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How Tonic DNA Helped Disney Get Buns in Theatre Seats with The Bob’s Burgers Movie


Tonic’s artists tell LBB’s Adam Bennett how they brought the iconic Belcher family business to life, and reflect on the magic of 2D animation in cinemas

How Tonic DNA Helped Disney Get Buns in Theatre Seats with The Bob’s Burgers Movie

For an entire generation, flocking to the nearest theatre to catch the newest 2D animated release was akin to second nature. Lush jungles, lost underwater cities, and sublime new worlds were all captured through the artistry of legendary 2D animators, pushing their medium forward and creating everlasting memories for audiences. 

Suddenly, that era feels like a long time ago. For Disney, one of the largest and most iconic 2D animation houses, you need to turn the clock back more than a decade - to 2011 - to find the last time a 2D movie released under their banner (Stephen John Anderson and Don Hall’s Winnie the Pooh). But with the release of The Bob’s Burgers Movie from 20th Century Studio (coincidentally recently acquired by Disney), all that is set to change. 

To help the beloved Belcher family make the leap from small to silver screen, the animation powerhouse Tonic DNA were one of a select group of studios enlisted as part of the project. Looking to find out more about how The Bob’ Burgers Movie came together - and share in the excitement of a possible renaissance for high-profile 2D animation - LBB’s Adam Bennett spoke to Tonic’s partner and EP Howard Huxham, cut-out animator Jennifer To, animation director Nick Vallinakis, cut-out supervisor Étienne Dufresne, and head of production Laura Montero Plata. 

Above: The Bob’s Burgers Movie offers a rare chance for audiences to enjoy a new 2D animated film in theatres. 

LBB> Bob’s Burgers is obviously an enormously popular series with a dedicated group of fans. What were your initial reactions to being a part of this movie?  

Howard> I’ve been a huge fan of the show ever since I was introduced to it by my daughter, so when the opportunity to be a part of this film arose I knew I had to take it! The sequences we were given were very challenging, and the quality is just as good - if not better - than the series fans know and love.  

Nick> We’re BIG fans of the show at home. Our kids are grown and mostly moved away, but Bob’s Burgers is still a main go-to for family binge watching when we get together. We love the way the low-key, understated tone of the writing and delivery contrast so well with the goofy visuals.  

Quiet hilarity ensues. Oh, and lots of loud, snorting laughter too.  

Étienne> Yeah, we love Bob's Burgers - our team is passionate about animation and most of us have been watching the show for a number of years. We’ve come to know the Belchers well, meaning we were able to draw on a lot of references to ensure their unique personalities would shine through in our animation. We were working closely with one of the directors, Bernard Derriman, who shared his vision for the movie with us and gave us all the help we needed to produce each scene. We made sure to make an outstanding performance for each character!  

Laura>  And on top of how excited we all were to be working on a movie adaptation of Bob’s Burgers, it was also such a joy to be part of a 2D animated film with a theatrical release.


LBB> We’ve previously heard all about how Tonic DNA makes 3D-animated food look as amazing as possible - but how much of a challenge is it with 2D food? Are you consciously trying to make the food as appetizing as possible, and how do you achieve that if so? 

Étienne> We worked on one scene where Bob flips a burger on the grill, and another where we see fries coming out of the fryer. In both situations, the key was the art direction. We drew everything with proper volumes, and added the details to make sure the food looked as realistic as possible. The coloration is also an important part, as bright colours and good lighting make the food more appetising. On top of that, we took care in animating the steam and the cooking oil, and the result is a 2D burger you want to eat!   

Jennifer> For me personally, the only item of food I worked on in the movie was a tomato. My biggest concern was about making sure all the lines looked correct and realistic. For the chopping scene, I tried my best to make sure it had a nice gradient. 


LBB> What was the most challenging aspect of working on this movie, and how did you overcome it? 

Jennifer> One sequence featuring a group of dancing Carnies was extremely heavy. All of the individual Carnies were harmony rigs, and there were 15 of them at least. We had to split those scenes off into four parts, with four characters each, and it was still about 500mb per scene. The most challenging aspect was probably the shadows - as they had a specific colour to it - so it wasn’t a simple ‘multiply’ half transparent dark colour on top of them. And since they were rigs, it complicated things even further since we had a lot of palette issues. 

Laura> I agree - it’s a really fun moment in the film but it was a laborious animation challenge! We were very lucky to have a very talented crew animating dancing moves for fifteen individual characters. 

LBB> Amazingly, this movie is Disney’s first 2D feature film in over a decade. Do you guys have any personal fond memories from the iconic eras of Disney’s 2D animated movies, and did you take inspiration from them in your careers? 

Étienne> At Tonic DNA, we all grew up watching Disney's movies! They’re totally timeless and are still cited as inspirations for so many artists today. 

Laura> Yes, I have countless fond memories from watching these films. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I have seen Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, or Aladdin. Funnily enough, I struggle to watch these films in English - I learnt by heart the lyrics in Spanish, so listening to them in English ruins the magic for me!

Nick> I was fortunate to spend a period of several years working for Disney in the past, and I can say it was a major milestone in my career at the time. Working on classic characters I grew up with was like meeting movie stars. Exciting, fun, and scary all at the same time.

Jennifer> While I'm personally more of an anime fan, I did watch a lot of Disney as a kid - and my personal favourites are Hercules and Treasure Planet. I’d say the one film I look at the most for the character animation is Tarzan, I love the softness the main character shows despite his rough exterior. Also the perspective work on the movie is very good, so I try my hardest on scenes with a lot of perspective work (which is rather challenging with rigs).

LBB> More broadly, it feels like it’s been a long time since we had such a high-profile purely 2D-animated movie get a theatrical release. Do you think it’s important that more people get a taste of 2D animation in cinemas, rather than watching on smaller screens at home? 

Étienne> I would love it if 2D animation could be seen more often in theatres. A movie is all about storytelling - and 2D animation can be realistic, fantastic, dramatic, humoristic, and the list goes on. It's important to show the beauty of creative diversity and if it can be done by giving more people a taste of 2D animation in cinemas, let it be! 

Laura> My heart broke when that great run of traditional animated theatrical releases from Disney came to an end. I enjoy all types of animation, but hand-drawn animation appeals to me in an unique way. I think it’s fantastic to have more traditional animated films for future generations, and to enjoy ourselves as adults!

Above: The Tonic DNA team enjoy a cinematic screening of Bob's Burgers.

LBB> This links back to one of the debates around the Oscars season this year on whether animation is seen as a 'kids-only' medium. What's your take on that, and do you think a movie like this makes for a good rebuttal to the idea that animation is aimed at kids? 

Howard> It’s true that animation in the US has traditionally been geared towards a younger audience, but that is not the case with most of the rest of the world. Animation is a more kid-friendly medium, but once the switch to CG happened 20+ years ago it has become more popular than ever. Again, it’s all about the stories. In Europe and Japan, the stories are more mature and appeal to much older audiences. It is cultural perhaps, but it comes down to writing a story for an audience that can best be told with animation.

Nick> A quick glance at the history of animated films shows how many were artistic works intended for a wide and varied audience. Some were visual feasts, while others ventured into risqué humour and even war propaganda. 

I think that if animated cartoons are currently being regarded as a medium for kids, it has a lot to do with the Saturday morning cartoons that a lot of us watched growing up. The toy and snack commercials that accompanied them certainly dispelled any doubts about the ‘kids-only’ target audience.  

As kids watching the shows, jokes routinely went over our heads only to make sense years later. Ironically, many of these cartoons had actually been animated several decades earlier and originally screened for the adult movie-goers in cinemas as light fare before the main attraction.   

Then, when cartoons started first being produced for prime-time television, I remember some people saying ‘’I’d never let my kids watch that!’’ Well…News Flash – nobody said they were meant for your kids!  

To me, this sort of knee-jerk bias tells the whole story. In fact, animation is just one visual medium among many. It would be great if animated cartoons could overcome this twist on ‘’the medium is the message’’, and just have the message be the message. 

Jennifer> Rather than repeating what others have already explained, I’ll say this: Be adventurous with what you watch, and don’t stick to just what you are comfortable with. You miss out on a lot of great movies if you only watch what comes out of the big studios, there’s a lot of fine work out there that you might have missed out on simply because you looked at the art style and assumed ‘oh, it’s for kids’.

Étienne> Most animated movies - even those which are suitable for children - have some jokes or some themes which require a certain maturity or emotional intelligence to understand. The Bob's Burger Movie is a good example, given its type of humour can be appreciated as much by older audiences as the teenage viewers. And let's not forget also there are many beautiful movies out there that are animated and are for mature audiences only! 

Laura> I was shocked by the debate; I thought we had long gotten over that mindset. I have a PhD in Japanese animation, and I faced a lot of negative reactions while I was researching. Animation is a medium and allows you a freedom of speech and form that you cannot yet achieve in live action. To reduce such a powerful and limitless tool to a single type of audience seems like going backwards. However, we have a lot of great animation titles proving the medium can also click with adults (Undone, Love, Death & Robots, The Summit of the Gods, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, or I Lost my Body), so I am confident that we will soon overcome this prejudice.

LBB> Finally, imagine you’ve just walked into Bob’s Burgers. What’s your order?

Howard> I would be happy to sit and enjoy a coffee and watch the kids hatch another one of their crazy schemes, while Bob, Linda and Teddy discuss something absurd. Just to be a fly on a bun for an afternoon! 

Jennifer> Easy - the chef’s favourite.

Nick> Hmmm…That’s a tough one. It all looks good. Only thing I’d say for sure is ‘’I’ll have seconds!’’ 

Laura> French fries!!! Always, fries!

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Genres: Animation

Categories: Media and Entertainment, Movies

TONIC DNA, Thu, 09 Jun 2022 18:14:17 GMT