By Mitch Koehler
The Amazing World of Gumball (also known simply as just Gumball) is an animated television series for Cartoon Network. Produced primarily by Cartoon Network Studios Europe, it first aired on May 3, 2011.
One might think this animated series is about anthropomorphic chewing gum, but it’s about a young cat named Gumball Watterson. If you’re not familiar with Gumball, he’s an adorable 12-year old blue cat who has a best friend—adoptive brother, goldfish Darwin. They attend middle school in the fictional city of Elmore. They frequently find themselves involved in various shenanigans around the city, during which time they interact with Gumball’s family members—sister Anais and parents Nicole and Richard—and an extended cast of supporting characters. Gumball has a knack for getting into trouble, often resulting from schemes he comes up with, but he never seems to learn his lesson.
What makes the show special is its interesting use of 2D and 3D animation. The show’s creator based several of the series’ characters on rejected characters from his previous commercial work and making its premise a mixture of “family shows and school shows”, which Cartoon Network was heavily interested in.
When I first met Guillaume, I wanted to ask “what is a French guy doing writing for Gumball?” But I soon found out that it’s Cartoon Network Studio Europe. Duh, that makes sense. After all, the show’s creator’s name is Ben Bocquelet. Cassuto wrote for seasons 2 to 4 of the show. Pretty impressive stuff!
- Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
I grew up in a small city in the North East of France called Nancy. I remember I used to think it was the best place on Earth, and that I’d never leave it. As soon as I did, I changed my mind of course. I still think it was a good place to grow up. It’s a city with an artistic heritage, the mouvement “Art Nouveau” was born in Nancy, and I think in some ways it influenced me to start drawing. I now live in London, which of course is a much bigger city, always buzzing. The good thing about coming from a small place in the East of France is that you don’t have to get used to the weather in London. It’s basically the same as my hometown, I’m never surprised or envious when I FaceTime my mom.
- How did you get involved writing for Gumball?
The strangest way possible, I think. When I graduated from Supinfocom (a renowned animation school in France) I moved straight to London and I started working in commercials and music videos. I was part of the team who animated the Gorillaz music videos etc. It was a nice job, but the hours were extremely long, and as cool as it looked, it was still a commercial job… at the end of the day, we were stil selling toilet paper, or Coke, or music for a label. So when I heard that there was a new kids show called Gumball and that they were hiring for its second season, I took a pay cut and I jumped ship. I started as a background designer, and then moved on to supervise the compositing on the show.
And then one day, they were looking for writers. Ben Bocquelet, the show creator, literally walked up to me and told me “hey man, want to give it a shot?” And just like that, he gave me a chance. I submitted an episode idea with two friends who were also working on the show, and it got selected. The next day, we were asked to join the writing room. I’d never heard of anything like this. For a good reason: it never happens. Ben is just this kind of guy. He trusts his instinct, and he trusts people around him. I can never thank him enough. After that, I stayed in the writing room and wrote about 40 episodes of the show with other talented writers.
- What made you want to write for a children’s show?
I’d always been interested in telling stories, particularly through the medium of animation. I often tell how when I was a kid, I used to pause on my VHS player, and go frame by frame on cartoons to understand how the characters changed expressions etc. Of course at the time I didn’t think it could be a career. I’d never made the connection that there were people actually making it, and that I could be part of this gang.
At Supinfocom, I co-directed a short movie, and it reignited my passion for storytelling. Sadly, it isn’t a very good short movie, but it’s a comedy and I can sort of trace back some of the work I’ve been doing since then to this first attempt.
As to why I chose “kids tv”, I didn’t really have a choice, for once, but also, when the opportunity presented itself, it sort of made sense. I never thought of kids TV as a less interesting form of TV. I think we’d be wrong to assume that kids don’t get it, or that they don’t know better. I know that because when I look back on the kind of shows I liked when I was a kid, the one that stuck with me are good shows.
- What’s your favorite episode you’ve written and why?
Oh boy. There are a few, for different reasons. My favourite would have to be “The hug”, though. For different reasons: First, and I have to be a bit braggy there, I came up with the concept of the episode, and that’s always a bit of an achievement for a writer I imagine. Second, I also came up with the “visual hook” of the episode, which is that it’s an episode with lots of inner monologues from the characters, much like “Peep show”, which I stole the idea from. I was quite proud of that because it really tied everything together. But third and most important, the other writers who took the outline and drafted the episode did an incredible job. I think it’s one of the funniest episodes, because it’s very simple. It’s the furthest thing from a kids cartoon, it’s a silly sitcom episode. And I really enjoy that.
- Did you collaborate with other writers when writing episodes?
Oh yes, all the time. You’d have to be crazy to trust a french person to single-handedly deliver a script in english. I’ve not written a single joke that hasn’t been deeply improved by the communal effort in the writing room.
- What’s the writing process like?
Gumball is different from most kids show, in that it is a “script-driven” show, which means the writers (us!) deliver a fully fledged script, with all the dialogues, as opposed to “storyboard-driven” shows where they only write an outline, and the storyboard artist comes up with the “gaps” in between beats. This allowed us to be in total control of the rhythm of the episodes, and of the tone. We would generally work out an outline with Ben (creator of Gumball), then we’d have a few days to write a first draft of the 11min episode, then Ben would come back in the room and we’d do a “punch up” session, where we tried to make it funnier, or move bits around to help the narration.
After that, a very underrated part of the writing process happens in storyboard and in edit, where the board artists and the editors add jokes, remove stuff that don’t work, refine the staging and the timing… they’re often underrated, but it’s a huge part of the “story” process.
- I love Gumballs mom, Nicole, but there are so many unique and wacky characters in TAWoG, especially in the episode, “The Extras”. If you had to pick a favorite character, which one would it be?
My favorite character to write for was Banana Joe. We could get away with almost anything with him, because he’s such a nonsensical character, but also somewhat tangible… and we’d know his voice actor would do an amazing job with the lines we were giving him. Gumball is the obvious next choice, because he’s the voice of the show, so anything he says or does drives the episode.
- Have you met any kids who were big Gumball fans?
My nephews used to be fans of the show. They’re American but they live in Spain, and the show is huge there. They’re slightly too old now, so they don’t watch it anymore… In the UK it isn’t as big somehow, so we’re not really in touch with our fanbase that much. It’s a bit of a bummer.
- Growing up, what were your favorite TV shows or movies?
My favourite TV show ever is Quantum Leap. I was obsessed with this show. Everything about it is great: the intro song, the concept, the episode ideas, the costumes… it’s a classic “Donald P Bellisario” show but it’s one of the greats.
My favourite movie for a while was Spielberg’s Hook. I loved how the movie dealt with integrating the original book in the story, I used to think it was so clever…
Animation wise, my favourite movie was and still is Fievel. I’ll say something controversial though: not “An american tale”. I’m talking about “Fievel goes west”. I was obsessed when I was little. I thought the story was amazing, the dialogues, the characters… I know now it’s not supposed to be the best cartoon ever, but for me it is.
- What projects are you currently working on?
Hmmm… hopefully you’ll know more about it in the near future. My fingers are crossed AND I’m touching wood right now, which is probably why It took me 20 minutes to write this sentence.
- I’m sure all of our American readers are wondering, what’s the best pizza place in France?
Are they? And they think I’m the right person to deliver an absolute answer? That’s a lot of pressure on one guy. Well I’ll say this: there’s a concept in France that I haven’t seen done as well anywhere else, and it’s… The pizza truck. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist anywhere else, I trust you guys to sell any sort of food from the window of any sort of vehicle, but I’ve never had a better truck-pizza than in France. Go to any town in the South of France and find one. You’ll thank me later.
The Amazing World of Gumball: