Sanjay and Craig, Nickelodeon’s eccentric and hilarious new animated series, is exactly the kind of show we love to see on the kids cabler.
Forget about all those heart-warming tales of friendship between kids and their pet cats, dogs and ponies. This month, Nickelodeon is going to break the mold with an inventive new toon about a young boy named Sanjay and his talking pet snake Craig, who is also a master of disguise. Created by Jim Dirschberger, Jay Howell (Bob’s Burgers) and Andreas Trolf and exec produced by comedy veterans Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi (The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Bravest Warriors), the show should be a welcome addition to the kids cable outlet, which hasn’t offered a new 2D comedy for a while.
Adding even more star appeal to the project are the voice actors Maulik Pancholy (30 Rock), who portrays Sanjay, and Chris Hardwick (The Nerdist), who provides the voice of Craig. The supporting cast—Kunal Nayyar, Tony Hale, Linda Cardellini, Matt Jones and Grey DeLisle—offer even more icing on the cake, or bright, shiny scales on the snake skin if you have to push the analogy too far.
It all started four years ago when Howell, Dirschberger and Trolf pitched their idea for the show to Nickelodeon. Howell had created the property as a comic book back when he lived in San Francisco, but in the original version, Sanjay was an older, chubby snake-charmer! Obviously, he became a younger kid with an interesting personality when the show was prepped for Nickelodeon.
As Trolf explains, “The spirit of the friendship between Sanjay and Craig never changed in the process. Their goals and aspirations became more defined. Our 12-year-old character also became more defined. But everything really came together when we heard the actors read the lines. That went a long way in helping us figure out who they were.”
Dirschberger says you can really get a feel for the evolution of the characters in a promo that Nick put together for the show.
“They put together some of the concept art and the original ‘zine that Jay had drawn, and it was really amazing to see the progression of Sanjay as this weird, fat older guy into our show’s hero who is fully alive and polished and different. Yet the cartoon really retains the playfulness of Jay’s art in the end.”
The trio was thrilled to team up with veterans like McRobb and Viscardi on their first show at Nick.
“Their aesthetic and humor has been hugely influential,” says Howell. “Their Adventures of Pete and Pete was such an iconic series in the ’90s. To get to work with them has been really a great experience.”
“The process at the studio is very collaborative, and everyone has equal input,” adds Trolf. As it turns out, each one of them ended up tackling the aspect of the project they had envisioned during the original pitch. Trolf punches up the dialog, Howell oversees art direction and Dirschberger is in charge of technical execution and post. “We’re doing the same thing as before, but in a real professional environment, with an excellent team.”
Hearting the Old-School Style
While the show’s production team is based at Nick’s Burbank studio, the 2D animation is handled by Seoul, South Korea-based Saerom Animation, which also provides service work for Cartoon Network’s hits Adventure Time and Regular Show. Howell says he likes the hand-drawn quality of the show.
“We are definitely not a franchise, we are hand-drawn, homemade and traditional, with digital and 3D elements added to sweeten the effects…We wanted our show to have the same feel as the shows we used to watch on Nickelodeon in the ’90s.”
Dirschberger believes that it’s difficult to see the thumbprint of the creators in a 100 percent CG-animated TV show.
“Nick was looking for something that was completely creative-driven. You can’t see the thumbprints of the creative in a slick 3D show. It’s all about the integrity of the original artwork. We are handmade guys and love the throwback to the golden era of Nick animation.”
When asked to name the toons that influenced their style and vision, the guys are pretty unanimous in mentioning iconic fare such as Hanna-Barbera toons, The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy and Nick faves such as Rocko’s Modern Life, Rugrats and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. They also bring up Adult Swim fare such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, Space Ghost and Venture Bros.
“One of the shows that clearly informed our aesthetic was The Simpsons,” says Dirschberger. “Just think generations of kids have never seen a world without The Simpsons. That show really provided us with a template for humor that we can all fall back on.”
The show’s visuals are also a direct descendent of Hanna-Barbera and 1980s toons.
Howell notes, “We wanted the show to be colorful, interesting and intense, even if you couldn’t hear the sounds. It’s pretty simple, but it’s also very complicated.” As Dirschberger chimes in, “Other shows tend to be more practical. They’ll be happy just to put the characters just standing out in a field. We’ve never been happy to do things simply. Every shot goes over and beyond what you usually expect in a show like this.”
It’s also interesting to note how the training and experience of the Sanjay and Craig team is serving them perfectly on the show. Dirschberger, a graduate of the Academy of Art in San Francisco, built a strong foundation with Howell on various projects before this experience.
“Back in 2006, I didn’t think it was possible to do our own animated projects,” says Howell. “As a cartoonist and illustrator, I learned more about animation, and all three of us did work on music videos and produced our own short films before the series.”
Trolf studied fiction writing and literature at New York University and also found himself gravitating to animation.
“Animation was something that I always loved and this project was a natural fit. I feel very lucky that each one of us was able to bring our specific area of expertise to the project.”
The trio is excited about the prospect of Nick viewers getting to meet some of this summer’s most entertaining characters on their show.
“It’s great to see all of the show’s elements coming together after months of hard work,” says Dirschberger. “Everyone who contributed to the show has helped us create something that is raw and very honest. And visually too, it has exceeded our expectations.”
Trolf says what he loves about them show is seeing how the various characters are interacting with each other.
“We kept everything pretty close to our chests,” says the writer. “And now when we see the final versions of each episode, we’re blown away by how it truly conveys our original intents with honesty.”
Of course, we couldn’t let them go without asking them for some final words of advice for their fellow animation professionals.
Hirschberger says, “Remember that everything takes longer…and always trust your guts. Follow your instincts and try to stay true to the message of your show. Remember what you’re trying to say with your project.”
“I think what makes the show stand out is that it goes beyond being funny,” Trolf concludes. “It’s couched in humor, irreverence and absurdity, but the underlying message is the importance of being in awe and loving the world around you, and finding your place within that world.”
Come on, now. Isn’t that a message every kid and reptile can take to heart?
Sanjay and Craig premieres Saturday, May 25, at 10:30 a.m. on Nickelodeon.