Anthony Alfonso and The Popes of Placeland

Anthony Alfonso is on a mission to create the next great animation series. He hails from Matawan, New Jersey, has attended film school at New York Film Academy and started his own company “Candid Emphasis” with the work ethic of Do It Yourself in film, animation and music. I caught up with Anthony to have him answers some questions for me and what a creative mind he is!

David: Hey Anthony, I’m really excited to hear about your project “The Popes of Placeland”. Can you tell me a little about where the idea came from and what your final plans for the project will be?

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Anthony: David!! Hi!! I’m glad to hear you’re excited about the project! I’m excited too! And all you people reading this, you better get excited, cause this is gonna be awesome! Okay, so where did the idea come from? Who’s to say where ideas come from… they just pop from idea-land into our headbrains.  This one popped in my headbrain back in high school, or at least a very rough version of it.  I was just playing a nerdy game with my nerdy friend, Danny, as nerds tend to do.  This game he deemed as “paper jam.”  The object of the game was for one us to draw a picture, then the other writes a caption for that picture and then the other draws a picture for that caption and so on and so forth… It works better with a bunch of people but we had no friends. So, as I was saying, one of the pictures that came up was a pirate caterpillar wearing a pope hat with a jolly roger/cross hybrid on a flag in the background.  We called him the pirate pope! That was the initial spark of the idea. I kept drawing this character over and over again and eventually he turned into the Sea Pope.  I added the Sky Pope & the Land Pope too, that way there could be a Pope on each level.  I would draw comics of these “Popes” while I was in high school and then when I got to college it slowly evolved into something that almost had an actual story to it.  I added in some characters that I’ve been drawing for a while that already had an established personality to the mix (Tote, Tako & Anton) and it started to feel like what I was doing had some potential!  I met Alex Alessi (Co-Founder of Candid Emphasis) while I was in college and told him about the rough idea I had and he loved it and he was on board to help me make this into an incredible cartoon series. Alex thinks big, so I knew with him on board it was going to be epic beyond belief!! Then when I finished school I met Mike McLean (Co-Founder of Candid Emphasis) and I was flabbergasted. We were on the same page with so much that I didn’t even have to finish explaining my ideas to him and he already got what I was going for.  I knew from the moment I met him that he was just a bubbling bowl of creativity and with him on board this was going to be a really unique show that would stand out from the crowd.  These guys added a new element to the show that I couldn’t have done alone and I am so grateful to have them! Nah, just kidding they suck. But for real, they’re awesome!  Together we decided we had something great in our hands… We had a unique concept that hadn’t been done (Order vs. Chaos as opposed to Good vs. Evil, which originally stemmed from an idea of making the show take place in a brain and everything was Left Brain vs. Right Brain) We had cute characters, that we’re easily marketable. We had experience in film, media production & acting. We had a passion for animation.  But most importantly, we had three creative minds working together that pined to make something special! So we decided we were going to make a bible, produce either a trailer or a pilot and attempt to pitch it to networks. And now our ultimate goal is to have this on television and take creator driven animation series to a new level.

David: Who are the characters and what is the story about?

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Anthony: I am the characters! Seriously I am. And so are you. And so is that guy on my block who has hooks for arms that asks me to light his cigarettes for him.  Okay, maybe not him.  He creeps me out, but he was in ‘Nam, I’m sure he’s got some stories to tell. Okay, but the three main characters are designed so everyone can see a little bit of themselves in them.  They’re names are Tote, Anton & Tako.  Tote I started drawing when I was 7. I saw the movie “My Neighbor Totoro” and loved the simple character design in the smallest totoro monster. I just kept drawing him and drawing him as a kid. Eventually I made my own character based on him and he became and extension of me.  Tote embodies that part of me that strives for more in this life; he knows he can become something great if he had the right opportunity. He’s not happy with his station in life in the beginning of the series but at the same time he feels change coming. He’s pretty passive, but when he gets angry, everyone around him better steer clear. Anton is a struggling artist. Also me, to an extent. He always feels like his creativity is stunted but he knows he has the next great masterpiece inside of him. He’s constantly searching for his muse!  I love Anton, cause he puts on a tough exterior, very apathetic and indifferent to everything, but deep down he’s a severely emotional being and a loving soul. I started drawing him sometime in high school as a slug, my friend Danny added the shell one day and I was like, yeah, I’ll keep that, snails are indeed cooler then slugs. Tako! Everyone says I’m most like Tako! I don’t know if I should take that as an insult or a compliment. Tako is looked at as the dumbest creature in their town. But in actuality he is one of the smartest creatures in the universe.  He is always happy and smiling and willing to help.  But what Tako really wants is just to fit in. The story of how I started drawing Tako is pretty interesting.  Back in middle school my friend James and I would draw little squids with party hats popping out of every person head in our science books. Yeah, we were vandals… passive-aggressive and not very creative vandals. But vandals none the less, and it was fun!  Eventually the party hat turned into antennae and Tako was born!  The story of the series is pretty rad. It’s revolves around the three main characters being selected to be the next popes. The Popes duty is to maintain Order in their world.  They were looked down upon as the outcast of their town, so it’s a mystery why they got chosen instead of individuals more likely to do a better job. It’ll be revealed exactly why they got chosen as the series unravels. But during the series they travel to different towns attempting to restore order within them, with the guidance of the three former Popes along the way.  Also on the opposite side of the spectrum is the Anti-Pope, whose only goal is to cause chaos everywhere. So they’re dealing with him as they try to restore and maintain order in all the towns throughout their world. And they meet some pretty interesting characters along the way too.

David: You are the Co-Founder and Co-President of Candid Emphasis. Who else is involved with the company and what are your goals and future plans with Candid Emphasis?

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Anthony: Well Candid Emphasis is a film, animation and hopefully one day music production company.  Our philosophy is rooted in the fact that we believe that it’s possible to produce high quality products with limited funds, hard work and creativity… but still have a ton of fun while doing it.  I started it with my friends Alex Alessi and Michael McLean who I mentioned earlier.  Once we realized that we have similar goals and mindsets when it comes to the industry, we knew we had to start something.  I’ve always kinda tagged my films with “A Candid Emphasis Production” at the beginning and end credits but it wasn’t until I was joined by them that we LLC’d it and became official!  We have BIG GOALS for Candid Emphasis, but we know the only way to get there is by taking it one step at a time.  Ideally, we’d love to produce feature films and feature animation projects in the future.  We love Studio Ghibli and we’d love to make animated films of that caliber one day! As for live action films, our taste vary greatly, so chances are genre wise, they’ll be all over the board.

David: You have other past projects, what are some of those and any plans to revisit those?

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Anthony: I do indeed have past projects.  I’ve made several short films and also experimented with some animation in the past.  And I loved all of it!  I could go on for hours talking about my past projects, and how they were a challenge but in the end it was worth it and blah blah all the stuff but instead I’ll tell you about my favorite one, “Punk? Drunk. Love!”. It was a short film I made that actually incorporated a lot of animation throughout it.  And it stars our good buddy Alex Alessi! You should all check it out on the Candid Emphasis vimeo page! I doubt I’d revisit it at this point, but a lot of friends and colleagues have approached me and asked if I had any plans on turning it into a feature.  I didn’t but hey, you never know!

David: Who and what are the greatest influences in your animation?

Anthony: Wow, that’s a tough question. Probably most by Rebecca Black, without her, I’d be no where. Friday! Friday!! Friday!!! Ha, No. Seriously, everything I’ve watched has influenced me somehow, even if I don’t intend it to. But for this show specifically I’ve been telling people that our greatest influences are John Kricfalusi and Genndy Tartakovsky.  They are the creators of “Ren & Stimpy” and “Samurai Jack” respectively.  We wanted the show to have the out right zaniness of John K’s “Ren & Stimpy” and the other 90’s creator driven animations like Joe Murray’s “Rocko’s Modern Life” and Tartakovsky’s “Dexter’s Laboratory” but at the same time we wanted to give it an epic feel. We wanted it to have an arc from beginning to end similar to “Samuai Jack” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” one of my other favorite cartoons.  But we are seriously influenced by everything!  From cult and grindhouse live action films, to underground animation of the 70’s.  Mike, Alex & I go out of our way to watch pretty much everything out there and gain ideas from it.  Just the other day Mike and I we’re watching some old bollywood movies and saying to each other “How hilarious would it be for Tako to do something like that!!” Our film and animation collection between the three of us in unfathomable! So that’s another way the show will be unique, the influences come from everywhere and I think that you will be able to see that, but in a “wow that’s interesting and enticing” way and not in the “it makes no sense, it’s too messy, boo you suck” way.  But we’re also very influenced by fine arts, comics, video games and everything else imaginable.  We’d love to collaborate with some independent bands in the future and feature their music on our show.  We even have a few episodes written out featuring some pretty cool music already.  But just to name a few other huge influences on us in the animation world I’d say, Hayao Miyazaki, Ralph Bakshi, Lotte Reiniger, Mike Judge, Trey Parker & Matt Stone, The Brothers Chaps, Chuck Jones, Ub Iwerks and Bill Plympton are all incredibly inspiring and we revisit their work regularly.  I know I just dropped a lot of names, but if you’re into animation look these guys up!  They all had a huge impact on us!

David: Anything else you would like to add or tell everyone reading?

Anthony: Yes, I’d like to say thanks to Scout Raskin!  She’s the founder of Sonic Bunny Productions and also a really awesome person!  We were at an animation convention in California passing out flyers on our cartoon idea with some art and character expressions in them and we ended up giving her one.  When we got back to New Jersey I found an email in my inbox saying she wanted to talk to us about it.  A few months later she’s helping us develop our trailer so we can pitch it to networks.  She’s a great producer; she’s currently working on “Frankenhole” at adult swim, and I know with her on board this is definitely going to turn out to be an unforgettable project.  So thanks Scout!  Also, I’d like to add, if anyone would care to donate to our Kickstarter fundraiser it would be much appreciated!!!  Every penny counts!  We’re trying to reach $2000 by May 21st; it all goes to story boards and voice talent for the trailer!! So check it out!! I think that’s it. I just encourage everyone to keep your eyes peeled for the trailer, it’ll surface online pretty soon and it’s going to be phenomenal!!! Thanks David!! And thanks to everyone for taking the time to read this! You are all wonderful people that can do anything you put your mind to!

David: Thanks so much Anthony, I know you have cool things lined up and I can’t wait to see what’s in store! Here are some links where you can find more about Candid Emphasis and Anthonys Kickstarter project (and while your at it help him out by backing the project):

About David Hurley

as the creator of Don't Pick The Flowers...
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