Today’s a super kind of day. Crackle has released the first three episodes of the new stop-motion animated series, SuperMansion. The show tells the adventures of The League of Freedom, an all-star group of superheroes that are flawed and flawless at the same time. What results is a kickass, twisted and funny show.
When TV Goodness visited Stoopid Buddy Studios, where the SuperMansion set is located, executive producer Matthew Senreich talked about securing the talents of Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston for the role of Titanium Rex. He and fellow SuperMansion creator, Zeb Wells, said from the beginning they were looking for a Bryan Cranston-type of actor to bring on board. They ended up getting the real thing.
Matthew Senreich: We went through the agents. We did the whole process. And within 24 hours we got a call directly from Bryan saying that he read it on an airplane; it was right towards the end of Breaking Bad. And he was like, you know, I’m reading a ton of scripts right now and this is the only one that’s made me laugh.
Matthew: He’s like I don’t want to just star in this, he’s like I want to make this with you. And we were like: Yes, please. We got to start to know him through that. And right from the pilot days of just making it, we rewrote part of the pilot based on things that he was suggesting, more of the story arcs that he wanted to do.
Getting Cranston was certainly a coup. And that fact might have given the guys some confidence. Instead of looking for a Keegan-Michael Key-type of comedian to voice American Ranger, they also went straight to the source. They got him.
Matthew: We had never worked with him before. It literally started with Zeb being like: I love [Comedy Central’s] Key and Peele. I want to work with this man. I think it’d be great for this character. How can we get him? And I was like, let me see what I can do. We went out and sent him the script and he was very excited about it and he’s probably turned into one of the best buds of the family now. He’s now done Robot Chicken after doing this. It’s one of those types of things where he’s a friend of the family now.
Zeb Wells: He’s so fun to work with. You can tell just watching that show how funny he is. And having him come in and sort of start spitballing ideas, he’s just a dream.
There are a ton of challenges in creating a show like SuperMansion, from the technical aspects of working in the stop-motion universe to even coming up with a new and different spin on the superhero.
Zeb: When we describe the characters, they kind of have that core joke that they’re based on or a little twist. But that’s one joke. So the characters have to be funny on their own and finding the voices for the characters and why each character is funny took a long time. And it’s something that we worked real hard on so you’re not just watching the show for seeing the asshole Batman.
Matthew: Production wise, there are both pros and cons. It makes it a little bit easier to shoot in the sense that it’s a lot of the same locations. What slows down stop motion as you can see on the big board over there — each one of these represents different episodes that are shooting all at the same time.
Matthew: What slows down stop motion is having to change a set like a live action [series]. So if you have a bathroom set over eight episodes, you can keep that set up. You can keep it lit. You don’t have to change it. You just put your puppets down. Once that bathroom set is done you have to replace it — that can be hours and hours.
Zeb: Here we were trying to up the ante a little bit. We started with a new puppet base, new heads, new everything.
Thanks to advances in technology this whole process is made easier with the presence of 3D printers.
Matthew: As Zeb always likes to tell the story, on Robot Chicken, if we wanted to do a belt buckle with a symbol on it, it would be handcrafted. And if we had to do it for multiple puppets, what a nightmare that would be for whatever puppet person would actually have to sculpt that for every one of these puppets because we’re making 12 puppets of the same thing so we can have 12 stages at the same time. For this, you just throw it in the printer, it’s done in two hours and you have 12 versions of it like that. It’s amazing the amount of detail that we can now get with a lot of the puppets that we’re doing.
Zeb: We have to make sure we have a puppet for each of these stages because the characters are playing all over the place. And, yeah, these puppets are being used all season so they’re breaking all the time. We have a couple people in our puppet department just doing repairs all the time.
The Animation Department
Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a look at some of the different departments. First up, we start with animation.
Zeb: The animator rigs the puppet in and does all the rigging that he needs to do to get the shot ready.
Cameron Baity, Lead Animator: I guess from the beginning it starts with the animatic. You have drawings, you generally know the characters that are going to be in the scene. At that point everything has to get built. And then when weâ€™re on the stage, all those elements land and itâ€™s up to us to figure out how theyâ€™re going to work together. So a set arrives, puppets arrive, you set the puppets up. Helder [Sun, Director of Photography] comes in and roughs in an angle that approximates a storyboard and from there thatâ€™s where the actual work starts.
Helder Sun, Director of Photography: There are certain set ups that will take a couple of hours and then thereâ€™s more complicated set ups where we could take a half a day to block an action camera move shot with multiple characters in a fight sequence. We would do a pop through with an animator and block out the scene. And then execute it, which could take anywhere from a day to four days potentially.
Sean Malony, Animator: So much of itâ€™s an incredibly collaborative process. When you get on stage, someone else has made the puppets, someone else has made the props and set up the lighting and written the script and done the voice. Youâ€™re just one tiny part of the entire final product.
Zeb: These are the prison cells that are underneath the SuperMansion. Whenever they defeat a villain through the series, they get thrown in the basement. And so, as the series progresses, it gets crowded down there and itâ€™s chocked full of villains. We could have done the laser bars in post but our DP said absolutely not. So he made those. And so here our hero is fighting a bunch of these villains and this is one of the moving shots.
Helder: Thereâ€™s a magic to it. Animators are magicians. They take inanimate objects and they give them character and life.
What was great about visiting the SuperMansion set is that the behind the scenes crew was so passionate about this show. They are excited for everyone to see it and have their own ideas of why people will instantly get hooked.
Cameron: When I heard that Bryan Cranston was going to do the lead that sold me right away. He by far is one of my favorite actors. And working with his voice in the context of animation is a joy. Thereâ€™s so much grit and so much articulation and how he works with the scripts are amazing. But him in particular is the reason why I wanted to work onit.
Helder: I think itâ€™s going to be the writing. At the end of the day the story, the writing, the characters are solid.
Tommy Keiser, Director of Digital Design: Firstly, the humor. And I also think just the element of stop motion, thereâ€™s this element thatâ€™s very tactile and a lot of fun to watch and I think youâ€™re able to achieve a lot of things in stop motion that you canâ€™t achieve in other forms. So I think for those two reasons alone but then you have this all-star cast behind it thatâ€™s just gonna make all of the action and the acting really pop.
Frank Duran, Model Maker, Set Department: I love the story. I love the character arc. Youâ€™re able from episode one all the way to the end follow these characters and see how these characters grow. And you become attached to more than one â€” at least I did â€” and again the humor, the acting, overall everything, the talent thatâ€™s involved, itâ€™s amazing.
They also have their favorite characters.
Becky Van Cleve, Costume Designer: I really like Jewbot because heâ€™s the robot but heâ€™s the most human. Heâ€™s very fragile. Heâ€™s trying to find himself just like a lot of people would. Plus, Zeb does the voice read which I think is amazing, especially episode ten.
TR Norton, Director of Character Fabrication: Groaner â€” his evolution over the course of the series is one of my favorites â€” you get to see a lot of him.
The first three episodes of SuperMansion hit Crackle today. New episodes are available every Thursday through Dec. 17.
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