More than a decade ago Phil Vischer had a "big idea" to combine some good old fashioned values with some good, clean cartoon fun and came up with a recipe for a winner in VeggieTales. Renderosity is pleased to present an interview with Phil Vischer as he talks a little about himself, his work and his plans for the future.
Tell us about Phil Vischer. Where you are from? How you became involved with Big Idea and VeggieTales?
I was born in Muscatine, Iowa, and moved to the suburbs of Chicago in junior high. I started making animated films when I was 8 or 9 and decided to go to Bible College, then film school. I got kicked out of Bible College after three semesters (for failing to attend mandatory chapel services frequently enough) and never made it to film school. Instead, I got a job at a post-production house and started learning the world of post-production and computer animation.
What inspired you and continues to inspire you to do your work?
My inspiration was always to use storytelling and filmmaking to communicate biblical values.
How did you and Mike Nawrocki meet and how did Big Idea and VeggieTales all begin? And what was your goal with these characters and your message? Or what was the "big idea" behind Big Idea?
Mike and I met in Bible college, auditioning for the puppet team. Larry the Cucumber was born in my spare bedroom in late 1991 as a test to see if a new CGI animation technique (lattice deformation) could bring a simple character to life. Bob and several asparagus characters were born the following year as part of a two-minute test film to raise money for VeggieTales. The goal, all along, was to make films that taught kids biblical values as effectively as Power Rangers taught karate kicks.
How did you decide to use vegetables as characters?
I first built and animated a candy bar, but my wife walked by and said, "Moms will be mad if you make their kids fall in love with candy bars." The next thing that popped into my head was a cucumber.
Were any of the characters geared toward people with disabilities when the characters were developed?
No, but the response of autistic kids across the country has been amazing … something about the simplicity of the characters and the bright colors, perhaps? No one has really figured out why VeggieTales appeals so strongly to some disabled kids.
How did you decide on the voices for your regular VeggieTales characters? (Bob, Larry, Junior and so on)
Mike and I tried to do most of the voices, because I didn't have the budget to hire anyone else.
Tell us a bit about how you developed the musical concepts (for example: Silly Songs with Larry).
Mike develops the Silly Songs, and I develop most of the rest of the songs. I tend to parody existing styles ... let's do something like Gilbert & Sullivan, let's do something like Adam Ant ... whatever. Mike just has bizarre ideas hitting him all the time - sometimes in the shower (Oh Where is My Hairbrush started out as Oh Where is My Razor.) Mike was a big Doctor Demento fan, and we were both big Python fans. Our writing tends to be highly referential.
Was there a little Monty Python influence in The Duke and the Great Pie War?
I wasn't involved in Pie Wars directly, but Monty Python references have been sprinkled liberally throughout the series.
How did you know that the regular VeggieTale characters could so easily adapt to any story line?
We don't know, but it sure is fun trying. Occasionally we'll hit a dead end and have to drop a story, but more often the contrast of the known character forced into a particular role helps drive the comedy, as when Mr. Lunt was forced to play Ophelia in our retelling of Hamlet.
Is there a character more near and dear to you, and if so, why?
My favorites to perform are Mr. Lunt, Archibald Asparagus, and Pa Grape. They each play off different parts of my personality, and let me be much less inhibited than normal social standards would generally allow.
All the films seem to entertain both kids and adults, was that your plan?
I was trying to write shows that I would want to watch with my kids. If the writing wasn't fun for me, why bother?
How are the story lines developed for the films?
Sometimes we start with a particular lesson and invent a story to teach it; sometimes we pick a key Bible story and then find a lesson to emphasize in a retelling; sometimes we pick something we want to parody (Batman, Gilligan's Island, Lord of the Rings) and then craft a lesson into the parody. VeggieTales videos develop in numerous ways.
I know Larry Boy has a film coming in 2006, and you have a Lord of the Rings genre film due out later in the year. Anything soon for the "big screen?” Can you tell us a bit about them and what is next for you and for Big Idea?
Since I'm no longer with Big Idea, I can't speak to their future plans. I'll be writing one VeggieTales script a year for the next several years, and if there is another theatrical film, I'll probably be involved in some way. Much of my time is now focused on developing new work, which is really fun.
What advice would you give a fledgling artist/animator/storyteller who wants to work in the industry?
If you want to be in business for yourself, learn the business you want to be in. That will involve extensive reading and research, as well as networking with older, more established filmmakers. Get out there and meet people. Beyond that, any job at a company that is doing what you want to do is a good start. Take advantage of any learning opportunity. My first job in "the business" was duplicating video cassettes at a post-production house on the graveyard shift. This was a great learning opportunity, because while the tapes were running, I could just sit around reading manuals on all the various pieces of equipment involved in video production. Within a few months I had taught myself how to run most of the gear in the shop. When one of the editors walked out right before a client was to arrive, the president of the company, who had heard I'd taught myself how to edit, called me in and gave me his job.
Last but not least, is there anything you want to say to your many fans worldwide?
Bob and Larry were just the beginning. Stay tuned!
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On The Road With is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Writer Vicki Shane [vshane].
July 11, 2005
This is an awesome interview! I've loved Veggie Tales since 1998 when sitting in church, and the pastor used Veggie Tales to help with his sermon....for adults, for kids, everyone! They're really great for watching with kids, because they're fun for everyone! :D
Fantastic interview, Vicki! Excellent questions! VeggieTales is awesome stuff, and Phil is one groovy dude! [Keep up the good work, Phil! You gave my family lots of laughs and drove home great values in a good, clean way...in these times where it is most needed. Looking forward to your future works!]
My daughters 5,3, and 1 live and breathe Veggie Tales. My wife was introduced to them by her sister, and I gotta admit I even enjoy watching them. I find the humor very "pythonesque" which I also find amusing. Thank you for your contribution to my DVD library.
Ah, the Veggies!! Me and my 6 year old totally love them!!! All the shows with Silly Songs With Larry are the best!!! "I love my lips" & "Song of the Cebu" are definately in our top 5!! Veggie Tales & ReBoot are the two shows that really sparked my interest in 3D CGI!! Huge thanks to Phil & Mike & Vicki Shane & 'Rosity for a really great interview!!