SALT LAKE CITY — Utah native and animator Chad Cooper is no stranger to working on mega-hit cartoons for adults. But the chance to work on "Simpson's" creator Matt Groening's newest project "Disenchantment" (TV-14) — a medieval fantasy comedy that starts on Netflix Aug. 17. — was, he said, "the pinnacle of his career."
"Who doesn't want to design a show like that — (and) with Matt Groening, too, the godfather of animation?" Cooper asked. "Once I heard Netflix was involved with Matt, it wasn't a question of if (I would do it), it was a question of when."
Cooper's expertise is in designing background animation — the scenery and props, rather than the characters. He called himself "the stage setter for the show." For "Disenchantment," he was able to create a world for wizards, dragons and fairy folk.
For this new show, Cooper said they wanted to make the animation quality more like that of a feature film than television. While an episode of "The Simpsons" might be completed in a couple of weeks, by comparison, "Disenchantment's" 10 episodes are closer to a four-and-a-half hour feature they produced in nine months, Cooper said.
"When you see the show you'll see that it's very painterly," he said. "And that gives it a really unique style and ramps up the difficulty aspect of it."
Like "The Simpsons," "Disenchantment" is an irreverent look at a beloved genre, although rather than taking on family sitcoms as "The Simpsons" did, "Disenchantment" skewers fantasies and fairy tales. The Netflix summery describes the show's heroine, Bean (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), as such: "Princess duties call, but she'd rather be drinking. Free-spirited Bean exasperates the king as she wreaks havoc with her demon and elf pals."
Packed with pop culture reference to, among others, "Game of Thrones" and "Lord of the Rings," the "Disenchantment" characters use drugs, drink heavily and seem to cause general mayhem. The trailer makes the show out to be a sort of adult version of "Shrek." It's rated TV-14.
So far in his career, Cooper has worked on "Family Guy," "King of the Hill," "Futurama," "The Simpsons," "Bob's Burgers" and "Beavis and Butt-Head." He got his start in animation as cartoons for adults were gaining popularity. The St. George native had always wanted to be an artist, but it wasn't until he moved to Los Angeles that he considered animation. While at a local Kinkos one day, a woman in the shop suggested Cooper give animation a try after seeing some of his artwork.
This was in the mid-’90s, Cooper said, when animation was at its heyday. Dreamworks was starting up and Disney would throw $45,000 bonuses at people to get them to stay with the company, he said.
So, Cooper took a regional occupation program course in animation at the local high school and for the next several years worked to get his portfolio up to par before submitting it to studios. Eventually, Cooper got his first animation job at "King of the Hill," and has worked in cartoons for adults ever since.
Cooper, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he sometimes struggles with the crass humor on some of the shows he has worked on, especially "Family Guy."
"I was not a big 'Family Guy' fan to begin with, but it's not pornography," he said. "Sometimes people at my church will be like, 'I can't believe you're working that job.' I'm like, 'What? It's a valid project.' I think you could say 'Family Guy' drags sacred cows out to the street and beats them to death. It's very irreverent. … It's not my cup of tea. But, now, here I am — thrust into this world."
It can be also hard for Cooper to work in the secular scene of Los Angeles show business where his church attendance is sometimes treated as a joke. At one time, he worked with a Christian director at "King of the Hill," and Cooper asked him how he handled it when a show made fun of things that are sacred to him. The director said he told the writers not to give him that kind of humor, and they respected his wishes.
"So far, that's worked well for him," Cooper said.
Cooper said in his field it's rare to have guaranteed work for longer than 18 months. Even then, shows and movies can get canceled for unforseen reasons at any time, and artists end up unemployed.
But despite the frequent periods of financial uncertainty and the moral ambiguities he often faces, Cooper said he's grateful to have the chance to make a living as an artist.
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world. The fact that someone pays me to draw — I never in my wildest dreams believed someone would do that," he said. "So on my hardest day at work, I just have to stop and say, 'Hey you get paid to draw. Life isn't that tough buddy.'"