Animation

In Their Own Words: Meghana Reddy

2D Concept Artist, Meghana Reddy, shares her experience of getting into the animation industry and breaks down the production process for the animated sitcom, Bless the Harts

In Their Own Words: Meghana Reddy

How did you get into the animation industry?

Since leaving university, I have had the pleasure of working in the animation and film industry for over 5 years. Growing up, I was the kid who doodled in my notebooks while class was on. There were not many design/arts-related subjects where I studied so I took up art classes after school. It was the only creative outlet I had at that time but it paved the way for all that I do today.

When I first laid my eyes on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy I decided I wanted to pursue a career in art. For me, that was filmmaking at its best. I was in awe of the visuals and the concepts and dug a bit deeper into the making of all three films. That was when I came across the brilliant Alan Lee. Alan Lee was the main illustrator and concept artist for The Lord of the Rings trilogy written by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I flew all the way from India to the United States and graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with a master’s degree in Animation. I am currently based in Atlanta, Georgia where I have been working remotely, thanks to Covid. 

What projects have you been involved in?

I have worked with multiple award-winning companies like Primal Screen, where we created the Elf on the Shelf animated movies that are currently streaming on Netflix. I then went on to work with the Emmy award-winning Los Angeles-based animation studio called Titmouse Animation.

I had the immense pleasure of working on season 2 of Bless the Harts, an animated sitcom co-produced by Disney’s 20th Century Fox and Fox Entertainment. The series is currently streaming on HULU and Fox. 

Can you tell us more about your experience working on Bless the Harts? 

Bless the Harts was created by Emily Spivey, and has an impressive voice cast, featuring some of my favourites in the industry, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jillian Bell, Ike Barinholtz, and Kumail Nanjiani.

Season 1 first debuted on Fox in September 2019, followed by season 2 which was released in September 2020. The creator and writer Emily Spivey was also known for her work for Saturday Night Live.

Pitch

Whether it’s an animated film or a series, it all starts with a pitch. The writers of the show typically come up with a script and they present it to their team. Then there is a whole round of critiques, feedback, and notes that take place before they take it up to the producers of the show. When working in a team, it is essential to exchange thoughts and ideas in order to help polish the script. 

First draft

Once there is a green light on the storyline, and all the notes and feedback have been taken into consideration, the writers start preparing the first draft. Once the draft is ready, there is always a table read, where the cast, writers, and producers of the show, get together and go over the script. 

Reading session

Due to Covid, these table reads may have been held virtually. Collaborating in the same workspace was a lot easier and definitely more fun, with the whole aspect of being in a work environment, being able to meet people and share creative ideas, because that’s honestly where creativity is at its optimal peak. Especially when working in an animation company, 95% of the time, you’re dealing with people who act like animated versions of themselves, who have a great sense of humour, and who enjoy comedy, cartoons, storytelling, and drama. No work environment can top that.

Voice recording

After the reading session, the cast members are called to perform the voice recording. Each cast member typically records their tracks individually and is later compiled at editing. Once the voice-overs are ready, the work transitions from paper to screen. The director, to whom the script had been passed over, will then head the animation team to start the production. It is the role of the director to fully envision the script along with the voice recordings, and verbally conceptualise the visuals and goals for the art team. 

Character design

The next and first step for the animation team is to create the characters and prepare a character sheet with turnarounds, which means taking each character and drawing a 360-degree angle of it. It is the responsibility of the character designer to complete these sheets and have them approved. Once the characters are approved, they are then passed onto the storyboarding team, where they convert the script to frames, which include perspectives, camera angles, character expressions, character interactions, etc., and basically create a blueprint of what the show or episode would look like. 

Storyboards

The storyboards are vital to the animation team because that’s what the animators and the background/prop artists use to create the look of the show. The storyboarding team later gets the boards reviewed and revised, along with some additional notes before creating the animatics, which is a series of images from the storyboards with the audio track added. The animatics are always presented in a video format which is then passed over to the layout team.

Layout

The next process is where my role comes in, the layout stage. My role was primarily background design, prop design, and clean-up. In this stage of the production process, as the background and prop designer, I was responsible for creating and conceptualising the different locations where the characters would be placed, this includes both interior environments and exterior. The prop designs are typically elements that the characters interact with.

In parallel, the animators finish up the character animation to be placed in the background scene. Once the backgrounds are approved by the supervisors and the director, the colour teams do their magic on the line drawings of all the layouts, and the animators/compositors bring all the elements together to create and finalise an episode.

Editing

Once the episode’s overall look has been approved, the editing team add the final soundtrack, voice-overs, ambient music, etc.  They pass on the finished episode to the director. As the production team familiarises itself with the process, it starts to speed up with multiple episodes in development, multiple rounds of feedback, and tons and tons of revisions until everything looks perfect.

The character, background, prop, and colour artists mainly use Adobe Photoshop as the software. The animators use Toonboom Harmony and the storyboarding team uses Storyboard Pro. 

Watch parties

Since we were all working from home, we would have regular watch parties where we would screen the episodes virtually and get together while having lunch/drinks. The production started at the beginning of 2020 and ran until mid-January 2021. There was a total of 24 episodes in season 2. Season 3 was scheduled to start in spring 2021 but unfortunately was cancelled.

Were there any drawbacks of working remotely? 

One of the biggest drawbacks of this project was not being able to meet my team. I had initially reached out to the supervisor and the lead via LinkedIn and that’s how I got offered the job in June 2020. Being someone who loves being around people, especially in a work environment, I was only able to interact with my team via zoom and emails. It was a large team of people who put the show together during what was an unusual time.

For me, doing good work and delivering on time was never a challenge but more on the side of not being able to meet the sweetest, and the kindest team of people I have ever worked with. They were very organised in creating a schedule that didn’t pressurise anyone with the deadlines. Often times some of my colleagues would have a lot on their plate and there would always be other teammates who would work around their schedule, hop in and help out with the workload. I would have definitely loved to meet the team. At the end of the production, my lead supervisor and producer sent me the sweetest email thanking me for my work on the show. It was heartwarming to read it. 

2020 was undoubtedly a challenging year for all of us, being separated from each other for so long. But the one thing that brought a huge smile to my face, was when I first saw my name in the end credits when the episodes aired on HULU and Fox. It gave me a satisfying feeling of achievement. It was a big tick on my “career” bucket list to be a part of an animated series that was produced by one of the biggest production companies in the world.

Meghana Reddy’s name in Bless the Harts end credits

Working with the top professionals gave me huge exposure to the creative industry, which is a challenging and highly competitive industry but I cannot imagine myself in any other field of work and hopefully, someday I will create my own animated series.

You can find more of Meghana Reddy’s work on her website and Instagram.

All images are a property of 20th Century Television.

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