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Making of Yo Gabba Gabba “Nature” episode

Joel Fox facing nature

Warning! Spoiler alert! if you are under 2 1/2 years old, please get a parent’s permission before reading.

Making “Nature”
Another episode of Yo Gabba Gabba takes to the air! Its a colorful bird. February 7, 2011 was the premiere of “Nature”, an episode that I wrote and directed with Scott Schultz. Making the show is so fun, and intense, and generates so much magic, I thought you might like a look. So, here are some bits about that episode and how it happened…

The Nature of NATURE
I go camping, talk to clouds, my dad’s a biologist. I got to work on Nature. I love it. Scott wanted it to be about camping, which is great because that is about the most direct contact we have with nature. Its that living place that was here before people, and goes on without us with no regards to our big ideas. Of course, the Gabba characters are animals and play in their own lands, but they sleep in a boombox!

Well, to go camping, they would have to go outside, and that could be a very large (expensive) set indeed. Thats when I got excited to try a miniature set! I liked remembering the old Popeye epic, “Sinbad the Sailor” where they used a miniature set and photographed the animation cells in front of it to give depth to special shots.


And, gosh, I sure love dioramas. I started with a ramp idea, but immediately Kevin Lee suggested a spiraling mountain path, which was the right answer! Robert Pound made a prototype, and I made some video mockups that tested well. I worked on some different ideas of the scale of the mountain, but it ultimately came down to the the size of the resources. Polystyrene foam comes in massive blocks the size of a sheet of plywood, and about 3 feet thick. Thats what most of our big things get carved from. It was agreed that the mountain could be made from two blocks glued together. Thats how big I was allowed. It turned out to be just barely enough. Whew!

Foofa on turntable for walking

Sitting with your friends around a campfire is the best! And I really, really want kids to learn to make up their own games. Improvise. When you take turns making up a story it also reveals a little about you, especially for kids. I didn’t write the lyrics, but I had fun making up the idea. Every character really bends the song to be a reflection of themselves. The animation is also is meant to flow seamlessly from one set of ideas to the next, like a dream. The scenes were designed by Paul Mishrechky and Julia Vickerman and animated by Julia as well.

Rainbow Town Yo Gabba GabbaJulia Vickerman in the unpainted forest

If you have ever been camping, really out in nature away from roads and cars and such, you know that anything manmade can begin to appear a bit magical and bizarre. Take gummy bears, for instance. After seeing nothing but sticks and dirt and clouds all day, a bright orange squishy thing that tastes like a chemical fantasy can really be something to wonder at. Imagine the freakish splendor of walking into a grocery store after backpacking for a week! You can get a taste of it by putting your TV on a table in the back yard and eating dinner in the summer evening while watching an Indiana Jones movie. Amazing.
Every episode of Gabba has a live band, and its presented in a fluorescent pink media player. Lance has a line about it and he put the played down for everyone to watch. But since this is about being in Nature, I had a different idea. I thought it would be so cool to find the band in the forest. The characters would be hiking along and hear some music… “What is that?” And, arriving in a clearing, they meet some folks jamming away! Scott like the idea too, and tried to hard to push for it that I think he almost got in trouble. Nickelodeon lets up put the shows on their channel, and they monitor it to maintain quality. They make sure its not TOO rad! (wink) Of course, it ended up great. Lance’s appearance over the mountain was a remarkable moment.
We kind of kept it in the same vein by putting Band of Horses in a forest set that was almost the same as the one the characters were in. That also helped since we had so many sets for this episode already we wouldn’t have to make an extra one for the band. We put some of the savings into making an extra big moon.
The band was so great, and their performance was incredible. They were friends with the songwriter, Jarond Gibbs, and loved the song deeply. It shows.

Tribute by Ben Bridwell to his daughter-

Stills from animatic for video-

Where did Barbara come from? I remember discussing the hiking with Scott, that they should have a goal, a destination, hiking to the top of a mountain or something. Maybe they could meet someone up there? I don’t remember exactly, because once I thought of Barbara, she pretty much took over.
At the beginning of the episode Lance suggests they go visit his friend Barbara who lives at the top of Gabba mountain. They spend a lot of the episode getting there, and when they reach the top, they encounter a huge orange lady Sasquatch. She is strong, wise, and plus-size. Here is the original sketch I made of her-

Parker Jacobs, the master of all Gabba characters, came up with the final design for Barbara. He made her look like a character on the show, and added wings that we wrote in later. Barbara could fly, too!

And her name? First thing that popped into my head. When I don’t know someone’s name, or an animal’s name, I usually just call them Roger. I think Barbara is kind of a female version of that. I also thought it would be funny if her name was the first thing that popped into my head. And it is!

(do not let roger see this)

A note about Barbara’s voice- it started a little different. She sounded a little weirder for a while. The scene on top of the mountain was a bit tricky- the characters leave their friend toodee to fly home with a character they have never met. She is Lance’s friend, but Lance is not there to emphasize that. We didn’t really want to say its cool to leave your friend to go home with someone you have never met before. In addition, the voice we had for Barbara was also creeping some people out. So, we made a compromise and made some adjustments to the script, and recast the voice. We got the incredible Marissa Jaret Winokur instead! Here is the first Barbara voice for you to enjoy as well… Barbara's alt voice

Number segments are my favorite element of the show. When I got my chance to make one, Scott said to just go for it and make the video I always wanted to make, the most it can be! So, thats how I went off and shot myself in the foot. I love it but it might have been a little ambitious. Fortunately, I had Ross there to shoot the live action nature parts, make the music, and edit it together. I had Jennifer there to help with the stop-motion and the kids, and Julia to make awesome costumes. It was tricky, but I got it done. I had been shooting some stop-motion experiments in nature, and I love (and direct) the toykids segments, so I put them together. It was shot in the oak woodlands I grew up with, in Ojai, CA.
Here are some of the elements and stop-motion shot for the segment…

One more thing- we shot four kids for the Nature Numbers segment, but it turned out that we only had time in the sequence for three. The kid for #4 got cut. Im sorry Gweny! But for you I have made your own sequence. Here it is with other unused leaves, sticks, acorns and even the original soundtrack by Ross Harris for the segment that didn’t get used on the show.

I hope you enjoyed this adventure!