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Netflix’s and DreamWorks' 'Turbo F.A.S.T' Hits the Gas

Turbo’s supersonic racing snail gets his own Netflix spin-off series with Chris Prynoski as Exec VP.

Kids TV animation ain’t what – or where – it used to be. “Saturday morning cartoon” may live on as a figure of speech (if you don’t believe me, watch the “Saturday Morning Fun Pit” episode of Futurama) but it’s extinct as far as the medium that birthed it is concerned. Syndicated, product-based and/or bartered daily series were riding high for a while, only to be usurped by the likes of Fox Kids and Kids’ WB! – which in turn were superseded by kids’ cable powerhouses Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.

Now it’s the internet’s turn. Blessed with piles of money and a huge subscriber and/or customer base, online services like Amazon, and Hulu (which offers both free and premium sign-up services) are bankrolling original production.

Netflix is leading the pack in this particular arena. Part of the monthly $7.99 you already pay to access their library of movies and TV shows is being spent on producing original content like the resurrected Arrested Development and Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards.

Netflix’s next big move: kids’ animation. DreamWorks’ newly expanded TV division will be producing three to four new series annually over the next several years for the online streaming service. “It’s a pretty massive deal,” says Bill Damaschke, DreamWorks’ chief creative officer; over that time the studio will provide Netflix with over a thousand animated episodes.

The first DreamWorks series is at the starting gate, an apt metaphor for the show itself: Turbo F.A.S.T., a series starring the studio’s supersonic racing snail is a spin-off from the studio’s animated Turbo feature.

Turbo F.A.S.T.’s executive producer is Chris Prynoski, who comes to the series with shows like Adult Swim’s Superjail! and Metalocalypse,  and Disney XD’s Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja to his credit.

Is it a different process producing animation for streaming vs. cable? “Not too different, “says Prynoski. “Netflix is pretty hands off, which is a nice situation to be in. There isn’t a Standards and Practices department to tell us we can’t do stuff. We have to police ourselves instead, which is pretty cool; in a way we’ve made it harder on ourselves than an S&P department would be.”

A smorgasbord of technology goes into a Turbo F.A.S.T. episode:  Flash, Maya, Photoshop, After Effects… “even drawing on paper sometimes,” Prynoski adds. “Whatever it takes to get it done.”

Like many contemporary animated, the show combines 2D and CGI elements. “The snails wear racing domes with complicated bits of technology over their shells,” Prynoski explains. “It would difficult to keep them feeling solid if we hand drew them. Instead we have Maya-generated 3D models of their shells we can rotate and put in any position we want.  The first time it’s put it in that position it’s cleaned up by hand so it looks like a 2D drawing.

“Then it gets banked into a library so the next animator who needs to use that shell can grab the one that’s already cleaned up. As we proceed through the season we’ll have more and more shells in our library for our animators to work with.

“But the best technology we employ are our artists – strong draftsmen, great animators. Our art director Tony Panocchio is pretty instrumental; I make sure to work with him on every show I produce or direct. He’s pretty instrumental in how good this show looks, so that’s a shout-out to him.”

Redesigning the movie’s CGI characters to work in a 2D environment took more than a bit of trial and error, until they reached a style that Prynoski describes with a laugh as “crazy – I’m really happy with how it came out.”

The Turbo movie put its hero in the midst of the Indianapolis 500, but for the most part the series is set in the snail microcosm Starlite City, home to hundreds of the little critters and visiting bugs of various species.

Like its heroes, Turbo F.A.S.T. is supercharged with plenty of fast-moving racetrack action and flashy, tongue-in-cheek videogame-style graphics highlighting the characters’ strengths (“Speed: 7”) and weaknesses. (“Sanity: 1”)

The series is being produced both in the U.S. (the first two episodes were animated at Prynoski’s own Titmouse studio) and at “a couple of studios in Korea to stay on schedule.”

Spearheading DreamWorks’ TV invasion is no small challenge for Prynoski. “There’s pressure, sure, but a lot of it’s self-imposed. You don’t want to be the guy who made a crappy version of a movie. You want people to say ‘that show is good, it stands on its own, it’s not just a bad spin-off’ – that’s been known to happen.”

With its Christmas day premiere, one might consider Turbo F.A.S.T. Netflix’s present to its subscriber’s kids – the first of many to come

Joe Strike's picture

Joe Strike has written about animation for numerous publications. He is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture.