WATCHING NOT WATCHING: FARGO
You might say we're in the Golden Age of Televsion. There's a ton of amazing shows on TV right now, emphasis on a ton and amazing and shows on TV. To stay up to date on the million and a half shows currently streaming on every device possible, we frequently have to enlist our pop culture savvy members to find out what we should have been binging months ago. This time, we picked the brain of WNW Member #9134 Jesse Dean, an animator who has worked on Adult Swim shows as well as FX's Archer. Turns out his taste in television and film is as cool as his full name: Jesse James Dean.
Jesse opened up about his animation career before geeking out over one of his favorite shows, Fargo, of which he writes, "The cinematography and score are great but it's the writing and character development that really grab ya by the noodles. It’s one of those shows that makes you love the bad guys as much as the good guys and is hilarious and dramatic and violent and disturbing at the same time." Jesse credits the show's caliber to the Coen Brothers' involvement, adding, "Those guys know how to massage the brain of the audience."
Only in the Golden Age could a show exist that both massages the brain and grabs ya by the noodles.
FYI: This is a Spoiler Free Zone.
How'd you get started as an animator? How have you seen your work change over the years?
Not including the filthy flip books I made in high school, I started animating officially in grad school. It took a good 2.5 years before I started to get a grip on it. I had the principles of animation down but it wasn’t until I started working in the industry, surrounded maniac animators and designers, that I learned the ins and outs of how to really make stuff look cool on screen. To this day though, I am still learning how to make it work better. Every day that I’m not animating, I get more crusty.
What’s it like animating for a show like Archer versus say, the Adult Swim shows you’ve worked on? Is Adult Swim its own breed of crazy?
My experience animating on Archer vs the Adult Swim stuff was totally different. A couple years back I had to do some key/tween drawings for Aqua Teen Show Show. The characters that I was working with had very limited animation. Though they had full dialogue, they were basically just bobbing up and down wiggling their arms around. I was given some existing artwork of the characters and was told what they needed to be doing in the scene. It was a very loose process. The animated poses were created in photoshop and then sent to the After Effects team to string together the actual animation. Working on Archer on the other hand was much more strict but at the same time more freeing because I could put more life into the characters. In the beginnings, Archer’s 2D animation was entirely created using After Effects. The illustrators created the artwork and then that was given to the After Effects team to animate. Nowadays, its half and half After Effects and ToonBoom Harmony. I was part of the Harmony team. We were given all of the illustrated characters and handled the fight scenes and more intricate crazy action’y 2D animation while the After Effects team handled the rest.
Of all the shows you’ve animated for, which one is most in line with your own creative style?
Of all of the shows that I have animated on, the closest to my creative style (design wise) would probably be Aqua Teen. The characters tend to be so much more gnarly and off the wall. The animation is very limited but I always loved the look of it. Archer was definitely the most fun to do actual animation for though. That show punched, kicked and smashed me into submission.
What’s next for you? Any projects or shows lined up that you’d like to talk about?
These days I am not in the big studio environment. I’m freelancing out of my house doing illustration and animation for random clients. I work with my girlfriend, who is one bad mamajama graphic designer. We are doing all sorts of stuff from websites to email blasts to stationary. If this venture gets dull, we will both be knocking at the big studio doors again for sure. I’m not working for the big studios these days but I am definitely still watching what they churn out. Really looking forward to the new seasons of Rick and Morty and Archer.
What’s one show that you would love to do animation for?
The main show that comes to mind that I would love to work on would have to be King Star King. The animation is very old school squash and stretch but has totally insane content that will melt your eyeballs. So much absurdity goes into one quick sequence. I really love what those folks are doing over there. Someday maybe I’ll get a chance to dabble in some work with them. Similarly Superjail had some really off the wall animation, though I’m not sure the show is coming back to us.
You’re a big fan of Fargo. What lead you to illustrate The Kitchen Bros rather than other characters?
The Kitchen Bros from Fargo season 2 are a couple of bad dudes. They rarely speak and whenever they do, it's always a little whisper into the ear of their bossman Mike Milligan. These guys bring such a strong presence to the screen, not only through the actions of the characters, but the art direction of their wardrobe. They compliment each other in all aspects.
Do you tune in and watch Fargo weekly or do you binge all at once?
Lately I have been tuning into Fargo regularly. If it was available to binge watch right now, I would be on the couch doin’ it. I'm also currently halfway through binge watching Jessica Jones. Finished Narcos and Bloodline, both binged. Always ready for new episodes of Munchies and eagerly awaiting the new season of Broad City.
What is it about Fargo that draws you in? Which of its two seasons do you like more?
My initial curiosity about the show came from my deep love of the film. I say curiosity because I expected it to pale in comparison to the film but I was proven wrong. It absolutely stands on its own, whether you have seen the film or not. The cinematography and score are great but it's the writing and character development that really grab ya by the noodles. It’s one of those shows that makes you love the bad guys as much as the good guys and is hilarious and dramatic and violent and disturbing at the same time. Season 1 was so great that it made me nervous that the second season wouldn’t hold up, but season 2 sort of went the True Detective season 2 route, without the suck. Fargo Season 2 is a new story, new actors and characters, ties into season 1 and does it all very successfully.
Does the show do a good job of capturing the peculiar world that the Coen Brothers created almost 20 years ago?
That is part of what makes this show so great. The characters and general mood of the show lends very much to the Coen Bros film. The show hits all of the feelings from hilarious to very dark and grim. I’m sure its success has a good bit to do with the Coen Brothers being producers on the project. Those guys know how to massage the brain of the audience.
Is Fargo, and television in general, a source of creative inspiration or escape for you?
TV has always been and I’m sure will continue to be a creative inspiration and escape for me. I’m guessing the same could be said for everyone who watches it. Its a good way to tune out the mania in life and get sucked into another world. I do also enjoy creating some fan art time from time to time.
What other shows or films do you recommend to the WNW community?
Some more recent shows that I would recommend are: Munchies, Bloodline, The Affair, Broad City, Rick and Morty and Silicon Valley.
What’s one song that always gets you into a creative rhythm?