For many people, “stop-motion animation” instantly conjures up images of clay reindeer prancing around, singing songs and wishing you a “holly jolly Christmas.”
But oh, how far the art form has come since those classic holiday specials. Monday night, Nickelodeon premieres “Glenn Martin, DDS,” a weekly, half-hour animated series complete with a laugh track and famous guest-star voices, from Betty White to Gene Simmons. The show, developed by former Disney chief executive Michael Eisner, centers on a dentist dad, Glenn (voiced by Kevin Nealon of “Weeds”), who forces family bonding time on his wife and kids, taking them on an extended road trip around the country in an RV.
We talked about the making of the show with executive producer Eric Fogel (creator of MTV’s stop-motion series “Celebrity Deathmatch”), discovering that even with new technology, stop-motion animation still boils down to one animator manipulating a puppet, one frame at a time.
“There’s something very wholesome about the look of stop-motion animation, harking back to ‘Rudolph’ specials. To me, what’s funny is taking that look and marrying it with a very edgy, adult sensibility. It’s always surprising when smart, intelligent, funny dialogue comes out of the mouths of what are essentially toys.
“The technology isn’t all that different than it has been for years. One of the big differences is that we don’t use clay anymore. Clay is actually one of the worst things that you can animate, so we use a silicone and foam latex rubber to build puppets now. Still, it’s a very painstaking, time-consuming process.
‘The approach that I took on the characters was to get really exaggerated with the faces. If you look at Glenn, his head is almost the same size as his torso. I wanted to come up with characters that were funny to look at, but also make sure they were warm and expressive, so I spent a lot of time on the eyes.
“Compared to other animated art forms, I think what sets it apart is you know you’re looking at something that’s all handmade. It’s not created from pixels and it’s not flat; it’s got a richness and texture to it. And a sort of inherent, almost clunkiness, that has a lot of charm. There’s a lot of CG animation that’s done for TV that, to me, kind of looks cold. It’s a little too smooth, a little too clean. Stop-motion animation isn’t perfect. Just like life.”