THE ANIMANIAC LEXINGTON’S OWN DAVID GERHARD HELPS BRING ROCKET-VAN DRIVING DUCKS TO LIFE ON NICKELODEON’S BREADWINNERS by
ou are seven years old. You wake up, grab a few stufed friends, and sprint to the kitchen to prepare a breakfast feast of cereal, chocolate milk and a toaster strudel. Your parents are still sleeping, the sun and sky are about the same color as the Apple Jacks you just poured, and you have the house to yourself. After draping the couchquilt-cape around your shoulders, you turn on the television. For the next few hours, it is just you, Bobby, Uncle Ted, Tom, Jerry, Darkwing and Launchpad, because you are the king of Saturday morning. Te only thing better than sugary-cereal induced karate kicks and a powerful rendition of the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes theme song to an audience of pillow people and a stufed aardvark, is growing up to make cartoons possible for today’s pint-sized rulers of Saturday morning everywhere. Lexington native, David Gerhard, gets to do just that. Gerhard grew up in downtown Lexington, near UK’s campus. “I think I was the only kid downtown that had a tree house. It overlooked campus and my dad wouldn’t put a roof on it because apparently then it would need plumbing,” he joked. Gerhard’s road to Animation Director for a hit Nickelodeon cartoon was defnitely paved with some awesome creative infuence. With the imaginative whimsy of his mother’s work, artist and owner of Tird Street Stuf, Pat Gerhard, as well as having Lexington’s automaton extraordinaire, Steve Armstrong, as a Montessori teacher, inspiration was never far from reach. Gerhard describes his animation motivation, “Steve Armstrong makes incredible automatons, which are hand-carved wooden mechanical sculptures that move by turning a crank – animated
sculptures, if you will. Between his infuence and my mom letting me watch Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Ren & Stimpy, and my obsession with Liquid Television, there wasn’t much else I wanted to do.” Gerhard started out making posters, ads and bumper stickers for WRFL Radio, Paisley Peacock and Tird Street Stuf while in middle and high school. He later went on to study with UK’s department of Fine Arts, but would eventually transfer to CalArts in Los Angeles to study character animation. “L.A.’s a fantastic city, and in some ways like a larger version of Lexington. Tere is a lot of diversity and you can fnd strange and interesting things to do and see if you poke around,” Gerhard explains. “Te strange part about living in L.A. is the number of connections I end up having to Kentucky. Sammy Beam, an artist that painted the tropical interior of Atomic Café, is painting the interior of the historical Clifton’s Cafeteria [in L.A.]. A friend of mine from Lafayette High School is working at DreamWorks. Aaron Lee, who used to rent me videos at Cut Corner Records in Lexington and had a zine called Blue Persuasion that I would always try and get my hands on, wrote an animated series called Where My Dogs At. I ended up being an animator on the series not knowing he was writing for it.” Once Gerhard graduated CalArts, he realized that breaking into the business of animation, which is small and selective, would be no easy feat. “Te best way to get noticed is to make short flms. I got started out of college by having a short flm called Lucky Penny that ended up in (what was then called) Nicktoons, which was a collection of shorts, “he explains. “When
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I graduated CalArts, there were no jobs. Disney had laid of a large number of people and I would be showing my portfolio alongside master animators that worked on Lion King. To actually get started working in animation, I had to take a job in Boston at Soup 2 Nuts Studios. I was so desperate for work that I packed everything into my Honda and drove across country during Tanksgiving, without a coat or an ice scraper. When I started the job, I was so nervous about getting my frst assignment done, that I stayed up four days straight. Oddly, a number of people I worked with at Soup 2 Nuts, I now work with on Breadwinners going on 7-10 years later.” Over the next several years, Gerhard would work as animator for 6 Point Harness, Titmouse, Te Cartoon Network, W!ldbrain Entertainment and Warner Brothers, with projects for MTV, HBO, Comedy Central, and many others. In 2013, however,
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his dream to contribute to the wonder that is Saturday morning cartoons came to pass in the form of a bread-slinging duck duo. A close pal of Gerhard’s, the aptly named Gary Doodles, was partnering with Steve Borst to create the new Nickelodeon show, Breadwinners. Gerhard stepped on as animation director for the show in March of 2013. “Breadwinners,” Gerhard clarifes, “is a story about two ducks delivering bread from a rocket van. But really it’s the story of two friends that always take care of each other. It’s a musically driven, fast-paced cartoon that’s equal parts Ren & Stimpy, Super Mario Brothers and Merry Melodies. Or merry Mallard-ies as I call it…it’s a show about ducks and bread and there’s a lot of puns.” As animation director, Gerhard is in charge of making Sway Sway and Buhdeuce (the duck duo), move in a hilariously rhythmic way, all while making certain that the other animators are “having fun and dancing their way through an episode.” Gerhard also explains, ever so amazingly, that because the show is working with an 8-bit Nintendo callback, “I try to blend video game aesthetics into the show, for example, working with designers and animators to create satisfying video game-esque rainbow vomit.” (Author side note: Te visual that appeared in my mind after hearing this reminded me of my favorite video game as a child, Rainbow Islands: Te Story of Bubble Bobble. Google image search, now.) Working for Nickelodeon has so far, been an experience like no other for Gerhard. He flls up his cofee mug in a slimecolored commissary, shares space with a 4-foot Sponge Bob Lego sculpture, and has an ofce next to the composer Tommy Sica’s, studio, allowing Gerhard a magical soundtrack of “dramatic music being created and a wide array of elaborately distinct fart sounds.” Being in the animation game can also get your likeness worked into a show or two. “I had a roommate that was a character designer for Invader Zimm, and he drew me into one of the episodes. I was also able to force my way into Motorcity because I drew my face onto a package of lemon heads. It wasn’t that hard as my face is easily adapted to that of a lemon,” he explains. While the life of an animation crew for a television series sounds like all fun and slime, all the time, Gerhard sheds light on the ins and outs. “As hyperactive and whimsical as the fnal cartoon can be, animation is a very slow process and extremely boring process to watch. It can take months to create one 11-minute episode of a show.” Gerhard is pretty excited about where the future of animation is heading, with mixed mediums, CG, and the experimenting taking place. Tis “temporarily displaced” Kentuckian is also very excited for the future of his current project. “Breadwinners is very popular with the kids so if we get a second season and I get to work with this crew for another year, I’ll consider that a huge accomplishment.” As far as what the future holds for this Lexington-bred animaniac, returning to the Bluegrass is a defnite and welcomed possibility. “I would absolutely love to return to Kentucky. I’d like to open up a studio making video games and commercials (and cartoons!). I’d love to have an animation festival that played at Kentucky Teater. Tere’s still a lot to absorb here in Hollywood, but returning to Lexington is something I imagine doing. My best imaginings always happen in Lexington.” S Be sure to catch the next new episode of Breadwinners, “Quazy for Vanessa/Tunnel of Fear,” premiering on Nickelodeon.
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BY RACHEL HORN