“Pickle and Peanut” – this duo isn’t meant for your fork but rather, your remote. The unlikely culinary combo are the stars of Disney XD’s latest animated series of the same name. The food-based buddies sprang from the miraculous mind of illustrator turned animator Noah Z. Jones.
“They’re more than just words that sound funny together,” stated Jones. “They’re more than what they are, they have complex personalities. Their world is worth working in.”
After completing a three season run of Annie Award nominated and BAFTA winning “Fish Hooks”, Jones was looking for something fresh. Set in a pet store, “Fish Hooks” followed three best friend fish as they experienced life lessons in their aquarium high school and the cages just beyond. Recognizing the teenagers in the classroom format was a frequently used devise, he came up with a concept that was dedicated to fully exploring the complexities of well-rounded personalities. Disney executives introduced him to Joel Trussell, an animation director with previous experience on “Yo Gabba Gabba.” Trussell immediately jived with Jones and worked with the creator to develop the series.
“We wanted them to be authentic without leaning on the cliché things that best friends do,” said Trussell. “They are typical teenage boys who can feel bad for each other than turn around and make mom jokes.”
Jones knew early on the aesthetic he wanted to go for: a combination of photo collage, live action, puppets and found objects blended with background animation. Pickle and Peanut are photo realistic cut outs that pop towards the forefront of their environment. The backgrounds behind the characters appear hand-drawn and colored with washes. Jones and Trussell looked at photos from the 70s when formulating the design, taking inspiration from what surrounded them as teenagers. The build is a purposeful tribute to a youthful and somewhat naive sensibility – it’s indicative of creating and building without expertise, finances or proper equipment.
“It’s low fi, not polished at all. It should feel like these guys are sitting around building sets for a movie,” said Trussell.
Jones and Trussell continuously remain conscious of color throughout the creation of the series. They chose to set the show near Reno, Nevada for the settings limited greens and blues. The background colors are washed out, helping Peanut’s brown color and texture stand out against the neutral environment. Phil Voze, who worked with Jones on “Fish Hooks” was brought on in the role of art director to tackle the complexities of dealing with something that is meant to look effortless.
“Phil worked as a background artist on ‘Fish Hooks’, and I knew he’d be able to get the look were going for,” said Jones. ”He was able to take the idea and run with it.”
In addition to forming their animation team, Jones and Trussell brought on Joel Fox who oversees the creation of all live action art. Prior to anything being defined, Jones and Trussell carefully review the storyboards and animatics and determine the appropriate spots in the story line where the added visual punch will be most effective. They then earmark the scenes and work with Fox in defining the elements that will capture the look and feel.
“Joe throws together the most creative things working on a shoestring budget,” said Jones. “We’ve had everything from taxidermy beavers to grandma puppets.”
For example, while working as a clerk at a mini mark cash register, Pickle encounters a “grandma” bringing eleven items into the ten item aisle. Referencing inexpensive folk art that might be found in a Cracker Barrel restaurant, Fox created a grandma puppet using nylon pantyhose that crimps around the head. A pair of old dentures highlights the puppet.
“I don’t know where he got those teeth from,” said Trussell. “He always amazes us with the things he creates.
Despite engaging in a lengthy casting process, Jones and Trussell knew exactly who they wanted from the onset. Jon Heder, who’s voiced numerous animated characters since earning recognition as the title character in “Napoleon Dynamite” fully embodied the spirit of Pickle. Jones had seen actor Johnny Pemberton performing a standup show, and recognized he had the perfect balance of charisma and a carefree, casual nature that suited Peanut. They were delighted to learn Heder and Pemberton had previously worked together on a few projects and the best friend chemistry needed to portray Pickle and Peanut was an easy brew.
“Pickle and Peanut” marks a highly unusual brand of humor and stylistic turn in the form of animation presented on Disney XD. Jones states the grand madness present in the show comes from a point of real friendship. At the core of the quirky humor are well-defined characters learning to embrace a world composed of different points of view and temperaments. Jones and Trussell present scripts to Disney XD for approval and have found the humor and style have been embraced by the studio heads, to their tremendous joy.
“Every day when we come into work and the keys unlock the door, we are excited,” joked Jones. “The world of ‘Pickle and Peanut’ is realistic, but the door to weirdness is cracked open. It’s important to find that balance.”
Added Trussell, “We write a script we’re proud of, and then we let Disney XD approve. We’re just focused on making the best show possible.”
“Pickle and Peanut” premieres Monday, September 7th, 2015 at 9:00 p.m. To learn more about “Pickle and Peanut” please visit: http://disneyxd.disney.com/pickle-and-peanut