All-new episodes of the offbeat comedy about a dentist and his family hitting the road in their RV air Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The series then moves to its regular time slot next Monday (also at 8:00 p.m.).
Sitcom meets stop-motion in Glenn Martin, DDS, premiering tonight at 8:00 p.m. on Nickelodeon's Nick at Nite, the first TV series from Michael Eisner's Tornante Animation. All-new episodes of the offbeat comedy about a dentist and his family hitting the road in their RV air Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The series then moves to its regular time slot next Monday (also at 8:00 p.m.).
The Martins embark on a literal getaway that includes the Amish Country, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Hollywood and the White House. The cast includes Glenn (voiced by Kevin Nealon), wife Jackie (Catherine O'Hara), Conor, the teenage son (Peter Oldring), Courtney, the "corporate" daughter (Jackie Clarke) and Wendy, her assistant (Judy Greer). Eric Fogel, the co-creator and exec producer, discusses the challenges and working with Toronto-based Cuppa Coffee Studios.
Bill Desowitz: How'd you get involved in this?
Eric Fogel: I met with Michael Eisner two years ago in New York and he had seen some of my work at that point, specifically Celebrity Deathmatch and another stop-motion show I had done for E! called Starveillance. And there was a specific vignette I had done for that show featuring the Olsen twins and something about the look and banter between the two girls that he really sparked to. And he saw something there using the look of that. And he had this idea about a family on the road and the dad's a dentist and they drive around in an RV. That's basically all that we had at that point. They asked me to direct what essentially became act one of the pilot and we spent some time doing that. We actually animated that in Brooklyn and used that as a selling tool.
BD: Who animated that?
EF: We used a small studio called Charged. And we shot about eight minutes of animation. So then came the presentation pilot for the show and we brought that when we pitched the show to Nick at Nite, and the timing was fortuitous. They had just announced that they were looking to develop original programming and so the stars lined up.
BD: And how did Cuppa Coffee get involved?
EF: They ended up ordering 20 episodes for season one, which was quite a large order and we realized that the studio in Brooklyn couldn't really handle the show. So I had worked with Cuppa Coffee before. I knew them, I knew what they could do and they seemed like the perfect studio to take on the show.
BD: Well, before we get into the animation, what were the challenges of pulling this off as a new kind of sitcom using stop-motion?
EF: When we got the full order we started looking for some head writers and we found Michael Jamin and Sivert Glarum. They came from both animation and live-action, working on King of the Hill and Just Shoot Me. When they saw the pilot, they really sparked to the look of it more than anything else. And when they came on board, they had lots of ideas of about how we could break the show out and make it even more animation friendly than it was in the pilot.
BD: What kind of ideas?
EF: In the pilot, within the first 30 seconds, Glenn examines a patient, who won't open his mouth. He finally gets him to open his mouth and when he reaches inside the kid bites his finger off. That was in the presentation pilot. When we brought in the head writers, they suggested taking it even further by putting a camera in the kid's stomach and have a POV for when Glenn reaches down, and we fish around in the stomach and there are all sorts of things like hot dogs and iPods, and it became even more animation friendly. And that became a trademark of the show and we came to call "Claytastic." Obviously, story and character come first, but then they sort of layer in [the animation]. So I think that's really the strength of the show: it's the balance between the warm, human moments and the more outrageous "Claytastic" bits of business. It's about taking some seed from reality but growing it out from there.
BD: And what about the stop-motion you utilize?
EF: Essentially it's the same technique that's been around since the '20s and '30s. But the materials are changing a little bit: we're using silicone and foam latex and resin to create the puppets. The mouth animation for our show is done digitally, so the puppets are actually shot mouthless and then there's a whole separate process, which we call the mouth animation.
BD: Is that proprietary or off-the-shelf?
EF: It's a little bit of both, actually. There's a program called Magpie, which is sort of like a voice recognition software that allows you to put in a recorded voice track and have a mouth do like a rough sink of mouth animation. It doesn't work great, so you always have to fine tune it.
BD: How large a staff does Cuppa Coffee have devoted to this?
EF: Quite large: there are over 100 artists and animators working on the show and we have roughly 30 stages going at any one time to do the actual animation. The studio is designed to breathe, so they have a certain capacity that they can handle and at this point they're at the maximum.
BD: So if Eisner's company is in L.A., where are you based?
EF: I knew you were going to ask that. I split my time pretty much 50/50 between L.A. and Toronto.
BD: So, what's the biggest technical challenge of the show?
EF: The scope of the show because it's a show about a traveling family and it basically requires new characters and new environments for every single episode. I would say that is, perhaps, the most ambitious stop-motion TV series to date, just in terms of the scale. We try to be clever about it and try to reuse assets and repurpose puppets where ever we can. We'll pull the beards off the Amish people and you probably won't recognize them when they show up throughout the series. We play a little game of "Where's Waldo?" to spot the puppets.
BD: I see they wind up at the White House. What happens?
EF: We're in the Oval Office with Obama. Glenn Martin actually does an emergency dental repair on Obama. He's playing a game of basketball and gets elbowed in the mouth by a certain Secretary of State with only a hint of vindictiveness behind it.
BD: What was it like designing Obama?
EF: I personally do all of the designs of all the principals of the show, and that one was really fun for me. He's a little tough because he's such a handsome man. And so we really try and emphasize these sort of extreme caricatures on the show so for him it all came down to big ears for Obama. It all comes down to making faces that make laugh when I look at them.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN and VFXWorld.