Taming Lions with Klay Hall

Former King of the Hill director takes on Father of the Pride

Having dunked donuts with Homer and grilled out with Hank as supervising director on Fox’s The Simpsons and King of the Hill, Klay Hall has now become one with the animals. As supervising director on NBC’s primetime animated series, Father of the Pride, Hall is learning to blend family life with wildlife as he tackles the new challenges of CG for TV.

Animation Magazine Online: King of the Hill and Father of the Pride are two very different shows, aside from the family themes. How different have they been to work on?

Klay Hall: The biggest difference is working with Jeffrey Katzenberg. He has a unique way of bringing out excellence in people. He put together a fantastic team of individuals that helped bring the show to reality in less than a year. When you have someone with the respect and clout that he has, its a big advantage. I would also have to add that working in a CG environment has been very cool and different.

AMO: What, in your opinion, are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working in 3D as opposed to 2D?

KH: A big advantage I noticed right away is characters are always on model. Gone are the days of any character drawings looking bad because of forced perspective or an up shot. You can shoot from any angle and it will always be right. Another advantage is once a BG set is designed and built it’s done, you only need to do it once. Then this BG can be shot from any angle inside and out and it will always have correct perspective. The need to draw 100 to 150 BG’s a show is history.

One disadvantage to 3D is the character design issue. If you need a new character added because of a last minute script addition Its not a big problem in 2D. You can knock out the design in half an hour and implement it into your boards within hours. It’s a much bigger deal in 3D. It can take days if not weeks. Your model has to be drawn, built in the computer and then lit and textured.

AMO: What were some new challenges that surprised you along the way as you made the transition from 2D to 3D?

KH: One of the bigger challenges was not being able to use timing x-sheets. We had to be very efficient and very thorough on our story reels for our overseas animators. We tried to incorporate as many subtleties as we could in our drawings and be as clear and concise as possible in notes on our thought processes. X-sheets are a huge factor on every single show on TV right now and to think that we can execute a show of this caliber without timing sheets is phenomenal. It’s a testament to the quality of people we have in animators under the direction of Raman Hui overseas and to our team here at DreamWorks.

AMO: The animals in the show act human, but retain some of their animal qualities. Does your animation crew study animal behavior to get the right nuances? How do you balance the human and animal traits?

KH: Yes the team references animals all the time. We study muscle structure and animal motion along with animal behavior. The quadruped vs. biped line is one that we respect and try and be aware of at all times.

AMO: What was it like to work with such a talented cast of actors?

KH: You can’t miss with the casting that DreamWorks has put in place. "Unbelievable" is the word that first comes to mind. With actors like John Goodman, Carl Riener, Cheryl Hines and Orlando Jones, we get gold on multiple takes. Our supporting cast is just as amazing–people like Dave Herman, Jullian Hollaway, Danielle Harris, Daryl Sarbara, John DiMaggio, Mark Mosley, Wendy Malick, John O’Hurly, John Ennis–the list goes on and is truly a cast of incredible talent.

AMO: We understand that one episode of Father of the Pride takes more than 6 months to make…Does that kind of turnaround make the process more difficult?

KH: No, the turnaround time isn’t more difficult but it does get tricky when you have an overlap of 5 or 6 shows. However the amazing fact you should realize is that our overseas schedule is about the same as any other primetime show.

AMO: What kind of hardware and software are used to create the show?

KH: HP computers running a Linux operating system and Maya 5.0. For editorial, we use Avid composer.

AMO: Do you have any advice for those struggling animators out there working trying to get something started?

KH: Stay focused, work hard and don’t give up. Try to enjoy what you’re doing. Its always a good sign if you can make yourself and friends laugh. During your process, ask lots of questions and get as much help as possible. With the right attitude and effort you will make it!