Patrick Murphy Talks Annoying Orange
DS: You’ve had an interesting career path, an interesting trajectory that’s taken you from heavy duty feature film visual effects to Annoying Orange.
PM: You’re right. When they approached me I had this moment of pause where I thought, “Do I really want to work on this show?” I was looking like at, “Man, really, do I want to go from finishing up on Prometheus to working on Annoying Orange?” Most visual effects guys are all about chasing titles. I understand that. It’s kind of cool for you to see your name six feet long, all luminous at the end of the latest greatest visual effects film. But my approach over the last five years has been how do I get myself out of the service side of things, because that is a race the bottom. I want to know more about the whole entire process of the business. For me, I’ve always been looking for opportunities where they allow me to have more exposure to those areas on a particular production. I get that on this show.
To me, it’s been a phenomenal opportunity to once again play around with traditional pipelines and procedures for creating content, turn it on its head a little bit so that we can do it differently in a more cost effective way. Like I said in the beginning, the key is flexibility and flexibility means control over the infrastructure. That’s one thing we’re doing and that to me has been a lot of fun.
DS: I would imagine your feature film production skills come in quite handy on this show.
PM: When it comes down to it, one of the best things I bring to the table is knowing when and when not to speak up. The best example of this is that you can be on a set and you realize that a green screen or something is not perfect. It’s going to require extra time for you to key that out. But people forget its only one artist’s time. Maybe that person makes $20, or $50 an hour. Even if it took them a week, 40 hours, to fix the issue that you’re witnessing onset, how long does it take for the whole crew to stop and make adjustments? It is going to cause 100 people to sit around for an hour? Does that make any sense? Absolutely not.
There is some validity behind the phrase, “We’ll fix it in post.” I would say typically, yeah, it really is cheaper to just address it in post. However, there’ve been many, many times on Orange where I’ll ask for something because it would only take one minute for one guy onset to fix something and now, 40 shots don’t have the problem I saw. That’s a different scenario, when I look at something and go, “Well, this should be addressed onset because this is going to proliferate across an entire episode.” So, it’s about knowing when to speak up and when not to.
DS: Last question. What would you say are the biggest challenges you face on this production?
PM: To be honest, it’s my artists. They’re phenomenal, they’re really good. But they sometimes have issues with an organic production process. I first saw it happening on Avatar where people were getting really, really frustrated that the edit was constantly changing. Up until the last few years that wasn’t usually the case. You usually had a locked edit and then you’d start with the visual effects. But more and more frequently the edit is constantly changing. It requires that the visual effects be able to respond accordingly. On Orange, it’s not the edits that are changing, it’s the scripts that are changing. Or, while they’re shooting onset, they’re making decisions on the fly. That’s because one of the writers, Tom Sheppard, he riffs constantly. Kobe Turner will just riff off the cuff and quite literally story lines will change at a moment’s notice.
So for me, the difficulty is that sometimes my libraries aren’t relative and then my artists react, “Oh! What are we going to do? We have to do all this now…” and in the end, they’re not spending any more time than they normally do. There needs to be more education among the visual effects and animation communities. They need to have bit more of a worldly perspective. We’re all kind of introverts. We sit at our computers a lot. It would help us out, especially given the recent situation with the whole visual effects union and business issues to have a more worldly perspective of the process that they’re a part of.
To answer your question in a different way, I think the other issue would be that the show is organic, I mean extremely organic. I have a very good inkling that they want to be able to do these shows in about a week, from beginning till end. Very much along the lines of South Park.
DS: That’s not a lot of time for a production.
PM: We’re getting closer and closer. They want to have very topical episodes. They ultimately want to mimic the web series. Dane threw Marshmallow in on one of the webisodes and he got a tremendous response the following day. We love Marshmallow! Well, that’s how Marshmallow became a character. Same thing for Apple and same thing for Grapefruit. They want to be able to have that type of social media dialogue with the viewers.
So that means we need to truncate even further our production schedule, not just the animation but the entire thing from beginning to end. I look at that and I firmly believe that’s possible. If we can create more standardization in some things and have the editors able to make selects from backgrounds, grab characters, grab a more extensive library of dialogue or reaction shots or whatever the case is and assemble that during the editorial process, I feel it’s really feasible.
Trying to always respond positively and empower the producers, that’s really why I’m here. I want to be more a part of the process of content creation as opposed to just servicing needs. I want my artists to have a great experience as well. So far we’ve been successful. Everyone who was here last season, after a four month break, they all came back. They all quit other jobs to come back. That says a lot.
DS: Right. Do you see shorter and shorter production timeframes becoming more common for TV animation or do you just think it happens to be the nature of the Annoying Orange show?
PM: It seems like many shows are going that direction, not just animated shows but even live action dramas. Those typically seem to be driven just by pure cost. I feel like Orange and some other shows are trying to do something more by interacting with their viewers. I keep waiting for “choose your own interactive adventure” television, but done the right way. I think that’s where it’s going to go, where you have online content and social media content that is directly related to the next episode or the episode you just watched. To me that’s particularly attractive. I feel like Orange is a good model to use to help figure out how you make all that feasible.
Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network.