Comedy Centrals animated series, SHORTIES WATCHIN' SHORTIES, returns with all-new episodes tonight, Oct. 28, 2004, at 10:30 pm. The inventive half-hour show pairs animation and stand-up comedy, with potty-mouthed, under-supervised infants whose primary babysitter is the television set. The show premiered on April 28.
Comedians Nick DiPaolo and Patrice Oneal provide the voices of the diapered shorties who watch animated interpretations of stand-up comedy performances of Lewis Black, Dane Cook, Janeane Garofalo, Jay Mohr and Denis Leary among many other comedians. The animation visually plays out what the comedian is saying, building on the verbal comedy by adding a layer of visual humor.
SHORTIES WATCHIN' SHORTIES is exec produced by actor/stand-up comic Denis Leary and his Apostle partner Jim Serpico. Serpico, Tom Sellitti and animator Eric Brown created the show (originally called HOUSE ARREST, interstitials with two grossly unmotivated, underachievers in their mid-twenties confined to the house). Lou Wallach from Comedy Central is the exec in charge of SHORTIES WATCHIN' SHORTIES.
Augenblick Studios in New York City animates the majority of the comedy segments in Flash while Brown directs the show at World Famous Pictures, which animates the host segments and additional comedy segments.
Animation director Aaron Augenblick told AWN that he never sees the stand-up footage. We only hear it. I have no idea what most of the comedians actually look like. To be honest, none of us are particularly stand-up comedy fans, so most of the comedy is new to us. Legally, we can't make the characters look like the comedians (because of likeness rights), so we are encouraged to create far out characters. A couple times we have accidentally made the character look like the real life comedian (having never even seen them!) and it gets flagged by Comedy Central for re-design.
Basically, Apostle picks out the audio clips and sends them to Brown at World Famous Pictures. Eric will sketch out some ideas or thumbnails and send them to us, said Augenblick. At that point, we have a meeting with everyone at the studio and listen to the bit. We have a brainstorming session where we decide on gags, overall look, story, characters and locations. Our challenge with every bit is to illustrate the story in an unexpected way. Most of our battles are against being logical and literal. The narrative comes from the comedian, so the storytelling of the animation can be somewhat bizarre and stream of conscious. To me, it recalls early animation where the story was more visual and gag driven than having a traditional plot or motivation.
Brown said, I don't watch any of the comedians doing their bits. I just get the audio and then try to make up stories around the comedy and add in new visual jokes throughout the bit. This all comes out when I do the storyboards for all the bits.
The studios use Flash for pretty much everything, except initially for the storyboards. But now I do all the storyboards for the show on a Wacom monitor right in Flash, said Brown. My studio, World Famous Pictures, has 8-9 people all using Flash and Wacom drawing monitors, doing animatics, characters, backgrounds and animation.
Turnaround time is roughly four to five weeks per episode for animation, Brown continued. Which I think is pretty impressive for only having 18 people between my studio and Augenblick's doing the entire show.
Augenblick said, Everything is hand drawn directly in Flash using Wacom tablets. The flash projects are very heavy, since they are meant for broadcast. That would never play on the Internet. Once the animation is outputted, we do some final touches in After Effects (mostly to soften the hard vector look). Once we have finished the animation, we send it to Apostle where they do sound effects, mix, and final edit in the avid. We do everything one bit at a time, so the placement in episodes is undetermined until after the animation is complete.
There are four basic stages to the production: storyboard, background layout, character layout and animation. Each stage takes about a week per segment (each segment usually being around two minutes). Without staggered production, we output about three minutes of finished animation per week, Augenblick said.
He continued, I've based our production on the traditional processes of animation. I cut my teeth on traditional methods. I've painted cells, shot on the Oxberry, written x-sheets, etc. We've just stripped the entire process down into its basic parts. Because of new technology, we're not bogged down with a lot of the mindless, labor-intensive parts of animation that make for a lengthy (and expensive!) production.
The danger with Flash productions that are popping up now is that the producers are throwing traditional methods out the window and starting from scratch. All of the fundamentals of animation can be applied with new technology. My greatest influences are from Fleischer and McKay and Iwerks, so to ignore classic animation methods would be a crime, Augenblick offered.
He uses a small team at his studio about eight to do 17 minutes of comedy on each episode. I looked hard to find creative people who could carry a lot of responsibility, he said. Every person here is an essential piece of the process, with a distinct voice in the show. We don't even use traditional model sheets and design. Each layout artist is his own designer. However, with more freedom comes less money and more work!
Comedy Central (www.comedycentral.com), the only all-comedy network, currently is seen in more than 86 million homes in the U.S. Comedy Central is owned by Comedy Partners, a wholly-owned division of MTV Networks.