Sweets at Sea — talking 'Baker's Dozen' with Jessie Juwono

Plus: the news of the week, streaming tips and more.

Welcome to another edition of the Animation Obsessive newsletter! This week, we’re interviewing Jessie Juwono, an industry insider who started her own indie series this year. It’s called Baker’s Dozen — and we can’t wait to share it with you.

After that, you’ll find streaming tips, the top animation stories of the week and a lookback at a classic anime. It’s all organized below. If you aren’t subscribed yet, now’s a great time to start receiving weekly animation highlights in your inbox for free:

With that said, we hope you’ll enjoy!

Baker’s Dozen, a culinary high-seas adventure

It’s an exciting moment for indie animators on social media. Just ask Ian Worthington, whose original miniseries Bigtop Burger was one of last year’s breakout indie successes — thanks largely to Twitter.

An appetite is emerging for creator-owned cartoons that leverage the super-short format, telling a story in just one or two minutes, or even in a few seconds. They’re fun and shareable, and they put your work in front of a huge potential audience on Twitter, TikTok and other services. The field is wide open and still being explored.

One of the newest series in this lane is Baker’s Dozen, whose first episode debuted this January.

Baker’s Dozen is an indie project with an insider pedigree. It comes from the mind of Jessie Juwono, who’s worked as a scriptwriter for Cartoon Network Studios and Warner Bros. Animation. Her husband Ben Juwono, the project’s main artist, is a supervising director at Disney on the upcoming Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.

This week, we reached out to Jessie for an interview. You’ll find our chat below, edited for formatting and clarity.

Animation Obsessive: To start off, could you break down the Baker’s Dozen project for readers who might not be familiar with it yet?

Jessie Juwono: Baker’s Dozen is a series of shorts about cousins who run a bakery on a stolen pirate ship. The series was created and written by me (Jessie Juwono), and storyboarded by Ben Juwono.

The star of the series is Maddie Baker, an enthusiastic, accident-prone girl who’s determined to be the greatest at baking. Each short features her learning to bake with her older cousins, and struggling with an assortment of culinary creatures that cause trouble along the way.

How did Baker’s Dozen come about? What were the inspirations and motivations behind it?

The series was inspired by my own family full of cousins, and our generational love of baking. I really wanted to take my personal experiences and create a world that combined the fun, humorous adventures of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with the sweet, charming sensibilities of The Great British Bake Off.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I shared the world and character designs (by Cheyenne Curtis) with Twitter and had a wonderful response. Ben and I decided we wanted to see if we could make a short together, and discovered that we really enjoy collaborating!

As someone with a background in the animation industry, what’s it been like working in online indie animation so far? Are there a lot of notable differences?

I’m loving working in indie animation! First, I get to work with my husband, which is a lot of fun — we’ve worked at the same studio before, but we’ve never worked on the same project.

Second, since we both work for big studios, we don’t always get to work with other artists down the pipeline. I’m able to work directly with the storyboard artists, and give them room to share their voices and plus the shorts with their own ideas.

We’re also able to work directly with our composer Mark Sparling and our color designer Matt Doering. Both of those are aspects of the animation pipeline we don’t currently get to work with outside of indie animation. I’m coloring the shorts, too, so I’m enjoying getting to be an “ink & paint girl.” :)

There's this discussion happening in the industry about how, as storyboards have gotten more detailed, storyboarders have essentially become animators. Baker’s Dozen is part of a growing wave of indie cartoons that take this trend to its logical conclusion — using the storyboards as the animation (with great results). Could you elaborate on the thinking and process behind that?

Sure! The thinking behind this creative decision is that, for the most part, it’s just two of us making these shorts, and making storyboards work as animation is the fastest way for us to get these shorts made. Mostly, though, we just really love the look of it and think it hits the aesthetic that we’re looking for!

Lastly, what does the future hold for Baker’s Dozen? Where’s it all headed from here?

We have several more shorts in progress, and plan to release them throughout the year! Each short features Maddie baking with different cousins, and each short is storyboarded by a different artist. We’re really excited to work with different artists and explore these characters.

We’re also posting Twitter threads every month, having fun with the characters and delving into the world. Some of those threads turn into little Instagram and TikTok videos. We have plenty of projects to keep us busy for the next year. We hope to keep entertaining ourselves and our followers! 

We’d like to thank Jessie Juwono for taking time out of her schedule to chat with us. Check out the Baker’s Dozen project on Twitter (@BakersCousins) and YouTube. If you’d like to see more, you’ll find everything you need on the series’ Linktree page.

Headlines of the week

Awards season rolls on with the Oscars and more

It was a big week for awards. For starters, the Oscar nominees for short and feature animation were revealed on Monday.

Among features, Soul is the frontrunner, joined by Onward, Over the Moon, Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers and Aardman’s A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. The Wolfwalkers nod is particularly impressive — the Irish studio has now gone four for four at the Oscars with its feature films.

The nominees in short animation are Burrow, If Anything Happens I Love You, Opera, Yes-People and Genius Loci. The obvious bet is Pixar’s Burrow, but keep an eye on the Netflix-backed If Anything Happens, a heartbreakingly topical film. The major surprise is Genius Loci, a stunner by the art director of Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea.

At this week’s César Awards, the top honors went to Josep and The Bear Hour. The first is a feature by French cartoonist Aurel. It’s based on the true story of the artist Josep Bartolí’s time in prison camps after the Spanish Civil War. The Bear Hour is a haunting short by up-and-comer Agnès Patron, and you can watch it on Vimeo.

In Croatia, the venerable Animafest announced a huge slate of contenders for this year. In Japan, the Tokyo Anime Awards gave its top prizes to Josep and the French student film Coffin, among a slew of other winners. And the runaway hit Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train took home Animation of the Year at the Japan Academy Film Prizes.

That’s only the beginning. You can read even more about the award show and festival news this week via Animation Magazine.

Nickelodeon’s content blitz

The deluge of new animation continues. On Thursday, Nickelodeon announced a massive new slate of cartoons — reportedly its largest ever. The line-up sprawls across TV, theaters and the Nick-affiliated streaming platforms Paramount+ and Pluto TV.

The list, which includes a Rugrats reboot series, is enormous. One notable highlight is Avatar Studios, dedicated entirely to new content in the Avatar universe. The move makes sense. Although it debuted over 15 years ago, Avatar: The Last Airbender was the biggest children’s animated series on Netflix last year. Avatar Studios will begin making an animated feature later in 2021.

Animation legend Yasuo Ōtsuka, 1931–2021

Yasuo Ōtsuka, one of the most important animators in Japanese history, passed away on Monday. He was 89.

Ōtsuka’s career stretches back to the 1950s. In addition to his groundbreaking animation at Toei Doga, he mentored figures like Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. He also served as animation director for The Castle of Cagliostro and the original Lupin the Third TV series — among many, many other pivotal roles.

Ōtsuka’s story is incredible, but too broad to cover here. If you’d like to read more, we recommend the write-up about him that Alex Dudok de Wit put together for Cartoon Brew this week. Animation has lost a giant. Ōtsuka will be missed.

What’s streaming

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2019)

If you haven’t seen Farmageddon yet, its Oscar nomination this week may have taken you by surprise. Don’t be fooled by the title — this is Aardman Animations firing on all cylinders. The gags and animation are funny and inventive throughout, and it tells a surprisingly moving story, all without dialogue. You can catch Farmageddon on Netflix right now. Watch Aardman’s world-class animators flex for 90 minutes.

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

Don’t neglect Farmageddon’s weirdly-titled predecessor, either. This is another film that only Aardman could have pulled off. A feature-length stop-motion comedy — without any dialogue. It’s at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. There’s a Wikipedia article dedicated just to its accolades, among them Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Luckily, you can watch it for free on Tubi without an account.

From the vault — Gauche the Cellist

It’d be fair to call Studio Ghibli the world’s most influential animation company. Films like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro have reshaped art around the globe — in animation and beyond. Wherever you look, you’ll find at least a little Ghibli DNA.

But that hasn’t equated to mass interest in all things Ghibli. A host of projects connected to the studio are (and will probably stay) obscure in America. The company’s co-founder, Isao Takahata, had a long and fruitful pre-Ghibli career that’s all but unknown here.

Take Takahata’s Chie the Brat, a smash hit in Japan still unreleased stateside. Or take his 1982 mini-masterpiece Gauche the Cellist — one of the most unique anime features ever made.

Gauche is a quiet, whimsical film about a struggling cellist in 1920s Japan. He’s fallen behind in his local orchestra as it prepares for a big concert. Talking animals begin to visit him in the night, though, and he slowly realizes what his music is missing. In around 62 minutes, Gauche tells a compelling and human story richer than many longer features.

What makes Gauche so unique isn’t just its story, but the way the film was crafted. It was a passion project made across six years, without a deadline, in whatever time Takahata and his crew could spare. One animator, Toshitsugu Saida, drew every single key frame. He was also the film’s character designer and layout artist. Meanwhile, Takamura Mukuo handled the majority of the backgrounds.

This brings a mesmerizing consistency to the art and movement. Saida’s organic, lumpy shapes feel almost homespun. Under Mukuo’s direction, the backgrounds are warm and painterly. Gauche glows with individual care. As producer Koichi Murata later put it, “We all did our best as we knew this [would] be a creation that [had] never existed before.”

Gauche is hard to buy in English. There’s a spendy Japanese Blu-ray with English subtitles, but it’s region-locked. Still, if you find a way to watch it, this is not an experience you’ll want to miss.

Last word

That’s the end of our newsletter this week! We hope you’ve enjoyed.

If you haven’t read the Animation Obsessive newsletter before, feel free to browse our archives to see our past issues. A new one ships out every Sunday. We’ve been at this since mid-February, and there’s a lot more to come.

One final note. We’re always hunting for animation, new and old, to feature in this newsletter. If you have a tip about an exciting project somewhere in the world, please let us know. Reader tips have been crucial to previous issues, and we plan to keep it that way.

Until next week!