had much experience at this kind of verse, so our team developed Freaky Fred, penned by David.
Was it your idea to have that disturbingly amazing “La La Laaa La La La La” music for Fred himself?
No, that was the affects of my madness on the composers Jody Grey and Andy Ezrin.
Di Lung and his famous catchphrase “Watch where you’re going, ya fool!” and his amazing laugh is again something that will be imprinted on my mind for the rest of forever, and the fact that he is Chinese royalty makes him so much more funny. What’s the story behind his creation?
I had a design director on Courage, Tim Chi Ly who was quite a naturally funny man. One day I asked if he would like to voice a character. He wasn’t a trained voice actor, but it did not matter. What I wanted was his natural way of speaking. Di Lung is among my top three favorite characters, mostly because Tim was such a natural. He could make any line sound fantastic!
What was the most interesting thing that happened to you while you were working on Courage?
I had an emotional breakdown. My brother passed away. I dissolved a long relationship. The twin towers changed the world… many many interesting things happen making an animated series, if we are lucky.
Which episode of Courage is your personal favorite and why?
“King Rameses’ Curse”. 1. The music. 2. My brother, Jim Dilworth designed the creepy low end CG Ramses.
Is there anything about Courage that you would change if you had the chance?
Perhaps the color… it felt right at the time, but may not be a general marketplace color.
What is your favorite animation you’ve done in your whole career and why?
My early animation on Michael Sporn’s adaptation of “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile”. It was my first substantial and lengthy sequence of song. It allowed me to exercise my empathetic drawing skills. Also, Michael has passed away, those wonder years have passed away, and I am of a naturally nostalgic bent.
“Life in Transition” is one of my favorite animated shorts, period. The whole thing is simply beautiful! What inspired you to make that, and what was the production process like?
LIFE was in part a reaction to the human horrors experienced at the time, both personal and public. The film was completed over a three year period and predominately hand painted in Photoshop by Andrew Covalt, who was also the head BG colorist on Courage.
What are some of your biggest influences and inspirations?
The “Golden Age” Hollywood cartoons, silent comedy, Cezanne’s apples, modern dance, Joseph Campbell, Nedd Willard…
What recent animated shows do you enjoy?
I’m too old to watch cartoons…
I’ve heard that you consider music to be very important in your life and that you have a quite eclectic taste in music. Do you consciously use music in your creative process while you work?
How do you go about choosing music for your films?
If you could collaborate with anyone (living or dead) on any project, who would it be, and what would you choose to work on?
Dali! And anything he wanted. LIFE was my small contribution of prose to a language very Dali.
You’ve said that one of your greatest joys is making people laugh. But what kinds of things do you find hilarious? Can you think of a instance in particular where you couldn’t stop laughing, and what caused it?
My long time collaborator and co-producer on Bunny Bashing, William Hohauser and I were editing hand held alien puppet head performances and the absurd language the aliens were speak made us cry laughing. We laughed so long and so hard we could not breathe, and I thought we would die from a heart attack. That lasted two days. To this day, years later, if we think about that edit, we immediately begin to laugh.
Are there any animators or artists who you’d like to see do a rendition of any of your characters?
Why? I presume they have their own characters to animate.
Are there any future projects you’d like to tell us about?
Yes! As you know we are awaiting CN decision to reboot Courage. This is imminent. Or not. Who knows. By the end of July we shall have a final cut of The Dirdy Birdy Redux. In celebration of the film’s 20 year Anniversary, I restored the original cut by adding one minute of never seen footage, a flash back to how Purdy learned to express his particular way of affection. The Redux will have it’s premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival in NY. Later this year we are planning a crowd funding initiative for a sequel to The Dirdy Birdy, titled “A Night at Club Sheik”. The short tells the story of Furgerina and Purdy going on a date to a dance club in the spirit of Tex Avery’s Wolfy cartoon romances.
What advice would you give young animators trying to make it in the business today?
The business is apparently computers and computer software, but using these new tools still require emotional resonance and skills of a storyteller.
Are there any other final thoughts that you’d like to share or anything else you’d like to say in closing?