“SpaceBear is a barbarian with a whole lot of technology,” according to creator Andy Helms.
SpaceBear premiered on Cartoon Hangover on Thursday, August 14, 2014. In addition to creating and co-producing SpaceBear, Helms also wrote the story, did the storyboards and character designs. Dave Ferguson directed SpaceBear, and animated the short, as well as serving as prop/EFX designer, background designer, background painter and color stylist.
The SpaceBear cast features well-seasoned voice cast including: Rodger Bumpass as Space Bear and Space Bear’s Father; Christopher Curry as Perplexulo and Dream Trout; Ogie Banks as Mark 16; and Josh Keaton as Frog Teen.
Born and raised in Michigan, Helms has been drawing all his life. He went on to study at the University of Michigan – School of Art & Design, and says that he his work is largely influenced by 1980s pop culture. Along the way he had a winning entry in a TokyoPop comics contest. Helms has also worked on his own webcomics, including Alarming Predicament, which is a parody of survival horror games.
Find out more about Andy and SpaceBear in our interview below.
FT: What kinds of things did you draw as a kid?
Andy Helms: In elementary school I remember drawing these scenes on notebook paper that were like a “good guy” based on one side and the “bad guy” on the other - with ships flying around blowing each other up. Probably a lot of GI Joe influence. The first comic I remember creating was in 4th grade and it was basically just a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles parody with salamanders. High school was all about this notebook paper space opera comic that is like 500 pages and terrible and painful anime fanart.
How did you learn to draw?
My Mom and sister are both very talented and I think it was probably just exposure to them - drawing was just a thing you did, not something you “can or cannot” do. But I really latched onto it and decided that is what I wanted to go to school for, etc. But I think friends on the internet posting art, and (when we had loads of free time) just making comics back and forth is what really made me get really into it.
How did you find your particular style?
Ha, I don’t think I have found a style. It used to really frustrate me that I don’t have a “go to” whenever I start drawing something, but I also like having options. The style for SpaceBear didn’t change too much throughout the process since I knew I wanted to go with minimal cartoon outlines with contrast-y color flats. But the characters designs changed a lot. I pulled out the original pitch files when I was thinking about this question and whoa, I have no idea what I was thinking.
Is this your first animated project?
It is! I used to make claymations on a VHS-C camcorder that could do 4 frames / sec in the 90’s but I don’t think that counts.
Where did the idea for the SpaceBear short come from?
Um, a it was kind of a wandering path. I’d been messing with an idea of this half-man-half-bear in space for a bit that was built on this joke about how “his only weaknesses are women and honey.” He eventually became a bear in a spacesuit and just started building a little world around him. My wife suggested that he was in community college, and from there it developed that he’s left his home, and the way of the bear planet, behind and has to pay his own way. If he ran out of cash he’d have to return to his people.
I wanted to have this kind of conflict of science and magic stuff, so that’s where the Astro-Magi came in, who are kind of these galactic jerks. That was inspired a lot by reading a bunch of Conan books, where the wizards and always huge turds and menace everyone. So, in a lot of ways SpaceBear is a barbarian with a whole lot of technology. He’s left his homeland in search of treasure and glory and a BFA.
Has the character of SpaceBear been kicking around in your head for a long time?
I think parts of him were in very different iterations. I usually have a few ideas for things filed away and try to combine them at times, while whatever I’m really interested in at the time also mingles with those ideas.
What was it like doing the casting for SpaceBear?
What a neat and difficult thing to do. I have never gotten to give a character of mine a voice before, let alone a whole cast. I think there was something like 300 auditions to go though, and I was so thrilled to get the chance to choose them. It was something to see a bunch of voice actors I knew of and really respected reading such goofy dialogue. Really cool.
Did you know how you wanted SpaceBear to sound?
He was the hardest to cast, probably because I had some kind of idea of his voice in my head. He’s a really small dude outside of his Xyber-Suit so I wanted him to have a deep, rumbling kind of voice to contrast that, as well as having a kind of Texas swagger to play up his “bounty hunter” type of work.
You have a very experienced and talented voice cast - was that at all intimidating?
No, it was a relief. They are the professionals, so they are going to do what they do without interference from me. You hear it in your head a certain way for so long when it lives on paper, and I think the worst thing I could do would be to ask an actor with that much experience to say it how I hear it. It was amazing to hear what they did. I could not have been happier with it.
So, Why do you think that certain animals, including bears, have always made such interesting protagonists in cartoons?
It feels like you have a lot of dials to turn with an animal character that are not there with humans - hard to describe. They seem like they are easy to empathize with since the viewer gets to form their own option about them. Like, is SpaceBear a handsome bear? Who knows. If he was in a Hollywood movie as a human, he’d be some hunky dude probably, and people are kind of expected to react a certain way to that. If that makes sense.
How did you get involved with Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover? Did they find you or did you find and pitch them?
I got an email from someone at Frederator suggesting I send in a pitch. So I spent way, way too long on my idea and sent it in only to find out that person no longer worker at Frederator, but Eric (ed. note: Frederator’s Eric Homan) took pity on me and read it anyway. I was already a fan before that, but had just never really thought about trying, so I’m glad I got that nudge.
What was it like for you working with Frederator?
It was not what I had expected, all in all really good ways. I got to be involved in every step of making the cartoon and really felt like Frederator cared about what my vision and opinion was. Surreal, in a way.
What are some of your favorite cartoons, action movies and video games?
Oh man. Well, I still really love the cartoons I grew up with, like GI Joe, Transformers and He-Man because I think the marketing around them is really fascinating. I was really into anime when that was a “new thing” in my hometown in the late 90’s, and Cowboy Bebop is still a favorite.
Action-y movies I can shortlist into Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars (A New Hope in particular) and Commando for the pure 80’s bravado of it. Tron is also way up there because I dig the design and tone of it.
Video games… My favorite more recent title has been the Mass Effect trilogy, and I still play them quite a bit. A Link to the Past has been one of my favorites for a long time. Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3 have a special place in my heart, too. Mario Bros. 2 particularly for the design. I have a bunch of the older games on a 3DS.
Are you in to role-playing games? If yes - which and what do you like about the genre?
Yeah… I like the idea of getting to “own” your character in a game. Like Mass Effect for instance, where you import your Shepard-person through three titles. Skyrim and Fallout 3 type games where your behavior matters and how you build your dude matters and you spend a long time with these guys doing adventure-y things.
How have any of the above influenced your work? Specifically SpaceBear.
I’d say Mass Effect if any of them - the world building is done in ways that I thought were really effective, but mostly that it is space-with-space-magic kind of stuff.
I was reading that you like the “less is more philosophy” - what does that mean to you in terms of your work?
Probably in reference to drawing. I like the idea of using really efficient lines and putting detail only where it absolutely needs to be. I mess around with pixel art sometimes for the same reason… how many blocks of color does it take to make something iconic recognizable. Similar thing with movie posters, where you have to condense all the emotion and style of a movie into a single image.
Do you have an ideal ‘ride’? What was your version of the X-90 Rudeness?
Haha. I’ve never had a ride that luscious. My gut feeling is that my Rudeness would be a DeLorean, though.
What is an “Odormancy” (is that the right spelling?) What was the inspiration for the Odormancy?
Odormancy is stinky, smell-powered magic. Perplexulo’s particular beard gives him the power to wield it. His favorite is dog-related smells. The “mancy” in SpaceBear’s world is generally a pretty specific skill set that is often used to harass others. At first he just use the dog-smells to stink up the teen’s car, but then it turned into what he was wanted for, and how he trapped SpaceBear in a memory. It grew into wanting to give the wizards a specific skill set - it had a Saturday-morning cartoon feeling to me - the wizard-of-the-week who has some ridiculous power.
What other projects are you working on right now?
I’m working on this drawing-a-day thing for a year that is about strange holidays - every day of the year has one. I’m also working on a ridiculous post-apocalyptic comic at the moment that is probably just for myself and the people I force to read it.
What is the best piece of advice that anyone (teacher or someone in the business) has given you about illustration, design and/or animation?
My Mom told me once to never stop drawing or let it stop being an interest - basically just don’t put it aside for forget how important it is to you. I think about that quite a bit, especially when it is frustrating and nothing seems “ old enough” and it’s hard to work up the motivation. It seems like as you get older and busier that it is an easy thing to just give up with a thousand different excuses.
Oh, and a nod to one of my design professors in college who saw a few of us drawing comics and told us to “grow up.” What a dingus.