Lee Hardcastle patently states upfront that his animated productions are “not for children,” and for very good reason. He might specialize in funny claymation parodies, but they’re a far cry from the innocent fun of Gumby and Wallace and Gromit — his productions tend towards grisly horror with a hard R rating. Gore and extreme violence permeate throughout his work, which often homages many of Hardcastle’s favorite horror classics from the ‘80s. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody out there who’s better with claymation, and he’s cornered the market on claymation horror.
Most recently, he’s been producing a series of Rick and Morty station identifications (brief commercials meant to remind viewers what network they’re watching) called the “Non-Canonical Adventures” that parodies classic sci-fi and horror movies.
The shorts riff on movies such as Gremlins and 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Thing and Ex Machina, and Aliens and Blade Runner. And each one uses Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland’s actual voice for the two title characters.
Hardcastle reassures Inverse that his favorite has yet to come — and that he’s made a whopping total of 16 different promo shorts.
Inverse caught up with Hardcastle recently to talk claymation gore, Rick and Morty, and how the squanch he decides which movies to parody and what characters to use.
It seems like you’re particularly drawn to horror and gore in your claymation. What is it about that combo that’s exciting to you?
I’m more interested in the horror aspect rather than the claymation. For some reason, ever since a child or teenager, I’ve always wanted to be a film horror director. I’ve always looked up to directors like George Romero, may he rest in peace. He’s like a rock star to me. I learned at quite an early age I knew I wanted to try and be up on a pedestal with those guys.
But in film school, a lot of illusions were shattered when it came to the film industry. The reality of it absolutely blew my mind when I was 18. My perception was shattered when it came to what the industry is. You need a LOT of money to get anything made, so I became really intrigued by low-budget productions and the tricks directors use to make it all work with limited resources.
Directors like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, the stuff they do with simple effects got my brain thinking on a different path: telling stories without spending a lot of money. The way to do that for me was with stop-motion animation.
When I first got started, I did it with little action figures before I actually touched any clay. The whole reason and purpose was to get productions made without having to spend a lot of money.
I just remember wasting many nights away smoking so many cigarettes trying to make these ideas work. In my final year (the third), I proposed the idea to do something with clay and the film I came up with “Stories From the Hotel Next to the Haunted Hospital.”
So how did you eventually get involved with the Adult Swim?
Adult Swim got in touch me with around spring 2014 and initially just asked me if I wanted to make two idents to play in between commercials. I was given very little direction as to what they wanted, which was a bit intimidating. You want to do your best and deliver what they want, but I appreciate the freedom they gave me.
I wound up making one with a woman trapped in a corridor by a blue zombie with a gun that she turns on the zombie and pulls the trigger.
Then there was one with a rat on a tabletop that goes inside this homemade trap, and the rat just gets minced and it spells out Adult Swim.
Later on that year in October, they had me make two more. Half-year later: three more. Every now and again they’d get in touch and call for a few more.
So how did you get involved in the Rick and Morty “Non-Canonical Adventures”?
I had done a number of idents for them and somewhere along the way somebody had come up with this idea: In the first five shorts, it was all movies that involved mad scientists and I put Rick in those roles. But, you’d be surprised how few “mad scientists” there are out there. After that, it was Adult Swim picking movies they wanted to be parodied.
When I first did the thing with mad scientists, someone at Adult Swim got really excited and then threw all these films at me. We just sort of went with it.
How did you go about selecting the specific scenes to reference from the films?
I had my personal favorites for some of them, but I would also research the iconic scenes and most popular scenes from the films. Sometimes it’s the scenes that people make fun of that turn out great.
With 2001: A Space Odyssey, I had only seen it about six years ago, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
But I was really unfamiliar with it, is what I’m saying. Nothing really stood out to me. The original one I was going to go with was the monkey scene, but my friends told me that’s what everyone parodies. Eventually, I thought it would be funny to recreate the “pod bay doors” scene frame for frame. I think it translates really well.
What does the process of making one of these things look like?
Adult Swim had me put some guide dialogue down, so I actually come up with everything in these little things. laughing (This is me taking credit right now.)
I even did the voices first in the animations, and I sent them away with my voices in there. Then they get Justin Roiland to redo the lines that I did. They also add their own sounds and music cues.
I’ve read that The Thing is one of your favorite movies. What was it like to adapt a scene from that for one of the Rick and Morty shorts?
That was actually the most embarrassing short of the bunch to me. It was on their list of movies to parody. I had already done SO much with it, so I didn’t want to make another parody. I think myself and people had seen enough of The Thing in claymation, so I just had to make it work.
Do you have a favorite of the Rick and Morty shorts?
I’m really proud of the Gremlins because it’s a wide shot and it’s just one funny take.
But The Fly is definitely my favorite. That was quite unique because it’s been remade quite a few times. The Fly is almost a genre in itself: It’s the most iconic mad scientist. I really like the image of the scientist with a fly head and the doctor’s jacket. I love how great the short replicates the original Cronenberg film.
Are there any shorts that didn’t get made?
Labyrinth was on that original list they gave me, but I couldn’t do it because I found it really hard to translate. So they threw two more at me. They pitched some ideas and eventually they just wanted me to do both of them.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Rick and Morty Season 3 continues on Adult Swim Sunday, July 30 at 11:30 p.m. Eastern.