×

Bento Box: The animator behind Fox

Production house uses streamlined methods to build business

The quiet of Bento Box’s offices is broken by a series of screams, interspersed with loud thumps. Heads look up from computer workstations to see that it is not an incident of escalating workplace violence, just some random theatrics by Kristen Schaal, the voice of Louise on the animated Fox series “Bob’s Burgers.” She’s dropped by to loop some dialogue with show creator Loren Bouchard, although her performance appears to have nothing to do with the task at hand.

“Never a dull moment,” laughs Scott Greenberg, who founded animation studio Bento Box in 2009 with Mark McJimsey and Joel Kuwahara.

From the outside, the building that houses the company’s HQ — located across the street from a Handy Market in Burbank, Calif., in a building that once was a church and, later, a convalescent home — hardly looks like a place bursting with creative excitement. But Bento Box’s reputation for keeping costs low and delivering quality work has made it one of the fastest-growing animation shingles in Hollywood. It’s is responsible for most of Fox’s current animated series lineup, and has opened up an outpost in Atlanta, where it can pass along the Georgia tax credit savings to its clients.

Greenberg came to Bento Box from his post as president and CEO of Film Roman, the animation house behind “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill” and numerous other 20th Century Fox Television animated shows. McJimsey and Kuwahara met two decades ago working on “The Simpsons,” and went on to work together as producers on another Film Roman animated series, ABC’s “The Goode Family” (2009).

“When Mark and I would worked together, we saw how one step leads to another step, and how we could make it go quicker, better, faster,” Kuwahara says.

At Bento Box, they put their ideas into full effect with a paperless, fully digital workflow that has artists drawing storyboards directly onto Cintiq tablet computer screens with Storyboard Pro software, which Kuwahara helped develop. The files are imported into another software program, Harmony, where virtual timing sheets are filled out, then transferred to one of Bento’s partner studios in Korea to be animated. The completed animation is subsequently sent back to Burbank for final tweaking on the same Cintiq tablets.

“At other studios in Korea, you would see stacks of paper that have to be run through a scanner,” Kuwahara says. “We’ve eliminated that whole process.”

Two of Bento Box’s first productions, TBS’ “Neighbors From Hell” and Fox’s”Allen Gregory,” co-created by Jonah Hill, had only single-season runs in 2010 and 2011, respectively, but the company hit its stride recently when it scored a 22-episode, fourth season pickup for “Bob’s Burgers,” as well as a second-season order for Comedy Central series “Brickleberry.”

Bento Box also is developing Comedy Central show “Gajillionaires,” created by Yoni Brenner (“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”); partnering with Lionsgate on an animated feature starring Tyler Perry’s “Madea” character; and financing and producing a show with the creators of YouTube puppet sensations Glove & Boots.

On top of that, Greenberg estimates Bento Box produces 90% of Fox’s animated pilots, with recent orders including “Murder Police” and shows from comedians Russell Brand and Demetri Martin.

Bento Box has about 100 employees in its Burbank facility and 30 in a nearby building in North Hollywood, and it expects to add another 70 local workers in the coming months to accommodate the increasing workload.

It also has 50 employees at its new studio in Atlanta, which opened in June. That outpost is handling the bulk of the production on two new animated series, IFC’s “Out There” and Hulu’s “The Awesomes,” co-created by SNL’s Seth Meyers.

“It’s a second pipeline that allows us to produce at that cable price point and expand our product line,” Greenberg says.

The company is able to achieve that economy, in part, by taking advantage of Georgia’s 20%-30% tax credit.

“I think what we’re really becoming is a true independent studio,” Greenberg says. “What Endemol and Fremantle were like 10 years ago (in the reality TV space), that’s kind of what we’re becoming — a full-service shop, partnered with the networks and the studios.”

More Digital

  • Logan Paul Ninja Spree

    How Logan Paul and Ninja Helped 'Spree' Cast Capture Influencer Culture Gone Wild

    When it came to depicting the gonzo nature of influencer culture, “Spree” stars Joe Keery and Sasheer Zamata and director Eugene Kotlyarenko did a deep dive into the haves and have-nots of the internet. “Spree,” which premiered Friday at Sundance Film Festival, follows a rideshare driver named Kurt Kunkle (Keery) who will stop at nothing [...]

  • Activision-Blizzard-Overwatch-League-Grand-Finals-2018

    YouTube Scores Exclusive Streaming for Activision Blizzard's E-Sports, Including Overwatch and Call of Duty Leagues

    YouTube landed a multiyear deal as the exclusive live-streaming partner for Activision Blizzard’s e-sports events worldwide, including Overwatch League, Call of Duty League, Hearthstone Esports. The agreement (which excludes China) promises to give a big boost to YouTube Gaming, the video giant’s dedicated home for all things related to games. It’s also a loss for [...]

  • Grammy Moments Brandi Carlile John Legend

    What's a Grammy Moment Worth? Brandi Carlile, John Legend, Label Execs Weigh In

    In simpler times, an artist could see album sales spike to over 500,000 in the days after a Grammy Awards broadcast appearance. That was Santana’s experience in 2000. Following a performance on the show and eight Grammy wins, “Supernatural” flew off the shelves — a gold certification from one key look. Today, that seems downright [...]

  • Netflix-logo-N-icon

    Netflix Sets Up Italian Office in Rome (EXCLUSIVE)

    After opening its doors in Paris last week, Netflix is setting up an office in Rome, Variety can reveal. The streaming giant has confirmed that it will move its Italian team, which is now based in Amsterdam, to new offices in the Italian capital, where they are currently seeking a space. The process will take [...]

  • Jill Dickerson - Snap

    Snap Taps OWN's Jill Dickerson to Lead Unscripted Programming

    Jill Dickerson has left OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network after more than a decade to join Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, as a senior member of the Snap Originals team. A seasoned reality TV exec, Dickerson will help lead the development of Snap’s docu-series and unscripted programming and is based at the company’s Santa [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content