Animation Extravaganza: How an Action Scene from 'Archer' Gets Made on Schedule

Archer 1 (Color)Chances are if you're between the ages of 16 to 35, you've watched the FX animated hit, ArcherIt's one of those shows that appeals ever so perfectly to our inner man-child sensibilities. But I digress. It's a show that combines an extremely basic animation style with a sleek, modern aesthetic, one that combines the mundanities and oddities of a dysfunctional office sitcom with the high-flying action of a well-choreographed spy thriller. In a recent photo set on the Rolling Stone website, Neal Holman, the show's Art Director, walks us through the process of animating an action scene from Archer:

In the post over at Rolling Stone, Holman talks about the creation of a scene fairly typical of the show's style. In the scene, Archer, Cyril, and Ray have just been arrested some place in South America, and they are being transported to a prison. Here are a few of the key photos from the slide show, with Holman describing the animation ethos behind each one:

Archer Animation 1

Think of this shot like the old rear projection sequences in film. Our characters are sandwiched between a layer of the Jeep Exterior and another layer of its interior. A movie of the mountain road plays behind them. Bing bong boom.

Archer Animation 2

Shots like the above are our bread and butter; it's three characters running dialogue in a tight shot, with their body positions locked in place. This is also a good example of [Archer creator] Adam Reed writing to our limitations. He rarely ever calls for lots of broad gestures, with characters falling all over themselves.

Archer Animation 4

This is where it gets complicated. In the foreground, we have a 2-D cow. In the background, we have a 2-D painting of the mountain road. The Jeep, however, is a 3-D turning vehicle -- with 2-D characters positioned within it, that are also animated.

At this point, the car, which is the only 3D object in the scene, tumbles and rolls through the woods, which are comprised of several different variations of trees which are replicated multiple times. In typical Archer style, the car then rolls off a cliff and gets caught on some low-hanging vines. Also in typical Archer style, these vines slowly stretch and break until the vehicle is then hurled towards another jungle canopy which comprised of elements used in prior seasons of the show.

Archer Animation 5

We try to limit our animation as much as possible, but when the scene needs something BIG and AWESOME, we try to make it count. Each episode, ideally, has at least one shot or sequence that raises an eyebrow. We want it to be cinematic. I want it to be the Bourne movies with jokes and a less shaky cam, but we only we have two weeks to board/plan an episode, so we have to pick our battles.

What I love about this show is that its simple re-purposing of complex animation elements actually helps ground the aesthetic and, on occasion, allows the animators to create fantastic action-oriented scenes like the one above that would otherwise take far too long to produce in a realistic time frame for the network. It's this sense of ultimate simplicity and practicality, when combined with the simple animation aesthetic of the show, that allows Archer to be one of the most unique looking animated shows on television today.

What do you guys think? Do you watch Archer, and if so, what do you think of its aesthetic? Does seeing how one of these scenes comes together change how you view the show from a technical standpoint? Let us know down in the comments!

All photos courtesy of Floyd County Productions and FX Networks

Link: How an Archer Scene Gets Made -- Rolling Stone

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Um... don't you have to put the credits and stuff on the images you're posting:

Floyd County Productions / FX Networks

January 16, 2014 at 11:40AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


A friend's 3D animation agency has produced work for Archer for several seasons now (from here in the Midwest), but I still can't find a solid reason to watch it.

January 16, 2014 at 2:06PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Zan Shin

I wonder what animation program(s) they use. Any ideas?

January 16, 2014 at 2:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Zan, have you watched it? If you did and didn't find it humorous, that's ok... If you haven't watched it, you're missing 30 minutes of escape and humor.

Aesthetically, I wonder why the animators/creators choose to use such a thick outline for the characters. It's an interesting choice. I'd prefer a thinner line. Love the show through and through.

January 17, 2014 at 6:53AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I think the super thick outlines and all of the anachronisms of the show create an awesome unique aesthetic. The writing and character development is also fantastic.

January 17, 2014 at 7:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Not sure why you think guys over 35 don't still have man-child sensibilities. :-P One of the best shows on.

January 17, 2014 at 12:22PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I've watched every episode of Archer and have been impressed from the beginning with its simplicity and effectiveness. To me, everything is in the eyes and eyebrows. Very little "full" animation is necessary. Like comic strips in the papers, the raised eyebrow, slightly more open eye or squinted in anger, tells the story.

Secondly is the quickness. They honor the viewers' intelligence (and rewind button, so you can study what was said and shown). Editing is tight. Pay attention or it's gone. The jokes come fast and many are "thrown away" in the background. Police Squad did this but their genius was lost on the audience, who use TV as a background noise while doing the dishes. For them, and for most TV sitcoms to this day, TV is really audio track/30's radio with some visuals -- people standing around, telling jokes at each other against a set. Think "Friends." These days, of course, it's throwing insults at each other and telling sex jokes while standing in an office/apartment/Starbucks. Might as well be a Vaudeville painted drop in a theater.

Third, the voice talent. Archer's voice is, well, fabulous. But I've come to love the other characters as well. Judy Greer as Carol/Cheryl is hilarious. And Pam is amazing. But that's being unfair to all the others: Kreiger the mad scientist, Mrs. Archer, the accountant, Ray and all the others, including guest stars simply rock.

This a leads back to character development. They have all grown. We know their backstories now. We know their phobias, their quirks, their daddy issues. And we learned these in quick flashbacks. Brilliant. Takes barely any screen time, but we know these strange and wonderful characters. Except for poor Bret. His role was to get shot accidentally by Archer, over and over, until this week's episode. Sadly, Bret will no longer be on the show, apparently.

Music. Big, brash, Our Man Flint-y/James Bond-y.

Locations: international intrigue.

Exotic villains. Fortunately, they are terrible shots. But great fun. And some are interesting characters and surprise love interests in themselves, including the former head of the KGB.

Animation style: very interesting mixture of fat line, old-fashioned cel animation and modern 3-D. Whatever is necessary to advance the story affordably.

January 18, 2014 at 8:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


from what I've come to understand it's After Effects that they use to animate

June 4, 2014 at 2:55PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM