It’s a well-known fact that one of the beauties of creating an animated series for the web is that you don’t have to worry about the usual bureaucracies and demands of the traditional gatekeepers. That’s why talented Hollywood screenwriter Claire-Dee Lim, who penned the popular family feature Firehouse Dog, decided to let her imagination run wild with a self-produced series featuring a cast of customized doll puppets, hand-made toys and green-screen backgrounds. Her clever nine-part show is called The Power Object and is a hilarious cross between Sex and the City and Team America. Written, directed and produced by Lim, with a co-story credit by collaborators writer-producers Mike Werb (The Mask, Face/Off, Tomb Rader, Curious George) and Michael Colleary (Face/Off), The Power Object follows the grown-up adventures of three San Francisco career women whose lives take a strange turn when they come upon an adult toy with magical powers. We had the pleasure of catching up with Lim to find out about her experiences in the doll universe and get her take on the pluses and minuses of creating indie entertainment for the Web.
Animag: First of all, you have to tell us how you came up with this off-the-wall premise for your show.
Claire-Dee Lim: A few years ago I was really into Sex and the City and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I wanted to mix the idea of female friendship with a supernatural comedy element. I’m also a huge fan of wish fulfillment stories. Having one’s dreams come true is too nice and tidy but when those desires go haywire—that’s a lot more fun. The story was developed with writer-producers Mike Werb & Michael Colleary (Face/Off, Firehouse Dog), then I wrote the screenplay from which the series was adapted.
Why did you decide to go the doll-animation route?
That wasn’t the original thought. I had planned on making a Flash cartoon. But realized after talking to the series art director Jean Kang about how long it would take to do the artwork and animate—at least a couple of years—the plan changed. Since I’m not an animator going the doll route better matched my skill set—directing, producing, editing and crafting doll clothes and props. Jean did a terrific job customizing the dolls. The one doll face I painted looks like a maniac.
How long did it take to produce the series?
Counting adapting the screenplay into the series, voice talent recording, production and post, it took a year and a half to complete—with a two-year break in the middle, as I was distracted by other writing projects.
What/who were your inspirations?
In the doll puppet genre, Todd Hayne’s Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story made an impression when I saw it at a midnight showing at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. There’s also Punch & Judy—especially when they’re whacking the crap out of each other. There’s some of that action in The Power Object. Also, the Muppets were hilarious and loveable. The puppeteers gave the characters such a full range of emotions through movement. I tried to do that in the series.
What do you love about working in this medium?
Honestly, playing with the dolls just flung me back to my childhood. And when my friends got in the mix and helped puppeteer, we had a blast. Dolls are also very agreeable actors. They don’t complain or mind multiple takes and dangerous stunts or bitch about the quality of craft services.
How did you adapt the screenplay to the episodic form?
I had to make the story as simple as possible so after a few subplots were chopped out I was left with forty-five minutes of material. I broke that up into nine episodes of approximately five minutes with all of them ending on a cliffhanger. Narration was added to help bridge the scenes. Once I started pre-production, there were still so many scenes and locations—I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into.
What was your biggest challenge in shooting your doll universe?
Lighting! I had to do plenty of lighting and camera tests to figure out how much I’d need to uniformly illuminate the dolls and the scene. Fortunately, lighting packages with color-balanced bulbs are affordable these days.
How much did it cost to make? What tools did you use to produce the show?
Actual production costs were less than $1,500 but I needed to get a faster computer than the one I had to edit full-resolution HD footage. All in about $3,000.
I shot the show with a Kodak Zi8 camera and edited with Sony software: Vegas Video, Sound Forge, Acid Music Studio and Cinescore.
What did you learn from the process? Would you recommend this method to others?
If I had to do it all over again, I’d shoot everything on a raised table like the way The Muppets are shot. The main set was my dining table and I’d be under it manipulating the dolls while in a half sit-up. Ouch! When another puppeteer joined me under there, it got a little crowded. Many heads were bumped in the process. I’d recommend the doll method only if you really like playing with them. Everyone who worked on the show got into it and the puppeteers’ performance made the dolls come “alive.”
What are you working on next?
I’m working on the complete opposite of a kooky doll show and producing a live-action female revenge thriller called Stealing Faces. My producing partner Jackie Cruz and I are in the talent packaging stage. Sean Hood is attached to direct. The lead role is a dynamic part for a twenty-something actress. And if we can’t find her, the dolls are waiting in the wings.
To check out Claire-Dee Lim’s off-the-wall doll adventures, visit www.thepowerobject.com. New episodes premiere every Monday.