‘Animals’: 14 Things to Know About HBO’s Bewildering Animated Series

     February 3, 2016


Created by Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano, and executive produced by Jay and Mark Duplass for Duplass Brothers Television, HBO’s animated adult television series Animals is set in New York City, Earth’s least habitable environment and home to a host of downtrodden creatures. Whether it’s lovelorn rats, gender-questioning pigeons or aging bedbugs in the midst of a mid-life crisis, the existential woes of these non-human urbanites prove to be undeniably similar to our own.

During an exclusive phone interview with Collider, Animals masterminds Matarese and Luciano talked about how this show evolved, working with the Duplass brothers, finding a home at HBO, that these 10 episodes are all of one piece, keeping an improvised nature to the show’s dialogue, coming from a place of sweetness with the storytelling, the animation style, their amazing cast of guest voices, currently writing for Season 2, and being open to more animation, as well as live-action. From that interview, we’ve compiled a list of 14 things that you should know about Animals and its creators.

  • animals-poster-02Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano worked together at an ad agency in New York when Matarese decided to pursue animation. One day, they saw two pigeons outside the window and started voicing them, and then decided to put some animation to it. They thought New York made a great backdrop, as they focused in on little areas and had various animals and creatures talking like humans.
  • Matarese and Luciano had known each other for about a month before they started making a series of animated shorts, with pigeons, rats, roaches and horses. The pigeons in New York made good characters because they’re so confident and they won’t move out of the way for people.
  • The journey from shorts to TV series was an unconventional one. Luciano said, “Initially when we made the shorts, we made a quarter-hour pilot, and we won the New York Television Festival with that. That’s how we got agents and managers, and how it ended up getting in front of Mark and Jay Duplass. We’d always known we wanted to make it a show, and we were going to try to do that in whatever way we could. Our assumption was that somehow we were going to have to pitch it, and then maybe get an order for a pilot from some network who would pay for it, and we’ve had to do a presentation with a script prepared. But, the way our show works and how we do it is that it’s entirely improvised from a beat sheet. We knew that was going to be hard to do. And then, Mark came to us and said, ‘You can go that route, or I can help get you guys funding. I’ll get all my friends who you guys love, from TV and movies, to come do voices, and we’ll make the entire 10 episodes right now. I can’t guarantee you it’s going to wind up anywhere after that, but what I will guarantee is that you’ll have 10 episodes that you’ll be in complete creative control of and you’ll actually make them.’ That sounded, to us, like the right way to go about it. Without the pressure of having a home in mind, we had the luxury of being able to find the show and have it organically expand into what it is without having to explain it. That was essential.”
  • After working on the show for three years, Matarese and Luciano had thought about the fact that they could have wound up with 10 episodes of a show that nobody wanted, but it ended up finding a home at HBO. Luciano said, “They’re so awesome at giving us our creative freedom. Any notes we’ve gotten from them have only made the show better, as minimal as they’ve been.”

  • When it comes to their working relationship with the Duplass brothers, Matarese said, “Mike and I write these outlines and with every script, we do a read-through with Mark and Jay, or one of them and a funny friend of ours. A lot of their movies are done the same way we make the show, which is improvised off of a script, and they’re so good at connecting an emotional story point throughout a scene and helping it all sound organic. That way, when we bring in the great voice talent, they’re going to be able to do it.”
  • animals-poster-04The 10 episodes are all of one piece, and they think that it will take viewers five episodes before they really understand how the show works. It’s a sketch show, but it’s all related to each other.
  • They record the audio for everything before they head into the animation process, but they don’t write out an actual script ahead of time. The improvised nature of the show is something that they found really exciting, and it’s funny to have characters stepping over each other, dialogue wise. It makes the show more human.
  • In every episode, Matarese and Luciano play characters named Phil and Mike, allowing them to play a variety of different types of animals. For the other animals, they discover the different personalities by starting with a conversation between the two of them and they bring in New York City based stuff, and then go from there.
  • They like to come from a place of sweetness with the story that they’re telling. The animals can be very naive about the world. If anything is mean, it’s usually happening to the Phil and Mike characters, as a joke.
  • The animation style for the show stems out of what Matarese was able to do, at the time. The mouths don’t move because he didn’t know how to make them move, and it’s not clean because he’s not a trained animator. He just did it in Final Cut and figured it out as he went, and now it has a very specific aesthetic to it. Now, the bare bones style of it has become a part of the charm of what the show is and it allows them to focus more on the dialogue.

  • animals-poster-01The show has an amazing cast of guest voices, including Eric Andre, Katie Aselton, Jessica Chastain, Rob Corddry, Mark and Jay Duplass, Ellie Kemper, Nick Kroll, Jon Lovitz, Melanie Lynsky, Kumail Nanjiani, Horatio Sanz, Adam Scott, Molly Shannon, Wanda Sykes and Cobie Smulders. They were able to get such great people together by both reaching out to agents and managers, and because of Mark Duplass, who called on a lot of his friends. Also, because they made the show over an extended period of time, they were able to work out scheduling.
  • Even though Matarese and Luciano had the luxury of time for Season 1, they’re ready to go on Season 2. They’re refreshed and excited and writing it now, and excited after everything they learned while making the first season. They’ve refined the machine for how they make the show, so they feel more prepared to hit the ground running.
  • This entire experience has been very surreal for Matarese and Luciano, culminating in seeing billboards on the sides of buses.
  • Thinking ahead to what’s next for them, they both love the world of live-action, but they’ve also fallen in love with animation, as a result of this whole process. Right now, they just want to make the best show possible, and they’re open to everything beyond that.

Animals airs on Friday nights on HBO.



Image via HBO