Patrick Murphy Talks Annoying Orange
DS: How many episodes are you doing for the new season? How big is your crew?
PM: For Season 1, we did a total of 30 episodes. On Season 2, we are doing roughly 40 episodes. On those 30 episodes, every single one was animated in six days. Animated and composited. Of course the overall production schedule for a given episode was longer. There is the live action shoot and the editorial, but the animation and visual effects department would have each episode for a total of about six days. When I first got on board, it was very evident that the EPs ultimately wanted to have shows that were always topical and dealt with things that were trending in pop culture. The last episode we did for Season 1 was called The Generic Holiday Special. They had Weird Al Yankovic, Bret Michaels, Alice Cooper and Maria Menounos. All these guest stars came in and we never had a script for that show. I’m a big fan and a big proponent of having scripts, doing breakdowns, analyzing where we can institute efficiencies. But that was the episode where they broke the mold. I saw that was probably going to be a trend because the goal there was to see how organic we really could be and how quickly we could respond to whatever was happening on social media. That’s potentially becoming the template for Season 2.
So in response to that you might think we’d want to hire a bunch of people, bring on as many resources as possible on a job where we have such production variables. But my experience has shown that’s actually counterintuitive. I’ve got five animators, one visual effects editor, two traditional editors, one editing assistant, one color correction person, one sound guy. That’s pretty much the post side of Annoying Orange. The five animators are people whose skill sets cut across many different disciplines. They not only are capable of compositing or animating, but a few of them have abilities with 3D packages like Cinema 4D and Lightwave. On any given day they could do compositing, animating or creating 3D models, whatever the case might be. I truly have a set of artists who are jacks of all trades. Big facilities tend to have people who specialize. There’s someone who puts effects on a shot, or who will light a shot. There’s another guy who is in charge of rendering it. I really like people who come from smaller shops, who have always done their own rotoing and tracking and compositing and color correction, because those are the skills, for example on this show, that we value highly. So everyone here can do multiple tasks. They do them well and they do them extremely fast.
DS: That’s an unbelievably small crew, I mean for…
PM: Yes, it is.
DS: …that large of a production.
PM: Yeah. When I’m onset, there are probably 30 people there.
DS: Tell me about your production process, the tools you use, this integrated pipeline you’ve built that can animate an episode in roughly a week.
PM: What I have found to be extremely valuable is that whenever possible I start at the script phase. We use the Adobe product line throughout the entire process. Part of that is because in order to facilitate the needs of the show and the constantly changing nature of any particular episode, sharing information is paramount. Also, creating automation wherever automation can be created is extremely important because it frees up your artists and creative people to do what it is they were hired to do…be creative.
So traditionally, having tools that could automate creating shots, building projects for the compositors and animators, that has always been a task you would assign to an assistant or a junior person. It’s arduous and takes forever. Things like that, without a doubt, should be automated. In the past, I have always hired programmers to do that. The problem is that there is a fair amount of investment that has to be made before you see any return.
A lot of companies don’t initially see that being a benefit or aiding their bottom line. But in reality, it can mean about a 35% savings when you can automate a lot of these traditional administrative processes. Back in 2002 I was working with Pixel Magic. Out of curiosity, we did our own internal study of how much time people were spending creating file names, directories and submitting renders with all the information the renderfarm needed. We found that 35% of our compositors’ time was spent doing those admin type tasks. So I have been an extremely strong proponent of automation, scripting and programming as part of the post-production process. Traditionally that required a programmer. However, Adobe is one of the first to start lowering the level of knowledge needed to accomplish those tasks, as well as to have integration across an entire product line. I’m not just talking about opening a Photoshop file in any one of their products. I’m talking about embedded metadata.
So for us, it starts as an Adobe Story. Our scripts are broken down and tagged. We actually tag particular items in script sets as being visual effects related, production related, prop department related, etc. For me, it gives an idea as to who is responsible for what.
Subsequently, we meet and talk about what the prop department should be building or whether a visual effect should be used. That allows us to focus all of our different talents appropriately. For example, we may realize very quickly that we don’t need to do make up on Toby [Turner] that will take three hours in the middle of a production day. We might be able to accomplish a similar task with visual effects. Though it may take one artist three days [in visual effects], it’s not going to force 30 people onset to sit idle for three hours. When you start running the numbers on that it doesn’t make any sense.
We use those breakdowns in Adobe Story to define what every department’s task and responsibilities will be in producing that episode. In addition, there is other data we can extrapolate from the scripts. My big thing is that I want that data to be carried through the entire production process so you don’t have to rely on a paper trail or have an assistant that’s always grabbing files. That doesn’t make any sense. By embedding xml data into clips or sidecar files and getting editors access to that information, we really create a much more conducive information pipeline. That is one of the underpinnings of the entire production process.
The next piece, if you look at the breakdowns, is that we know the characters are always going to be on a cart. There are always establishing shots of the cart. We know that Orange is always going to do a motorboat where he goes, “Motorboat blblblblbbl!” We know that Grapefruit always get angry. So, we always try to find consistencies, whether character based, story based or environment based. Those become areas where we want to create standardization. So we started building libraries. We have a huge growing library that consists of the store environment, which is where most of the Orange story takes place, cart shots from every conceivable angle, as well as mouths and eyes shot on the RED camera.