Red and Blue are stick figures with a Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck type of relationship. They drive each other crazy, but somehow remain friends. Their adventures are at the center of one of the hottest shows online. In less than a year and a half, Dick Figures has become a YouTube sensation, racking up views as its central characters reference memes and wreak havoc across their town.
Produced by Six Point Harness and airing on YouTube via Mondo Media, Dick Figures is written and directed by Ed Skudder and Zack Keller, two friends with a fondness for Internet humor and dubstep. With season 4 set to premiere April 5, Dick Figures made an appearance Saturday afternoon at Los Angeles Animation Festival, with both Skudder and Keller on hand for the panel. I had the chance to speak with them after the event.
Like cable TV hit Adventure Time and web comic phenomenon Homestuck, Dick Figures is gaining a following for a simple reason. The show is hip to the same things that the Internet-surfing masses are. Bite-sized references to Nyan Cat and Forever Alone have crept into Dick Figures. It also has spoofed the Call of Duty franchise in episodes like "Flame War" and "Modern Flame War 3," and incorporated dubstep, the electronic dance music genre that has become almost inescapable, back in the 2010 episode "Traffic Jams." An acoustic cover of Skrillex's viral hit-turned-Grammy winner "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" is on the third-season soundtrack.
Skudder and Keller have known each other for more than five years, since their days as USC students. "We had the same sensibility for story and ideas, characters and types of movies we would like to do," Keller says. They ended up working together, first on commercials and videos, then eventually at Six Point Harness, where Skudder was hired as an animator and Keller as an editor.
Dick Figures came into existence through a development program at the local animation studio. "I, at the time, was very busy, didn't want to put any effort into it or draw anything nice, so I drew stick figures," Skudder admits. The pilot, which the duo screened at LAAF, was an unexpected success for the duo. It was picked up by Mondo Media with the condition that they could get 100,000 views in a week for the first proper episode. They reached that goal in about four days. During our talk, Keller revealed that the collective episodes of Dick Figures just hit the 100-million view mark.
Skudder and Keller work with a small team. Depending on the episode, there are four or five animators working on Dick Figures. There is a composer (Keller's brother, Nick), a sound designer and a couple producers. Skudder voices Red, the impulsive roommate who loves to irritate Blue and make mischief. Keller voices Blue, who appears more serious than Red but is equally capable of causing a grievous mishap. They brought in friends to voice Pink (Blue's girlfriend) and the roommates' friend Lord Tourettes, and drafted co-workers for other roles.
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Each episode takes roughly a week and a half to create and the lengths of the episodes vary, usually clocking in between two and four minutes. A new short runs every two weeks during the season.
Ultimately, Dick Figures is in the vein of classic animation shorts, featuring handful of zany characters with a knack for stirring up trouble. What sets it apart, though is the way the humor bridges tried-and-true cartoon comedy with the meme-generated LOLs of today. Skudder and Keller are careful about referencing too many memes, saying they try to use them only when relevant to the story, and there's a natural ease to their Internet references. But when they use the big hits of the moment, it works. Both Skudder and Keller admittedly spend a good amount of time on sites like Reddit, so, if it seems like they actually know what they're writing about, it's because they do. That's what makes Dick Figures such an easy animated addiction.
"I think for the most part, we aim for the typical Internet nerd, which we ourselves are," Skudder says of the show's audience. "If it makes us laugh, it will make them laugh."