Hello Home-Skillets! Dan C. Milano here, creator of Skill Me Now! You know, a twisted cartoon like this doesn't just appear out of thin air, there’s actually a few good stories involved with how Skill Me Now came to be.
First off, hi!
There, just wanted to introduce myself. If you’re a cartoon aficionado, you might be asking yourself… Dan Milano... is this that Robot Chicken voicin’, Greg the Bunny creatin’, Short Circuit reboot writin’ guy? No. No it is not. He’s like a decade older than I am and got a jump start on the twisted comedy scene, claiming the name away from me. There’s not much you can do when someone in showbiz has your name on lockdown, except to try and grab email@example.com and http://facebook.com/danmilano away from him. Which I did. EAT IT, OTHER DAN MILANO. He did gank twitter.com/DanMilano away from me though. Fist shake.
So yeah, due to my mortal enemy, I’m going by the name Dan C. Milano for this cartoon. Hey, that’s cool though, it kinda makes it sound like my name is Dancey Milano! Right? Perhaps rumor will get out of how I love to dance. Oh how I love to dance.
So now back to Skill Me Now. Consider this a tutorial in “How to Make a Cartoon.”
Let me take you back. It all started in 2007. The sketch comedy scene had exploded onto YouTube and I had moved to L.A., meeting new friends at improv classes and shooting goofy little sketches for Funny or Die’s often buried user generated content bin. After a few moderately successful commercial and trailer parodies, one thing I really wanted to do was create a colorful character, someone I could revisit often and make multiple sketches with.
Taking a very Tim & Eric approach to acting, I enlisted my friend Meghan Falcone to play the extremely lethargic host of a “how to” segment. I wanted to take those helpful, crafty videos you see on YouTube and cut out all the “helpful” parts, replacing them with long silences, downbeat keyboard synth and nonsequitor fun facts. The idea was to have something weird about every word, visual and sound. We did a few, one for How to Sew Curtains another for How to Carve a Pumpkin. They start odd and end odder. I still love every moment in them.
Hey! You can watch this thing! Here! And here!
After a few years passed, something began to happen that I never expected. People were actually finding and watching these videos hoping to learn how to sew curtains. Like, a lot of people. There are WAY MORE curtain sewers out there than you think. Some were angry to find they had been tricked, others were tickled when they realized what they had found.
After I spent a few years working at Jib Jab, I met a bunch of people in the flash animation biz, and in 2011 I pitched my twisted how-to series to Mondo Media, home of the Happy Tree Friends! (P.S. My favorite HTF? Eye Candy).
I modified the “how-to” pitch to be a bit less lethargic, wanting to use the medium of animation to amp up the odd situations. I had a few suggested pilots. In one, the instructor would give twisted directions and the instructee would passively agree to everything without a fight. The instructor in that series spent a lot of time ranking on the instructee’s life style and the instructee just took it. It was mindless and pretty funny, but kinda depressing, leaving something to be desired.
Another version took more of an “instruction booklet” vibe but was just completely nonsensical. It used stick figure characters that were very “men’s room door”, but again there was no fun in the nonsense unless the instructees could react or fight back. Eventually we settled on having a very sadistic narrator along with very grounded characters that you could relate to. We were on to something, I think.
We started out calling the series “How to-ish”, carrying a double meaning… “how to, kind of” and also “how to do sh*t.” The title wasn’t perfect but it was good for development.
We toyed with other series titles after that, almost calling the series “The Expertables”, a play on “Instructables” and other how-to groups. I also liked calling the series “Knowledgeabull”, as in knowledgeable about bullsh--.
Seeing as a character would be tortured or killed in each episode, I started to play with the word “skill” as a replacement for “kill.” It lead to a lot of possibilities…
• Skill Em All
• Skill List
• Skill Shot
• Skill Joy
• Skilling Time
• Skill it With Fire
• And of course, Skill Me Now.
A quick Google revealed that most were already Xbox Live user names, which makes total and complete sense. Skill Me Now just had a nice ring to it. And so our series title came to be.
Some creators like to voice their own material, and I always thought my acting was… fine… but remain quite aware that my voice has range limitations. Mondo helped me approach their pal Carlos Alazraqui to lend voices to the series. This guy! You’ve heard his voice on Rocko, Lazlo AND Reno. I was a little worried he wouldn’t do our series if it wasn’t titled SkillMo, so I lied to him and told him that our series was called SkillMo. He was all in.
Next up in assembling the world’s greatest team, I approached Patty Guggenheim out of Los Angeles. Patty has been in all sorts of things you’ve seen, Casa De Me Padre, Funny or Die Presents, my awesome Twilight parody video. We’ve done a few sketches together and she was game to join up for all of our female instructee needs. Totally coincidentally, Patty has a sketch series where she does How To Videos as well. They are funny in a completely different, though totally crazy way.
Last, Mondo approached LowBrow studios, which you may know from Kung Fu Karl and zillions of College Humor shorts, but I know from a little series called College University. College Univ started on Newgrounds about ten years ago and was way ahead of its time, years before YouTube was a glimmer in it’s pappy’s eye. The series played like a web exclusive Simpsons episode, amazingly produced by just a handful of people. You can watch that stuff… here! We were lucky to have Mike Parker, who heads up LowBrow to sign right on to the project.
I researched instruction booklets and put together a collection of my favorite styles to try to mimic, noticing lots of tans and pastels, deciding upon those hues as our base color scheme. Mike & Co sent us a variety of character designs … I took them into paint and cut out my favorite attributes, frankensteining them together into a new character. Thus Connor and Emily were born. Of note, I took both of their names from a list that I keep of nomenclature I would never, ever want to give to my future kids. Sorry, Emilys and Connors of the world, but you have terrible names. (NSFW - keep scrolling)
There are a few classic cartoon influences that I’d like to cite in the creation of “Skill Me Now”. One would be those old Goofy cartoons that would take a topic and pick it apart. A faceless narrator would speak and Goofies (yes, plural) would illustrate the matter of the month in a brutal, over the top way. Another influence is the extremely cruel narrator from the old Merrie Melodie “Each Dawn I Crow”, which featured a poor chicken being convinced by an existential voice that Elmer Fudd was out to chop off his head for Sunday supper. If you’ve never seen this cartoon, you simply must watch.
I wanted the shorts to exude an “instruction booklet” vibe and to be as visually active as possible, so one of my favorite late additions to the series was the inclusion of red, moving arrows. I like to think that the arrows serve as the hand of the Instructor, giving his words a visual touch. While the arrows have spent most of their time forcing our instructees into position and pushing them around, I have some very fun ideas for them in the future. I suggested we add arrows to the Skill Me Now logo as well, to meld together the instructional theme. The arrows are my favorite characters in the series, that’s how alive they are.
More or less, that’s it for this series. I’ve been searching for popular “how to” topics and singling out the instructionals that give me the best opportunities for puns or weird tangents. Lots of spitballing with my wife and plenty of script writing in the subways of New York City back and forth from my “real world” job. Creating a cartoon has always been a dream of mine, major thanks to Mondo for helping my realize that life goal and make it a reality!
Do you like Skill Me Now? Please share it! If we keep this thing going strong, I’ve got plenty of fun planned ahead for a possible season 2!
Peace, love and puppy dog paddles