When do the animators get involved in the art-making process?
Laura Walters, Animator: Fortunately, I get to be involved really early in the art-making process. For seasons two and three of the podcast, I’ve been able to come in to concepting and creative direction brainstorms, and give the ‘how will this work best in animation’ perspective. It’s quite helpful to see how the art is shaping up, that way I can have as much time as possible to try something cool.
At what point in the process of an episode’s artwork do you start to think about animation?
Laura: We can get started in animation as early as the sketch phase. For this episode specifically, Karen did this really beautiful illustration of two cars to represent the race toward Internet browser dominance. The setting of the 1990s in California brought up a lot of nostalgic references for early racing games, and so it made sense to lean into that for the animation and have these cars racing down a straightaway. I rebuilt the 2D cars in 3D to help sell that idea of battling it out.
What artwork is animated? Where does the animated artwork go?
Laura: For each episode we have the main promotional animation, which is about 20 seconds. This is put on many channels—Command Line Heroes has a playlist on Red Hat’s YouTube channel, so it has a home there. It’s also shared on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and our internal office communication displays. There’s also animation on the website at the season level where we animate the map as each episode ‘land’ is uncovered, and then for the episode page as well.
Karen also makes some amazing GIFs and animations that are also used for social promotion.
How do you decide what parts of the artwork to animate?
Laura: I help craft a template for each episode animation at the start of the season so that there is consistency across episodes, and so that when a new animator is brought into the project there isn’t a huge "so what should I be doing?" moment. The structure of this season’s animation has an easy starting point—we follow along at our world map and move from land to land, we then dive into the episode and resolve on the fully built out art.
What goes into the decision for the length of the animation loop?
Laura: For the web animation loops, the prevailing decision maker is always file size. The closer to digital weightlessness while retaining image quality is best. Also, we don’t need to tell a full story at this point, so subtle movement and short loops worked best.
One example is the night that Microsoft dropped off a giant "e" (the Internet Explorer logo) at Netscape as a prank. The reaction from Netscape was to knock it down—but to then top it with a giant Mozilla logo and a sign: "Netscape 72%, Microsoft 18%" (in reference to their market share). You can see those numbers in the artwork, to each side of the browser window.
Karen: That it was created in 10 days. We had to make an easter egg out of that. We put it in the animated counter up top.
What was your biggest influence for this episode’s art?
Karen: The time period. It’s California. In the 90s. A lot of visuals come from just that. There’s so much more we could have used from that time and place.
How did you get from an abstract language to the images used for the episode?
Karen: I didn't take much from the language itself—most is from the story of how it came about. Netscape weighed heavily as inspiration for the artwork. It influenced the skyscape, the look of the browser, one of the license plates. It felt right to call attention to the browser that distributed the language and made it popular so quickly.
What’s your favorite part of this episode’s art?
Karen: In this episode’s artwork, we played with perspective for the first time this season. It does what it is intended to do—show the information superhighway, and puts us as the drivers speeding towards it.
Did it turn out how you expected?
Karen: It did! It’s one of my favorites. It’s packed full of Easter eggs (thanks to a very dramatic time for the internet).
We’ll have a whole new episode’s worth of Easter eggs for you next time. Find out what Perls we stowed away for episode 4. And if you like the artwork, you can download a version to use as a background image.