Overeating, alcohol and self-loathing wouldn't normally be a winning combination in real life, but on BoJack Horseman it is. Well, it is for the audience at least because BoJack Horseman provides some of the funniest and evocative TV out there today. For the titular character, a washed-up actor who can't seem to move on from the glory days of his '90s sitcom superstardom, not so much.
However, it seems like things are looking up for BoJack in Season 2 of this animated series, which hit Netflix Friday. He's got a new job as the lead role in a Secretariat biopic, a new love interest in newly-awoken-from-a-30-year-coma network executive Wanda Pierce and — dare I say it? — a new attitude about life. You'll just have to binge-watch your way through Season 2 to find out how long any of that actually lasts.
One person responsible for translating those changes in BoJack's life to the screen is Lisa Hanawalt, the production designer of the show. BoJack Horseman may be the first animated series Hanawalt has worked on, but the Los Angeles-based artist's portfolio of vivid, anthropomorphized animals was a clear inspiration for the show's animation. With the detail, humor and color found in the animation of this series, Hanawalt has helped make the fact that talking animals live and work right alongside humans in BoJack Horseman feel not weird at all.
Hanawalt spoke with T-Lounge via email about what went into creating the look of the second season of BoJack Horseman, including the creation of some crazy set pieces, how skyscapes set the mood of this season and why viewers won't be able to resist Wanda's cuteness.
Since the fundamental design of the main characters and settings of BoJack Horseman had already been completed for Season 1, was it easier to tackle the production design of the show going into Season 2? Why or why not?
I felt so much more confident going in the second season. Just seeing the positive reaction to the first season helped me set aside my fears of failure and fraudulence. And yes, we had those existing, fundamental designs and color schemes that we could build on vs. designing everything from scratch.
All that said, Raphael [Bob-Waksberg, the series creator] and I both like new challenges, so there were a ton of new characters and backgrounds this season and we didn’t rest on our laurels at all!
Along those lines, what did you find most challenging about the production design going into Season 2 of BoJack Horseman? How did you overcome those challenges?
This season has some insane set pieces: a theme park designed and built by Todd, a narrative sequence that resembles a children’s storybook rendered in watercolors, a fashion magazine office run by manatees for manatees, an oil painting that Princess Carolyn walks around inside of... just to name some examples! We definitely pushed the outer limits of what we could achieve with our production schedule and budget. I’m a perfectionist and want as much detail and beauty and background hilarity as possible, so it’s a constant balance trying to get all that stuff in without totally blowing our deadlines. I’m lucky to work with so many people who care about these details as much as I do. It just elevates everything.
BoJack will be turning over a new leaf in Season 2, trying to live a better life and be a better Horseman. How did that inform the look of the show this season?
This will sound so pretentious, but I think skyscapes are very meaningful this season [Laughs]. There are lots of inspiring/cheesy sunrises and sunsets, which look both hopeful and wistful as BoJack tries to change himself. There’s an episode towards the end of the season where the starry night sky feels so inspiring at first, and then becomes almost oppressive.
BoJack also gets a bunch of new furniture and artwork as he sets out to improve himself and his surroundings. That was super fun because I was getting tired of his decor, and it was looking pretty rough by the end of Season 1.
The posters for Season 2 are a lot more surreal and dreamier than the bummed-out BoJack sitting on a diving board for Season 1’s poster. What was the inspiration behind them, and what can they tell us about Season 2?
In the first season, it was a bit of a twist that the show ended up being so poignant and sad. This season we wanted the posters to have a more evocative mood to them and point to the emotional depth that differentiates this show from lighter comedies.
What inspired the look of new character and BoJack’s love interest Wanda, both making her an owl and the colorful, ruffled party dress that she wears?
Raphael and I wanted to create a character so adorable that the audience falls for her as quickly as BoJack does! So I gave Wanda huge eyes, a heart-shaped face, little tufted ears, and really played up all her most appealing owl traits. Her character is a TV executive who’s been in a coma for 30 years, so her fashion sense is very "office-appropriate Cyndi Lauper.” I had a blast designing her office - lots of Memphis-style pottery and Le Corbusier furniture. I chose the purple hue of her dress specifically to tie her to other women from BoJack’s past and future...
There are a lot of jokes in this series that fans might not see during an initial viewing, especially ones that are animal-specific, such as a chicken laying an egg when she’s startled and raccoons dumpster diving. How do those make it into the show? Do the animators or the writers come up with them, or do both groups work together to make them happen?
The background gags are very collaborative! Some of them come from Raphael and the writers, a huge portion of them are created by storyboard artists. The supervising director, Mike Hollingsworth, and I always go in and pepper up backgrounds with stuff. I love taking a break from drawing to come up with text-based jokes: store names, menus, dumb T-shirt slogans, license plates, labels on buttons, legalese on a prison release form. One of my favorite things this season was writing a blog post for an MRA blog.
BoJack has earned praise not just for its comedy but also for its depth and on-screen representation of depression and other issues. How do you go about striking that balance when creating the look of the show?
I like making things that are both funny and eye-catching, and BoJack is the perfect canvas for that mix. Some scenes are packed full of silly artwork parodies and visual gags, but for our more depressing moments, the scenery needs to take a backseat to the character drama and just let the colors and lighting do the work.
BoJack is the first animated series you’ve worked on. Now that you’ve got two seasons under your belt, would you want to work on another animated series? Why or why not? If so, would you stick to production design or would you try your hand at another area, like writing?
The best thing about working here is I continue to learn more about animation and working as part of a team as we go along, there’s no reason to jump ship! I do get bored very easily, so even though the thought of doing something new is intimidating, I’d love to do more writing and learn more about storyboarding and directing.
Any final thoughts on Season 2 of BoJack?
I’m so proud of this season and all the talented artists who helped to create it!