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March 14, 2014

Anatomy of a Web Cartoon

Trojan Filmmakers Tackle the Web with Billiams

Students are increasingly turning to the web as a means to get their projects out into the world and the web cartoon Billiams is the latest in a long string of Trojan projects following non-traditional paths. Billiams, a web cartoon with 10 Trojans in key positions, follows a wolf in his first year at a liberal arts college and the eccentric characters he meets along the way.

“I’d been putting my work on YouTube since seventh grade, because it was the easiest way to reach a mass audience, get feedback, and make as many people laugh as possible,” said Corey Sherman, the creator/director Billiams. “I had never animated a thing in my life before Billiams, but I knew that wouldn’t be a problem, because the web so warmly embraces that low-fi, cheap, homemade look. Not only does it add to the humor of a video, but I think it’s a breath of fresh air in this RED-riddled, polished, sharpened digital world. I think people really like to see work clearly made with tools that they themselves have access to. It’s easier for them to feel intimate with the work.”

The crew of Billiams includes creator-director Corey Sherman and writer-producer Dean Moro. They’ve brought on a team of writers, Zach Dunn, Roger Carnow, Annie Lloyd and Kelly Pretzman. The animation staff includes Aidan Bradbury-Aranda, Garv Manocha, Cecilia Sweet-Coll Stephen Hutchins, and Victoria Cuthbertson.

“I first saw Billiams in the strangest of places: on a giant movie screen in USC’s historic Norris Theater,” said writer/producer Moro. “The characters all had such distinct, wonderful voices, I just had to be a part of it. When I found out Corey was producing the episodes virtually by himself, I offered to develop it with him. Since then, we’ve created a community of like-minded writers and animators who make Billiams what it is.”

“Corey, Aidan, and I all signed up for the  first session of a CNTV class Digital DNA taught by comedy showrunner Chris Case and LA entrepreneur Diego Berdakin. The class was so hands-on, it was just unlike anything I’d experienced before. In just one semester, we went from a couple short episodes to meetings with top talent agencies, managers, and TV networks. All of the attention the show garnered could not have been possible without Chris and Diego. SCA doesn’t just prepare you for the real world, it puts you there.”

Animation shorts are both an integral part of the education at USC and hold a special place in the history of the School. Most famously, legendary Trojan John Milius broke into the film world in the late 60s with his animated film Marcello, I’m So Bored. As recent as 2012, Animation MFA student Amanda Tasse won the student academy for her animated short Reality Clock.

The crew from Billiams with Mathias

When asked about the inspiration for Billiams, Sherman replied, "My friend and I spent a weekend at a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, and were both taken aback by how nightmarishly boring, insular, and for lack of a better word, ‘hipster’ it was. I really wanted to make it the world of a show. And because it was so surreal, and because I naturally had such a goofy, cartoony sense of humor, I decided to animate it, even though I had no experience in animation. I taught myself the most basic Photoshop animation techniques, and began making episodes on my own. Then I partnered up with Dean Moro and Aidan Bradbury-Aranda to start making them on a more consistent basis. We started a writers room with some hilarious screenwriters we knew, and organized a team of artists to draw and animate the episodes. They’re such talented artists. Sometimes it pains me to tell them, ‘Could you make that look less good?’ But that’s just the look of the show. It’s gotta seem like the whole thing was drawn in five minutes.”

Producing content for the web has been increasingly promoted at the School of Cinematic Arts. The Writing Division offers courses in webisodes and Funny or Die recently heald a two-day workshop for comedy shorts in conjunction with Comedy@SCA.

“I think students are looking into work online because it offers them a place to explore and have creative control of their work,” said Torrie Rosenzweig from the School of Cinematic Arts’ Student Industry Relations. “No one gets to say no on the web. Students are their own studios. It's a place careers are getting launched every day.”

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