Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NBC's 'Community' characters get animated

The cast of NBC's sitcom "Community" will be more animated than ever in Thursday's episode because, well, they all were turned into marionettes.

That's right, the entire cast was re-created as changeable creatures for a stop-motion Christmas episode that recalls the Rankin/ Bass specials of yesteryear.

"My compass tells me it's a great little piece of television," says show creator Dan Harmon.
NBC honcho Jeff Gaspin first suggested to Harmon that "Community" should try an animated episode over the summer.

However, traditional animation takes a long time to produce. So consultant, writer and recurring character Dino Stamatopoulos suggested stop-motion, which he uses on the Cartoon Network.
"We started asking is it possible to squeeze something out before Christmas if you start right now?" Harmon says.

There was enough time, he found out, but they needed to start immediately. Soon, craftsmen in the art of stop-motion began the process of creating models of the cast. Harmon and his team began sketching out a Christmas story.

The result, airing Thursday at 8 p.m. on NBC, revolves around Abed (Danny Pudi), who wakes up seeing the world in a stopmotion scene.

He takes this as a sign that everyone needs to learn the meaning of Christmas. His fellow Greendale Community College students begin to think he's wacky. But soon they're all undergoing hypnosis to explore Abed's winter scene.

"I think we should commit to the format, starting with a song," Abed encourages, before breaking into a melody.

"These people practice a sadly dying craft - because of [computer-generated animation], but it's a completely different kind of art form," Harmon says. "You can't practice it without answering to a higher calling. You have to have a true love of human behavior. You really have to respect the people doing it in the Rankin/Bass days."

Rankin/Bass, of course, were the producers behind the stop-motion classics "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "The Year Without a Santa Claus."

Those specials, like the "Community" effort, were created by artists who carefully move each model, shoot a frame, move the models, shoot a frame. Or, as Abed says in the show, "We're silicone dolls, with foam bodies over ball-and-socket armatures."

Harmon says it took about a month and a half to shoot the episode, which came in at about the cost of an episode and a half of "Community."

Harmon says calling him a fan of classic stop-motion specials doesn't fully cover his feelings.
"Back when we were kids, there were three networks, and that stuff was going to be dispensed like communion wafers," he says, citing "Rudolph" as a favorite. "Rudolph walking through the snow, with his red nose and that sound effect that came with it.

"A lot of kids were comforted by these myths of misfits," says Harmon, "finding out all these things that make them stand out are going to be the things that make them great."


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