Lost in the Stacks Interview - 15 Dec 2017

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The Brothers Chaps were interviewed on the 366th episode of Lost in the Stacks, a radio show broadcast on 91.1FM WREK in Atlanta. The episode is titled "Homestar Runner, Gone in a Flash", and the description reads "We wanted to tell some people some funny stuff, and video was not an option." @StrongBadActual promoted the interview a few hours earlier, saying, "[The Brothers Chaps] will talk too much and play some cool old 7 inches!"

Running Time: 1:01:06

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STRONG BAD: I'm talking about the situation, man!

HOMESTAR RUNNER: What situation? I'm trying to update my dating profile.

STRONG BAD: Haven't you heard? Flash is dying!

HOMESTAR RUNNER: Oh, well, good! I'm a way better runner than that guy anyways.

STRONG BAD: No, I'm talking about Flash. Like, what we breathe. The thing what creates us all.

HOMESTAR RUNNER: Strong Bad! If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were getting a little religioso on me.

{Something falls}

STRONG BAD: Ahh! See? That's a chunk of Flash Authoring Interface right there! It's falling apart! We gotta head for the hills!

{Music plays, then fades}

CHARLIE BENNETT: You are listening to WREK Atlanta, and this is Lost in the Stacks: the Research Library Rock'n'Roll Radio Show. I'm Charlie Bennett, in the studio with Emy Decker and Fred Rascoe. I am on the board and I am terrified. Each week on this show we pick a theme, and then use it to create a mix of music and library talk. Whichever you're here for, we hope you dig it.

EMY DECKER: Today's show is called "Homestar Runner: Gone in a Flash".

FRED RASCOE: Homestar Runner is a very popular, very funny website with cartoons starring a host of animated characters, like Homestar, Strong Bad, the Cheat. It's been going for years, but there might be a slight snag on the horizon.

EMY: Indeed. All of these cartoons are made using Adobe Flash, which—spoiler alert—is not long for this world.

CHARLIE: We're going to find out what this means with today's guests, the creators of Homestar Runner, Mike and Matt Chapman. They are the Brothers Chaps.

EMY: If you are listeners who want to join the conversation, the hashtag for this show is #lits366 for Lost in the Stacks, episode 366. Feel free to tweet your thoughts, questions, or favorite Homestar toon with that hashtag.

FRED: And our songs today are all about artistic tools, dying formats, and loss. After years of ominous threats and warnings, Adobe has finally made good on its word and pulled the plug on the tool used to create the Homestar universe. What does that mean for future toons? And maybe more importantly, what's next for the toons already created on a deprecated software? Time's up for Flash; the clock is striking midnight. So let's start tonight's show with "Because, It's Midnite" by Strong Bad's favorite band, Limozeen. Right here, on Lost in the Stacks.

{Because, It's Midnite plays}

{A portion of theme song plays then fades out}

FRED: "Heart of a lion, wing of a bat." Good way to start off the show. This is Lost in the Stacks, and our guests today are the Brothers Chaps; that's Mike Chapman and Matt Chapman, creators of the online cartoon universe of Homestar Runner, Mike and Matt, welcome to the show.

MIKE CHAPMAN: Hi, thanks for having us.

FRED: Yeah, thank you very much! So, um, we've got a lot to talk about. Uh, but before we get started, I know that, uh, a lot of our listeners are probably familiar with Homestar Runner, uh, but we might have some that aren't, so when you meet someone that doesn't know what Homestar Runner is, uh, how do you describe that?

MATT CHAPMAN: That's, well, that's everyone we meet.

{laughter}

MATT: And, uh, I just say we make weird cartoons, uh, on the internet, uh, featuring a host of dumb animal characters, and it won't be very accessible to you at first, but maybe if you give it a chance, uh, y- you'll find yourself coming back for more. Uh, 'cause the times when I've tried to describe it in, like, pitch, elevator pitch sort of style, either totally misrepresents it, or it's, it— uh, the everyone has left the elevator and the building and I'm still talking and it still doesn't make any sense.

CHARLIE: Yeah, that kind of speaks to the independent nature of it too, right? 'Cause you didn't have to sell this to anybody at first.

MIKE: Right. Yeah, and we'd always had a hard time figuring out what one cartoon to— for someone to start, as sort of a starter thing like, "Here, you'll get it if you watch this one!" It's like, "Nah, watch maybe ten or fifteen of them, and if you haven't gotten something then it's not for you."

FRED: I think that's why I punted and asked you to describe it because I— I was trying to figure out some way to introduce Homestar Runner and—and couldn't.

MIKE: Yeah, we— we recently— someone asked us and we kind of— it kind of took us this long to come up with this uh, what we think is a fairly accurate description. We were like, it's... uh... family road-trip... inside joke humor, is like the best way that they were like— they kind of asked like, "Hey, it seems like it's accessible across a lot of different lines and a lot of different people." And, I was like, I don't know, that feeling of like, that joke you made in the van driving to somewhere on a long road trip and now it's the funniest thing and your family quotes it for, y'know, the rest of your family's lives. Um, and I was like, "I think we tapped into a tiny, like, little bit of that.

FRED: Like, I guess that's kind of an experience you have, a lot of people come up to you and quote lines uh...

MIKE: Yeah.

FRED: ...from cartoons.

MATT: Yeah, that— which is amazing. When we uh— We love to hear when it's people that have like— it's taken on a life of its own where they were like, "We actually kinda forgot it— this was a Homestar quote and now this is what we all call, y'know, this dish at the dinner table and this, like, room in the house" and then they'll be like be like, "Yeah, we forgot." And then like, y'know, five years later, there was like, "Oh yeah, that's a Strong Bad quote!" And like, to me, that's like great, like because we have those from, y'know, from cartoons that we loved or whatever growing up and it's like yeah when they just... kind of uh... completely meld with your lifestyle.

FRED: So, li—like Charlie was mentioning just a second ago, thi—this, um, was a DIY thing and—and still is, it's—it's totally controlled, um, by you guys, correct?

MIKE: Yeah, it's basically just the two of us, I mean it is just the two of us that have been... making the cartoons and the music and the animation and everything for the website.

FRED: So, um...

MIKE: For seventeen years.

FRED: The—the website uh, and all the cartoons and everything on the website are run on uh, the program called Adobe Flash. All the animations are done, I should say, with—with Adobe Flash. Right?

MIKE: Right.

FRED: Um, and w—was that um... I—uh... I guess I want to know if that's— if you chose that software because it uh, meshed with that DIY aspect?

MIKE: Well... yeah, at the time, I mean, and... uh... whatever late '90s—early 2000's, neither of us were animators by trade and so, it was... the main thing was that it was simple enough for two people that were film major and a photography major to... be able to make cartoons. Um...

MATT: Yeah, or to make content at all. I mean, that was the thing, video compression was so... y'know... horrendous back then and—d dial-up was still... MIKE: Yeah, and I mean this is... MATT: ...in more than fifty percent of households, so it was like, you weren't going to try and shoot a video and put it online. I mean this was— Flash was a made-to— a way to tell stories and tell funny jokes... and so it was just like, "Alright well, let's come up with a cartoon for that," because that was kind of the medium was... y'know, if it was Flash, it was animation. So, it was more that like, just delivering content— we wanted to, like, tell some people some funny stuff and video was not an option at the time, so...

MIKE: Yeah, it kept file sizes at around a meg or something, which even dial-up modem in the late 90's—early 2000's was doable, but video was not.

CHARLIE: I've never used Flash, I have to confess. I—Is it coding? Is it—is it point and click? Wha—what do you do?

MIKE: Well, so, it's an authori— So the thing about Flash is that it's two-prong thing, I mean, it's an authoring tool which is what we use to make it, but then it was also the player that was on every browser, so you have used the Flash Player, that's how you watched any of these Homestar Runner cartoons.

CHARLIE: Ah, okay, busted. I have used the Flash Player.

MIKE: And so that's what's... that's what's going away is the... um... player. The Flash Player is what's going away. The Flash, as an authoring tool, they changed the name and it's now called Animate, so that's sticking around. So we'll be able to make the cartoons the same way.

FRED: Oh, okay.

CHARLIE: Yeah.

MIKE: We just have to export them in a different file format as uh... you know, whatever, QuickTime media or whatever that we can put on YouTube or some other format.

MATT: Yeah and the only coding is if you're doing any interactive stuff. So, I mean, the times when we'd hide little easter eggs, that's a teeny bit of coding uh... just to put little hotspots in cartoons and stuff. But for the most part, it's—s similar to like um, a timeline—any timeline-based, y'know, authoring tool like Final Cut or After Effects or something, so it's not—not too far from that.

MIKE: Yeah, so we're seeing a stage with the characters. If Homestar's leg needs to move we just drag the corner of his leg and spin it up and... y'know whatever so.

CHARLIE: He does your bidding.

{Mike and Matt briefly laugh}

MIKE: Yea—Yes exactly—exa— We're not coders so it's not... uh... super...

MATT: Code-intensive.

MIKE: Code-intensive.

FRED: So the... the actual animaking of the animation is—is divorced a little bit from the actual playing it on the website.

MIKE: Yeah, so we can export that cartoon in a—multiple... multiple formats, different ways depending on how we're delivering it.

MATT: Yeah we did a— we worked for Disney for the last couple of years, we did these shorts for Disney and um— and we authored them all in Flash the same way we would a Homestar cartoon but they were all exported to broadcast quality like, {chuckle} so we're making these terrible web-quality cartoons that somehow Disney deemed okay enough t—to put it on one of their channels and we were like, "Okay, if you guys are sure, this is what it's going to look like!"

CHARLIE: I feel like that's a humble brag.


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