Based in Burbank, California, Stoopid Buddy Stoodios is an animation studio specializing in stop-motion and responsible for projects like Robot Chicken, Mattel’s WWE Slam City, L Studio’s Friendship All-Stars of Friendship, MAD’s Spy vs. Spy, and many more. Production manager Laura Allen discusses the stop-motion process and how Shotgun helps keep track of assets from puppets to VFX.
Tell us about your company and the type of projects you work on.
Stoopid Buddy Stoodios is California’s largest studio specializing in stop-motion animation. Robot Chicken is the big project that we do here, and it’s the longest-running stop-motion show on television. We have other stop-motion projects going on as well, plus some 2D animation and live action projects here and there.
Is your team working in multiple locations? If so, where are they based? How many people in your studio are using Shotgun, and how?
Stoopid Buddy Stoodios is in Burbank, and about 150 people work at the studio. Shotgun is primarily used by our VFX department, and coordinators in our character fabrication department and set department also use Shotgun to track assets. Shotgun is also used on our stages – the camera crew logs what equipment they use for certain shots so that they can refer back, and the stop-motion animators put in notes for the VFX department in case anything needs to be fixed or enhanced in post. So that’s the overview of how we’re using it.
How did you first hear about Shotgun?
About three years ago we started looking at options for managing our data, and Shotgun seemed to be the right fit for us. We first started actually using Shotgun about two years ago, going into production for the seventh season of Robot Chicken. At that point it was primarily used in VFX, but we’ve started rolling it out across pre-production and animation as well to keep track of puppets and sets. We really want to use it across the board. Robot Chicken is crazy – there are hundreds of sets and hundreds of puppets that we have to track. One sketch might only be five seconds long but it still has to have a full set. Each episode has around 45 sets and 100 puppets, so we definitely have a lot of assets to track! We use Shotgun on other projects as well, and we’re just now gearing up for the eighth season of Robot Chicken, so in preparation we’ve been in touch with Shotgun to help us build it out even more.
What content creation tools do you use in-house?
We primarily use Dragonframe which is a stop-motion software, and we also use After Effects, Storyboard Pro, and Zbrush. For a typical project we start with the script, then we voice record here at the studio and simultaneously storyboard, then we go into animatic which puts the boards and the voices together. The animators use that as a tool to figure out how to do each shot and how the characters will move. Once animatics are done we build the sets and the puppets, and then everything goes to the stage and the animators bring it to life. Then it goes to post, where we typically have to do stuff like rig removal and cleanup, and we add the occasional effect or explosion. Finally we finish it with mix and sound.
What are your favorite features of Shotgun?
The VFX department really likes the media player. When a new version of a composited shot gets uploaded they can watch them and give notes in Shotgun which is really nice. In terms of customization, for animating in Dragonframe, when we go to conform it prompts a script, and the script funnels information into Shotgun. That’s the only customization we have at the moment, but we want to get some things more automated for our VFX department as well. We’re also excited to experiment more with the playlist features – it seems like it’s an easy way to get more info in front of the directors.
Shotgun is a big part of what we use, there’s nothing else like it that we use.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I would say a typical day involves overseeing the various departments, puppets and sets, animation and VFX, and using Shotgun to track information and report progress. As part of the production staff, Shotgun is so important to me to keep everything moving. We’re a smaller studio so every day is a bit different, but production is the glue that holds everything together and keeps everything on track.
How much effort do you focus on building out the pipeline?
We don’t have a dedicated pipeline person – I mainly manage it along with my production coordinator Todd and production assistant Ryan. We try to use mostly off the shelf tools.
What do you do to stay connected to the artist community?
We’re pretty active with the TV Academy, we have a few members here at the studio. Stop-motion is a small industry so everyone is connected to the larger community. We do a lot of student outreach with some of the local schools. We’ve also been doing some art shows; we’ve done three art shows in the past with iam8bit. One was a Robot Chicken/DC Comics art show that emphasized a special we had coming up, Villains in Paradise, so that art show incorporated both DC Comics characters and Robot Chicken characters.
What led you to stop-motion?
Previously I was working in 2D animation at Cartoon Network. An opportunity came up here at Stoopid Buddy and I decided to take it. Stop-motion is such a different world; it’s like mini live action almost, and it’s a really neat process that I wanted to experience.
What are the biggest challenges for studios today?
I play with toys for a living – what challenges?! There’s always the deadline crunch, but we’re now in the eighth season of Robot Chicken so it’s a pretty well-oiled machine. But there are always ways to improve and become more efficient. That’s one of the reasons we initially adopted Shotgun, and one of the reasons we’re working to expand it across more departments now.