Animation Extravaganza: How an Action Scene from 'Archer' Gets Made on Schedule
Chances are if you're between the ages of 16 to 35, you've watched the FX animated hit, Archer. It'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:
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.
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.
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.
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