The Twisted Genius Behind Sterling Archer
AR: We actually scaled it back to 13 because I kept having panic attacks. We did the 3 episode mini-season and then there will be 10 coming up. We’re hoping to get some more writers on board. A really funny guy name Chris Provenzano has started doing some scripts for us so hopefully we can crank out more episodes in the future.
DS: Can you tell me a little bit about how the animation is produced, the crew, how the work is created?
AR: Well we’ve got about 40 folks. For the backgrounds, we have a company called Trinity Animation in Missouri that spends most of their time doing architectural 3D stuff. They do our backgrounds in 3D and render out a camera angle and send it to us. Then we paint it. So that way once they build an environment, it’s done. We can just spin the camera around and repaint it, which has worked out. Eric Sims, our background painter, came up with a way, I don’t know how he does it, but the way he paints the backgrounds is a secret that only he and his crew know. That’s all done in Photoshop. Then the actual animation is done in After Effects. So, I write a script. Then we record it. Then our editor does an audio cut and once that’s tweaked and we’re happy with it, and FX is happy with it, we do storyboards for it and then they just go draw.
The characters, we use real models and dress them in vintage clothes. We take a bunch of photographs of them and use them for references. We have a huge wardrobe closet and a whole other closet filled with prop guns, motorcycle helmets, radio backpacks and all that stuff.
Yah, then they make it, and we put it on TV.
DS: So you’re not using Flash? You’re using Photoshop composited in After Effects?
AR: Yep. The characters are done in Illustrator, the backgrounds in Photoshop. The actual animation is all After Effects.
DS: It’s amazing what technology will allow you to do.
AR: It’s the same way we made Frisky Dingo and in some ways, the same as Sealab. There’s probably a better way to do it but we didn’t know that when we started, so now, this is the way we do it. Our studio is doing the animation for another FX cartoon that is premiering with Archer called Unsupervised. That’s all done in Flash.
DS: You’re producing that as well, correct?
AR: My role is limited to just snooping around and wanting to know how Flash works, because I don’t. But they’re super talented creators and writers on that show. FX trusts us now to do their animation so they let us do the show. But, we’re pretty just much the wrench turners, not the creative guys.
DS: How much of what we see on the air gets toned down after you’ve gone over it with the network?
AR: Very little.
DS: Can you talk about the dynamic of working with Standards and Practices at the network?
AR: It’s really minimal. We get a lot of leeway. FX is known as a very edgy network. Once we gauged what they were comfortable with, now we don’t ever have these big S&P fights where we’re saying, “Oh no, we gotta show those boobs, come on!” We know what they’re comfortable with so in the script phase, we make sure it’s OK. It doesn’t make sense to write something and certainly not to animate something you know is not going to get on the air. We nip that in the bud early in the process. But there have been times where we’ve turned in animation where we’ve thought, “There’s no way they’re going to let us do that” and they don’t blink an eye.