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Academy Alums Help Bring 'BoJack Horseman' to Life

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An example of work from BoJack Horsemen Lead Storyboard Artist (seasons two and three) and Academy alumnus Giovanny Cardenas. Image courtesy of Giovanny Cardenas.

Equal parts affecting and absurd, Netflix’s hit animated series BoJack Horseman unites man, woman and beast in the search for emotional fulfillment, while simultaneously skewering Hollywood, celebrity culture and the film industry through blistering dialogue and hilarious sight gags. The title character is not only a washed-up actor hoping to fuel a career renaissance with a memoir and an Oscar campaign, but also an anthropomorphic horse. BoJack’s castmates include a medley of humans and animals. 

Now three seasons into its run, BoJack Horseman has attracted attention from both critics and actors for its ability to knit an unusual cast of characters into a nuanced animated show. The Critics’ Choice Television Awards recognized the show as the 2016 Best Animated Series. A roster of well-known actors lend their voices to the show, from Will Arnett as BoJack to an ever-growing list of recurring characters and guest stars, some of whom gamely agreed to parody themselves.

The show’s contrasting elements—humans and animals, genuine emotion and satire, comedy and drama—combine into a unique blend. Two alumni of the Academy of Art University’s School of Animation & Visual Effects are part of the creative team that brings this poignant, ridiculous world to life. 

“The show is an interesting mash-up of real human emotion at the heart of the story, with a setting [that] makes it fantastic,” said Giovanny Cardenas, who worked as a storyboard artist and lead storyboard artist on seasons two and three.

Within the construct of the show, creative challenges are commonplace. Working with animals who walk and talk like humans while retaining some animal characteristics initially seemed strange. “It definitely adds another level of comedy to the show. Once you get the boundaries, you think of ways to play with it,” said Cardenas.

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Academy of Art University alumnus Giovanny Cardenas. Photo courtesy of Giovanny Cardenas.

“What I like about storyboarding is the process. I can come up with a bunch of gags and pitch them to the team. If something’s funny and it flies, I know I’m on the right track. But if not, then I regroup. It’s that collaborative nature that makes it fun,” said Cardenas.

Collaboration became especially important on episode four of the third season, titled “Fish Out of Water.” Set entirely underwater, with no dialogue, “It was one of the most challenging episodes for everybody,” said Cardenas.

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Academy of Art University alumnus Lotan Kritchman. Photo courtesy of Lotan Kritchman.

The team studied Charlie Chaplin films to see how they kept the audience engaged and conveyed the story beats without words and sound. “We had to come up with visual gags and focus on clear gestures,” said Cardenas. “That was my favorite episode to work on.”

Lotan Kritchman, a character designer on seasons two and three, has worked on hundreds of BoJack characters during his tenure with the show. He credits his versatility to an Academy character design class taught by Michael Buffington. 

“Every week we had to study a new design,” Kritchman said. “[As a result,] I know I can design in whatever style is needed.”

Kritchman relishes opportunities to advance character and story through the use of detail. “With characters, you can tell a huge story just in the clothes that they wear. A character speaks to people,” he said.

A tremendous amount of thought and attention to detail go into deciding exactly how they speak. BoJack’s multi-species subject matter influences countless facets of production, including the animation of the inside of the characters’ mouths, or mouth packs.

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An example of work from BoJack Horseman Character Designer (seasons two and three) and Academy alumnus Lotan Kritchman. Image courtesy of Lotan Kritchman.

“The animals are all so different that you can be really unique with your mouth packs. The way somebody moves their mouth totally changes how the character looks and behaves,” said Kritchman, who will move into the role of character design supervisor for BoJack Horseman season four. 

You can stream seasons one through three of BoJack Horseman on Netflix.