We caught up with Nathan Litz, Animation Director on Rick & Morty, and found out what it takes to lead an animation team for such an off-the-wall, cult classic.
How did you become interested in an animation career?
When I was a kid, I didn’t like live action shows and I only wanted to watch cartoons. I watched Mr. Dressup because he’d at least read a book that had drawings in it, which was close enough to animation for me. So I’ve always had a love of animation, and wanted to do it from quite a young age. I think I was in grade 8 when ‘Mummies Alive’ came out and that show really helped to cement my career path, because Season 1 was excellent, and Season 2 was a stinker. It looked awful. In retrospect, I’d imagine that a different studio took over the animation, but I was really disappointed that the look of the show had taken such a hit and I decided I wanted to work in animation, and to do it right.
How long have you been working in the animation industry?
Before Rick & Morty, were you familiar with either Dan Harmon or Justin Roiland’s previous projects? If so, did that influence your decision to join the project?
I had seen some of Roiland’s ‘House of Cosbys’, and was familiar with Harmon’s ‘Community’ but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge, until I was presented with the opportunity to be the animation lead on the pilot episode. I’ve since enjoyed many of their ‘Channel 101’ shorts. To be honest, I was just really excited about the Rick & Morty pilot animatic. When I saw that, it really got my mouth watering to work on this show. I didn’t even know Justin was responsible for House of Cosbys until I’d met him!
Describe a typical day directing animation on RAM S2.
I arrive in the morning and go through my emails , then check my tracker dashboard to see what animation and posing has been submitted for me to look at. I’ll whittle away at that until lunch (pro tip: if you’re going out, take lunch just a little before noon to beat the rush) and then back at it. I then check animated shots, look for certain stylistic nuances and generally make sure shots work as intended, as part of the greater whole. On launch days, we discuss upcoming episodes with our client in LA and try to suss out what they’d like to see. The show doesn’t really leave me until a while after all the episodes are fully completed.
Can you think of any glaring differences between RAM S1 and S2?
Last season we had some overseas partners doing a great deal of the animation, whereas this season it’s all being done in-house here at Bardel (with some talented freelancers thrown in) and that’s making things much easier to plan for, as well as making it easier to keep the quality levels high. Having everybody close by is much more efficient than having to skype with people overseas to chat. You can really feel the love and attention being put into this season compared to last. I think a lot of people working on it last year treated it as just another project, but you can tell that the whole crew this year are really pouring their hearts into it. It’s looking so goooood, I can’t wait until it airs!
What are some common challenges yourself and the animators might face on RAM S2?
Generally there are a lot of challenges on this show. Most often I’d say the biggest challenge is the sheer number of characters, props, BGs and effects on a crazy show like this, getting all those elements working together while still trying to keep the action and the story at the forefront can really be tough with constant TV deadlines looming. It’s also a very specific animation style, and it really takes some time to get into how it’s meant to look and move.