Discover how Conan O’Brien’s hilarious yet reverent cold open parody at Comic Con 2019 was made, as animation studio State reveal that with great parody comes great responsibility…
While Marvel characters like Thor stole the headlines at this year’s Comic Con in San Diego, there was also a just-as-viral moment involving Spider-Man, or at least a version of the arachnid hero anyhow.
Clocking in with over one million views right now is Conan O’Brien’s expert parody of the greatest superhero animation ever made, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
Peter Parker’s already hilarious opening monologue from the film gets even funnier in a two-minute spoof introduction to the chat show legend’s panel at Comic Con, as animated by the team at STATE Design. Watch Into the Cocoverse and compare with the original sequence below.
The Cold Open expertly roasts Coco with an embarrassing superhero origin whilst also paying wonderful homage to the effervescent spirit and animation style of Spider-Verse. It doesn’t look too far off from the original source, either – surprising considering the short turnaround STATE had to conceive and complete the project.
“Conan was really into the idea of staying as true to the Into the Spider-Verse look as possible. But with one week to onboard and four weeks of production we knew that there’d be no realistic way of exactly matching the visuals from the film,” executive producer Alex dos Santos explains.
“Being a parody piece though we knew that we could take quite a bit of artistic license to stray away from the film.”
The project got rolling after Alex and Team State devised an approach that utilised 2D design with minimal 3D animation and sold that through to Conan and co. State then stopped by the Warner Bros lot for a meeting with the main man and his writers and graphics teams.
“We spent about an hour (an hour!) with Conan spitballing ideas, going through our creative process, and trying our best not to laugh the entire time,” Alex tells me.
“We helped craft the narrative a bit, but most of the heavy duty writing came from those guys: Conan, and his writing team led by Matt O’Brien.”
Alex tells me the short was a dream project for him and the team, everyone lighting up with excitement when it was announced they’d be working with the Tonight Show hero.
“We’re designers, animators, nerds and comedy buffs. Like most people we do our best when something is interesting to us. So as a studio, everyone was racing to get into work to get a start to the day.
“It also helps that character-driven narrative motion-design is our strong suit,” Alex adds, explaining why what could have been a throwaway little segment builds upon its animation to tell an actual story; an hilarious one, true, but a story nonetheless, with a beginning, middle and punchline end.
On capturing Conan and Comics
“Tackling the visual approach was mostly finding the balance between the classic comic book style and the Into the Spider-Verse animated movie,” Alex explains about the project’s beginning phase. “Taking inspiration from the film and translating the 3D look and feel into a 2D approach that had our flair and style was the most challenging part.”
“With very little time to produce two minutes of animated content we had to be very strategic. Luckily for us, we had a reference to work against in shape of the original film, but we also had to find a way to produce this that we could animate in a month’s time. This involved us developing a trust-based relationship with our graphics counterparts at Conan, and together we were able to create roughly two minutes of animation in about five weeks.”
More important though than doffing their cap at Sony’s instant classic was crafting something quintessentially Coco; in other words, something cheeky, breezy and entirely self-deprecating.
“Once the tone of the piece was set it was all about just capturing the essence of Conan, nailing down his expressions and body language,” says Alex. “For Conan’s character, we wanted to give him broad super-hero like features, but we couldn’t deny the fact that he’s a tall and lanky fellow.
“Getting the shape of him down and settling into a slight exaggeration of his already exceptional physique was important since that dictated the rest of the piece.”
This superhero transformation was made possible not by a spider bite or multi-verse jiggery-pokery, but by shooting Conan for animation reference, along with other familiar faces like Coco sidekick Andy Richter (aka the Cocoverse version of arch-villain Kingpin).
“Having multiple looks of Conan really helped the animators nail his character animation. You really get a feel that the animation of Conan is really him.
“After we shot Conan,” Alex continues, “the next step was to storyboard based on the writing team’s initial comedy beats and design one really solid proof-of-concept style frame.
“That frame totally sold our look through to Conan. From there, anything fully designed was put into the animation pipeline while our designers cranked away at other scenes. Rinse, repeat. We would share back and forth on an almost daily basis with Conan’s team of writers, producers, and post teams.
“This was a very unorthodox way of working for us,” Alex reveals, “but since they had so much trust in our craft, it worked magically. It was one of those rare moments for us where we felt like we were riding shotgun with our client and not in the backseat.”
The Art of Co-medy
With such a tight time frame to work around, Alex and team had to make sure they hit both deadline and the right comedic beats.
“In order for jokes to land,” he explains, “they need very specific timing and we knew this would be revised almost everyday by the Conan team.
“The only way to make this project possible was to be super organised & clear with the information from the Conan team to us, and from us to our artists.”
“Also, this project was the first time we had worked together with television writers. For a late night talk show, the typical turnaround time for getting graphics on-air is usually no longer than a day, sometimes only a few hours. It’s also completely normal for live television to change jokes until the last moment.
“This was different than our usual workflow but, as explained, we had a great stream of communication with the writers and were able to find our balance.”
Another challenge overcome was the short’s last shot, where the camera rotates around our hero Spider-Conan.
“I didn’t expect this to be challenging until we jumped into production,” Alex admits. “The shot itself doesn’t have much action in it but the team had to draw a 10 second rotation. This equals to around 120 original cel drawings and a 3D team re-creating the city while matching the style. This single shot took three artists an entire week for the total production.”
One week of solid work, but totally worth it, demonstrating the State ethic in putting their all into their art.
Well, after all, with great parody does come great responsibility…
Read next – Revealed: how Spider-Verse‘s funniest scene was made in one night
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