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Augenblick Studios Celebrates 25 Years with a Musically Charged ‘City Island’ Season 2

The Brooklyn-based studio’s founder and his talented team of artists, musicians, and songwriters channel all that was memorable from the cartoons they watched as kids along with the creative skills they’ve developed on adult animated projects over the last 2+ decades for a new season of the hit PBS KIDS series, which launches today, July 5.

It’s the 25th Anniversary of Brooklyn-based Augenblick Studios, which opened its doors to enter the world of adult animation with the short Ramblin’ Man, a cowboy robot's travels across the universe on his horse. The SXSW Grand Prix winner was shortly followed by Moomie's Garage, starring a purple space monkey, and The Man with the Smallest Penis in Existence and the Electron Microscope Technician Who Loved Him, which speaks for itself.

Over the last two decades, the studio, founded by Aaron Augenblick, has expanded quite significantly from its humble origins, producing 18 animated TV segments and series, including Ugly Americans and Teenage Euthanasia, 14 short films, and content for five feature films, including Augenblick’s own Zoolander: Super Model and Eric Appel’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.

After conquering the adult animation world, Augenblick has focused his attention on the youngsters; Season 2 of kid's series, City Island, produced by Future Brain Media, debuts today, July 5, on PBS KIDS.

“We've all worked so extensively in the adult space, and it was really good preparation for doing a kids’ show in the sense that I've gotten all of that out of my system,” says Augenblick. “I'm just so thrilled to do an upbeat, silly kids show that I would have loved and enjoyed when I was eight years old. I've worked extensively with Adult Swim. I've done all the weirdest stuff you could ever do. We know how to write a funny show. We know how to make it look visually exciting. And we like to add elements of surrealism. We’re using all the same processes we already had but we're doing it at the service of making the best kid show that we can make. And we’ve had great people on this from day one.”

In 2022, collaborating with Ugly Americans executive producer Daniel Powell, Augenblick and Powell co-founded Future Brain Media to produce City Island. Inspired by Sesame Street and Max Fleischer cartoons, the three-minute shorts feature a civics curriculum to highlight topics like cooperation and conflict resolution. Created by Augenblick, the series, with animation direction from Katie Wendt and art direction from renowned cartoonist Gemma Correll, is set in a thriving metropolis that includes local organizations, government institutions, and a diverse citizenry where every car, tree, and building has a name, voice, personality, and back story. 

The main characters include lightbulb Watt, kite Windy, marker Mark, hat Lidia Cap, desk lamp Frank Lloyd Light, salt and pepper shakers Sally and Piper Spice, shopping bag Detritus, and Mayor Sitwell, an office chair. Season 2 follows closely on the heels of City Island Sings!, a new music video series from Augenblick that debuted in May. Lyrics for all the music videos were written by Powell.

“It was a fun exercise to work with our composer Tunde Adebimpe, who's the front man for TV on the Radio, which is one of my favorite rock bands,” says Powell, who hadn’t written lyrics since Ugly Americans’ zombie-run production of “A Chorus Line’s One Singular Sensation.” “Obviously, these songs are very different than what TV on the Radio does, but it made me feel like I’m basically a member of that band now.”

He continues, “It was a lot of genre parody. We’d do something in the style of a Devo-esque new wave band, but it would be about teaching kids the concept of money. We’d do something in the style of Johnny Cash, but about the difference between suburban and rural. We also had a David Bowie parody about voting, which was really fun.”

But the biggest challenge with City Island Sings!, in addition to, as Wendt puts it, “distilling an already distilled concept even further,” was keeping continuity between the music videos and Season 2 episodes, which were being produced simultaneously. 

“There were 10 music videos and 20 new episodes that we did in the space of eight months,” says Augenblick. “The only way to do that was to do them at the same time, so they sort of influenced each other. We did an episode called ‘People at School,’ about everybody who’s at your school who helps make your day better, from the principal to the crossing guard to the school bus driver. And, at the time, we didn't even have a principal figured out yet, so we wrote an episode where we meet Principal Looseleaf, who is this stack of papers, at the same time as we were doing this music video that informally introduced him before the episode.”

“The Helper Dance,” one of the City Island Sings! music videos, even led up to a “meta moment” with characters Sally and Piper. 

“It’s of my favorite, if not my favorite, music video we did, which shows Sally and Piper doing different dances to help you clean your bed, sort your toys, all that,” explains Augenblick. “And they do this sort of disco dance on a greenscreen. That released about two weeks ago. Meanwhile, we have an artist-themed Season 2 episode, which is rare for us, about self-expression through artwork, where Watt writes and directs his own film. Well, there's a scene where there's an after-school program where kids get to make their own movies and amidst all the kids doing their own movies, if you look closely, you can see Sally and Piper in the background with their props and greenscreen making the music video that we aired.”

Wendt adds, “As we were working on the new season, we were always looking for ways to bring things in from the music videos or incorporate music into our episodes.”

There are three musical episodes in City Island’s new season. One episode, called “Venus Flytrap,” focuses on a famous flora pop-star voiced by American actress, singer and producer Rachel Bloom, who voiced for Barb in Trolls World Tour as well as Cybil in Trolls: The Beat Goes On!

“Since the city’s citizens are all objects, and some of those objects are plants, I thought it would be funny to have a character called Venus Flytrap, and it just sounded like a pop star,” says Augenblick. “Venus Flytrap is the world's hugest pop star and most famous singer, like the Taylor Swift of our world. Watt gets to meet this star, who is visiting City Island one day. Rachel actually does a music video for us, as well, which came out really good.”

With the studio based in New York, the Augenblick team also wanted to make an episode that served as a musical love letter to their home city. 

“We were like, ‘We have to do a Broadway episode,’” says Augenblick, referencing Season 2’s “Theater Street,” where the City Island characters go to a Broadway show and learn how a musical production gets made.

“Kimiko Glenn, who voices for Windy, actually got her start on Broadway singing in Waitress,” notes Wendt. “And our mail truck is voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley, who played Louis the alligator in The Princess and the Frog. There was always an opportunity to do more with music in this series and our ‘Theater Street’ episode eventually turns into a full-on stage production. We get everybody on stage who makes a theater production happen singing about their role in the episode. It’s really cute.”

The story is led by City Island writer Rachel Wenitsky, who also voices for Bin and Posty in the series. 

“She is one of our very best writers and she's also an incredible musician and performer herself,” notes Augenblick. “At one of the table reads, she was even like, ‘I hope you don't mind, but I just recorded a song.’ So, she played the song for us, and it was her performing the entire episode, which is hilarious when you see it, because there are 30 singing parts. But it was bulletproof. She probably got the least number of notes she could possibly get.”

The third musical episode is also City Island’s first holiday episode, aptly named “Holidays.”

“Any great holiday cartoon has a song at the heart of it,” says Augenblick. “‘Holidays’ became about what different people celebrate, why all the different holidays are exciting, and how they all work harmoniously together.” 

Augenblick notes that music has “become the heart of this show,” with Adebimpe composing an original score for each new episode. However, community is still the nervous system of City Island, and the team took every chance they could to not only incorporate more music into the season, but also one of the characters’ own families.

“In Season 1, we show this cloud world where Windy the kite is from, and PBS requested to see Skytown again,” says Augenblick. “So, we cooked up this episode about how clouds are made. It’s not scientifically sound. There, clouds are grown like plants, and then they're dyed a certain bright color for sunset or sunrise or what have you, and then they're installed in the sky. It's more about appreciating the manufacturing and distribution of goods. But the cast of all these little cloud characters is made up of our producers’ kids.”

One of the kids is Powell’s own 9-year-old daughter. 

“It’s the only actual little kid voices we've ever done on the show,” adds Augenblick. “All of our other actors – Kimia Behpoornia, James Adomian, Rachel Pegram, Branson Reese, Ellen Cleghorne – are adults.”

This doesn’t include musical director Timo Elliston’s children, who sing the City Island theme song. 

“They are a family of professional singers,” explains Powell. “I think his wife sings opera. We’ll have to use her some time for another episode.” 

But it wasn’t just the crew’s children included in Season 2. 

“The ‘Venus Flytrap’ episode takes place in a diner and Gemma designed almost the entire populace of the diner to represent us,” shares Augenblick. “Katie is a straw dispenser, I'm a pot of coffee, Jeremy Jusay, our background designer, is a napkin dispenser. The list goes on.”

Since the beginning of the show, Augenblick has incorporated as much authentic experience as possible into Watt and his friends’ adventures.

“From doing what you do best but also being in touch with your inner child, so many things resurface when you're writing a show like this,” says Augenblick, who based Watt heavily on his childhood self. “You'll remember these cartoons you watched as a kid that were memorable or things you did as a game. There are a ton of instances like that in this season. One of our writers talked about how they made their own comic books as a kid and tried to sell them, but no one wanted to buy them. That became our ‘Swap Meet’ episode. Like I’ve said before, we have some of the funniest, most talented people writing this show and we’re all just trying to make each other laugh.”

Making themselves laugh has been the through line of the studio for 25 years, and Augenblick has no plans to change their creative approach. 

“I think the fragmented way that shows are being written now is not helping the comedy,” he notes. “If we're not laughing at the ideas, it doesn't make it to the show. I’m always happy when people tell me, ‘My teenager thinks it's super funny, but so does my toddler.’ Dan’s daughter loves the show, but so does Katie’s two-year-old nephew. To me, the best entertainment works that way. Sometimes you're laughing at different jokes, but everyone’s enjoying it at the same time, and that's a powerful experience to have.”

Regarding City Island’s future, Augenblick says they are “in talks” with PBS KIDS for a potential Season 3, but nothing has been confirmed. Currently, the focus is on City Island’s video games, the titles of which have not been officially shared.  

“We have two new video games that we're working very hard on,” shares Augenblick. “One, which is going to come out in the next few months, is an avatar game where you get to be your own City Island character. We are also making a much bigger game that's set to come out, hopefully, before the end of the year. It’s an adventure game where you get to be Watt or Windy and walk around City Island and go on the same adventures that they go on in the show. And there's at least 25 to 30 mini-games included, all of them inspired by moments from the show. We also may be doing a merchandise line as well. There’s a lot we’re working on leading up to, hopefully, a new season.”

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at