About “MY AMERICAN WAISTLINE”

 

“My American Waistline” is a satirical look at America’s obsession with weight and body image, told through a brazen series of short animated vignettes. In a provocative yet minimalistic style that intensifies the subject matter, each episode features a diverse array of both one-off and recurring caricatures, all of whom flounder from a profound lack of self-awareness.

Fearless, unapologetic, politically incorrect, and at times just plain gross, the series delves into our shared neurosis for overeating, undereating, ripped abbs, apple bottoms, surgical enhancement, and caloric privilege. “My American Waistline” takes aim at how our bodies have begun to define self-worth and our nation’s addiction to counting calories. Graphic and unflattering, my American waistline leaves no muffin top unturned or moob unchafed in its quest to expose our single-minded obsession with our bodies.

As part of an anthology series, episodes range from 30 seconds to two minutes in length and feature independent stories, although many of the characters are recurring and have larger issues that may carry over from episode to episode.

 

Series creator Jason Edwards talks about the making of “My American Waistline”

 

Where the stories come from

John Reid and I usually get together with a few ideas.  But then we will definitely go into real experiences, or people we know, or our own experiences to talk about the issues.  The show is not just about making fun of skinny people, or fat people. It’s really about observing our real communal AMERICAN experiences around weight and body issue.  The point is to broach the entire spectrum of the sociological issue the we have as a culture.  In fact, “Slings and Arrows” was taken directly from an experience John had at a Starbucks, where a group of older, well-off women body-shamed a younger woman in line—with complete disregard for the fact that the woman could hear them.

The visual style and concept art

 

The visual style and concept art of “My American Waistline” stem from the drawing technique of the show’s animator and co-director, Larry Johnson. The stylistically-minimal compositions are black-and-white with touches of color to accentuate the imagery and draw attention to aspects of the vignette. Made with Japanese Sumi brushes and ink, the hand-drawn animations are strong and spontaneous and will occasionally utilize other unconventional elements, such as textured paper, bleeding ink and washers. With the dominance of Flash, Maya and 3D animation on the current animation landscape today, the stark 2-D style of “My American Waistline” is a refreshing and unique alternative.

The Characters

Larry Johnson really decides on the look of the characters as he is inspired from the script.  Though we will have broader conversations about what we think people should look like.  Often Larry turns to Google to help get ideas and do sketches from.  In fac, for both Beautiful and Metamorphosis, he did extensive research on what people’s bodies looked like at those extremes.

The Creative Process

John Reid and I can usually get a script from start to finish in a week.  Then Larry will storyboard for about a week. Recording of voice overs and creation of the animatic take about a week. During this time, we continue to finalize the script. Animation takes about 4 weeks and in the 5th or 6th week we’ll have a pretty final edit. Audio Post takes about a week for dialog editing, foley, backgrounds, sound design and final mix.

We start with recording the voice actors in the studio. Then Larry Johnson will create a storyboard based on the script and the recorded voices. These will be edited together into what is called an “animatic,” which gives us a rough idea of individual shots and timing to base the animation on. After, we’ll tweak the script based on the animatic as animation begins.  Larry will take concept drawings of characters from storyboarding and create the final look of each character.  All background elements and character elements are hand-drawn with ball point pen or painted with sumi brushes and ink. These drawings will then be scanned and brought into Photoshop, where they are cleaned up and composited together. These composites are made up of the individual layers of a character and scene.  Frame by frame, animation for each shot of the cartoon takes place in either Adobe Premiere or for more complex movements, Adobe After Effects.  Our process is very similar to what was done pre-computer. Though we do take advantage of what modern technology makes faster and easier. Once animation is complete, the cartoon moves into Audio Post where it gets finished off with score and a detailed and immersive sound mix.

Working with Larry Johnson

I’ve been working with Larry Johnson for probably 10 years.  I’m not sure how we got connected, but I did audio post on many of his Museum Video’s, radio spots and documentary work.  I think Larry is a fantastic filmmaker and fell in love with his animation style, which was included in his feature documentary Stuff—and that was when we began talking about this cartoon series, My American Waistline. We’ve always had a great creative collaboration and I think we have complementary senses of humor and way of looking at the world that really works out great for the cartoon.

The Voice-over Talent

Ritah Parrish is one of the most talented voice actors that I know personally.  I met Ritah when I was interning at Digital 1 in the early 2000’s. She was working at the front desk and then doing tons of voice-over work.  She actually at one time was the voice of the Playboy Channel.  She brings so much to the table for these cartoons, it is ridiculous.  I will admit that much of the funniest material comes from her as she’s riffing on the script.  I will always do a pass or two and let her just take it where ever she wants.  Then I’ll either edit from that or we’ll revise the script to match the improvised material.

Peter Wilberding grew up with one of my closest friends from college.  We met about 8 years ago and have been friends since.  He lives about 2 blocks from me in SE Portland.  Peter is HILARIOUS and just a fabulous comedian, singer, voice actor.  He had been doing standup sketch style comedy with a troupe called The Better Boyfriends since high school.  So for Pete, the voice acting is really second nature.  And just like Ritah he brings a ton of comedic experience and improvisation to the performance.  We will also work together from a writing standpoint as well, especially in the musical numbers. 

We have also worked with other super-talented Voice Actors including Larah Baker and Lorraine Bahr. But Pete and Ritah are truly the voices and life of “My American Waistline.”

Production Value

Obviously, production value is extremely important to me.  If it wasn’t I wouldn’t be working as a Sound Designer at the level I am without quality being something important. I think one of the thing that stigmatizes “indies” is a much lower bar when it comes to production value. Many would probably argue that I’m wrong, but I’ve worked on enough projects that had limited-to-no budgets for Audio Post Production.  Most of the time it’s an after-thought for the director. I think that’s one of the first things that will stand out about SmashTheHive productions is that Hollywood/Television quality of the sound mix.  I take pride in that.  Sound is what immerses the viewer in the experience. Aside from that I have always worked with the eventual goal that SmashTheHive productions would find a place in television, not just YouTube and film festivals.

Feedback

We have received great feedback from people so far, as well as the nomination for Best Animation by the Dublin Web Festival. I think the cartoon definitely has a wide audience, and the show would fit nicely with other short form material on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim.” It has that kind of humor.  I think the show is hitting the right note with its social commentary and people are getting that.  I’ve never had someone say to me that they were offended.  But it is dark satirical humor, so I think it does take a certain kind of person to really laugh and appreciate the twisted humor of the series.

CREDITS – “My American Waistline”

“LIPO BABY #1”

  • A SmashTheHive Production

  • Produced by Jason Edwards

  • Written by Jason Edwards

  • Directed by Larry Johnson and Jason Edwards

  • Score by John Morgan Askew

  • Doctor Voice Actor - Peter Wilberding

  • Mom Voice Actor - Ritah Parrish

  • Baby Voice Actor - Jason Edwards

  • Animation and Animation Director - Larry Johnson

  • Animation and Compositing - Sophia Vidal

  • Sound, Dialog and Foley Editor - Lou Guidi

  • Sound Designer - Jason Edwards

 

“METAMORPHOSIS #1”

  • A SmashTheHive Production

  • Produced by Jason Edwards

  • Written by Jason Edwards and John Reid

  • Directed by Larry Johnson and Jason Edwards

  • Score by John Morgan Askew and Jason Edwards

  • Walter Voice Actor - Peter Wilberding

  • Star Voice Actor - Ritah Parrish

  • Randal Voice Actor - John Reid

  • Animation and Animation Director - Larry Johnson

  • Sound, Dialog and Foley Editor - Lou Guidi

  • Sound Designer - Jason Edwards


“ANATOMICAL #1”

  • A SmashTheHive Production

  • Produced by Jason Edwards

  • Written by Jason Edwards

  • Directed by Larry Johnson and Jason Edwards

  • Score by John Morgan Askew

  • Woman Voice Talent -  Ritah Parrish

  • Fat Monster - Jason Edwards

  • Animation and Animation Director - Larry Johnson

  • Animation and Compositing - Sophia Vidal

  • Sound, Dialog and Foley - Lou Guidi

  • Sound Design - Jason Edwards

 

“BEAUTIFUL #1“

  • A SmashTheHive Production

  • Produced by Jason Edwards

  • Written by Jason Edwards, John Reid and Peter Wilberding

  • Directed by Larry Johnson and Jason Edwards

  • Score by John Morgan Askew and Jason Edwards

  • Woman Voice Talent - Ritah Parrish

  • Pageant Announcer Voice Talent - Peter Wilberding

  • Commercial Voice Talent - Jason Edwards

  • Animation and Animation Director - Larry Johnson

  • Animation and Compositing - Elicia James

  • Sound, Dialog and Foley - Lou Guidi

  • Sound Design - Jason Edwards

 

“SLINGS AND ARROWS #1”

  • A SmashTheHive Production

  • Produced by Jason Edwards

  • Written by: Jason Edwards and John Reid

  • Directed by Larry Johnson and Jason Edwards

  • Score by John Morgan Askew and Jason Edwards

  • Women Voice Talent - Ritah Parrish, Lorraine Bahr, Lara Baker

  • Animation and Animation Director - Larry Johnson

  • Animation and Compositing - Elicia James

  • Sound, Dialog and Foley - Lou Guidi