Dominic Corry lusts after a workplace that contains an icecream bar and a magical, infinitely inventive soda machine.

Forget Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth is Cartoon Network studios in Burbank, California.

From the moment the Herald on Sunday enters the front doors for a day-long visit, it's clear that every corner of the multi-building complex is specifically geared towards promoting a serenely idyllic work environment where creativity can flourish.

This isn't your ordinary office.

Just beyond the foyer adorned with painted renderings of Cartoon Network's most iconic characters lies an art gallery that hosts a new show every month. Next to that is a wall covered in Etch a Sketches. Etching a sketch is encouraged.

Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank, California. Photo / Supplied
Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank, California. Photo / Supplied

The building is home to 350 employees and each level hosts a station featuring food designed to entice the 300 artists out of their cubicles to mingle. One level has an icecream bar, one a cereal bar, one a computer-controlled soda machine that can serve any soda in existence at any time.

Several big comfortable lounge areas are filled with retro board and ball games. There is even an 80s-style video game parlour. Suffice to say, it comes across as the most glorious workplace imaginable.

The biggest producer of popular entertainment espouses a commitment to fostering unbridled -creativity, and it's not hard to fill an office with fun extravagances, but the proof is very much in Cartoon Network's pudding.

Over the past five years, it has driven a creative boom in TV animation with the massive success of Adventure Time and Regular Show, both of which broke from convention. It continues to set the bar higher with recent hits like Steven Universe and We Bare Bears.

It is tempting to ascribe the successes to the infinite soda machine, but according to Chief Content Officer Rob Sorcher, it's all about favouring the visual medium.

Cartoon Network's Adventure Time. Image / Supplied
Cartoon Network's Adventure Time. Image / Supplied

"We're really thinking of cartoons as great television, and not just as kids' shows," Sorcher says.

"Everything here is designed with a visual artist in mind. And those are the people running every single show we have. Not, let's say, a writer. Writers are vitally important, but the artists run these shows."

That philosophy extends to the production processes for each series, as described by JG Quintel, the creator and showrunner of the Emmy-winning Regular Show.


"A lot of cartoons are story-boarded based exactly on what the script says and you don't deviate from that. Whatever the writer wrote, it stays.

"We're doing premise-driven stuff, so our storyboard artist will get an outline that's maybe three pages of writing. It's not dialogue, just the beats of where the characters are and what they're going to do and who is in the scene. And then the storyboard artists will draw it and write the dialogue."

Regular Show follows the often absurd and always hilarious adventures of a raccoon named Rigby and a blue jay named Mordecai. They are park groundskeepers and constantly in trouble with their manager, Benson, a fiery Gumball machine. Their other manager is a lollipop named Pops. They hang out with a cool yeti named Skips.

"When we made the show it was so different and bizarre," Quintel says. "I'm still really grateful Cartoon Network let us even try something like this.

"A lot of the time, studios are going for the whole 'Let's copy formulas that were successful in the past' thing because it costs a lot of money to make the shows and you want to make sure something is going to work. But to try something that hasn't been done is scary and Cartoon Network has been successful at it."

Mordecai and Rigby are the protagonists of Regular Show. Image / Supplied
Mordecai and Rigby are the protagonists of Regular Show. Image / Supplied

The knockaround nature of Regular Show can be traced to its real-world inspiration.
"It was kind of derived from my student shorts," says Quintel, who attended the famous California Institute of the Arts, aka Cal-Arts.


"Cartoon Network did this pilot programme called The Cartoonstitute and asked me if I wanted to pitch and I had a bunch of characters from my student films that I kind of cobbled together and made Regular Show.

"It really is supposed to be about me and my friends in college. It's very much that time in my life."

The title was designed to bring it down to Earth a little.

"When you look at it at face value, it's really bizarre - a yeti and a gumball, a raccoon and a blue jay. But I just wanted it to be a regular show, just like a sitcom and have a real feel.

"I didn't want to do a cartoon with crazy voices. I wanted it to just sound like you would when you talk to your friends. That's why it's called Regular Show. I kind of waffled between calling it Normal Show, but Regular Show won out.

Although Quintel pays respect to animation masters Matt Groening (The Simpsons) and Mike Judge (King of the Hill) as inspirations, he also cites the British sensibility as an influence.

JG Quintel, producer of The Cartoon Network's 'Regular Show'. Photo / Supplied
JG Quintel, producer of The Cartoon Network's 'Regular Show'. Photo / Supplied

"One of my room-mates at Cal-Arts was from Hong Kong, so he introduced me to tonnes of British comedy that I got really into, like Little Britain, The League of Gentlemen, The Office.

"The Mighty Boosh was one of my favourites. There's something about that style of humour that was drier than what I was used to and was also darker."

His tastes have since spread further afield. "I just watched What We Do in the Shadows. That was really funny. It would be really cool to do something like that."

Cartoon Network Studios' most recent creative success story is We Bare Bears, a one-of-a-kind show that represents a giant visual leap forward for cartoons. It premiered recently in the US to universal raves and huge ratings. It appears on Cartoon Network here in November.

The series follows three bears - a grizzly named Grizz, a panda named Panda and a polar bear named Ice Bear - trying to make their way in the modern world. It's a witty wonder overflowing with charm, but it's the stunning watercolour-infused design that grabs attention.

"We wanted to do something that felt more naturalistic," creator Daniel Chong says.


"It's hard to avoid using computers now for creating your artwork, in a way the production pipeline demands it.

"And for some shows that works fine. But I knew for my show I wanted to do something that felt more warm, kind of like a children's book.

"The art of children's illustration has always been a big inspiration to me. There is definitely a need to work digitally still so that the production will survive, but at that same time create that warmth to it and make it feel a little bit more hand-done and imperfect."

The heartbreakingly cute show is more than awww-inspiring images. The textured characterisations have won over legions of new fans with every episode.

But still, why bears?

"The way it started was kind of arbitrary," says Chong. "I was in a library with my girlfriend's niece and I was trying to make her laugh. I was just doodling and that's what came out. It could have been porcupines."


Not all Cartoon Network's shows are produced in-house.

Not far away at Warner Bros Animation Studios, production of the third season of Teen Titans Go! is under way. The show presents a slightly more manic take on DC Universe characters like Robin and Cyborg, whom we're used to seeing virtuously fight crime.

"We're in an environment where action shows haven't been doing so great," says producer Michael Jelenic. "So we decided to take characters people love and are familiar with and have them do stupid things like dress up like cats."

The approach has been popular with audiences.

"We're staying true to their personalities. A lot of the humour comes from the fact that they're characters who are supposed to be aspirational, they're supposed to be heroes, and they're not acting heroically.

"It accentuates the comedy. You have a perception and then we subvert that perception."


Back at Cartoon Network, Senior Director of Comedy Animation Katie Krentz is talking about the Global Shorts Programme, a larger-scale successor to The Cartoonstitute, which brings animators from all around the world to Cartoon Network Studios to develop their ideas.

"The international shorts programme contains the hope that we can teach other people our processes here, but they're teaching us things too, we're learning things about their processes and their types of humour. There are subtle differences and I think it's great to have that diversity there."

Again, the emphasis is on finding something new and different.

"We celebrate our successes but we're not looking back to say we should do another Adventure Time or Regular Show," adds Krentz.

"We're always looking forward and trying to think, 'What's the next new exciting thing we can be working on?'

"There is so much freedom in kids' animation. But at the heart of it, everyone just wants a really -funny joke."


And an infinite soda machine.