Joe Murray Talks About His Work On Camp Lazlo

Q:  Why did you decide on a camp setting for your new series, Camp Lazlo?

A:  After I did Rocko's Modern Life, I kept this notebook full of ideas for shows or books.  Some of my best memories were always at camp, and I just kept coming back to that.  I was going through a period of time where I was feeling that there were too many futuristic things going on in media and entertainment, so I wanted to do something that really got back to nature.  I remember watching cartoons like Yogi Bear and Bugs Bunny where there were all these trees in the background.  There's some sort of calming about that.  I wanted to create a place without any Gameboys or televisions around so the characters could have a good time and just be kids.


Q:  How long did you go to camp?  Did your success as a camper, or lack of it, influence the show?

A:  I went every summer for 4 or 5 years in a row.  But I couldn't really get the scouting thing down. 


Q:  So is this your idealized version of what a camp would be?

A:  I think there are a lot of aspects to what Camp Lazlo represents.  It's kind of a goofy place, but the most important thing that it showcases is friendship.  Whether they are arguing with each other or just hanging around, the people there are what make camp fun.  I'd like to hang out with Raj or Clam or Lazlo; they're my kind of people, even if they actually are animals.


Q:  Were you like Lazlo as a kid?

A:  I think there is a lot of good-natured rebelliousness in me.  I was always questioning authority and why we had to do certain things.  I always felt that if someone wanted to do something, they should go ahead and do it.  In that sense, I was a lot like Lazlo.  I don't think I was as happy or easy-going as Lazlo.  I was a little bit more moody.  I still am.  I admire the way Lazlo can make the best of situations when things go against him.


Q:  Camp Kidney is very structured.  Lazlo doesn't like structure.  What's the message for the kids?

A:  {laughing} I try not to send messages to 'the kids.'  I don't think cartoons are the place for messages.  And I hope that there are not too many messages to be soaked in by watching Camp Lazlo.  My main thing is 'be who you are.'  Sometimes, there are going to be situations where people are going try to tell you what to do.  And, unless it's a safety issue, feel free to question it.  Be a kid.  I think growing up is mostly about making decisions about what is right and wrong for you. 


Q:  You are working with a lot of the same cast and crew as you did on Rocko's Modern Life.  How did you get them to join Camp Lazlo?

A:  Coercion.  We had a really good time on Rocko.  We always kept in touch and they told me to look them up if I ever did another project.  And I knew what they could deliver.  Mark O'Hare, my co-producer, is so consistent and so amazing in the way he can write and draw.  And he's a great person.  And this crew already knows my sensibilities, only now they have another 10 years worth of experience.  Many of them worked on SpongeBob SquarePants after Rocko's Modern Life, so they learned a lot there.  Plus, we have some new people working on the show, and they bring great enthusiasm in.  It's an incredible crew.  We're very lucky.


Q:  You also have much of the same voice talent from Rocko's Modern Life.  How did you decide to cast them for each of their roles?

A:  I knew I wanted to work with Tom Kenny.  He adds writing to his roles; he brings so much.  Other than that, I didn't know who I wanted for voices. 

Carlos Alazraqui ended up being Lazlo, just like he was Rocko.  I don't know how that happened.  I really didn't plan on it.  And Doug Lawrence was on Rocko's Modern Life and now he's Edward and The Loons.

But we've got some new people.  Jeff Glen Bennett does Raj.  He's incredible.  Steve Little, who voices the Dung Beetles, is on his first voice-acting job.  I got him from The Groundlings.  So it's a good mix.

The thing I look for from all my voice talent is comedic timing.  Most of them are stand-up comics or sketch actors.  And improv actors ' they not only have great voices, but they bring a lot of improvisational comedy to their recording sessions.  Since we record as an ensemble, they feel the need to make each other laugh.

I'm working with Jeff Hutchins who used to cut the sound effects for Rocko to do the sound for Camp Lazlo.  And it turns out that I am picking the same exact sounds as I picked 10 years ago.  So it seems that what I look for when I tell my stories is just sort of ingrained in me.


Q:  What lessons did you learn from making your first series that you have applied to Camp Lazlo?

A:  When I made Rocko, I was used to making my own films and doing every little aspect of the film.  When I got into TV, I tried that approach and it was driving me crazy.  And so I started to let a lot of things be handled by people who were good at handling them and not try to do every aspect of every job.

We were doing things that made us laugh, so I think Rocko skewed kind of older.  Now, I have kids of my own, and I know what is funny with kids as well as adults.  It's got a broader appeal, but it's also something I personally find is funny. 

I still approve everything but I try to resist the urge to noodle in every little detail.  On Camp Lazlo, we had a lot of pre-production time, so we were able to set everything up in advance and hand it over to the artists and the crew. 


Q:  How has being a father helped shape the creation of Camp Lazlo?

A:  It has allowed me to see things from the perspective of a child.  I think we lose that as we get older.  And when I play with my daughters, I realize that it all comes down to imagination.  You can create total worlds. 

When we have challenges and conflicts as a family, I think it helps when we approach it with imagination.  So I started bringing that to Camp Lazlo.  Lazlo deals with his challenges and problems with imagination. 

Sometimes, I'll get hung up on an idea during the day.  And then I'll come home to my girls and somehow the answers just come to me. 

We were trying to come up with a song for a luau scene and nothing we came up with was working.  Then I went home and my daughter started singing 'The Hokey Pokey.'  So I came up with 'The Hula Pokey' and made up stuff about throwing poi.  It made her laugh, so we decided to use it.


Q:  Will there be a lot of music and camp songs in the show?

A:  Well, the theme song is based on 'Bingo,' which I used to sing at camp.  So we switched that to 'L-A-Z-L-O.'  We're re-making a lot of songs for the show.  And we're also writing our own camp songs.  So there's a lot of music. 

And Andy Paley, who is an incredible musician, created a whole bunch of original bluegrass and cowboy swing for the show.  We used all kinds of strange instruments, washboards and spoons.  There was this woman who played the saw.  So we have some original songs that Andy wrote as well as old favorites like 'She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain' that we reworked. 


Q:  How did you select which types of animal the campers would be?

A:  I tried to use the same approach as I used in Rocko, where it was a sort of a social caricature.  I was trying the match the personality of the character to various animals.  When I started thinking about the personality of Lazlo, a monkey just came to mind.  Not like a chimpanzee, but a Brazilian spider monkey, which is what he is.  And I thought of an Indian elephant and what his personality might be, that's how we got Raj.  And Clam' I have no idea where he came from.  I just started drawing this character and then I put rhino horns on him'. so that's what he became.

Every character has been thought out.  Edward the Platypus, the Dung Beetles, Samson the Guinea Pig, the Lemmings' their personalities all match what they are.


Q:  The color palette and art direction are interesting and beautiful.  How did they develop?

A:  I looked through a lot of books on cabins and camps and Indian artifacts.  They're all pulled from various artifacts, like rugs and totem poles.  And we use a lot of nature colors ' dark greens, oranges and reds.  

My art director, Sue Mondt, and I were trying to find colors that would reflect the feeling you had in summer at camp, but they did not have be so specific.  A tree does not always have to be green and brown.  The sky is yellow.  We try and get away from the normal colors of things.  You have a definite feeling you are in a different place.  But most of our choices are about triggering your memory of camp and being in the woods.

There is a definite retro feel to the camp's design.  I'm a big fan of '50s and early '60s design ' advertising art, lamps, old vacation brochures and things like that.  The brushy quality that developed at that time was a real influence.  It's all meant to evoke a comfortable place to visit.


Q:  What were your inspirations on the show ' animation and beyond?

A:  I am a huge fan of storybook art.  That's always been an inspiration for me.  And then painters like Matisse and Picasso.  And great comic strip artists are very important to both Mark O'Hare and me.  Music ' cowboy swing and other old stuff ' has been influential to the show.


Q:  Finally, can a monkey and a mongoose really find true love?

A:  Wow.  We're going to have to find that out.  It's hard to say.  Lazlo is a little freaked out by Patsy.  She scares him.  I think Patsy will always be a little more aggressive with Lazlo than he would ever reciprocate.  But you never know what will happen.  We'll have to see. 

Source: Cartoon Network Pressroom (Now defunct)

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