Liz Ohanesian Inside Titmouse studio. Mural by Travis Miller.
If you watch late night cartoons, then you're probably familiar with Titmouse. The animation studio with headquarters in Los Angeles got into the grown-up TV game with Metalocalypse. Soon, they expanded from high-maintenance metal stars to include adventurers and villains (The Venture Bros.), a bizarre prison (Superjail!), a really terrible university (China, IL) and much more. But, as supervising producer Ben Kalina notes, they don't do every show on Adult Swim. Contrary to the comments that Titmouse co-owner Chris Prynoski (aka Chris P.) hears, they don't do Archer either. They also don't just make cartoons for adults. Prynoski created the series Motorcity, which is no longer on the air, but still brings a ton of fans to their convention panels. They're also the home for Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja.
Titmouse has had its hand in some big projects, but there's a lot about the animation studio that even die-hard fans might not know. That's why I headed down to the L.A. offices recently to tour the large facilities.
10. Titmouse Was Supposed to Be a T-Shirt Company.
Liz Ohanesian Titmouse was supposed to be a t-shirt shop. It became an animation studio.
"We had no plan to make an animation studio," says Prynoski of the company. Titmouse was supposed to be an online shop for T-shirts.
If you read the About section of Titmouse's website, you probably know this. I can't assume, though, that people spend all day combing through animation studio sites for random bits of trivia. Anyhow, here's how Titmouse went from T-shirt company to animation studio.
Prynoski had spent years working in animation in New York, mostly on MTV fair like Beavis and Butt-head, Daria and Downtown. During the infancy of Titmouse, he was still working freelance in the industry and had a lot of gigs. "You end up hiring friends and then hiring more friends and then more people and then before you know it, it's a studio," he explains. "Now, it's a real business, more or less, but it didn't start out that way."
9. They Make Comics too. Sometimes.
Titmouse Mook is a book/magazine hybrid that features comics from Titmouse artists and friends of the studio. Prynoski describes it as being like a "cool French art book." So far, two volumes have been released. They have the material for a third installment, but haven't built the mook yet. It's a project that they do simply for fun. "We actually lose money on them because we don't have a business model," says Prynoski. "We do hardcover against the advice of people who know how to make money on comics."
And then there's the matter of free time. "There's no one whose job it is to do it, so we just chip away at it," says Prynoski.
Kalina adds, "Making TV shows takes a lot of time."
8. Titmouse Has Studios in Three Cities: Two in the U.S., One in Canada.
Titmouse This is the Vancouver office.
Titmouse HQ is in the middle of Hollywood. It's a fairly large facility. In fact, they have a small dune buggy to get back and forth between the building. They also have offices in New York and Vancouver.
The New York office launched in 2010. "Two of my friends were both creators of Adult Swim shows and they needed places to do their shows," says Prynoski. Titmouse New York basically started for Superjail! and The Venture Brothers.
The Vancouver office opened last June because they were working with a lot of freelancers in Canada. "If we put them all in the building, we would have a studio," says Prynoski. Also, there are tax incentives involved with setting up the shop that helps them keep costs low for some work. "If a network needs to do a show on a budget, it makes it easier to do it in Canada," he adds.
The studios often share the workload on projects. Right now, they have two projects benefitting from teams at all three studios. Employees go back and forth between L.A. and New York as well.
7. Chris P. Is a Get a Life fan. That's How the Company Got its Name.
Liz Ohanesian Chris P., Titmouse president/Get a Life fan.
The most frequently asked question Chris P. gets at conventions is "How did you get the name Titmouse?"
It's from Get a Life, the 1990s TV show that starred Chris Elliott as a grown-up paperboy. Specifically, it's from an episode called "Chris' Brain Starts Working," where an incident with toxic waste turns our hero into a temporary spelling bee phenomenon. "When it starts to wear off, he gets asked how to spell the word Titmouse and he just starts giggling," says Prynoski. "He can't answer it because it's such a silly, stupid word. That's why I named it Titmouse."
Two nights before our interview, Prynoski actually met Chris Elliott at an L.A. screening of the Adult Swim television series Eagleheart. Of course, Prynoski told that story to the former Get a Life star. "He said that was very sweet and patted me on the shoulder," says Prynoski. "It was half sincere and half sarcastic, I think."
6. They Started an Opening Sequence Trend.
Titmouse has done a lot of opening sequences, including one for the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It's the intro they did for a reality TV show, though, that made a major, lasting impression.
One of Titmouse's earliest projects was the opening title sequence for MTV's show The Osbournes. Originally, the idea was to animate Ozzy Osbourne in the style of the opening credits for I Dream of Jeanie or Bewitched. "We kept running on the clock on it until there were only a couple weeks left to do the open," says Prynoski. "I had to think of something that could be done."
They decided to take freeze-frame images and put them against retro looking animated backgrounds that slid on and off the screen. It was a means to an end that worked. "Freezing the frame, cutting someone out and sliding shit was done out of necessity, not creativity," he says. Later on, other shows made use of the style. "They still do it," he says. "That's never going out of style."
"That's one thing I feel I can say I contributed to: weird, shitty motion graphics openings," says Prynoski.