As usual, got to hang out with some of the other Adult Swim creator types, which is always fun, and I got to meet internet hero Eric Fensler, creator of the bizarre and hysterical GI Joe spots that were the hit of everyone's web browsers a year or two ago. Somehow I keep not meeting Seth Green. Other highlights included an odd dinner with Billy West, Dana Snyder and Ken Plume, the Adult Swim party, and almost buying an original Robert McGinnis painting but realizing I'd rather have a car. I missed half of the Adult Swim panel (that I wasn't invited to participate in this year) but about ten seconds after I sat down Keith Crofford mentioned that season two of the Venture Bros. was in production and the crowd let out a huge cheer (I'm told the loudest of the day). I personally wet myself.
Good news...more talk of the DVDs of season one, for one thing. We've got some cool special feature-y stuff planned which we're hoping to god we can pull together and produce in the next couple of months while still doing our season two jobs properly. Don't ask me what they are...it's a surprise. As of now, the dvd set is planned as a 3 disk affair, and the target release date is still the vague "some time in spring of '06." There was also talk of toys. Or of the potential for toys, but rather than jinx it, I'll leave it at that for now.
Since this Live Journal was originally intended to be a production journal, I'll proceed in that vein, for once...
VB PRODUCTION: WEEK 3
We have four scripts in the can. We should have five by now, but whatever. After a script is turned in we wait for our creative, legal and Standards notes from Adult Swim. Creative notes are generally light, since Lazzo & co. usually trust us and want to let us make the show we want to make, and except in rare instances, whatever notes we do get are generally right on the money. Standards notes are generally light as well, and whatever notes we get from that department are usually very easy to address--change the offending word, cover the offending body part with more costume when it's designed, etc. Legal notes are always a drag because they mess with our ability to anchor the show in real world things sometimes, and a lawyer's definition of "parody" is often vastly different from ours. Still, those are usually easy notes to address--when we get them in time, which we never did last year--and we have a decent and thorough lawyer this time around.
So the first two weeks of production are the domain of the design department. We have a meeting on the first day of the first week, we go over the script, and I give the character/prop and background design supervisors any notes, sketches and guidelines I have for the look of said script. If the script is too "heavy"--i.e. too many brand new, used-only-in-one-shot things have to be designed--we try to talk about streamlining things a bit so they can stay on schedule. "Do you really need 16 henchmen?" "Do we need to see the entire missile silo or will one corner do?" These are the kinds of questions we address then and there. Over the following two weeks I meet with them a few more times to check on their progress and give any notes about their rough designs before they get cleaned up.
Also during this first two week period we record the episode. We recorded our first episode last Monday, which went really well. Urbaniak and T. Ryder Smith jumped right back in the saddle and nailed their respective characters better than ever. And just to show how very small our production can be, and how no one working on Venture Bros. ever has just one job, we now record at Mike "Dean Venture" Sinterniklaas's studio. Yup, Mike's a sound engineer in addition to being a voice actor. Recording takes the better part of a day and leaves me with hundreds of audio tracks to sift through. Generally, I'm given a disk (or two) of the tracks, I take them home or to the Astrobase, load them into iTunes, and start listening. I write down the name of the track next to its corresponding line in the script and then hand this off to our sound engineer. This takes hours upon hours and is often incredibly frustrating. Sometimes because I have to pick between two excellent, different takes of the same line to decide which is funnier, and other times because no matter how many versions I listen to, there just doesn't seem to be a "right" one. Also, hearing your own voice over a set of headphones, no matter what character you're pretending to be, is...kind of embarrassing. All attempts to condense this process have been fruitless: 9 times out of 10, the track we thought was the best one on the day we recorded it turns out not to be upon a second, private listen. And lots of times the first take of a track that I recorded eight times because I didn't think we were getting it right turns out to be the best of the lot. Anyway, the sound engineer takes this marked up script, pulls the noted tracks, cleans them up and trims them, and then lays them all out in script order in Pro Tools. Which brings us to the slug:
Slugging in this case (the term means something completely different in most other productions) is the process of editing said Pro Tools project to create a sort of Venture Bros. radio show. I sit with the engineer and more or less imagine what the pace of the show will be. We pull tracks together that were recorded hours apart, overlap them and so forth, in order to try to make the show sound like live conversation. When we hit a part of the script where big action is described, I have to kind of imagine how long that action would take, and we leave that part silent (unless of course henchmen are screaming during the action, or Brock is grunting or something). When our little radio show is all edited and sounds right, we check the time. If it's over 23 minutes, I have to start cutting stuff then and there. Or, if it's over but not by too much, I have to at least start seriously thinking about what's going to be cut during the next two phases: storyboard and animatic.
We give the cd to the storyboard artists, who begin their work in week 3. By listening to the audio, they get a better idea of the attitudes and expressions they need to give the characters during certain lines and actions. It also effects their direction of each scene. A sequence that may have seemed nice and open in the script may be much quicker than they thought once recorded, so they realize then they don't have time to cut all over the place or do some sweeping, panning establishing shot or something. I meet with these guys at the beginning of their process as much as possible, too. If there are scenes that I have a very specific look in mind for, I doodle a few thumbnails and explain it to them. Otherwise, they're on their own and I wait for them to finish their thumbnails. Thumbnails, for those who don't know, are small, rough sketches laying out the basics of a scene. The storyboard artists spend their first week doing these, at the end of which I sit down with them, go over their drawings, and change or add to them as necessary.
...which brings us to the end of week 3. And of course week 3 to the rest of the production means week 1 of the next script for the design department. So this is when all of the above starts to overlap for me and people start getting frantic and losing sleep...