“Where else can your son and daughter splash in dirty hot-dog water?” Central Park’s theme tune is a witty and warm-hearted paean to the beating heart of the Big Apple. The animated musical sitcom tells the story of how the Central Park caretaker and his family, who live and work in the park, attempt to save it from a land developer.

Created by Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith of Bob’s Burgers and Josh Gad (Frozen), the series was produced by Fox-owned animation studio Bento Box Entertainment (Bob’s Burgers) and ordered for two seasons by Apple TV+.

The voice cast is an ensemble including Leslie Odom Jr., Stanley Tucci, Daveed Diggs and Gad with music tracks written by (among others) Bouchard and Smith, Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson plus Cyndi Lauper, Alan Menken and Meghan Trainor. The sole editor on the 13-episode first season is Kris Fitzgerald, who was just finishing up the Amazon Prime Video series Lost in Oz when the Central Park producers approached him.

CinemaEditor: How did you get on board the project?
Kris Fitzgerald: Because of my musical background they wereinterested in me as the animatic-through-color editor for the project. It was still in its development phase, but they wanted to gauge my interest. I had worked at Bento Box Entertainment before on The Awesomes and had always wanted to work with Loren Bouchard. I couldn’t resist.

CE: What was the creative brief?
KF: Overall, we wanted to tell a human story, about a regular family doing their best to navigate the rapids of today’s everchanging world. The musical numbers had to be grounded in reality. Real characters, doing real things. The dialogue is hilarious and really is a central part of the show.

CE: How challenging was it to find the ‘voice’ of this show?
KF: I love working on new series. We start with an idea of who  these characters are and what the story is but then, with time and reflection, we narrow in on the true tone and voice of the show. A show is a living, breathing creature that develops with more and more refinements. Add on top of that the music and you have a really fun and exciting playground where timing and meter are tightly interwoven.

CE: For editing animation (compared with live action), could you take us in stages through your work on this show?
KF: I was fortunate enough to be a part of the animatic phase as well as the post phase for season 1, which means that I was a part of the editorial process of each episode from storyboards through to final delivery to Apple. Here is a quick outline of how we ran things.

•The writers deliver scripts, which are recorded with temp voices.
•That temp audio is cut together into a radio play by the Audio Editor.
•The radio play is then distributed to the storyboard artists, who begin drawing the storyboards.
•The storyboard artists deliver those storyboards to the Animatic Editor (this is where all the magic in editorial happens), and I create the animatic.
•I drop the storyboards into a timeline and do severalpasses, adjusting timing and pacing, adding temp SFX and scoring, as well as replacing temp audio with actual voice-talent selects. This is such a crucial phase since all timing is being solidified in editorial.
•We have several review sessions, which include rewrites, picture adjustments and timing changes.
•Once the animatic is locked we prepare the cut for delivery to the animators, who animate each shot based on the visual action and audio in the locked animatic. They match each shot to the frame. If they hear it or see it, it is animated.
•Once the animation returns from the animators, post animation begins. At this point, I drop each shot into the project over the locked animatic making sure that each shot is returned as it was locked in the animatic.
•From there, any remaining cast-recorded audio is dropped in and timing is adjusted.
•The color cut has rewrites and adjustments made.
•Once the show is locked it is prepared for delivery. We have 4K, Dolby Atmos delivery specifications so there is an onlining process that occurs.

It is a detail-oriented process, but I love every step of it!

CE: Could you choose three different musical numbers and tell us about the craft choices that went into producing them?
KF: I try to bring the musical score under the preceding dialogue to ensure that the song does not come out of nowhere. My main goal is to make things seamless. If the viewer feels a jolt and it wasn’t intended, I’m not doing my job.

‘Own It’ (Episode 1). This was a really big ‘want song.’  Each character sings about what they are after. At the height of the song all of the characters were singing at the same time. Each character was also a single shot that I had to build and animate into a grid of characters. The group number had all the characters in different locations on screen at the same time. Technically challenging, but a lot of fun to build.

‘Do It While We Can’ (Episode 2). This song had a strong disco feel and I wanted to make sure that the cutting style kept that fun, high-paced energy. Cutting to beats and shifting character shots around to build the tension was really important. A little secret: This song was originally animated with another full round of the chorus. We decided to keep the energy up and continue the song under the credits. The animation was brilliant, but you have to know when to leave them wanting more.

‘Too Close’ (Episode 6). This slower comedy piece needed to have action landing just right to make the jokes hit. Holding action and knowing when to move onto the next bit was important. I also adjusted the timing of character expressions to play up the comedy.

CE: Animation is an extremely collaborative and lengthy process. How did you divide your time on the episodes?
KF: Writers began in late 2018. I started working on animatics early 2019 and we delivered the final show at the beginning of 2020. I can be working on up to five episodes at a time in all the various aspects of the pipeline. It can be a very difficult task to shift so many times in the day, but I had excellent help from (then Assistant Editor now S2’s Animatic Editor) Stephanie Earley. Without her support I would not have been able to deliver the show.

CE: How did COVID-19 affect the production?
KF: Since the quarantine we have all been working from home. One of the amazing blessings of animation is that we all can pretty much keep the production running remotely. Season 2 is full in production right now even during all the lockdowns.

CE: How is working with an animated character different to shaping a live-action performance?
KF: Animation requires that we all carry the characters and story with us in everything we do. Because the actor is not physically seen, we are able to construct the best reading of the line using multiple takes of audio. We then are able to adjust lip sync and timing of the action of the shot much easier than with live action.

I am constantly matting and roto-ing mouths, expressions and portions of the screen to time action the way I want. In fact, most of the first season was animated to Loren’s temp dialogue. Stanley Tucci’s deliveries are incredible, but tended to be longer than what Loren had originally recorded. So that meant that I had to adjust almost every mouth shape by a frame or two to make the lip sync line up as closely as possible. All a part of the process.

CE: Can you share some tips for how you help bring out the comedy in the script?
KF: Comedy is definitely a skill that is learned. Being aware of the rhythm of dialogue and when a punchline or physical moment should land is something that comes with time and feedback. Animatics can seem slow, but that is because they are only blackand-white held images. Once animation comes back from the animators the full movement and fully-colored backgrounds and characters give the mind plenty to digest.

CE: How do you respond personally to a show which is at heart a celebration of New York’s cultural leveler?
KF: Growing up in Utah I had a fairly sheltered life, but in 2001 I moved to New York for a year. The time I spent there I will never forget. I have many fond memories of walking through Central Park. There were so many different types of people there – businessmen and women, street performers, vendors, tourists. It is such a beautiful oasis from the fast-paced fight that the City can be. That peace surrounded by so much possibility is what I carry with me today.

 

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