It’s amazing how time flies, especially in the digital realm. One thing that seems incredibly relevant one day can instantly fade into background pixels as new, fun and revolutionary things take center stage. The work I do embodies not even a mere fraction of this vast and creative world. Nonetheless, as you may have noticed, I like to look back and reflect on past projects as I feel doing this allows me to see where I have come and plot a course of where to go next. It just so happens that June marks the five year anniversary of Walk’n With Walken, an animated online cartoon series that starred Christopher Walken and Randy Newman. Five years ago I thought this was my greatest animated achievement. Now, I hardly even think about this highly polarized series.
Walken Gets His Step
The idea of this cartoon series came to life in the early spring of 2007. I was on vacation in Las Vegas and invited my friend, Josh Nichols, along for the ride. What I really remember most about the inception of this project was Josh doing his over-the-top, yet funny, Christopher Walken impersination. Josh would quote lines from the actor’s more memorable films as well as candid interview footage. Pretty soon, we were talking about how funny it would be if Walken was a talkshow host. That idea evolved into him putting on said show while endlessly walking (to of course play on his name) and relating to stories that happened in his past, whether they were fake career incidents or nonsensical events. These stories would be told in a series of flashbacks that would take place throughout each episode. The idea of viewers writing and asking questions to the animated Walken would help drive our ideas and the series concept was born.
It took a while to get the series going as there were many hurdles to overcome. The initial ideas we had were meant to be very short, which posed a problem for creating the content. Should we do this as a skit show of sorts or re-write the ideas? What’s a funny way to approach the material? How should the episodes be structured? A teaser trailer was released in May of 2007 to help get a feel for the series as well as give us more time to develop a pilot script.
Looking back now, the first episode we released was an incredible misfire. We decided to create the first episode and enter into a contest sponsored by Microsoft. The winner would receive money to develop the series concept for Microsoft, which would then broadcast exclusively on their Xbox Live network. Being big gamers, we decided the first episode would be based on when the highly anticipated Halo 3 beta was delayed. What? You don’t remember when that happened? I hardly do either, hence the problem. While we tried to cater to the hardcore gamer crowd, along with the niche Walken fanbase, we limited the audience. Not to mention, the episode doesn’t stand the test of time plot-wise because of the dated material and plethora of inside gamer jokes (such as the Peter Moore E3 tattoo fiasco). The pacing of the episode is also way different than any other due to the footage cutting in and out between flashbacks. Later episodes would show Walken walking, cut to flashback once, then cut to Walken ending with his monologue. The episode released on June 24th, 2007 and landed with a thud. Nobody cared.
I think I was discouraged by the first episode right away because no work was done with the series, with the exception of a couple failed scripting attempts, until December. The second episode may have proved that sometimes it’s best not to over think things. I remember Josh and I were talking and an idea of a Christmas special for Walken came up. I believe Josh mentioned the idea of having Walken singing. Since the “Twelve Days of Christmas” is about as obnoxious as you can get with holiday melodies, it seemed like an ideal candidate. Rough lyrics were jotted down, Josh performed the parts of both Walken and Randy Newman for the song and I created the animations based on what Josh was singing about. The entire process took about four days and “The Twelve Days of Walken” was born on December 20th, 2007.
I felt much better about this episode (and besides the dated animation, is still funny to do this day). The introduction of Randy Newman really set the series on a different course as well. And why Randy Newman you ask? That is one you have to ask Josh. Whether his concept was inspired by Family Guy or a Newman song, it seemed to fit, oddly enough.
The Year of the Walken
2008 is what I like to coin “The Year of the Walken” as the bulk of episodes for the series were released during this time. We came to conclusion at this point that the series wasn’t generating enough interest for people to submit questions for us to base plots on. So every question that Walken addresses was actually made up. My Breaded Veal Cutlet was up first, using the concept of Walken in an infomercial selling a book on how to have sex. The title of this episode seemed to generate some confusion as Walken’s book is entitled “Mien Wienerschnitzel” which he incorrectly translates to “My Penis”; the joke, of course, is the term translates roughly to “My Breaded Veal Cutlet”. This episode is one of my favorites as it seemed to flow really well. Plus, I’m not opposed to dirty jokes, which the episode was full of. The episode released on February 28th, 2008. The episode received a lukewarm response.
The next set of episodes, which was a two-parter, focused on the 2008 presidential election. These episodes fell flat in my opinion. The series probably wasn’t a good avenue to express political opinions, plus the second episode had a tendency to really drag during the debate segment. I was and still am fond of “The League of Extraordinary Ex-Presidents” idea, I just wish we would’ve executed it more properly. Episode 4 was released on March 13th, 2008 while Episode 5 was released exactly two weeks later. The videos received very few views on YouTube, making the whole endeavor a bit pointless.
Episode 6 was the shit… in a shitty sort of way. Released on April 9th, 2008, the video showcased Walken’s fear of public restrooms and his resolve to combat it with creating a chain of personalized bathrooms that only he had access to. Feces had a way of making appearances in most productions Josh and I were involved in and Walken was obviously no different. The idea was incredibly stupid but it’s a pretty funny episode when you get down to it. I always felt this one toppled Episode 3 in terms of quality but I’m not sure where my opinion stands on that anymore. Like episode 3, the YouTube reception was very mixed.
Episodes 7 and 8 were both movie parodies that threw Walken into all sorts of weird situations. First up, “The Dark Night” focused on Walken producing, directing and starring as the Joker in the then new Batman film: The Dark Knight. When animating this I mostly went by the then viral trailers that were making the rounds in internet land. Mixed with a cheesy plot (the Joker turning day to night, hence the title) and mis-casted characters, the insanity was ready to broadcast. The video released on June 22nd, 2008 to a better YouTube reception we were accustomed to. In an attempt to bolster our views, I made the mistake of posting the video to a Dark Knight fan page on Facebook. People were outraged that we would do such a thing and it created a huge backlash. The video was eventually removed by the page’s admin and life went on.
The series went into another hibernation of sorts until October when we tried to strike magic similar to Episode 2′s Christmas special theme. Using the Saw franchise as a template, we attempted to create a parody where Walken and Newman are being tortured by a masked stranger. This episode, entitled “Treadmill” (which was Walken’s torture device due to his carefree walking style) was a nightmare to make as I had just downloaded the new version of Flash at that time (CS4) and it crashed all the damn time. I was afraid the episode would never be able to be rendered out. After working through Adobe’s tech support, I managed to salvage the animation and kick it out the door on October 24th, 2008. The enchilada and poop (see, feces) filled episode didn’t gather much attention, although I do remember a certain Randy Newman fan sounding off in the YouTube comments section claiming we were defacing his idol.
The Year of Walken then sailed into the sunset. It wouldn’t be until almost a year later when I would attempt the Walken formula one last time.
Walken Walks Off A Cliff
Michael Jackson died in the summer 0f 2009 and created a huge internet frenzy. To capitalize on this, an episode was written where Walken would impersonate the King of Pop and continue on with the This Is It tour. The setup was merely to get Walken and Newman on stage to jam out to five Jackson songs. Walken of course used his own lyrics to spice things up and avoid copyright issues. The episode took two months to animate and edit. I was incredibly excited because I thought we had created something really great. I knew going in that the content would offend people, but in our own demented way we were in fact paying tribute to the music icon (and I think this becomes much more clear with the end song). I held my breath, released the episode and eagerly awaited viewers’ reaction. It became clear pretty quickly that people HATED this thing. It’s the only YouTube video I have on my upload list that is close to splitting the likes and dislikes vote (not including the separate songs from the episode I uploaded, which fared much worse). This broke my spirits so much that I actually quit animating for almost two full years. It was with this episode I realized the Walken series had run its course… right into the ground.
When I look back on the episode now, it wasn’t very great. The pacing is pretty poor and while the songs are mostly funny, I’m not sure if they fit into the 13 minute arc that was created. The content is offensive, although there’s much worse stuff out there. Of course I may have a bias for this episode since it is so universally hated, but I think I can look at it objectionably and proclaim it really could have been better. That really sums up the whole Walken series though: it simply could have been better. We misfired a lot, had a couple of hits but in the end nothing really stuck. This could be blamed on the writing, my animation style or Josh’s voice work, whatever the case, it rarely seemed to click. I like to look at the series as a lesson though. During the two years I stopped animating, I focused on building my skills and creating more pleasing work. In 2011 I released Mr. Binek’s Class, which got a pretty respectable response on YouTube. I can honestly look at that series and say I am proud of what I have done. So everything happens for a reason. Perhaps Walken was simply just a bridge to my next milestone.
I don’t want to discredit Walk’n With Walken though. Wherever my (or your) personal feelings fall for the series, it was still a lot of fun to make. And in the rare moments where things did click, the concept shined. So here’s to you Walken. Happy birthday you sticky bastard.
To view the entire Walk’n With Walken series, check out this link.