The Danes call it "quality"
1988 (Original company) |
April 2016 (As Spümtwø)
|Defunct||July 18, 2005|
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California|
John Kricfalusi, president and co-founder|
Stephen W. Worth, producer and animation historian,
Kevin Kolde Vice President and General Manager
Flash animated series
|Website||Spumco's Wonderful World of Cartoons!|
Spümcø, Inc. was an American animation production company based in Los Angeles, California. The studio produced three traditionally animated series, two Flash-animated cartoon series, two music videos, five animated shorts, and a comic book. The company also went on to produce content for a few animated spots and commercials. It won several awards, including an Annie Award for Best Animated Short Subject, for the Björk music video "I Miss You".
Spümcø was founded in 1988 as a small office facility in the heart of Hollywood. John Kricfalusi named the company after the fictional animation pioneer Raymond Spum. Only a few short months after Spümcø's founding, Nickelodeon announced that they were looking for new cartoons. A concept claimed to be "revived" by then-president of Nickelodeon, Geraldine Laybourne, was that of "creator-driven cartoons". Spümcø co-founder and then-president John Kricfalusi sold The Ren & Stimpy Show to Nickelodeon in 1988, which became Spümcø's first original animated series production. The Golden Age of American animation, like the 1940s cartoons by Bob Clampett and Tex Avery to name a few, served for inspiration for the surreal and highly expressive house style for which Spümcø became well-known.
Prior to the founding of Spümcø, two animators, John Kricfalusi and Lynne Naylor, would spend their time attempting to sell original cartoon ideas throughout the 1980s, while working for various animation studios like Filmation. One of their ideas was Ren & Stimpy, but the show would be turned down by the three major television networks in the process. The idea of original animated cartoons created by actual cartoonists, and not by TV network executives whose ideas were solely based on toy products and comic books, would not happen again for some 25 years until Spümcø was founded and would eventually make history as the first animation studio of its kind. The company was officially founded in 1989 as a small office facility in the heart of Hollywood, by a small group of cartoonists, disappointed in the state of animation during the 1980s. John Kricfalusi, Lynne Naylor, Bob Camp and Jim Smith, who all co-founded the company, were cartoonists who were either laid off by animation companies, or willingly decided to quit. A few short months later, Nickelodeon announced that they were looking for new cartoons created by cartoonists. This would be a concept claimed to be "revived" by then-president of Nickelodeon, Geraldine Laybourne, that being the concept of "creator-driven cartoons."
Kricfalusi explains the name "Spümcø": "Well, it's a weird coincidence. The word spüm is the word for "quality" in Danish. But it's actually named after Raymond Spüm, the guy who invented animation in 1856." The reality is, "spüm" is not a Danish word and "Raymond Spüm" is an entirely fictional figure.
The Ren & Stimpy Show
After only a few months of the founding of Spümcø, John Kricfalusi decided to fly to Nickelodeon's headquarters in New York, where he would pitch five ideas for cartoons. Geraldine Laybourne, the president of Nickelodeon at the time, picked two of the five ideas: Ren & Stimpy and Jimmy the Idiot Boy. Ultimately, Kricfalusi decided to sell Ren & Stimpy, which led to Spümcø's first animated series production, The Ren and Stimpy Show.
Because Nickelodeon had no original cartoon material prior to the hiring of John Kricfalusi, the company was unaware of the basic process of an animated cartoon. Kricfalusi had volunteered to give Nickelodeon executives an informative background of cartoonists using storyboards for storytelling in animated cartoons, rather than a script. Vanessa Coffey, who became the executive for The Ren & Stimpy Show, listened to Kricfalusi's lessons and background briefing of the animation industry, and was pleased to learn about how the process works. Coffey agreed with Kricfalusi that, "If storyboards were good enough for Bugs Bunny, they were good enough for her."
Kricfalusi's animation company finished the pilot Big House Blues in October 1990, and the first episode of the show aired on August 11, 1991, premiering alongside Doug and Rugrats. Spümcø continued to produce the show for the next two years, while encountering issues with Nickelodeon standards and practices. Over the next couple of years, a number of episodes were censored.
Kricfalusi described Nickelodeon in the earliest period as being "simple" as there was one executive, Vanessa Coffey, whom Kricfalusi said that he got along with. Kricfalusi said that another executive, who came during a later period in the show, tried to prevent some of the Ren and Stimpy episodes from being produced. According to Kricfalusi, the episodes continued production since he did a "trade" with Coffey, which would be the exchange of having "really crazy" episodes for some "heart-warming" episodes.
Bill Wray, a production artist for the show, stated, "On some occasions Kricfalusi completed an episode in eight months. Other occasions, he completed an episode in two or three months." Wray described Kricfalusi's ideal production period per episode as four half-hour cartoons per year, and added that the arrangement would not "jibe with our production schedule."
At this point in time Kevin Kolde became a key-figure of the company, he worked in the capacity of a vice president and general manager. It was because of Kevin that Spümcø was able to continue producing content for over a decade after the original run of Ren and Stimpy.
Nickelodeon fired John Kricfalusi in 1992, and Nickelodeon moved production from Spümcø to Games Animation. Kricfalusi confirmed that the primary reason for the Nickelodeon executives' decision, seemed to be due to the level of violence in the show. Kricfalusi made remarks specifically to the episode "Man's Best Friend", which features Ren beating the character George Liquor with an oar, which may be the cause for his firing. Nickelodeon banned the episode from airing; the episode did not air in North America until Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon" began in 2003.
Bill Wray, a production artist for Ren and Stimpy, described the main issues regarding Kricfalusi's conflict with Nickelodeon as not being able to meet deadlines for production. Wray stated that Kricfalusi attributed the delays to Nickelodeon "not approving things fast enough", and Nickelodeon staff members "changing their minds" over what can or cannot be produced. Wray said that Kricfalusi believed that the product's quality holds more importance than meeting deadlines, and that he perceived Nickelodeon as "slowing him down". According to Wray, Kricfalusi believed, "[E]very step after the storyboards weakens the process", and that he "fought for the integrity of the storyboards", and lengthened production time because he wished to salvage the quality of the series.
In 1997, John Kricfalusi directed a music video for Björk titled "I Miss You", a single that was released the same year. It was animated by the entire staff at Spümcø. It premiered on MTV as well as Canada's MuchMusic channel. "I Miss You" won an Annie Award for Best Animated Short Subject in 1997, from the International Animated Film Association, ASIFA-Hollywood.
A variety of techniques were used for the production of the video: traditional 2-D cel animation by Spümcø and Colorkey Productions; 3-D computer animation supervised by Charlie Gibson at Rhythm & Hues; real-time motion capture animation by House of Moves; and blue screen mattes brought live-action into the mix. The live-action sequences with Björk were shot in a Los Angeles studio in one day. The entire music video took nine months to complete.
Björk, who confirmed to be a long-time fan of Kricfalusi's work, insisted that he do a video for her when they met at one of her concerts. She was claimed to be very pleased when she first saw John's storyboards, and she apparently proclaimed, "It's just like Christmas!" and did not ask for any changes.
During 1997, John Kricfalusi and his staff at Spümcø launched their Web site, whose goal was to provide cartoons for audiences, without the censorship of television networks. Kricfalusi decided to use George Liquor, a cartoon character he created, to star in the Flash Internet cartoon series, The Goddamn George Liquor Program, created by Kricfalusi himself. The series premiered on October 15, 1997. The Goddamn George Liquor Program was the first cartoon series to be produced exclusively for the Internet. George appeared on the series with his nephew, Jimmy The Idiot Boy; Jimmy's cousins, Slab and Ernie; Jimmy's love interest, Sody Pop; and George and Jimmy's pet dog, Dirty Dog. Spümcø produced eight one-minute shorts. In 1999, The Goddamn George Liquor Program won an Annie Award for "Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Interactive Production".
In 1999, Spümcø created its second Internet-only cartoon series, Weekend Pussy Hunt. The series would last for 12 episodes, with four unfinished cartoons due to budget problems. The series starred characters "Dirty Dog", who also made an appearance on The Goddamn George Liquor Program, and "Cigarettes the Cat." When asked about the style of the cartoon series, creator John Kricfalusi made the following statement:
Its style was a 1940s live action film-noir movie and we based one of the characters "Dirty Dog", on one of my favourite movie actors Robert Ryan. "WPH (Weekend Pussy Hunt)" was basically a chase movie; a really dark hardboiled thriller.— John Kricfalusi, interview, TV Freak Feature
In 1999, Spümcø produced and animated a Yogi Bear TV special titled Boo Boo Runs Wild, which premiered September 24, 1999, on Cartoon Network. The animated short focused on Yogi Bear's sidekick, Boo Boo Bear, who becomes fed up with the rules of man and decides to return to his natural bear roots. Though it focused primarily on Yogi and Boo Boo, it was titled as a "Ranger Smith cartoon." Alongside Boo Boo Runs Wild, a second "Ranger Smith" cartoon aired, titled A Day in the Life of Ranger Smith. The story focused on Ranger Smith in his daily life routine as a forest ranger.
Return to television
After Nickelodeon fired John Kricfalusi from The Ren and Stimpy Show in September 1992, he had plans to make a feature film starring the world's "manliest men". The feature film plan was scrapped, but the characters were then used in the 2001 animated series, The Ripping Friends. As early as a 1987 story session for the Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, Kricfalusi had proposed using a wad of gum as a character, an idea which was used to create the first villain for the new series, Indigestible Wad. The Ripping Friends aired on September 22, 2001, and lasted until January 26, 2002.
During 2002, after The Ripping Friends had been cancelled, John Kricfalusi received a phone call from the cable network TNN (now Paramount Network). TNN was struggling against other channels and decided to give Kricfalusi a new chance. In June 2003, Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon" premiered with three episodes, ones which used plots developed for The Ren & Stimpy Show. The entire show was produced by Spümcø, who also had complete creative control over the content of the series. The animation for the series was produced by Carbunkle Cartoons and PiP Animation Services. The series also premiered along with formerly censored episodes from the first two seasons of The Ren and Stimpy Show. The plot of Adult Party Cartoon focused on the adventures of the duo from the original cartoon series. Six episodes were originally meant to air during the summer of 2003, but were delayed for a year along with the rest of Spike TV's "Strip", mainly because of the risque "Naked Beach Frenzy" episode. Spike TV planned to bring the show back with the final remaining episodes on August 20, 2004, but instead delayed the series once again, and cancelled the series in early July 2003. On July 18, 2006, Paramount Home Entertainment released a DVD collection titled "Ren & Stimpy: The Lost Episodes", which contained the entire Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon" episodes, all of which were uncensored.
In these difficult years, Spümcø co-produced Go! Go! Hypergrind, a skateboarding video game released by Atlus in North America on 18 November 2003. It features a crew of 11 animated characters. In a fictitious Toon World, these eleven compete in becoming the next star of an upcoming Spümcø animated show on extreme skateboarding. Self-ironically the game's story states that Toon World is helping Spümcø "to renew interest in the medium and revive the struggling economy [of traditional cel animation]".
On July 18, 2005, Kricfalusi decided to shut down Spümcø shortly thereafter, following a lawsuit by Carbunkle filed against Spümcø in the Canadian court system. In the summer of 2008, Kricfalusi made a partial payment to Bob Jacques after Jacques had ceased seeking legal action against him.
In 2016, it was announced on Tumblr that Kricfalusi and former Cartoon Network storyboard artist Gabe Del Valle were starting a new studio based in the Los Angeles area and were looking for new employees. The name of the studio was not included in the announcement but was inferred to be "Spümtwø" by the presence of "spumtwo" in the contact email. The announcement was removed from Del Valle's Tumblr account sometime afterward, likely due to being hired again by Cartoon Network shortly afterward.
On March 4, 2017, Kricfalusi announced a second new studio to be based in Miami, Florida, named John K. Studios. The studio's only project was an animated short for Adult Swim, advertising the then-upcoming UFC 200 match on July 9, 2016, produced prior to the announcement of forming the company. The short was referred to as the "big project" in Del Valle's previous announcement. As of July 2018, the studio website is offline.
In 2013 a website was set up to promote a documentary about the Spümcø animation studio. A teaser trailer was posted on Vimeo which included brief interviews with former Spümcø chief and Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, Spümcø staffer Eddie Fitzgerald and self-proclaimed Spümcø fan and singer/parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic and clips from Ren and Stimpy and other former Spümcø series giving the impression that it was authorized by Kricfalusi, however sometime in 2014/2015 the entire site disappeared and the Vimeo account was deleted without any notice or reason. Many of Kricfalusi's fans were left wondering if the people involved in the project were unable to get further funding or a distribution agreement or that they could not obtain the proper licensing to use clips for the series which were produced by Spümcø but owned by various networks including Viacom International (Ren & Stimpy) and/or Fox (Rippin' Friends).
On February 1, 2013, Sick Little Monkeys: The Unauthorized Ren and Stimpy Story was published by animation historian Thad Komorowski. The book contains the detailed history of Spümcø and the Ren and Stimpy cartoons. 
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