If making an animated series was easy, a child could do it.
Actually, one is involved in the process now ... but that still doesn’t mean it’s simple, especially if several different shows are combined. That’s the approach of “Animation Domination High-Def,” a late-night franchise Fox debuts July 27. Two of the 15-minute programs will be ready for starters, and Fox will give them preview showings in prime time Sunday.
“Axe Cop” is the component involving the child, Malachai Nicolle, who’s 8 now. At age 5, he developed the premise as an Internet comic book with his much-older brother, Ethan. Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) supplies the voice of the sleepless, birthday-cake-consuming title character, with Megan Mullally (Offerman’s wife), Patton Oswalt and Ken Marino furnishing other vocals.
Also in the initial “High-Def” lineup is “High School USA!” with singer-actress Mandy Moore and Vincent Kartheiser — alias Pete Campbell on AMC’s “Mad Men” — among those speaking the words of a student body with an ever-sunny, undefeatable approach to the many difficulties faced by modern youngsters.
“I think what we’re trying to do is to bring back the sort of energy that involves interesting people with different disciplines, all focused on one goal,” says Nick Weidenfeld, one of the overall franchise’s executive producers who’s also a veteran of the Cartoon Network-owned Adult Swim. “Pixar is really the model I looked at. It’s a lot of people, but with the technology that exists now to do animation, it’s set up better than live action is.”
“Animation Domination High-Def” actually launches an entire digital-animation studio for Fox. “Every creative enterprise benefits from collaboration,” Weidenfeld reasons, “and animation definitely does. Traditionally, you’ll have the writers in one place, then go somewhere else to record the voice talent ... then send that somewhere else where they’ll edit it, and then sometimes send that overseas to animators. Then it’s months later and you realize, ‘Oh, they didn’t understand the joke,’ and then you have to send it back. And it’s not necessary to do it that way.”
Apparently, even when the grouped-together shows are so different. Moore has done a range of cartoon voice work, from a bear cub in 2001’s “Dr. Dolittle 2” to Rapunzel in the 2010 Disney movie “Tangled,” and her experience in music also has taught her how different the requirements can be between projects in one genre.
“It was all illuminated for me by ‘Tangled,’ ” Moore says, “the journey of doing a project like that, then the reveal at the end of seeing all your work come to fruition. I think I’ve tackled all the different corners of animation now, especially when it comes to television and doing voice-overs. With ‘Tron: Uprising’ (shown on Disney XD), the animation was something I’d never seen before, so I was able to fill that square with the fans of that series and those stories.
“And I have a Disney Junior show coming out this fall (‘Sheriff Callie’s Wild West’) that’s about a cat who’s a cowboy sheriff,” Moore adds. “She sings country songs ... and now, doing this show for Fox, I feel like I’ve covered every bit of animated television that would be out there. It sort of marries both sides of my heart and my world, so I think that’s why I’ve really taken to it.”
Known for his clipped dialogue delivery on “Mad Men,” Kartheiser didn’t foresee himself as a cartoon voice, but he terms it “a really fun experimentation. The idea of producing animation might seem simple, but then you think of all the moving parts and it’s so complicated. I just feel really blessed to be a part of it.
“Though it is a new form that I’m entering here, doing voice work is actually where I’m from,” explains Kartheiser. “When I was a young person, I did a lot of radio commercials, and I was a disc jockey when I was 12 and 13. I’m also from the stage, where your voice is your main instrument — so while this is new and exciting, there are elements of it that I’m familiar with through my past work.”
Two more “High-Def” segments are expected to be ready early next year: “Lucas Bros. Moving Co.,” animating the humor of identical-twin comics Kenny and Keith Lucas; and “Golan the Insatiable,” teaming a titan from an alternate universe with a Goth youngster to avenge mistreatment by her disapproving town.
The diversity of the included shows is one of the biggest joys for Weidenfeld, who was involved in such Adult Swim ventures as “The Boondocks” and “Childrens Hospital.” He says of the “High-Def’ variety, “It’s insane, I know. When we said we could do it, we didn’t realize how much really was involved, especially in terms of how television is typically made.
“At Adult Swim, it would be like, ‘Let’s work on it and work on it and not put it on the air until it’s ready.’ You’d have things in development and production forever, and there is something very nice and, I think, very important about the immediacy here: You have a goal, and you have to hit it. Other than the fact that Matt (Stone) and Trey (Parker) are geniuses, there is a reason for the energy around ‘South Park’s’ six-days-to-air (production schedule). You write it, you make it, and it’s on.”
The son of former first lady Betty Ford’s press secretary, Weidenfeld reasons that with “South Park” at one end of the scale, “we’re somewhere between that and a Pixar film” in terms of getting “Animation Domination High-Def” ready for viewing.
“This wasn’t like there was a business already here and just plugging four shows into that,” he notes of creating the related studio. “There was a huge period of just building the business during the year we were also making the shows. It’s really like building a car and driving it at the same time.”