The idea of “Robot Chicken” was to make original, off-the-shelf toys walk, talk and be funny. But right from the start, that was an idea that ran afoul of the realities of producing stop-motion animation on a TV budget.
“They don’t hold the poses that you want stop-motion figures to do,” says co-creator and exec producer Matthew Senreich. “So using these toys was a waste of time and energy because the arms just wouldn’t stay where you needed them to stay.”
On top of that, Senreich says the production early on had to come to grips with other limitations.
“Our animation directors at the time locked me in a room until about 4 in the morning, explaining to me everything that we were doing terribly wrong with the production and how we couldn’t have 210 unique shots in an 11-minute show because each one requires setup that I never even thought had to happen,” he says.
The show since has found its groove, both in writing and production, with each element finding its own unusual route to the finished product.
Writer and co-creative director Mike Fasolo says the writers defy the TV norm by usually writing in silence around a table. “People always ask us why don’t you pitch jokes to the room and pitch different stories,” he says. “We have so many skits in the episodes, that if we just focused on just one during the day, we’d only have that one skit done.”
The writers usually spend about three weeks brainstorming and two weeks writing scripts, before starting all over again until they have enough for a 20-episode season. Green, Senreich and exec producers and head writers Tom Root and Doug Goldstein are the arbiters of what goes into production, with a 3-1 vote required.
The process has become more efficient since the first season, with animators producing about 10 seconds of footage a day — a relatively large amount considering a similar output per week is common on stop-motion features. Among the oddball details is that the audio of each sketch is checked for syllables timed to specific frames, Goldstein says.
“Stop motion is a rigorous and time-consuming production process, but it also yields a very specific effect that everybody who works in it is in love with,” Green says.
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