Mochi and Gemma from 157ofGemma had the opportunity to interview Genndy Tartakovsky about his latest project, Hotel Transylvania 3. Tartakovsky has had an extensive career creating iconic characters and shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory and Jack from Samurai Jack.
It was very surprising to me to learn that you designed DeeDee before Dexter when creating Dexter’s Laboratory. How did Dexter end up being the main character instead of DeeDee?
Well, I knew I wanted to do a brother and sister thing, and so I started drawing–I wanted to animate a girl dancing, that’s how it all started. And so I animated this girl and I really liked her–it was DeeDee, the design was very similar. And I go, “I want to do my student film with her.” So I decided, well she’s all about art and fun, so what’s the opposite of that? And that’s how Dexter was born. He was the opposite of her and then I realized that that would be the basis for the show, that relationship.
How did it feel for a school project to become such a well established cartoon?
It felt great! I mean, we started the series when I was 25, you know, so I was just a kid. And back then, there were really no young creators. Everybody was 30 and over if not 40, so it was a very unique opportunity and we had no clue what we were doing. It was very exciting in that way because everything was an experiment. I knew that we wanted to do a different show than what was on the air. It was incredible, it kind of started my whole career. Luckily the show was accepted. Because you never know, you know? It was before the internet, so it was before any of those [streaming services] types of things. You would show an episode and it would get, like a 2.3 [TV rating] and everybody’s excited, and I go “well it’s just a number, what does it really mean?” And it wasn’t until like my first comic book convention that I went to and there were all these Dexter fans, and people wanted me to draw Dexter, and it was also in the very beginning of Cartoon Network so there were only 12 million viewers.
Who is your favorite character from Hotel Transylvania?
In Hotel Transylvania? I like Frank. Frankenstein. Because it’s Kevin James, he’s very funny. So whenever he does the voice he always makes me laugh. Anything that he says comes out funny. I like it and I like him being the buddy to Dracula and the support. And so, I think he’s my favorite.
One of my favorite characters (big surprise) was the giant puppy! So how did the idea of the giant puppy come into play? It looks like it’s inspired by a pug.
For sure. Because they’re little monster dogs, right? (laughs) Even though they’re cute, they’re funny. And so the idea came when we started writing. They [Sony] said, “do you want to do a little short?” Just to have people get excited about it again. And I said yeah! I tried to think, what would be a good 3-4 minute cartoon. I started to think, well now we’ve got Dennis who’s a kid, and a kid wants a dog. I used to have an English mastiff, which is a big 200 plus pound dog, and now I have a St. Bernard–also big. I thought oh it’d be great to get them a big dog! But like a monster big dog. So that’s how the genesis of the story came. And then I started designing the dog initially and I looked at dogs. I wanted it to be monster-y but cute. And [pugs] were kind of the perfect beginning to it.
You’ve worked on a wide varieties of shows, from more the more serious tone of Samurai Jack to the wacky, fun world of Hotel Transylvania, what’s more fun for you to work on? Something more serious or something with more humor?
I mean, they’re both enjoyable. For sure comedy’s more difficult. Especially for the theaters because these movies are so big, you want everybody to go see them. You want everybody to laugh. How do you make a six year old laugh and a 25 year old? Or a 35 year old? A parent and a child. That’s difficult. Where, in action, and especially in the Samurai Jack that I did last year, it was adult. And so I was able to be more experimental and very creative. And people will understand, they can fill in the lines a little bit, you know? That was fun in a very creative way. This is more challenging, but also more rewarding. Because when we do a preview screening and there’s a joke that I write, storyboard, and then we animate it, when the whole audience is laughing? That’s like, amazing.
You’ve written so many iconic characters. Is there one that you’re particularly attached to? What attracted you to them? How does it feel to have given voice to characters that so many people relate to and love?
I mean I think, you know, for my career, I think Dexter is the one I’m still the most proud of cause he was my first one. There was something about it where it connected with people because of the brother/sister relationship. And it feels great! I feel like after this I only want to do my original ideas because I want to bring more characters. You know, I have a lot of ideas and there’s nothing like bringing something into the world that everybody loves. Like with Jack, Jack was, because it was so artistic, it was inspirational to a lot of artists. So now that it’s been around for almost 20 years I have people coming to me and saying, “Oh, I saw Jack and then I wanted to become an animator or an artist.” That happens a lot, and that feels amazing. I always try to keep things in perspective for me. Where I don’t think about my effect too much. It’s just, I have a strong voice, I have a lot to say, a lot that I want to do in animation and film and everything, and I just try to do it.
You have accomplished so much already, do you still have dreams to accomplish?
Yes! I feel like I say this every interview, but my career just started. (Laughs) Even though I’ve done a lot, I feel like there’s so much more still to do! Opportunities are really good right now. So I’m going to do more.
Last but not least, what advice would you give to young animators?
I think today is to do. You have all the tools because of the computer. So just make stuff! And the more you make the more you’ll discover your voice. You should do something that nobody else can do. Whatever that is, people will hire you for that. And you’ll be very wanted. So I always push to have a strong voice, to be an opinion, not to just blend in.