Behind the Screen

TAG members contributed on all levels to this year’s Emmy nominees for Outstanding Animated Program. Here, a few of them share their inspirations and favorite moments, as well as why they think their shows are unique and what they believe their shows’ legacies will be.

Cartoon faces in TV screens over real faces

Chris Clements
The Simpsons
“Pixelated and Afraid”
20th Television Animation

What do you think makes The Simpsons unique? 

Our amazingly long run would obviously be my first answer! I think one of the things that really makes us unique is the way that the show has evolved over the decades. From the original shorts to the series to the feature, it has continually grown and changed. However, if you look at it, its core has stayed constant. It’s about a family of five who love each other, living in a town of generally well-meaning, good-natured, goofy people. Our characters often do things that are wrong, but it’s never from a mean-spirited place. We’re a show with a really big heart, which I think makes The Simpsons unique. 

We’re also one of the few shows that still does not only [do] storyboards but key animation and backgrounds, as well, for all of the scenes in every episode. This allows us to get a depth of performance from our characters, while also letting us do some elaborate physical comedy not typically found in television animation. From my standpoint as a director/animator, that really sets us apart. We’re still doing the show the way we did it back in 1989! (Well, with the addition of a lot more technology these days.) 

Marge and Homer Simpsons in snow clothesThe Simpsons ™ & © 20th Television

What was the best part about working on the nominated episode, and why do you think it resonated with viewers?

I think it’s an episode that really resonates with people because it shows us a different side of the Marge and Homer we know. They are this amazing team together, beyond just being the “mom and dad” we’re used to seeing. We set them up initially in a ridiculously lazy rut, parked on the couch, binging TV and eating junk food (which I think a lot of couples can relate to these past few years). Shortly after that, we drop them straight into this crazy life and death survival adventure, lost deep in the woods. 

It’s full of great comedy moments as they try to survive, particularly when they lose all of their clothing in a fire thanks to Homer (which was a hilarious challenge to animate in a way that worked for television). But then there are also wonderful dramatic moments between them that feel really authentic: breaking down missing the kids, trying to protect each other from the wolverine attack, walking out of the woods together and encountering beautiful vistas in nature. One of my favorite parts of the episode are the closing scenes. There’s a point early on when we see Marge and Homer on the couch and he’s feeding her chips as she cuts his hair while they both stare lazily at a reality TV show. The episode ends with a great callback to that, Marge again sitting with Homer as he feeds her chips, this time smiling and silently watching their new “favorite show,” which is the sun setting after everything they’ve endured. It really ties up the story with a nice little bow.

What animated shows inspired your career? 

The classic Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes would have to be up there as one of my biggest inspirations. The incredible timing and animation are second to none. Everything from the designs to the animation to the backgrounds is just amazing. You can take almost any still from them, and they’d look great framed on your wall. Whenever we get to animate broad physical comedy on The Simpsons (generally involving Homer), I think about those classic shorts. It’s some of the best comedy ever produced. When in doubt, what would Chuck Jones or Tex Avery do? 

What do you think The Simpsons’ legacy will be? 

When it started, primetime television animation was almost unheard of. The show paved the way for so many other great series that came after it. It changed the way a lot of people looked at animation. It also has launched a lot of amazing careers. If you look around the animation industry, so many people who got their start on The Simpsons have gone on to work in key positions all over the business. Aside from being a great show in and of itself, it’s been a training ground for many talented people in animation, and it continues to be that to this day. We have crew starting up all the time who literally weren’t even born when The Simpsons premiered, and they are so excited to join the team and be a part of creating Springfield.

Man with short beard

Scott Marder
Showrunner, Writer, & Producer
Rick and Morty
“Mort Dinner Rick Andre”
Adult Swim

What do you think makes Rick and Morty unique?

I’d easily have to say Dan Harmon’s Story Circle. [Harmon is the show’s Co-creator.] Every single episode of the show is broken on [this narrative structure], providing for the richest, most dynamic possible stories. As a self-admitted story nerd, it’s been an absolute pleasure to learn from the man himself.

What was the best part about working on the nominated episode, and why do you think it resonated with viewers?

Mr. Nimbus–hands down! I think it resonated because Nimbus is a really funny, larger than life character, and it was relatable to see even Rick have a nemesis who’s got his number. The story combo of their intense sit-down and Morty needing to fetch wine from a time-dilated world where he’s made his own enemy really married together for a Rick and Morty I’m super proud of.

Cartoon man in bathing suit in giant clamshellRick & Morty image courtesy of Adult Swim

Do you have a favorite moment from Rick and Morty?

Probably all of “Total Rickall.” The concept of Smith family flashbacks spawning an infestation of hilarious one-off characters totally blew my mind as a fan and set the high bar that we aspire towards each and every episode. 

What animated shows inspired your career?

I’ve got two favorite shows as a kid that I can 100% credit for making me want to be a comedy writer, and that’s the Golden Age of The Simpsons (seasons 1-9) and The Ren & Stimpy Show. The former hit the hat trick of top-notch story, characters, and jokes, while the latter delivered a manic tone and general insanity that I still can’t get enough of.

What do you think Rick and Morty’s legacy will be?

I think we’ll be remembered for our ambition—trying to make the absolute biggest show possible within 22 minutes every week. Our crew works tirelessly to give us what feels like four movies in one each week, and I couldn’t be prouder of the work they do knocking it out of the park on a daily basis. 

Woman's face

Kristina Vardazaryan
Art Director
What If …?
“What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”
Marvel Studios

What do you think makes What If …? unique?

I’m excited that it is geared towards a more adult audience. It is edgy, cool, and gritty. What excited me about What If …? initially was that we could finally make bold-looking concept art and not be afraid for it to be too scary or too dark. Everything was about the story, and whatever the story needed. Our design team really pushed the look on what it could be. Coming from a feature animation background that was primarily for a younger audience—there were limits on what you can design and how dark you can take it, which is understandable! It was just a nice break for me to finally be able to do a show at this level and for an older audience.

Cartoon man with red capeWhat If …? image @Marvel Studios 2021

What was the best part about working on the nominated episode, and why do you think it resonated with viewers?

What I loved about the Doctor Strange episode was that it felt real. If you had the power to bring back your loved ones from the dead, you would probably do it. Also, my favorite part of that episode was that they left Doctor Strange’s storyline to be a tragedy. What people are used to seeing in Marvel movies are characters being redeemed at some point in the story. I think to a lot of people it was shocking, that they just left it there with him destroying the world. And that is the part that I think makes this episode special.

What animated shows inspired your career?

I definitely was inspired by old Disney animation. I watched Pinocchio and The Lion King a million times, because those were the only VHS tapes we owned in Ukraine. There are too many more to name because I think all of the animation movies that I have watched so far have contributed in some way. However, I don’t think I was just inspired by animation. I love live-action movies, as well, and love the cinematic look and feel. Things started shifting for me when I saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse for the first time. I was like: “You can make animation like this?!” I think that was the turning point for me when I realized that I wanted to do more, and therefore I am thrilled to be working at Marvel. 

What do you think the legacy of What If …? will be?

I am hoping it will inspire other studios to create more adult animated shows and also give more opportunities for artists like me to be able to work on a variety of animation styles.

Phil Hayes, Art Director
Karen Hydendahl, Assistant Director
Bob’s Burgers 
“Some Like it Bot Part 1: (Eighth) Grade Runner”
20th Television Animation

What do you think makes Bob’s Burgers unique?

Hayes: Early on we aimed to create a look that fit into the Fox line-up between The Simpsons and Family Guy, but that also had its own visual identity. Our character designs are simple and expressive. We spent a bit of time looking at Muppets. Our compositions are flat and squared off. For the backgrounds, we love to draw observational details: conduits, wires, and mismatched sidewalk panels, and yet we draw it in a simple style that leaves out extraneous detail like the busyness of rendering beveled edges. We draw inspiration from real places. The buildings on Ocean Avenue are the wooden Victorians of San Francisco, and the town and the Wonder Wharf are a collage of small cities on the northeast coast. Our color palette is vibrant like other Fox animated shows but shifts away from magentas and teals, and is grounded in energetic primary and secondary colors like green, yellow, and red.

Hydendahl: Bob’s Burgers has that special infusion of wacky characters paired with relatable life issues. That duality makes shaping the stories challenging and fun—never a day without an LOL moment. I’m proud and humbled to work among some of the best writers and artists in the business.

Cartoon mom holding daughter's faceBob’s Burgers © 2022 by 20th Television

What was the best part about working on the nominated episode, and why do you think it resonated with viewers?

Hayes: Placing the charming Victorians of Bob’s neighborhood into the dystopian world of Blade Runner was taking my two all-time favorite flavors and mixing them together. We grew these buildings vertically and added layers of accumulation: ducts, cables, video screens, and other retro-future technology throughout. I think it resonated because Tina’s struggle to fit in at middle school, as expressed in the “bots” search for identity in a world overrun by technology, is something most of us can relate to. The lighthearted optimism of Bob’s makes these darker tones of Blade Runner more digestible, as the family pulls together to help Tina find her way.

Hydendahl: I enjoy that this episode dives right into Tina’s friend fiction over the love of her brand new shirt. She is brimming with self-confidence! But Tammy and Jocelyn have to ruin it by calling Tina weird on their “Wow or Weird” news segment. Tina’s friend fiction takes a dark turn, which leads us into her Blade Runner-inspired story. Tina regularly experiences peer alienation but doesn’t acknowledge it as such because she wants to see the good in people. In this episode, she really does grapple with these emotions. The song “What If They’re Right” is heartfelt, and we realize Bob is processing the same feelings. Wanting to be loved and accepted is universal. We love you Tina and Bob!

What do you think Bob’s Burgers’ legacy will be?

Hayes: I hope that the characters and the look of the show will stand out in people’s minds, but it’s our process that’s truly unique. Creator Loren Bouchard brought together actors who had specific and dynamic chemistry and constructed a family to fit their characters. The writers and artists are on the same floor of the building, always accessible to each other. The actors read their lines, react to each other, and improvise. Loren is the conductor, instructing and inspiring, picking and choosing the best pieces of all of this and assembling them together. I don’t remember seeing or hearing of any primetime animated show that’s ever done this before. 

Hydendahl: Bob’s footprint is a feel-good legacy. The bundles of love and warmth infused into these silly characters make us invested in their day-to-day lives. If we could all be more Bob’s, the world would be a sweeter place!