Behind the making of the Emmy award miniseries, ‘Over the Garden Wall’

The miniseries that surprisingly bagged the Creative Arts Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program is none other than the relatively new show Over the Garden Wall. Competing against it were the well established, viewers favorite shows; The Simpsons (which won in ten of its twenty-four nominations), South Park (a five-time winner), Archer (nominated twice) and Bob’s Burgers (nominated four times). It was quite a surprise win for this kids as well as adult oriented miniseries as it’s competitors have been in this space since a long time and have captivated its viewers with its content that’s exclusively for adults.

Patrick McHale

Over the Garden Wall was aired on Cartoon Network in 2014 and tells the story of two brothers, Wirt and Greg, who find themselves lost in a mysterious woods and with the help of a wise old Woodsman and a foul-tempered bluebird named Beatrice, Wirt and Greg must travel across this strange land in hope of finding their way home.

The creator of this miniseries has also donned the hat of the creative director on the hit kids series Adventure Time, Patrick McHale. Patrick McHale who grew up in New Jersey and moved to southern California, studied at California Institute of the Arts. After school he got a job on the Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack as a storyboard artist and later went on to become the creative director of Adventure Time. After moving back to the east coast of the US and having a son, he became just a writer on Adventure Time and then Cartoon Network picked up his miniseries which won him an Emmy.

AnimationXpress got in touch with Patrick McHale to know more about this miniseries.

The title of this miniseries is quite unique and something that caught our attention. Talking about the significance of the title, Patrick explains, “There are a lot of reasons why we called it ‘Over the Garden Wall’, some of which are hinted at later in the series, but some of the more subtle reasons are because it’s a traditionally romantic title that’s been used for many old and forgotten movies, stories, songs, poems, etc. It’s a phrase that represents longing for something you can’t quite grasp.”

What inspired Patrick to come up with this series is quite interesting. He expounds, “It’s a mix of lots of things I’m interested in, but mostly for my nostalgia of the seasonal change of the east coast. I’m from New Jersey originally, and got very homesick when I moved to LA for college and work.”

The series has dark fantasy theme along with adventure and comedy-drama. Cartoon Network being the official broadcaster for the series was quite unlike its brand proposition, in respect to its content, so how did he manage to bell this cat? Patrick explained that since he has always worked at Cartoon Network and he has a good reputation with them after working on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Adventure Time, they were very kind to allow him to make a pilot and then let him make a miniseries for them. Patrick had earlier also worked on an animated short film Tome of the Unknown, which was produced as part of Cartoon Network Studios’ shorts development program.

Over the garden wall

Many people were roped in to create this 11 minute, 10 episode miniseries and the major contributor was Nick Cross, the art director and without him it would have been impossible for Patrick to make this show. The Blasting Company were the music composers, who have done an incredible job in this series, with Digital Emation in South Korea doing the animation and putting in extra effort to make it a special project. Bert Youn came on board as creative director later in the production and helped Patrick finish writing and storyboarding the final bunch of episodes.

The simple yet impactful 2D animation that gave this story a visually refined look was done using many softwares. Most of the design work was done in Photoshop, animatics were edited in Final Cut Pro and the final picture was edited in Avid. Traditional animation was used to create the storyboard with colouring done digitally, except for a few scenes that Nick Cross animated which was done mostly on Harmony software.

As opposed to the current trend where everyone is opting for 3D animation, we witness 2D animation in the series. To this Patrick states, “I feel like 2D is still the current trend in TV animation (definitely not in feature) – maybe it’s easier for doing comedy but also… I just like 2D animation.”

The miniseries took about a year to get completed; right from outline to final picture delivery. The target audience according to Patrick for it are Everybody! (exception being toddlers). Talking about his future plans for the series and if at all we will get to see it in a feature film, he commented that, “Make ‘Over the Garden Wall’ into a feature film? Well, that’d be up to CN. It sort of is a feature film in a lot of ways. We actually won a few film festival awards in the feature film category!”

“I don’t think I have any more story to tell about Wirt and Greg, but maybe i can make something similar at some point,” he added.

Over the garden wall comic

Owing to the success of the miniseries, it got a one-shot comic book adaptation which was produced by KaBoom!, an imprint of Boom! Studios. It was supervised by McHale and was produced as an oversized special. The comic was illustrated by Jim Campbell, a writer/storyboard artist on the television series.

Talking about his views on the animation industry, he says, “There’s a lot of great stuff being made now. Maybe too much, it’s a bit overwhelming sometimes. Whenever I have an idea for something, I’m worried that someone else is going to do it before I’m able to. But I’m happy the medium has a wider audience than it has had in the past.  So many great artists are able to work on their art.”

On his plans with working with India, he positively responds saying, “Oh I haven’t thought about it too much, but maybe! I’ve heard some good things about some animation studios in India.”