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Breaking Down the 72nd Emmy Award Nominations

This year’s animated and VFX-driven shows represent continuing excellence in animation and VFX production for TV, much done remotely from home in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the wake of studio shutdowns earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, producers of animated and VFX-driven episodic series deep in production had to pivot quickly to find safe and effective ways to finish their work. Production teams were quick to switch gears – from voice actors building their own at-home sound booths to artists across every area of animation and VFX production setting up remote workstations, motion capture gear and other digital tools needed to safely continue their work.

And now, it’s time to give credit where credit is due by recognizing some of the amazing animation and visual effects work that has graced our ever expanding world of streaming services and television networks, an explosion of new shows, alongside perennial favorites, that have brought needed smiles during these isolating days of the pandemic.

This year marks the 72nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards and the animation and VFX line-up (listed below) is rich, from Star Wars and The Mandalorian to Big Mouth and Westworld. With three nominations, The Simpsons once again stands center stage, with dual-nominated Big Mouth and The Mandalorian following closely behind. The nomination categories include Outstanding Animated Program, Character Voice-Over Performance, Short Form Animated Program, Children’s Program, Special Visual Effects and Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role.

As Emmy Awards voting is now open, and running through Monday, August 31, we wanted to break down some of the nominees in the key animation and VFX categories. The complete list of nominations in all categories can be viewed here on the Television Academy website. The 72nd Emmy Awards will telecast September 20 live on ABC.

72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards

Big Mouth, Netflix

Masturbation, sexual arousal and puberty--all run-of-the-mill struggles for coming-of-age teenagers and Big Mouth doesn’t hold back when it comes to illustrating the psychological and emotional stresses that come with sexual awakenings through the unapologetic advice of make-believe monsters. The American animated sitcom, created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett, is based on Kroll and Goldberg's upbringing in suburban New York, with Kroll even voicing his fictional younger self (Nicholas Arsenio "Nick" Birch). The season first premiered on Netflix in September of 2017, and the series has since been renewed by Netflix through to a sixth season.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Animated Program
Big Mouth, “Disclosure the Movie: The Musical!” (Netflix)

Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance
Maya Rudolph as Connie the Hormone Monstress — Big Mouth, “How to Have an Orgasm” (Netflix)

Bob’s Burgers, FOX

Bob's Burgers is an adult animated sitcom that centers around the Belcher family--which consists of Bob, his wife Linda, and their three children Tina, Gene, and Louise--who own their own burger restaurant on “Ocean Avenue.” Created by Loren Bouchard with Bento Box Entertainment and 20th Television, the series premiere episode, "Human Flesh," attracted over 9 million viewers and, in 2013, TV Guide ranked Bob's Burgers as one of the top 60 Greatest TV Cartoons of All Time. The series has been nominated for the Outstanding Animated Program Emmy Award seven consecutive times, winning in 2014 and 2017. An 11th season has been confirmed and a feature film is in the works, scheduled for release in April, 2021.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Animated Program
Bob’s Burgers, “Pig Trouble in Little Tina” (Fox)

BoJack Horseman, Netflix

Set in an alternate world where humans and anthropomorphic animals live together in Hollywood, BoJack Horseman is another adult animated series created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and stars the voices of Will Arnett (BoJack), Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, and Aaron Paul. Arnett plays a “horseman” and washed-up star of a 1990s sitcom who plans a celebrity comeback with an autobiography. Praised for its realistic take on depression, trauma, addiction, self-destructive behavior, racism, sexism and sexuality, the series premiered on Netflix on August 22, 2014, and ended on January 31, 2020, with a total of 77 episodes over six seasons.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Animated Program
Bojack Horseman, “The View from Halfway Down” (Netflix)

Rick and Morty, Adult Swim

Inspired by the infamous Back to the Future films, Rick and Morty follows the time-traveling, mind-bending, almost hypnotic adventures of timid Morty Smith and his mad-scientist, and alcoholic, grandfather, Rick. The adult science-fiction animated sitcom, created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon for Cartoon Network's late-night programming block Adult Swim, has been acclaimed by critics for its originality, creativity and humor. Winner of the 2018 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, a historic 70 episode pick up was announced by Adult Swim earlier that year. The series fifth season is currently in production.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Animated Program
Rick and Morty, “The Vat of Acid Episode” (Adult Swim)

The Simpsons, FOX

A groundbreaking and iconic show for over 30 years, The Simpsons is still a favorite in the animated television universe. Created by Matt Groening for FOX in 1989, the series takes a comedic approach to illustrating the everyday working-class life and domestic dynamic of a family of five--Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. Groening’s animation of a loving, yet dysfunctional, family borrowed the names of his own family members, though he substituted “Bart” for his own name. The show, a joint production by Gracie Films and 20th Television, became FOX's first series to land in the top 30 ratings in a season from 1989–1990. In January of 2000, the Simpson family was even awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Losa Angeles and the show itself has won 34 Primetime Emmy Awards.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Animated Program
The Simpsons, “Thanksgiving of Horror” (Fox)

Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance
Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson, Nelson, Ralph, Todd — The Simpsons, “Better Off Ned” (Fox)
Hank Azaria as Professor Frink, Moe, Chief Wiggum, Carl, Cletus, Kirk, Sea Captain — The Simpsons, “Frinkcoin” (Fox)

Forky Asks a Question, Disney+

Set after Toy Story 4, Forky Asks a Question is the second Pixar television series since Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. The series focuses on the character of the handmade toy Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) as he asks his friends--Hamm, Rex, Trixie, Buttercup, Old Timer, Chairol Burnett and Melephant Brooks--different questions about life. The series aired from November 2019 to January 2020 on Disney+. Hale has said that the short and sweet series, directed by Toy Story animator Bob Peterson, is about addressing questions people may be embarrassed to ask, from “What is a Rodeo?” to “What is marriage?”

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Short Form Animated Program
Forky Asks a Question, “What Is Love?” (Disney+)

Robot Chicken, Adult Swim

Based on the humorous photo comic-strip "Twisted ToyFare Theatre,” Robot Chicken is a stop-motion sketch comedy series, created and executive produced by Seth Green and Matthew Senreich for Adult Swim. From out of the mouths of animated toys, action figures, claymation, and various other objects, such as tongue depressors, The Game of Life pegs, and popsicle sticks, Robot Chicken takes humorous jabs at popular culture, referencing toys, movies, television, games, popular fads, as well as lesser-known references to anime cartoons and older television programs. Many of the writers, particularly Green, provide the voices for the show, which has won six Emmy Awards.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Short Form Animated Program
Robot Chicken, “Santa’s Dead (Spoiler Alert) Holiday Murder Thing Special” (Adult Swim)

Steven Universe Future, Cartoon Network

In a world where humans and living, breathing Crystal Gems are neighbors, working to rebuild a world of peace after a war with Diamonds and corrupted Gems, a boy named Steven now grapples with everyday challenges and the choices of his future. Steven Universe Future, the American animated limited series, created by Rebecca Sugar for Cartoon Network as a follow-up to the original Steven Universe (2013-2019), has made its mark in animation with its focus on mental health awareness, illustration of psychological trauma and highlighted LGBTQ themes.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Short Form Animated Program
Steven Universe Future, “Fragments” (Cartoon Network)

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a prequel to the 1982 Jim Henson film The Dark Crystal, and explores the fantasy world of Thra from the original story, highlighting the Gelflings that sought to fight against the tyrannical beings that were overtaking their homes. The puppet-animated Age of Resistance follows three Gelflings, Rian, Deet, and Brea, as they embark on a quest to unite the Gelfling clans to rise against the corrupt, and essence-sucking Skeksis and save their planet Thra from a destructive force known as “the Darkening.” In the 80s, The Dark Crystal was considered to be a groundbreaking step in animation and storytelling and Age of Resistance pays an acclaimed tribute to that legacy.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Children’s Program
Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)

Star Wars Resistance, Disney Channel

Star Wars Resistance is a 3D animated, cel-shaded, sci-fi series produced by Lucasfilm Animation that follows the story of Kazuda Xiono, a New Republic pilot who is recruited by the Resistance to spy on the growing threat of the First Order. The animation premiered on Disney Channel in October of 2018, and the series ended in January 2020 after 40 episodes. Resistance, created by Dave Filoni, who previously directed, wrote and executive produced in various combinations on the animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Star Wars: Rebels, won the Saturn Award for Best Animated Series on Television in 2019 for its debut season. Oscar Isaac and Gwendoline Christie reprise their roles as Poe Dameron and Captain Phasma, and General Leia Organa, Kylo Ren and BB-8 have appeared in the series.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Children’s Program
Star Wars Resistance (Disney Channel)

Central Park, Apple TV+

Staring Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess and Josh Gad, Central Park is musical animated sitcom created by Loren Bouchard, Nora Smith, and Josh Gad for Apple TV+. The series, which premiered in May of 2020, revolves around the Tillerman–Hunter family living in Central Park, who must save the park from a greedy land developer, heiress and entrepreneur named Bitsy Brandenham. The show is narrated through the eyes of street performer Birdie (Gad), with each episode including roughly four original musical numbers sung by the cast. In total, the first season alone includes 46 original songs. Central Park has been described as an animated musical love letter to the Big Apple.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance
Leslie Odom Jr. as Owen — Central Park, “Episode One” (Apple TV+)

Crank Yankers, Comedy Central

Jimmy Kimmel is co-producer with Adam Carolla and Daniel Kellison on the puppet animation comedy, Crank Yankers. The series features actual “crank” (prank) calls made by show regulars and celebrity guests, re-enacted onscreen by puppets for a visual aid to show what’s actually happening on the call. Crank Yankers originally premiered back in 2002 on Comedy Central and returned to MTV2 in February 2007.12 years later, in February 2019, Kimmel announced on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that the show would be revived on Comedy Central for a fifth 20-episode season. The new season branches out from phone calls and includes pranks on social media and other platforms.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance
Wanda Sykes as Gladys — Crank Yankers, “Bobby Brown, Wanda Sykes & Kathy Griffin” (Comedy Central)

The Mandalorian, Disney+

The first live-action television series in the Star Wars Universe, John Favreau’s The Mandalorian is a space western set in the events that followed the destruction of the Empire (but before the founding of the First Order) in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Starring Pedro Pascal as the Mandalorian, a mysterious warrior from a sacred warrior clan is given a bounty job to recover a certain artifact. Upon discovering that the artifact is a space-species child, he begins to have doubts about his role as a bounty hunter and the contract he was given. The series contains classic western-style scenes and shootouts that would make John Wayne proud, as well as special effects that bring back the nostalgia of Star Wars features past. The first season launched on November 12, 2019 and the second season is scheduled to release in October 2020.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance
Taika Waititi as IG-11 — The Mandalorian, “Chapter 8: Redemption” (Disney+)

Special Visual Effects
The Mandalorian, “Chapter 2: The Child” (Disney+, Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Stranger Things, Netflix

The 80’s-inspired horror-science-mystery series by the Duffer Brothers first released on Netflix in July 2016. Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, the first season of Stranger Things follows a group of young kids who set out in search of their missing friend and discover a runaway girl about their age with unexplainable supernatural powers. As the series progresses, other-wordly and horrific phenomena begin to plague the town of Hawkins and the people who live there. Saturated in CGI visual effects and founded on homages to 80s films and video games, Stranger Things has won six Primetime Emmy Awards and renewed for a fourth and fifth season.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Special Visual Effects
Stranger Things, “Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt” (Netflix)

Vikings, History

The History Channel’s historical drama series, Vikings, by Michael Hirst, is an intense Dark Ages drama based on the Viking history, “The Tale of the Sons of Ragnar,” as well as other historical documents from Viking oral tradition. Ragnar Lothbrok, played by Travis Fimmel, and his wife Lagertha, played by Katheryn Winnick, are peasant farmers in Norway during the beginning of what is known as the Viking Age. Ragnar was the first Viking to raid the shores of England in the late Eighth Century on the historical island and monastery of Lindisfarne. Diving deep into Viking culture, rituals, religion, and politics, the series depicts historical and cultural events such as the Blood Eagle, the Viking invasion of France, Viking weddings, and pagan seers with fantastical animated visuals. Vikings released its sixth season on December 4, 2019 and Netflix has since announced a sequel series.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Vikings, “The Best Laid Plans” (History, An Octagon and Take 5 production in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

WestWorld, HBO

Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s sci-fi HBO series Westworld is a dystopian western based off the 1973 film of the same name. Westworld is an expensive theme park that features a wild west world inhabited by robotic “hosts” nearly indistinguishable from humans. Guests can (and do) live out their every fantasy in Westworld without repercussion from the hosts due to the hosts’ safety protocols. Recently sentient host Dolores Abernathy, played by Evan Rachel Wood, learns of her android existence and strives to seek out others and free themselves from their subservient chains. The series is hypersensitive to CGI detail to the point that the production quality of the visual effects rivals any big-budget VFX-driven feature film. HBO signed on a fourth season of Westworld in April 2020 and the series has won five Primetime Emmy Awards.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Special Visual Effects
Westworld, “Crisis Theory” (HBO, HBO Entertainment in association with Kilter Films, Bad Robot and Warner Bros.)

Lost in Space, Netflix

Lost in Space is a science fiction television series reimagining of the 1965 series of the same name (the 1965 version also a reimagining of the 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson). Set in the wake of an impact event that threatens the survival of humanity, the story follows the adventures of the Robinson family, space colonists whose spaceship veers off course while on a voyage to the Alpha Centauri star system. They eventually crash on a nearby habitable planet where they must contend with a strange environment and battle their own personal demons. Produced by Legendary Television, Synthesis Entertainment, Clickety-Clack Productions, and Applebox Entertainment, the show is written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. Netflix released the series in April 2018 and it has been renewed for a third and final season.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Special Visual Effects
Lost in Space, “Ninety-Seven” (Netflix, Legendary Television)

Watchmen, HBO

Watchmen is an American superhero drama series that continues the 1986 DC Comics series of the same name, created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The television series was created for HBO by Damon Lindelof, who likened it to a "remix" of the original comic series. The new series takes place 34 years after the time period of the comics. Watchmen focuses on events surrounding racial violence in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2019, when a white supremacist group called the Seventh Kavalry takes up arms against the Tulsa Police Department because of perceived racial injustices, causing the police to conceal their identities with masks. Angela Abar (Regina King), a detective known as Sister Night, investigates the murder of her friend and the chief of the police, Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), and discovers secrets regarding the situations around vigilantism. The series have been commended on its highlighting of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Special Visual Effects
Watchmen, “See How They Fly” (HBO, HBO Entertainment in association with White Rabbit, Paramount Television, Warner Bros. Television & DC Comics)

Devs, FX

This 2020 science-fiction thriller television miniseries created, written, and directed by Alex Garland, stars Sonoya Mizuno as Lily Chan, a software engineer for Amaya, a quantum computing company run by a man named Forest (Nick Offerman). Lily becomes wrapped up in, and obsessed with, the death of her boyfriend, who mysteriously died on the first day of his new job at Devs. The series explores themes related to free will and determinism, as well as Silicon Valley. Critics have praised the show’s imagination in its illustration of the human condition as it relates to the rise in technology.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Devs, “Episode 8” (FX Networks, FX Productions)

The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu

Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale is a tragic dystopian web series based in the fictional totalitarian nation of Gilead formed in the aftermath of plummeting birth rates and a second American Civil War. In the fanatical theonomic nation of Gilead, “fertile women” are subjected to slavery for the sole purpose of bearing children. These women, called “Handmaids,” are assigned to male members of the ruling elite who ceremoniously rape the women in order to bear children. The Handmaid’s Tale has won fourteen Emmy Awards since its premiere in April 2017 and the series is scheduled to release its fourth season in April 2021.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
The Handmaid’s Tale, “Household” (Hulu, MGM, Daniel Wilson Productions, The Littlefield Company, White Oak Pictures)

Tales From the Loop, Amazon Prime

Tales from the Loop is an American science fiction drama based on the retro-futuristic art book by Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag. The series follows the interconnected lives of the residents in the fictional town of Mercer, Ohio. Mercer is home to the Mercer Center for Experimental Physics, an underground facility known as “the Loop.” There, researchers attempt wild experiments in an effort to "make the impossible possible.” The series premiered all eight episodes on Amazon Prime, which feature uniquely wide shots and symmetrical frames that highlight light and space to reflect Stålenhag's art style.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Tales From The Loop, “Loop” (Prime Video, Fox21 Television Studios and Amazon Studios)

Jack Ryan, Amazon Prime

Based on the works of famed fiction writer Tom Clancy, Jack Ryan is an action thriller series starring John Krasinsky and Wendell Pierce, and produced by Carlton Cuse and Michael Bay. The Amazon series follows CIA analyst and Marine veteran Jack Ryan who discovers important leads on a high profile terrorist, Mousa bin Suleiman, played by Ali Suliman, which cascades him into intense field work, high stakes shootouts, visually intense terror attacks, and special forces raids. Jack Ryan released its second season on October 31, 2019 which took place in Venezuela, and was signed for a third season in February 2020. The series received VES Awards for both visual effects and location setting, and the Location Managers Guild Awards.

2020 Nomination Categories:

Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, “Strongman” (Prime Video, Paramount Television and Amazon Studios)

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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 victoriadavisdepiction.com.

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