A music-filled, laugh-packed puppet variety show for the preschool-going set has invaded the airwaves, inviting little viewers to experience life through the eyes of fuzzy Peep-colored bunnies.
More specifically, the oddly endearing, slightly British bunny residents of Bunnytown whose format, puppet construction and music is all the fabulously fantastical creation of brothers and Chicago natives, David and Adam Rudman, along with their partner, music director and executive producer, Todd Hannert.
We’re not talking your garden variety bunnies either.
Bunnytown has a funky, retro-rock twist that’s all its own, and echoes popular programs like Sesame Street and Jack’s Big Music Show, where all three gents have worked behind the scenes – David Rudman was one of the original voices of Cookie Monster immediately following Frank Oz – but in a more energetic, zany way.
Here, the bunnies play, sing, dance, hike, go on picnics, blast into space and enjoy watching the comical antics going on in the neighboring Peopletown (think Monty Python’s Flying Circus mixed with Laurel & Hardy’s Sons of the Desert).
During a nanosecond of downtime, the talented trio let me in on life as traveling dads who work non-stop to create funny, laugh-out-loud programming for kids that incorporates that all important educational edge.
I read that you constructed the original Bunnytown prototypes on the rooftop of your Highland Park office building so as not to disturb the neighbors with toxic fumes. True of false?
David: True. We didn’t want to disturb the other tenants or ourselves with the fumes.
David and Adam, are there many creative differences when working so closely with your brother, or do great minds think alike for the most part?
Adam: We have a similar sense of humor and really enjoy collaborating on all of our shows.
Todd, how do you fit into the equation?
Todd: I write the lyrics and music for Jack’s Big Music Show and Bunnytown, and with David and Adam, create and executive produce all our shows. David and I met in college and have collaborated ever since.
How long does it take to tape one Bunnytown program from start to finish? Is the whole production harder than it looks?
David: Each episode takes about two weeks to write, a week to storyboard, three to four days to shoot, several weeks to edit and a few more weeks for music and sound design. And yes, there is a challenge to pretty much every shot. It’s all small scale puppetry so every set up and camera move is tricky.
Adam: We try to do all the special effect in camera without using blue screen so some of our puppet rigs are pretty complex.
Is it difficult to operate the Bunnytown puppets? Are they kind of like Muppets (part rod operation, part marionette strings and some moving parts technology) in terms of construction? How many people are needed to operate just one bunny?
David: Yes, they are very tricky to operate and nothing like the Muppets. First of all, they’re only 6 inches tall so you can’t get your hand in there to control them. They’re worked on rods with a trigger for the mouth and another mechanism to toggle their heads side to side. Sometimes it takes up to three people to operate them.
Why did you decide to go with bunnies?
Who doesn’t like bunnies! There’s also something funny about a town full of dopey looking bunnies.
What has been your worst snafu? Alternately, what has been your biggest or most surprising success story?
Our biggest snafu was probably trying to create a funny, action-packed movie featuring the soundtrack of Bread. Our most surprising story was that our Noggin show, Jack’s Big Music Show, was just nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Pre-School Show.
Bunnytown has this sort of pop culture, retro-rock vibe mixed with Monty Python-esque skits that seem to channel a little Laurel & Hardy (my all-time favorite slapstick duo). Is that meant to speak to the parent viewers out there? I don’t know too many wee beasties who are familiar with disco fever, Earth Wind & Fire or Elton John.
Todd: The show was inspired by late 60’s early 70’s variety shows like Laugh In. That’s why the show has that whole flower power vibe. The look of our Bunnytown Band was inspired by Sly and Family Stone. We’re also fans of Laurel & Hardy and Buster Keaton and wanted to introduce that kind of humor to kids.
What do your own kids think of Bunnytown? What do they think you do for a living?
David: They love Bunnytown and they know we create television shows.
You all have amazing resumes, with stints and extensive projects at The Jim Henson Company, Sesame Street, Nickelodeon, and of course, The Disney Channel. How do you balance all of those commitments with family/spouse time? Any words of wisdom?
Adam: Its a pretty intense few months when we are in production but the rest of the time, its all pretty normal, like a 9-5 job so we have plenty of time with our families. But when they all go to bed, we usually end up back at work for a few more hours.
Convista says: This interview was fast and furious, and was originally released in 2008.