From a talking meatball to a family of redneck squids, The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim is known for its assortment of unusual cartoon characters. But perhaps no character on Adult Swim is more strange and twisted than Assy McGee, a rogue cop who is nothing more than an ass and a pair of legs.
Episodes of the unique crime parody, which is the brainchild of Carl Adams and Matt Harrigan, are produced by Clambake Animation, a boutique animation studio located in Watertown, Massachusetts. The studio is run by three partners – Adams, André G. Lyman and Carrie Snyder. Adams also serves as the studio’s Director of Development, while Lyman is Clambake’s Creative Director and Snyder serves as the Managing Director. Harrigan, who is an executive producer of Assy McGee, works on the show remotely from Atlanta, but is not an employee of Clambake Animation.
Clambake’s three partners met while working for Tom Snyder Productions, which produces high quality educational software. Adams and Lyman started out working in the warehouse of the company. When Tom Snyder Productions began working on the groundbreaking animated show Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, Tom Snyder asked Adams and Lyman to work on the show.
When Adams and Lyman created Clambake Animation, they asked Snyder for advice on who to hire to serve as managing director, Snyder recommended his sister, Carrie, who had been a start-up employee for his company.
In addition to Assy McGee, Clambake Animation is also working on producing shows for Comedy Central, G4 and Adult Swim. They also recently created a Cookie Crisp commercial for General Mills and a Toyota Scion commercial starring Assy McGee that runs in the middle of each 11 minute episode. Their goal is to create a mixture of children’s and adult programming, along with commercials.
When looking for projects, the company seeks to find something that is either creatively fulfilling or pays well. The goal is to constantly be juggling five different projects, since typically, two of those projects will go forward into production, two will fail to materialize and one will remain in limbo.
Lyman and Adams feel that they could comfortably handle producing two animated series. Currently, Clambake Animation has 22 employees and the company has no plans to expand the business at this time.
“We never had illusions of being a Pixar or a Disney,” Adams said.
To create an 11-minute episode of Assy McGee, first Adams and Harrigan come up with a logline for that episode, which is essentially a one or two sentence synopsis of the episode’s plot. This logline is sent to one of the show’s writers, many of whom are located in New York or Los Angeles. Once the writer creates a rough outline for the episode, Adams and Harrigan discuss it with that writer, giving notes on ways to improve it. The writer then produces a rough draft, first draft and finally a polished script, receiving notes from Adams and Harrigan along the way.
Adams and Harrigan communicate primarily through email, putting off calling each other on the phone until it is absolutely necessary. While being in two separate locations and communicating through email has the potential to make hashing out creative differences difficult, the co-creators of the show tend to be on the same page when giving notes throughout the various stages of production.
“We see things surprisingly eye-to-eye,” Harrigan said.
“We rarely have times where we are butting heads about notes,” Adams said, adding that Harrigan’s suggestions usually make the show better.
From there, the episode’s dialog is recorded in a small sound booth inside the Watertown studio. For an 11-minute episode, Clambake typically records two to three hours of dialog. The recording sessions include a lot of improvisation, capitalizing on the talents of the comedians Clambake hires to voice the characters on the show.
“If Jon Benjamin’s in the booth and he says something kind of funny that’s not in the script, we’ll go with it a bit,” Adams explained. “We try to encourage the improv because that stuff is usually the funniest stuff.”
Lyman echoed that sentiment: “We are very much about the natural record, the improv, trying to take advantage of that. The audio comes first.”
Lyman plays guitar with Adams over his shoulder
Once they finish recording, the audio is sent to audio editors, who condense the two to three hours of material down to an 11-minute show. Adams and Lyman trust them to make creative decisions about what to take out and leave in.
“Our audio editors are almost writers, in a sense,” Adams said.
Once the audio has been edited down, the studio begins to design the look of the episode, first drawing up storyboards and then creating animatics. Then, the show is animated. Clambake has hired artists and illustrators from Boston-area art schools to animate the episodes. They look for very talented illustrators who can give the characters compelling gestures and expressions, making that the focus of the animation, rather than the character’s movements. The animators first produce a rough cut of each episode, followed by a final cut. Adams, Lyman and Cartoon Network continue to give notes through each stage.
From there, the vocal track and music is added to the animation. Most of the music is recorded in-house, but some of it comes from the Turner Library. Occasionally, Adams and Lyman will inject their own voices into the show to add background noise to an episode. Once they finish with the audio, the show goes into post-production.
While Adams and Lyman oversee all of the work done at the Watertown studio, Assy McGee‘s producer, Julie King, handles the less glamorous tasks needed to create each episode, including getting contracts signed, finding photos to run during the credits and dealing with standards and practices and the legal aspects of the show. Lyman said King helps to keep everyone on track and that her hard work allows everything to run smoothly.
“Julie kind of runs the show,” Adams added.
Two episodes of Assy McGee are produced simultaneously and production for the season is staggered, meaning the Clambake team is constantly juggling an assortment of episodes in various stages of production at the same time. In total, they will create 14 episodes of Assy McGee this season. Then, they will wait to see if the show will be renewed by Adult Swim.
Whether or not Assy McGee is renewed for another season, Clambake Animation will soldier on, continuing to seek out new projects. And, just like Assy, they will do it by their own rules.
Written by Joel Murphy, May 2008. Assy McGee airs Sundays at 12:30 a.m. on Adult Swim.