Like any good adventurer, Sterling Archer has encountered his share of exotic locals. Along with his devilish charm and flair for the dramatic, it is really Archer’s looks that make him stand out.
We are, of course, referring to the way he’s drawn. What did you think we was talking about?
And that signature look doesn’t stop with Archer and the other cast members. It extends to the stunning backdrops and environment that envelop their adventures. Animating a show like Archer is no small task. It takes a very talented and imaginative team to dream up all the wild and crazy stuff that makes its way to your living room. But, there is a method to their madness.
Below, Archer’s Emmy Award-winning Art Director Chad Hurd pulls back the curtain to show us the ins-and-outs of how an episode goes from script to screen, detailing the storyboarding and animation process.
My name is Chad Hurd and I'm the Art Director on Archer: Danger Island. The past nine years have taken Archer to space, under the ocean, 1940's L.A., and most recently, Danger Island; a tropical setting in the French Polynesian islands during the 1930's.
Our adventures take place on the island of Mitimotu, in a sleepy town at the edge of the world. Though our characters haven't been getting much sleep due to the howler monkey's, Komodo dragons, and cannibals. Oh, and the island is centered around an active volcano! Oh, and QUICKSAND!!!
Needless to say, this season of Archer: Danger Island had plenty of design challenges but for the purposes of this blog I'll be outlining our process on one of our more ambitious episodes, #908, "A Discovery."
This is one of my favorite episodes of the season!
Archer has done so many things the past nine years, but raiding an ancient temple was a new challenge we hadn't tried yet.
The very first thing we do when starting a new episode is determine what exactly needs to be designed. The script typically gives us a clear outline of what Adam Reed is thinking. For example, it might describe the temple interior like:
That gave me and the designers a great footprint to start exploring some designs. What we ended up with was a concept that looked like this:
The goal of these isometric designs isn't necessarily to make a gorgeous piece of artwork, but rather to give a descriptive blueprint to the other departments working on the scene.
Storyboard artists will use this as a map to block their shots:
The 3D modeling department will build this environment in 3D Studio Max. At this stage our modeling team will also add lighting, texturing and other details to really flesh out the designs.
From the renders the modeling team produces, our Background Painters will add additional layers of lighting, color correction, texture and finesse. Basically make it look like a beautiful piece of artwork you'd want to hang in your home. Well, that is if you were into cannibalism and cursed temples.
Meanwhile, while all this is happening our Illustrators are hard at work drawing the actual characters that will be in the scene. We'll often take photos of actors dressed in costume to help our artists.
Finally, all the pieces are finished and go to our Animators and Compositors to fit everything together. Character's are given life, backgrounds are given atmosphere and a scene of Archer is nearly complete. Now we just need to do it a hundred more times...
This episode had a particularly interesting challenge for our 3D animators: ROBOT MECH SUIT! In 1938!?
Below you can see the final design we landed on for Fuchs mech suit. We wanted it to be large and imposing, but not impenetrable. A German tank meets Ripley's cargo loader.
From this design we fleshed out the details and sent it to our 3D modelers to build and rig this killing machine.
And after a few rounds of texturing, we had a finished walking tank complete with machine guns and flamethrower; FUN!
Finally, we have our finished mech. Beautifully lit and animated, ready to shoot bullets and fire at our beloved Archer. It's glorious!
And that, in a (coco)nutshell is how we make an episode of Archer: Danger Island.
It can't be stressed enough how incredible the artists and animators are that work at Floyd County. They are some of the most creative and inventive people I've ever worked with and are the reason this show continues to look more beautiful every season.
I'll leave you with a few more behind-the-scenes images from the finale of Archer: Danger Island.
See you next year!
Art Director/Producer, Archer: Danger Island
Archer is currently off finding his next adventure, but now that you have a new appreciation for the animation process, why not go back and watch Archer: Danger Island again while you wait for next season?