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How Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano Bring HBO’s ‘Animals’ to Life

Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano are not only the creators of HBO’s adult cartoon series “Animals”; they’re also the show’s animators, directors, writers and bringers of coffee.

Are they control freaks? “We have production coordinators and all that,” says Matarese, “but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of quality control, I oversee every single step of it, and we’re very much ingrained in every aspect of the show.”

One of the draws for fans is the show’s star talent, who, along with Matarese and Luciano, provide the voices for the various animals. Names include Aziz Ansari, Molly Shannon, Mindy Kaling, RuPaul, Jonah Hill, Usher, Demi Moore, Lucy Liu and Michael Sheen. Humans also populate this anthropomorphic world.

“Animals” started as a YouTube short inspired by the pigeons cavorting outside the office windows of Matarese and Luciano, who worked at a New York ad agency at the time. They presented the show’s first two episodes at Sundance in 2015. Four months later, HBO picked up the series with a two-season order, and in May 2017 it renewed it for Season 3. The 10-episode season began Aug. 3.

Through HBO, Mark and Jay Duplass’ Duplass Brothers Prods. — the company behind HBO’s live-action series “Togetherness” and such films as “Safety Not Guaranteed” — also got on board.

Matarese drew the original “Animals” on a $50 Wacom tablet, embellished via Adobe Illustrator and transferred to his Apple laptop’s Final Cut Pro editing program for finishing. But it became clear that he and Luciano needed a quicker turnaround for the eight episodes in Season 1, so they incorporated Toon Boom Harmony into their workflow — software used by several major animation studios. “We still drew in both Illustrator and Photoshop,” says Matarese, “though [Season 3] has been almost all in Photoshop. I’ve found out how to get those really nice thick lines that I loved Illustrator for in Photoshop, and now we’ve got our own custom pens.”

Matarese adds that the characters are quite detailed. “That’s the style for the show,” he says. “It’s clunky to animate, and it’s kind of a nightmare for everybody, but we like our characters to have lots of [rough] lines.”

For Season 1, the pair worked out of an office in Burbank; in Season 2, they partnered with Canadian company Big Jump Entertainment to help ease some of their animation duties. They record at Starburns Industries in Burbank, which Luciano likes for its large recording booths.

“We can fit more people in there,” he says. “We always wanted that type of environment, and for the actors — all of them — to be inside the booth. We wanted that organic feel where people are stepping over their lines a little bit and they can improvise off each other and create that kind of energy around the scene. It makes editing the show tricky, but we want the dialogue to have that realistic feel.”

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