Michael Craig Judge (born October 17, 1962) is a prolific Ecuadorian-born American filmmaker, cartoonist, animator, voice actor, musician and former engineer, best known for creating the animated shows Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill as well as the live-action movies Office Space and Idiocracy.
Born in Ecuador but raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Judge's career in entertainment came somewhat later than most. Rather than going to art school, he studied physics and worked for a few years as an engineer before deciding to break into comedy by creating shorts for Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Festival. Teaching himself how to animate though books, he created a handful of shorts, including Huh?, Office Space and Frog Baseball, which made their rounds on the festival circuit.
The shorts were instantly popular and earned Judge more animation work, first from Saturday Night Live, who commissioned several more Milton shorts, and later MTV, who ran the shorts on their animation showcase series Liquid Television. Eventually, they proposed a spin-off series starring the two reckless teenagers from Frog Baseball, and thus Beavis and Butt-Head was born.
Equally as popular with college-aged audiences and even a few high-profile entertainment personalities for its witty, subversive humor as it was controversial among Moral Guardians for the title duo's juvenile, often destructive antics (such as setting things on fire and huffing paint thinner), it was nonetheless a massive success, becoming a seminal piece of 90s pop culture and running for seven seasons, ending with a film, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, which Judge co-directed. In 2011, it was briefly revived for one season.
Judge's follow-up, which he co-created with Greg Daniels, saw him going in the complete opposite direction with the Slice of Life sitcom King of the Hill for FOX, starring Texan propane (and propane accessories) salesman Hank Hill and his friends and family. The show was famously low-key and lacking in any sort of wacky or outlandish situations, being closer to that of a live-action movie than an animated (or even live-action) TV series with only slight exaggeration for comedy. Despite disinterest from fans of his previous show, heavy competition from other FOX animated shows, the network frequently shifting timeslots, it was a huge hit, running for 12 consecutive years and developing a strong cult following thanks to reruns airing on [adult swim]. Judge has hinted that this, too, may see a revival soon.
Durring Hill's run, Judge made three live-action films, Office Space (self-adapted from his animated shorts), Idiocracy and Extract. The first two were acclaimed flops (the latter even moreso, as Fox got cold feet when they saw just how many real-life corporate brands the film flagrantly skewered and tried to shuffle it off to the DVD rack as fast as they could) and have since developed similar cult followings while the third quickly fizzled out of the public consciousness and seems to have put a damper on his career in live-action features. He would eventually make a return to live-action with the HBO series Silicon Valley, which he co-created with John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, directing several episodes himself.
Also during this time, he and Don Hertzfeldt curated a touring showcase of independent animated shorts in the same vein as Spike and Mike titled simply The Animation Show.
After Hill ended, Judge created the Spiritual Antithesis series The Goode Family, basically King Of The Hill, but with liberals instead of conservatives. Critical and audience reception was extremely tepid and the show was canceled before its first season could finish airing.
Prior to his careers in film and animation, Judge also had a reasonably successful career as a musician, playing bass for several local bands and briefly toured with blues musician Sam Myers. He later wrote and performed the theme song for Beavis and Butt-Head by himself.
TV Shows Created:
Trope appearing in his work
- Acting for Two: Judge voiced the title characters and several others (most notably Tom Anderson, David Van Dreissen, Coach Buzzcut, and Principal McVicker) whom they interact with on Beavis and Butt-Head, as well as Hank Hill and Boomhauer in King of the Hill.
- Animated Music Video: Created one (in collaboration with Titmouse) for "The Wind" by Zac Brown Band.
- Arc Words: The phrase "kick your ass" and variations thereof appear in nearly all of his work.
- Auteur License: Beavis and Butt-Head has more or less permitted him to do whatever he wants for the rest of his career.
- Cast of Snowflakes: Thanks to his characters designs' heavy reliance on anatomical correctness and caricature, no two characters in his animated works who aren't biologically related look alike.
- The Comically Serious: His comedy style is famously very dry and largely based on putting eccentric or quirky characters in downright banal situations.
- Creator Provincialism: While not a longtime native of the state (having only begun residing there once his career started to take off), just about half of his work takes place somewhere in Texas.
- Descended Creator: Voices anywhere from one to five characters in all of his animated shows. In some cases, he'll even do some of the music.
- Good Ol' Boy: Conservative, pot-bellied white Texan men (or "bubbas," as he calls them) tend to pop up a lot in his work. King of the Hill is populated almost exclusively by these types of characters. There's also the proto-Hank character Tom Anderson in Beavis and Butt-Head.
- Kafka Comedy: While his works do have a certain level of emotional sincerity, a lot of the humor comes from watching characters be put through extremely unpleasant situations and being glad it's happening to them and not us.
- Never Learned to Animate: The only formal art training he ever had was a cartooning class at his local YMCA as a teenager. He taught himself how to make animated shorts by reading as many books as he could about it.
- Political Overcorrectness: A common topic of his work, though nowhere near as brutal and in-your-face as most examples. Usually, it takes the form of people too wrapped up in their own optimism to know when it isn't working (Mr. Van Driesen from Beavis and Butt-Head) or well-meaning people who turn out to be no less egotistical as the conservative characters (most of the one-shot characters on King of the Hill). It helps that Judge apparently comes from a very liberal family, meaning his opinions on it are clearly well-informed and not just reactionary. On the other hand, it's generally agreed that The Goode Family largely flopped because its humor was almost entirely derived from making fun of fundamentally progressive people for just being progressive.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Most of his work tends to hover over either side of the middle of the scale, and whichever side it falls on varies from project to project. Beavis and Butt-Head is almost entirely cynical, bordering on misanthropic, while King of the Hill is almost entirely idealistic, but with its tongue firmly in its cheek for much of its humor. His live action movies such as Office Space tend to spend most of their runtimes on cynical or even bitter observational humor, but still have happy (or at least bittersweet) endings.
- Sliding Scale of Realistic vs. Fantastic: Mostly realistic. King of the Hill in particular is so restrained that those less savvy to its type of comic timing, cinematography and overall visual style question why it's even animated to begin with.
- Taught by Experience: Pretty much everything he would later become famous and successful for (animation, acting, writing) was learned by trial and error from his first animated shorts.
- Technician Versus Performer: Despite being mostly self-taught and, by his own admittance, not all that skilled as an artist, he's a lot closer to technician. All of his work contains great attention to detail in its look, dialogue and direction. His animated work in particular strictly adheres to anatomical correctness and subtle body language (for example, the style guide for King of the Hill insists that Hank never look anyone directly in the eyes) while involuntary pauses or thinking sounds are written into the scripts of his live-action films.