Interview: Fil Barlow

barlowFil Barlow has a job that most people would die for. He draws. A lot. And he might be Australian. With a huge background in both print comics and animation, Fil has his name attached to shows like the Alf animated series and C.O.P.S.. Currently he’s working on the Godzilla animated series. But of more importance the the average Ghostbusters fan, Fil worked on both The Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters. Proton Charging was fortunate enough to have the chance to ask Fil some questions and even more fortunate that he took time out from his work on Godzilla to answer.

PC: Besides yourself, who are the other creative brains behind RGB and EGB?

FB: You’ll notice that I mention Richard Raynis. He was the driving force behind the quality of RGB and XGB. An artist himself he strives for an almost unbearable level of quality and excellence in all of the shows he produces.

Along with Sander Schwartz, Richard began the animation division of Columbia-Tristar, and I was on the phone in Australia cheering Richard into the venture. The people largely responsible for the style of the ghost and character designs on the first season of RGB were Gary Payne and Everett Peck.

On XGB the show was my style and to keep a level of consistency between RGB and XGB, Richard had Everett put in rough designs for the ghosts on the show. Richard would choose between my offerings or Everett’s and sometimes a combination would emerge.

There were times when Richard, upon my urging, would pick up a pencil and we’d draw monsters together trying to find the creepiest design. Sometimes his designs were so fun that I just traced his and put it in the show (the mirror demon and the mean version of Achira are Richard designs, although I did the bodies on them).

PC: Everybody getting this so far? Your bio page says that you worked on “Ghostbusters” as well as Extreme Ghostbusters. I’m assuming that’s The Real Ghostbusters? What’d you do?

FB: Yes it was Real Ghostbusters, and I didn’t do much. At the time I was designing characters for Alf, Real Ghostbusters was in its second season, it had fallen into difficulties and I was asked to come in and help with the design of Grundel by Richard Raynis who was rescuing the show. I designed the Grundel and another ghost which I’ve forgotten. The artwork was stolen the day I did it, but luckily I had photocopied Grundel because I liked what I had done. Another artist reinterpreted my design, it’s close but I’ve never liked it (I must admit I was insulted as there was nothing wrong with my design). So I kept the photocopies for 11 years, had them back in Australia with me. When I came out to work on XGB I brought the photocopies with me – just in case the character came up again. For some reason he did, I included the original designs of Grundel into his model pack, and they still held up after a decade. The cycle was complete and my revenge was subtle but sweet. The balance of the universe had been maintained.

PC: According to the bio page, you worked on the character designs and the opening sequence for Extreme Ghostbusters. I love the opening titles!

FB: Richard Raynis always directs the main titles for the animations done at Columbia-Tristar. I storyboarded all of the monster sequences, Tim Eldred boarded the rest. Richard always knows what he wants, my job is to get it down on paper.

The monster train design I did was a homage to Everett Peck’s wackier ghost designs on RGB. Richard wanted inserts of old Everett ghosts from the original series (Pumpkin head and the Flasher ghost) that I redrew in the XGB style. The Ghostcloud and goblin were all my design.

PC: Slimer in EGB rocks. He’s less blobby, more of a creature in EGB. Do fans have you to thank for that?

FB: Yes shucks, it was me. I must admit I never really liked the character or design of the first animated Slimer. I wanted to make him look more ghoulish and grotesque (in fact I wanted all of the XGB team too look that way – I wanted Eduardo to scare the ghosts).

PC: How did you approach established characters when updating them?

FB: I was trying for a simpler more sculptural look to the main characters, because the RGB character designs were undefined for me, open to interpretation by the animators, which can lead to trouble. I had theories on animating realistic characters I needed to get off my chest since RGB and C.O.P.S.. I had to test my theories out and see if they worked or not. Now with the Godzilla series I’ve designed a very realistic style and to my surprise the animators are getting it right.

PC: How about the other three original Ghostbusters?

FB: I had designs for them prepared, I’m a bit vague about what happened as I was juggling designs from so many shows at once, but they were pulled back by the director and I think I left it up to Thomas Perkins (my second in command) to finish them off.

PC: Some fans describe RGB as having a Japanese flavour and EGB as having a French/European flavour. What’s your take on the matter?

FB: I had no plan to make it this or that. I had 12 hours to draw the artwork that was finally used to pitch the show and I just wanted to do something with a simple, graphic style, easy to animate. I can’t see the Japanese in RGB myself, don’t forget it was animated in Japan so that maybe what the fans are picking up on.

The style of XGB is it’s own style, and Richard wanted something that was different to anything on television at the time. I knew the backgrounds would be detailed to hell so I wanted to contrast it with an open character design and then put all of the detail into the ghosts which were the feature of each episode.

PC: What’s good about the shows?

FB: That the Grundel design survived (heee, heee hee – that’s a last laugh).

The Golem was really well animated and I had to go through a long struggle to get that design in. A whole other design had been proposed by Everett Peck and Richard but it was so lacklustre, finally they saw the light and went with my original creepy design, the body had alot of Everett left in it.

PC: What are you most proud of, what’s your favorite accomplishment from either project?

FB: What I’m most proud of is that we finished the series at all. 40 episode shows are gruelling things to work on and with the studio being so young it was broken in half to take on other shows (MIB for example). The overworked production crew that remained unfortunately fled the studio, eventually replacements were found. The whole experience was tough for everyone but we did it. I’m amazed and happy that you guys are enjoying the results.

PC: EGB seems to have stalled. Is there going to be a second season?

FB: We were only meant to do 40 episodes. I haven’t heard of another season being considered. The property is owned by Columbia-Tristar so you never know what they might decide to do. Maybe in ten years from now I’ll be working on it again.

PC: Was there anything that was sketched up, but never got used? Wacky vehicles? Other cameos by old characters?

FB: When designing on any series alot of stuff is rejected or just never used. I have lots of drawings of ghost designs that never made it. It happens all the time.

I had a whole other direction I proposed to Richard when I began designing for the series in Australia. I wanted to make Egon a warlock type character (long hair, goatee, robes and a staff), spending much of his time trying to settle a treaty between the ghosts, humans and the demons. My original line up of the main characters had a demon in it. I had Egon as a sort of politician speaking on behalf of the humans at Ghost Councils. This direction was seen as too complicated and difficult to manage as the series would have to be handled by many writers.

PC: Were you a fan of Ghostbusters when you started on these projects?

FB: I liked the first movie, it was fun, but I’m not a fan. I had no great love for RGB.

PC: What’s your take on the whole idea of paranormal exterminators?

FB: I’m not sure I should answer this question due to the “nuttiness” most of the population put on the so-called unknown. I’m hoping your people might be reasonably receptive to my experiences.

I have had two personal experiences of hauntings. Along with my girlfriend and our best friend, we “removed” the “ghosts” from two houses in Australia. We used to call ourselves ghostbusters as a joke. The reality of our experiences were far removed from the hollywoodisation of the subject. The “ghosts” we experienced were just humans and they had got themselves trapped for decades because of their fear of the next step (the other side). All we did was join our wills with the helpers on the other side (they pulled we pushed) and with alot of love and concern, helped the human souls overcome their fears and move into the light. The way I see it, these souls are like somebody hurting in the gutter. I’ll always do my best to help another human who has trapped themselves.

My experiences are contrary to movies and the Ghostbuster franchise. As I understand it, love and concern for another human soul is the only way to move a “ghost” on. Trapping them is a horrible idea to me, as they are already trapped, freeing them is the best option. As I see it life never dies, so it would be possible to ‘exterminate’ a ghost. The trapped souls we found weren’t dead, they were very much alive and scared.

PC: What makes Ghostbusters so enduring that they can keep making movies, and cartoons, and toys, year after year?

FB: Ghosts! People like to be scared, kids like monsters and ugly things. Fear sells too. Plus Ghostbusters is a franchise as long as a company owns it they’d be silly not to produce something to sell.

PC: Has there been any talk about releasing EGB, any EGB on video?

FB: I really don’t know, I would be surprised if they didn’t (franchise).

PC: As the brain behind the character designs on EGB were you involved in the production of the toys? Did Trendmasters send you any freebies? What did you make of them anyhow?

FB: I was too busy designing the show to work on the toy designs which were handled by other artists. To me the toys were crappy, no freebies for me and I wouldn’t want them anyway. Burger King did a better set that I wouldn’t have minded getting. They actually followed the character designs, which I was pleased to see.

PC: What does the future hold for you and your cohorts?

FB: Godzilla, and we are moving into our new season, I don’t know what I’m allowed to mention about these new shows but you’ll see next year. Nothing ghost related as yet, just mutated animals, giant robots and insects.

PC: One last question. EGB or XGB? Speak, and settle the debate!

FB: In production we always referred to it as XGB so that is how we know it. EGB is grammatically accurate, but I’ve never been one for grammatical accuracy.

For the record, the editor of Proton Charging likes to pretend he strives for grammatical accuracy and will continue to use “EGB”. Good luck to Fil on his current and future projects (even if there aren’t any ghosts).

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