Tooning In: ‘The Afterparty’ EPs Chris Miller and Phil Lord Break Down the Animated Episode

Plus, could there be another animated episode in season 2?

The Afterparty Animated Episode
Apple TV+

Ready to get animated?

“The Afterparty,” the latest genre-blurring marvel from creator Chris Miller (who also directed the every episode and produces) and his creative partner Phil Lord (who produces alongside Miller) sees the whodunnit formula manipulated in an ingenious way: each episode is told from the point of view of a different character (potential murderer!), and every episode’s style and tone changes to reflect that character. For example, one is a big Hollywood musical, the other a moody psychological thriller, and, for this week, it’s an animated comedy.

TheWrap talked to Lord and Miller about what it was like putting the episode together, what we should look out for in the post-finale re-watch and if there are plans for another animated episode, should the show return for Season 2. Also, crucially, we confirm which Poqutio Mas location they were at on the day of the Oscar nominations (the duo pulled down the Best Animated Feature nomination for “Mitchells vs. the Machines”) and what their go-to order is.

TheWrap: Did you always want to do an animated episode or was it an idea that evolved?

Chris Miller: Well, certainly once we started talking about leaning into each of these character’s styles of storytelling as more different from each other, the idea of doing one animated was one of the first ideas that we talked about. Because we have a long history in the medium, and it’s a really great way to get a window into people’s emotions in a way that you can’t do in live action. And the whole idea of this was that each episode was going to let you get to see how they see the world and how they see themselves and really get a window into their personality. Animation was the perfect choice for that.

You’ve tweeted about how mathematical the plotting and planning of this show was. Was the animated episode always Episode 6 and why Episode 6?

Chris Miller: It was not always Episode 6, but it was always later in the story. It was obviously a movie first where we started with Aniq’s story and then went to Brett’s and so on. But part of it was that we needed to have people see Zoë one way before we got an understanding of what was really going on in her life. And I think, Aniq had idealized her as a manic pixie dream girl and hadn’t really stopped to think about how she was seeing the world. And it’s the thing that really needs to shake him out of his own myopia so that he can realize that we all are seeing the world our own way and have our own things going on. And we need to show a little more empathy for each other if we’re going to make it.

Phil, were you always like, ‘I have to co-write the animated episode?’ Or were you brought in as a utility player later on?

Phil Lord: I was mostly spell-checking and proofing. No, I think I just, my thing for this was how do I help? This is something Chris had in his head for a really long time. And so, we were on set together, producing and doing all the stuff we normally do. But on the writing side, I just was up for whatever Chris wanted. And he cast me into this and I was down. And I got to write it with this woman, Rachel Smith, who was our assistant at that time and has since graduated off our desk to her own writing career. But it was super fun to write it with her.

We also have to talk about one of our favorite people, ‘Mitchells vs. the Machines’ production designer Lindsey Olivares, who created the art, right?

Chris Miller: That’s right. She was the author of Zoë s drawing style. She made the mural that’s in the hallway. She did the character designs for each of the characters and some set-up for what she thought that the world could look like and then handed it off to ShadowMachine, the company that we are working with to make the new “Clone High,” and they ran with the animation itself.

We were trying to keep it in that scratchy pen style, doodle drawing look that she did. And she’s an amazing caricaturist and she — it can be brutal working with her in a room. You know that she’s sketching you right next to you. And you’re like, ‘I don’t want to look at this because I know it’s going to accentuate all the things I don’t want accentuated.’ But she has a very, very good eye for what makes someone unique looking.

It’s still warm and lovable, despite it being sometimes incredibly brutal. It was the easiest decision bringing her in on this to have her set the look for this episode. And the trick of it was we were trying to do this animation production pipeline while we were shooting the show because it takes so long to make animation. And that meant as the actors would get fitted for their costumes, we’d get pictures of those costumes and then send those pictures to Lindsey so she could draw the characters. And as we shot the scenes for the other episodes in the sets, we’re like, ‘OK, well, here’s what this location looks like. And here’s what another version of that scene looks like.’

We’d take pictures and send them along to the animation team and say, ‘OK, now I know we need to set this scene in this room. Well, this is what it looks like. We just shot it for the first time today. So now you can draw the background so that we can put the characters in it so that we can animate the scene for it.’ It was a really weird production pipeline, because we’re trying to do it simultaneously with shooting rather than after we finished making the show, and be, ‘OK, now let’s make an animated episode.”

Phil, can you talk about the different Zoë personalities that we get in this episode? There’s rage Zoë, stoner Zoë, regular Zoë, fun Zoë …

Phil Lord: And bear.

And bear. Yes.

Phil Lord: There’s a bear inside of us. I mean the truth is when it started out, there were just two. And then us being us, we’re like, ‘That’s no fun. That doesn’t sound complicated or difficult enough.’ But we were just trying to think of the possibilities that animation can give you. And I think also it was an outgrowth of how do we keep this character from becoming iconographic? Well, we need to show every facet of her. We need to show that people aren’t totally consistent. They are one way in one moment and another way in another, and that’s what we all are like. Especially as we get older, you develop more moves. And so it was just really an effort to try to describe this person as best we could.

Were you grabbing dialogue? Were you recording this stuff on set?

Chris Miller: I recorded Zoë, Sam, and Dave in a regular animation recording booth on their days off or the weekends. And then for everybody else at the end of the day, we would grab Ike and for half an hour run through his lines. And I’d be like, ‘Quiet on set.’ And lower the boom and then get recordings from him and everybody. And then, our process is things evolve a lot. It’s an iterative process. We got the baseline down to work off of, and then we kept going through it and through it and through it and it kept evolving along the way. And it would be a situation where we were just constantly texting people, going, ‘Can you say this line into your phone? And then we’ll get it professionally later and see how this sounds.’ And that was every day for months of tweaking.

How long did this episode end up taking?

Chris Miller: Well, it definitely was the longest from beginning to end because it started, as soon before we started shooting…

Phil Lord: I know I wrote it in a different house and I’ve been living here for a year and a half.

Chris Miller: We started production on it before we started shooting while we were still, we were doing early picture tests …

Phil Lord: Right. I remember reviewing animatic at lunch in the first month of the shoot. And we’d be on set shooting this thing, which was a year ago.

Chris Miller: Then we’d be like, ‘Actually this room doesn’t look like the room in this animatic. This is what it looks like now,’ [Mimics taking photos] and send it to them and then they would revise it. And then it was the last one we finished. So it was, obviously, the hardest from a production standpoint to accomplish. It was a really hard idea to execute.

Phil Lord: It’s a great idea to have a simultaneous live action and animation production.

Thank God you had all that Apple money to throw at the problem.

Chris Miller: That’s right. They decided to give all $1 trillion that they have.

Phil Lord: They did for this one episode.

If you re-watch this show after the finale, will you be seeing more clues? Is that the case? Are there things in this episode people should look out for?

Chris Miller: There definitely are. There are clues. The idea of the whole show is that each episode gives you at least one piece of information that when put together can lead you to the who and how done it. There is stuff here that you will if you are observant and clever, maybe helpful for you. And then another time it might be fun to just watch it again after you’ve seen it. But there’s a lot of hidden little details and Easter eggs and other crazy stuff in there because it is our obsession.

Was this so troublesome that there won’t be an animated episode in season 2?

Chris Miller: I didn’t say that.

Phil Lord: There’s all kinds of animation.

Chris Miller: That’s true. It is a medium, not a genre as we like to say.

Before you go, you posted a photo of you at Poquito Mas on the day the Oscar nominations were announced. Which one were you at?

Phil Lord: It’s the one near our offices we have on the Universal lot.

Chris Miller: Yes, the Cahuenga one.

Phil Lord: But the OG one that Chris and I have spent probably the most time at–

Chris Miller: The one in Burbank.

Phil Lord: The Burbank one. Yeah. That we’d go to back in our old days at Walt Disney Television Animation. Sorry to brag, where we got our start. We were there, I don’t know, maybe two or three times a week. And my order, since I know the world is listening, is a studio plate with corn tortillas.

Chris Miller: I’m a burrito San Lucas kind of guy.

That’s that Apple money paying for that shrimp. You’re getting that extra shrimp.

Phil Lord: No, that’s definitely … That sets us back.

“The Afterparty” animated Episode 6 is streaming now on Apple TV+. New episodes stream weekly.