Stoopid Buddy Stoodios in Burbank, California, is the creative team that brings you stop-motion shows like Robot Chicken and SuperMansion.
1. They're always fighting gravity.
One of the biggest challenges for the team is just the laws of nature. "Whenever a character is standing up or jumping, you're always rigging up the puppet in mid-air," said Sheppard.
Even when the characters aren't in mid-air, gravity can still be an issue. "There's all sorts of situations where you wrap at the end of the day and then by the next day, the puppets have all sort of collapsed," Root said.
2. They don't have a "house style."
"We love experimenting and exploring new visuals," Towner said. "There isn't really a house style. Aardman [Animations] has a very Aardman look. Laika [Studios] has a very Laika look. A lot of our stuff looks different, but there's a common sense of humor."
3. It takes a team of about 200 people to make Robot Chicken.
"A lot of the stuff looks like found objects instead of manufactured puppets," Root said of the Robot Chicken aesthetic. "We embrace a lot of the handmade nature of things. Robot Chicken looks like it could be made in your garage or basement, but it takes a team of 200 people."
4. They're aware you might be high when you're watching.
In fact, Root thinks that might make the show's aesthetic friendlier. "I wonder if the charming nature of the visuals are what make it so compelling to viewers who are watching late at night in various chemically altered states," he said. "And something more polished might not catch their eye."
5. A 45-second shot is incredibly long.
It can take one animator all day to film roughly six seconds of footage, depending on how much action there is. So a longer sketch that has to use a continuous shot can take a really long time...and considering the whole gravity thing, the team avoids starting these types of shots toward the end of the day.
6. They basically had a casting call for Goldfish crackers.
Stoopid Buddy Stoodios does a lot of commercials in addition to shows like Robot Chicken and Supermansion, and their Goldfish commercial showed how strange the stop-motion process can be.
"You would go through maybe 10 bags of Goldfish to find five hero Goldfish that were the perfect amount of saltiness and the right shape," Towner said. "It was intense and delicious."
7. There are some sets they use over and over.
Just like a live-action studio, Stoopid Buddy has a number of "standing sets" that they keep up and re-use for different scenes, dressing the set differently and shooting from different angles to change the look.
So if you see a scene on a city block, in a forest, or in a bathroom, chances are you might have seen that same set in a previous episode.
8. About half of the stuff in Robot Chicken is modified toys that already exist, and the rest is made from scratch.
Root estimates that about 50 percent of the characters in Robot Chicken are modified from existing action figures, like the Street Sharks pictured above. The rest are built from the bottom up.
9. The writing process is really tough.
"There's a team of six writers in the room who are coming up with really funny stuff, and then ultimately it gets voted on by Tom [Root], Doug [Goldstein], Matt [Senreich], and Seth [Green]," said Towner. "A lot of stuff gets rejected, so there's this very…what would you call it? Not democratic. What's the opposite?"
"I thought you were going to say 'undercurrent of rage,'" joked Sheppard.
"Have you seen Lord of the Flies?" added Root. "It's like that."
10. They don't always love the sketches that go to air.
"We're not even allowed to confer about what we're voting on," explained Root. "So there's no controlling what gets through, and sometimes we really regret what gets through. We just aired an episode where a town crier is ringing a bell, and instead of saying, 'The British are coming,' or whatever, he says, 'Hear ye, hear ye, bell for sale.'"
"And a guy skips in and says, 'Two bucks?' And the guy says, 'Sold!'" added Sheppard. "I don't know how that thing made it all the way through."
11. Almost every sketch needs at least some digital work, because of rigs.
Much of the time, characters are kept in place with rigging of some kind, which must be edited out during post-production. Other times the sketch just requires green screen or effects that can't be produced in camera, as seen in the above photo of the set for a sketch featuring The Nerd.
12. They shoot 12 to 15 episodes at the same time.
"We used to shoot one episode at a time, now we shoot 12 to 15," Root said. "We don't start building puppets and sets until we're on script 5 or 10." This helps the team determine which sets and characters can be used in multiple episodes on the same shoot day in order to be more efficient.
13. Crowd scenes are the worst.
Without major digital intervention, crowd scenes mean a lot of characters need to be created and animated.
But there is a workaround: "We're doing a 300 scene right now," Sheppard said, "and we have eight Spartan warriors, and we made 50 of them by shooting them multiple times."
14. Each character will usually have six or seven sets of hands.
In order to animate hand gestures, characters will need a set of at least six different hand positions. And yes, that almost always includes one flipping the middle finger.
15. Clothing and capes have to be animated too.
You might not think of this while you're watching, but every time a character moves, their clothes do too. That means that a character's clothing has to be able to move and then stay static just as much as the character does. Things like superhero capes have to be slightly stiff and rigged with wires in order to get them to flap in the breeze.
16. Doing a half-hour show like SuperMansion is easier in some ways than Robot Chicken.
The team is currently working simultaneously on another stop-motion show, SupermMansion, which airs on Crackle. "I think it's really liberating to have a 22-minute show with recurring characters because then the puppets can be built in a way that they're really really expressive," Root said of the experience.
Sure enough, when watching SuperMansion, you'll likely notice a lot more detail in each character since they won't just be used for one sketch and then put in storage.
17. You'll see a lot of crazy, random stuff lying around Stoopid Buddy Stoodios.
That includes a container of eyeballs, a literal bag of (plastic) dicks, miniature versions of the Property Brothers, tiny Seth Green figures, piles of heads that look like Harv, and a lot more.