It’s no secret that the Vancouver-based Bardel Entertainment handles all of the animation for Rick and Morty, and new insights into the complexity at this stage in the show’s production could give us the definitive explanation for why each episode takes so long to create — and why Season 5 might not arrive for a very long time.
A feature published by Vulture Tuesday investigates the Rick and Morty animation process via an interview with Nathan Litz, the animation director at Bardel Entertainment. “I’m sort of fighting myself when I watch an episode,” he said. “You see all the great action go by and it looks fantastic. But you look at it and you think, That took four weeks to do, and it played out in one minute.”
Litz is probably referring to one of the more complex sequences from the show here, so we can’t assume it takes 88 weeks to animate the average Rick and Morty episode with his team of almost 50 artists and animators. Still, it probably takes longer to animate an episode than any other stage in the creative process, and because Rick and Morty wasn’t renewed until May 2018, that explains the two-year gap between Season 3 and Season 4.
“It’s absolutely gotten a lot bigger,” he said. “The ambition of the writers and designers only seems to grow. On the one hand that’s fun to do. But it can be a real struggle to maintain the level of quality while still trying to get these episodes done on time.”
Just like many live-action productions, most animated series recycle the same settings to keep the process moving at a steady pace, but it’s not so easy for a show steeped in bonkers sci-fi that frequently visits alien worlds and/or alternate dimensions.
“I can’t even think of a direct comparison because every other show is concerned with keeping it as conservative as possible, in terms of character count, locations, and so on,” Litz said. “Whereas this show, they love to send someone off to some other universe and give them three seconds with 15 different scenes, different background angles, different characters. Obviously every different planet and dimension has to be populated by original and interesting characters. Everything’s as lively as possible.”
In the Season 4 premiere, Morty transformed into an Akira-style humongous blob monster. Another episode this season was a fantasy parody that involved multiple dragons, each with its own complex design.
Animators never know what to expect or how complex the level of detail will be.
Who could’ve guessed that the mid-season finale of Season 4 would include a 2-minute sequence that has a full movie’s worth of plot all set on a snake planet where they all speak in hisses?
Despite how challenging animating a show like Rick and Morty can get, Litz finds the work “extremely satisfying” and that the many members of the team “have so much pride for this show” that they whoop and holler when they see the final product — just like the rest of us.
Rick and Morty Season 4 will return sometime in 2020.