On Animating an Explainer for the Final Season of Weeds

New York animation studio IdeaRocket was tapped to create the new show open for the final season of Showtime's Weeds. IdeaRocket specializes in "explainers," which made it an ideal choice for Weeds executive producers Jenji Kohan and Roberto Benabib, who wanted a short-and-sweet retelling of the narrative of the first seven seasons of the show. Taking the popular whiteboard animation videos from the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) in London as a model, IdeaRocket Creative Director William Gadea's team built the clip to order. "I think the reason the RSA style is so hypnotizing is because you are witnessing a creative act," Gadea says. We asked him Five Questions about IdeaRocket, Weeds, and keeping it simple.

1) Talk a little about IdeaRocket. How long have you been around and what are you best at?

We’ve been around since 2006 as Homebaked Films, but only this year rebranded as IdeaRocket. We’re best at delivering our business clients’ messages with character and story … usually in traditional animation. We’ve done a lot of explainer videos for startups, but other markets seem to be opening up for us lately.

2) What's in your studio? What are your hardware and software workhorses, and where do you get creative inspiration?

We do our 2D character animation in Flash, composite in After Effects, and edit in Premiere Pro. Sometimes we do our backgrounds in Flash, and sometimes we paint them in Photoshop. We draw on both Cintiqs and tablets, depending on artist preference. We also do a little 3D sometimes. As for inspiration, explainer videos often have a threadbare look – we’d like to bring a bit more culture to them. We’re inspired by Disney, Warner Brothers, UPA, anime, but also the American illustration tradition, especially the New Yorker artists.

3) The new Weeds show opener is a very simple idea. Was it hard for you to tamp down your more creative tendencies to jibe with the stripped-down brief from the Weeds team?

Yes! We pitched them more elaborate takes, blending in animation with the drawing hand, but they were insistent on keeping the simplicity of the RSA style. You’ve got to respect a client that knows what they want, and they did. They are real filmmakers.

4) Is it deceptively simple? What was the most interesting part of the execution?

The piece was drawn by our art director, Robert Kopecky, who is an amazing draughtsman. Look at the characters in the RV scene – at that scale and line weight he’s drawing with a mop, yet he still captures their likenesses perfectly! That never ceases to amaze me. 

In terms of technique, it’s fake stop-motion. We green-screened the hand and composited it over the digital drawing. We’ve figured out a way to capture the drawing as it is being made, so we don’t have to mess with animated mattes to reveal it. An all-digital workflow like this gives us much more flexibility than stop-motion would — we can make tweaks to any element at any stage of the production.

5) What business and/or creative trends do you see driving IdeaRocket forward over the next 12 months?

We love marketing directly to businesses and dealing with them first-hand. It lets us into the process at the writing/conceptual stage, which is great fun. I think we always will do that, but we’re also starting to collaborate more with agency creatives, which can be an exhilarating process too.


Producer/Creative Director: William Gadea
Designer/Director/Illustrator: Robert Kopecky
Animator: Jonathan Parson

For more information: www.idearocketanimation.com