The latest crop of shorts in Dave Hughes’ innovative incubator of new talent and new ideas includes four episodes of Joe Cappa’s ‘HAHA You Clowns,’ Chloe Trost’s 2-part ‘Dohls,’ and Maggie Brennan’s ‘Agoraphilia.’
With the goal of discovering new talent, new ideas, and presenting both to the public unfiltered, Adult Swim launched their SMALLS shorts program in 2018, with Off the Air's Dave Hughes at the helm. The program showcases a variety of animated stories, from mushroom worlds and patched-up relationships to convenience store-working dogs and superpowered children. It’s the only one of the studios’ web series still left standing and, aside from checking for legal issues, the shorts are developed to embody their purest conceptualized form.
With little to no studio head tweaking, creators are encouraged to present wildly odd but uplifting stories that will inspire other independent animators to keep on creating and experimenting. Now in its sixth year, SMALLS is inviting back creatives like HAHA You Clowns’ Joe Cappa, and DAP’s Sam Lanier, as well as introducing new storytellers like Chloe Troast and Maggie Brennan, to bring SMALLS fans more disgustingly heartwarming and deliciously funny short stories.
In anticipation of the program’s upcoming Linear Block on Friday, August 25 at midnight ET – which will include Cappa’s HAHA You Clowns, Lanier’s DAP, Zae Jordan and Javier Williams’ Buster & TJ, plus many others – AWN chatted with Cappa, Maggie, and Troast about their soon-to-release shorts, how they got involved with SMALLS in the first place, their long-time love affair with Adult Swim, and how each of their projects has been a fruitful experience in their careers and personal lives.
Check out Adult Swim's YouTube Playlist of over 300 shorts here.
HAHA You Clowns - Joe Cappa
It started with a TikTok of mâché heads and led to a 2D-animated parody of Home Improvement joining the lineup of independent stories on Adult Swim SMALLs shorts program.
“Getting to work with Adult Swim is an amazing privilege,” says Cappa, known for directing the Sundance-selected Ghost Dogs. “I just wanted to take the opportunity with SMALLS to make something that I thought would be really funny to see on a network. The idea of a super wholesome family airing on Adult Swim just makes me laugh.”
Cappa’s 40-second, backyard proof-of-concept video may have been rejected for a film grant, but Santa Fe’s immersive art operation Meow Wolf was interested in Cappa’s vision once the video hit social media. Meow Wolf showed the video to Hughes, who then reached out to Cappa with the opportunity to create a short comedy animation free of significant “studio” oversight.
“In 2021, I started animating short one-minute videos for my Instagram,” recalls Cappa, explaining the origin of his SMALLS short series, HAHA You Clowns. “Halloween was fast approaching so I decided to animate a parody episode of the family sitcom Home Improvement. As a kid, I looked forward to their Halloween episodes every year. Anyway, while I was animating the short, I just thought it’d be funny if the three brothers in the show actually adored their dad. None of the teen angst, just pure love. The short ended up being NSFW, but the general gist of that family dynamic stuck with me when I was approached by SMALLS.”
Cappa previously made three original HAHA You Clowns shorts for SMALLS back in 2022, all featuring three bulked-up sons who showed deep appreciation of their equally bulked-up dad in front of their girlfriends. The series’ Beavis and Butthead-like animation provides an interesting contrast to the completely wholesome and cheesy dialogue. Cappa created an additional four shorts for this years’ SMALLS program, with the next, Episode 06: “VR,” releasing Thursday, August 24. Episode 07: “Savers” will drop Thursday, August 31.
“I think HAHA, You Clowns is the purest representation of me,” says Cappa. “When I started making one-minute animations for my Instagram, I really made a point to make myself laugh. I have been trying to ignore what I think others would find funny and just go with my gut. It’s really, really nice to know other people like this family as much as I do.”
Dohls - Chloe Troast
Following fellow comedians she admires, like Kelly Cooper and Sam Lanier, Chloe Troast joined the SMALLS shorts shenanigans this year to bring viewers her two-part 2D series Dohls, which takes place at an all-purpose department store where store worker and college student Marcia and her loitering friend Chelsea attempt to get “the man with the hot ass and no chin” to hook up Chelsea as well as, in Episode 2, decipher whether or not there's a thief in the store.
“Spoiler, there is,” says Troast. “And they don’t catch him.”
The idea for Dohls – which will release its first episode on Thursday, September 7 and second on Thursday, September 14 – came to Troast when she actually first improvised the hot-ass-no-chin line in an internet video which, she admits, very few saw. But it sparked a slew of ideas for the comedian.
“I first wrote it into a sketch, which was fun, but the payoff was never really there because no one could play a man with a hot ass and no chin,” admits Troast. “I’d have to go build a prosthetic. But that’s the beauty of animation. Any type of person you dream up can exist. And Nolan Robinson, my animator, got him right down to a T. Wolf shirt and all.”
Troast notes that Robinson is the “brains behind the style” of the shorts and draws everything by hand with careful consideration regarding small movements and expressions.
“I'm a huge, huge fan of that,” shares Troast. “The small details are always what I get obsessed with most. Like, if you pause over the baby formula box. It’s just jokes, inside jokes.”
Adult Swim’s Smiling Friends and Lanier’s DAP shorts also served as big inspirations for Dohls’ tone, which, amidst the chaos, is first and foremost about friendship.
“I know most things are about friends these days, but there's something so sweet about watching a really lived dynamic for a moment,” Troast explains. “It’s very comforting and familiar, and there’s so much room for the characters to play inside that familiarity. Bits and jokes just fly.”
And, whether or not she gets the chance to make more SMALLS shorts, it’s an experience that–despite the tediously long hours–Troast would recommend to anyone. “Adult animation is like being a kid, but you can curse,” she says. “It’s kinda a dream. As a form of therapy, people should be able to write something and get it animated. It scratches an itch in your brain you maybe never knew you had.”
Agoraphilia - Maggie Brennan
Written, produced, and animated by women, Agoraphilia is a purple-saturated 2D story that follows Brenda, who has recently begun working as a street canvasser for a non-profit with a very vague mission called “Youth Troupes.” The job requires her, first, to wander around outside all day, and second, to accost strangers – two things Brenda should definitely not be doing in general but, especially, not as a job.
Yet, the inspiration came from filmmaker Maggie Brennan’s own experience in essentially the same job.
“I will just say that the fastest way to go insane is pacing around a major city for eight hours in 95-degree heat while wearing a neon bib just to make $13 an hour,” shares Brennan, who wrote Agoraphilia’s three shorts with live-action shorts director Annelise Ogaard. The shorts series is produced by Mila Matveeva, who most recently worked on We’re All Going to The World’s Fair as well as season two of The Eyeslicer, which, coincidentally, features work by Ogaard.
The characters and backgrounds in Agoraphilia – releasing one episode each Thursday from September 12 through October 5 – appear close to the look Brennan has maintained in her own artwork for many years, having contributed to animated shorts and series, like Hughes’ Off the Air and Albert Birney’s Tux and Fanny. But, unlike what she’s done in previous one-off animations, Brennan this time tried to make everything with the idea of it potentially being used again.
“I created head rigs, some body rigs, templatized some motions, made all the matte backgrounds in ways that maximized the ways they could be recycled for the future, and so on,” explains Brennan, who was assisted in animation by Stella Rosen. “This was the first time I had to think about making the animation process more streamlined and iterative while balancing my own preferences for how things look and move. I’m not sure how much it follows in the visual style of previous Adult Swim shows beyond it considered more ‘DIY’ than what you might see on other networks. That aspect of Adult Swim is something that has always inspired me since I was a kid.”
Outside of working directly with Hughes, Rosen, and voice actors Clare Ruddy (who plays Brenda), Derek Gaetan Tüller, and Chingy Nea, Brennan says the most enjoyable part of creating these SMALLS shorts was getting to work with my family, who did a number of voices. And, most especially, Brennan’s mom, who passed away a few months ago.
“As horrifying as it is to lose a parent, I feel so, so lucky I get to have this little capsule of her and everyone else who is very special to me,” she shares. “The actual process of making these shorts has been so wonderful and only fruitful.”