Bent Image Labs Animates ‘Portlandia’
“For me, some of the best parts of the skit are when people take a long time to say their line,” says Shaw. “It’s not telling the story, it’s not setting up for another gag. In animation that stuff usually gets cut out but here it’s left in, so it actually becomes the joke.”
Shaw and team launched into creating the animatic, fleshing it out a bit more then usual to showcase the “acting” of the characters and helping to convey what the final skit would look like to the Portlandia crew. “In the end I think that really worked out to our favor because everyone who saw the animatic said ‘Oh this is already funny’ so we knew it would only get funnier when it was fully animated,” says Shaw. With a locked animatic the Bent team dove into production mode.
The Essence of Fred and Carrie
To capture Fred and Carrie in the rats, the puppet fabricators turned to the Internet and season one of Portlandia for reference. Shaw chose a wig for the Carrie Rat, styled after one Carrie actually wore on the show and a headband as a nod to her character in Portlandia’s “Hide and Seek” skit. Fred Rat features a fedora and Armisen’s signature black-rimmed glasses that are made of painted brass. The rats themselves were made from foam latex with a flocked fur application that was stimulated by an electro-static flocking gun that charges the fur, drawing it together and standing it on end. The hands, tail and feet are all silicone rubber, chosen for its natural skin tone appearance. Though they wanted the rats to look as natural as possible (with the exception of the light accoutrements) they did add whites to their eyes to make the rats more expressive. “We needed the whites in their eyes so you could see eye lines, who they were talking to or that they are rolling their eyes at each other,” says Shaw.
The Portlandish Attic
While the rat puppets evolved, Art Director Greg Arden began sussing out his plans for the attic set. Wanting to create the perfect rat cave, Arden utilized all sorts of garbage inspired props for his décor. “One of the most exciting things we heard from Fred, Carrie and Jonathan is that they wanted it to be really dirty,” says Arden. “Everything we normally do in our world is absolutely spotless, clean, no streaks, no fingerprints. This was the chance to go hog wild with details that could make it filthier.” Arden incorporated old 45s stacked by a window as a radiator, an old rat-chewed case stereo with a “Margaritaville” tape ramp, a few lamps made out of old fruit peels and lots of scraps, food crumbs and rat droppings to dirty up the set. As a nod to Portland, Arden even included a kombucha water cooler and based the overall design on a “vintage eclectic” look which he contributes to the Portland style. In addition, the crew created a tomato can oven and sardine can coffee table for the set. Not wasting the tomatoes and sardines Arden made a delicious spaghetti sauce which he slurped up for dinner. “Greg is a really funny dude,” says Shaw. “He added little jokes here and there like the rat turds, the little dried fruit Tiffany lamps, just things on their own that were kind of funny, that weren’t scripted or boarded.”