It’s been nearly a decade since audiences were introducing the Croods, a family of prehistoric cavemen, in their titular feature animated film. The Croods has become a full-fledged franchise for DreamWorks animation branching into video games and even a prequel TV series. The adventures of the Crood brood took an unexpected turn in the recent sequel film, The Croods: A New Age, when they encountered and found themselves living with another family, the aptley named Bettermans. The domestic disputes continues with the new The Croods: Family Tree spinoff series.
Ahead of the release of the second season of The Croods: Family Tree, The Beat spoke with show’s executive producers Mark Banker and Todd Grimes about adapting the film franchise for the medium of TV animation and how they along with the entire crew managed to create a show remotely in the midst of a global pandemic.
Taimur Dar: DreamWorks Animation has a history of producing shows based on its feature films. Sometimes they’re released years apart but sometimes, as is the case with Croods: Family Tree, they come out within a year of each other. What was the timeline between the production of the Croods sequel and when you started developing this cartoon spinoff?
Mark Banker: We were very fortunate on this one that we keep on at a sweet spot in the development process of the movie because the movie was far enough along that we could sit down and watch an early cut of it. But it wasn’t so far along that it was a finished product. We got in pretty early and saw the new characters they were using, the Bettermans and knew where the moving was going to end. The marching orders were [to] start where the movie ends. That’s a pretty easy target to hit. The goal was pretty clear right from the beginning. We’re picking up at the end of the movie with the Bettermans and the Croods living together on the farm in the treehouse. We knew that the show as going to be about these mismatched families forced to live together under the same roof in the comedic situation that would rise from that.
Todd Grimes: Just like Mark said, we had the benefit of developing the show as the movie was being made. That made it so that there was not too much time in between the release of the film and the release of the show. So it was still sort of fresh in the audience’s minds. I think we were less than a year after the film’s release. Because animation takes so much time and we were starting to produce the show while the movie was still being made, it shortened the gap between the releases.
Banker: The timing doesn’t always work out but for this one it worked out perfectly.
Dar: It’s always interesting to see whether the Dreamworks Animated shows retain the CG art style or adapt it into 2D. The latter was the case for the Captain Underpants cartoon which you both worked on. In contrast to the Dawn of the Croods prequel series from a few years ago, Croods: Family Tree keeps CG art design. I’m curious how that decision came about and any challenges?
Grimes: Occasionally, the decision is made to go CG over 2D based on the show creators’ preference. But we knew with this franchise that the world is so lush and a big part of the appeal beyond even the comedy or the writing is the visual style. We knew right when we were developing the show that we were going to make it look like the film as best we could. TV obviously has budget considerations. So we had to make a lot of creative compromise in order to produce the film in the same style as the film. But I think we’ve done a really good job of keeping the look. We’re just proud of the work our team has done to make the show so visually stunning. We wanted to make it as beautiful as the film looks.
Banker: It’s really a tribute to the crew of all stars that we were able to assemble that we’re able to make this show look as amazing as it does. And also partnering with Technicolor Animation Productions that could pull off what is a tight schedule. We’re producing a lot more stuff in very little time. That’s always a challenge. The funny thing about CG is what you can do in CG shows literally changes from month to month. It’s possible that this show could have been made this way two years ago. We were just in the position where they made the capabilities to make it look this great as we were going into production. We were fortunate enough to have the right people in place to pull that off.
Dar: It looks like the majority of the voice recording was done remotely. In a previous animation press junket, a producer mentioned one advantage of working at home was it allowed to do these remote recordings ensemble. It may have been difficult for Croods: Family Tree since you have ten regular actors/characters but did you record any of the actors together virtually?
Grimes: We definitely wanted to do it. It’s a challenge though because in the very beginning the actors weren’t even able to go into the studios so they were recording from their homes. By the time we got to season 2, I think we started to have some of the actors go into the studio. But the studio itself has rules like you can’t have more than one person in the booth at the same time. So we were able to do some situations where we had actors record together but they were in separate locations. That was a lot of fun because Mark and I feel the same about the ensemble record. It gives the actors an opportunity to play off one another. Anytime we could more than actor recording at the same time we tried to make it work by either having one of them at their own home or the two actors at completely different studios across town. We’re hopefully going to continue to do that.
Banker: There are I’m sure so many stories of quiet heroism that took place during the pandemic. The DreamWorks casting department had to figure out how to do something remotely that was done in person. They actually had to figure out how to get the recording equipment to the homes of the actors. Not just for our show but for all the shows within days or weeks. And it was just incredible. Within weeks we were up and running with people in their closet and a system in place not only to record live in the studio remotely. But also a backup in the closet of whatever actor was doing it. We did one or two ensemble records on Zoom with everybody in their house. It was fun but also really hard to juggle that many people remotely. It’s a lot easier to do it in person which I’m sure is true for every meeting for every company during the pandemic. Eventually we made the decision to record everybody separately instead of together.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this. I do think the positive about doing it this way is that we are able to spend more time with each actor and get more colors in their reads and work with them in a way that we probably wouldn’t have time to do if you had everybody together. There’s just not enough time. Looking on the bright side, that’s been a pretty great thing. I also want to say that this cast is just fantastic. I can’t say enough about how great they are. I’m so sad that they can’t be together because I know that they all interact and have fun remotely. They’re so much fun.
Grimes: I won’t say who but I will say that we had one actor record several episodes in a makeshift sound booth in a bathtub.
Banker: The human ingenuity that has come from this era of our history is truly great!
Dar: Completely agree with you on the voice cast, which segues perfectly into my next question. The first Croods The film was released over a decade ago which is a major benefit for the voice actors playing those specific characters. In fact, AJ Locascio is reprising the role of Thunk Crood which he played before in the aforementioned Dawn of the Croods prequel cartoon. Since the new characters, the Bettermans were introduced in the recent film which wasn’t even out yet, how did you cast or audition those actors?
Grimes: Yeah, the film wasn’t out yet but had already been cast. That was also some great work by the DreamWorks casting department to find so many good candidates. We wanted to find people who had a similar sound to their voice so it sounded like the same character. But we also wanted someone whose acting instincts and performance matched what Peter Dinklage and the other actors did in the film. And we were able to get Kelly Marie Tran, who played the character Dawn in the film, to come back for the show as well. So that was really fortunate. We knew what we were going for because the film had already been recorded and cast. I don’t remember if we let the actors hear that stuff because it was all secret at the time. I think they knew who they were trying to mimic.
Banker: With a situation like this you always want to balance the idea of sounding like the actor in the movie but also creating a character on your own. We had a great blend of that on the show. I think they had some reference material to hear what the Bettermans sounded like in the movie but then of course had the ability to make it something new for the series.
Grimes: AJ told us the other day that he’s been voicing Thunk for almost 10 years now because he was the voice in the previous show but he also had done some press stuff when the first movie came out.
Dar: Speaking of that previous Croods series which we’ve mentioned a few times already, I wanted to know if you were familiar with it and how does the humor of Family Tree differ from it?
Grimes: We had definitely seen it. Both Mark and I were both at DreamWorks while all of our friends were still working on that show. We have a difference in our show being we’re coming off the second feature. The inclusion of the Betterman characters was great for us because we’re able to mine so much comedy on that Odd Couple situation where such disparate families are living together. Dawn of the Croods was more of a prequel storyline so they had their own freedoms they were able to do because it’s a different timeline. We wanted to give Croods: Family Tree Its own voice with a little more sitcom styling but with still the activity and adventure of the Croods world.
Banker: Dawn of the Croods was a great success. What made it easy for us to differentiate with this show is our focus really is on the dynamic between the Croods and this new family the Bettermans. It made it pretty easy to head into new territory.
Dar: Finally, after more than two years now what has been your experience working remotely on an animated series?
Grimes: This is one of them. [Holds up dog].
Grimes: This happens occasionally. We produced this show almost entirely remotely because we had just gotten started when the world ended two years ago. At first we didn’t know how long we were going to be doing this. We were a little concerned how we were going it. This is another credit to our cast and crew and our teams overseas that we somehow managed to figure it out and prove that it could be done. As far as I know we never really missed a beat stayed on schedule. We have a lot of talented people that were able to get the work done and get it done really well whilst being trapped in their homes.
Banker: None of this is possible without the amazing dedication and hard work of hundreds of people working on this show. If you had told me two and a half years ago that we would be able to produce this show entirely in our house and shorts…at the time it seemed preposterous because it’s been done one way for so long. But because people had to make this work, they just did. Being in a pandemic and in lockdown obviously wasn’t great, but the upside was it was nice to work from home. We are more productive. Todd and I live a pretty significant distance from the office so each of us was probably spending a couple of hours commuting back and forth. That time went back into the show. I think that’s probably true for a lot of people. You make the best of that situation. We miss being there and being together with the crew. Working as a team in person is one of the great things about doing this work. We’ve had to make the best of that with these little boxes on our screens. But it’s a real testament to how adaptable people are and it worked out.
New episodes of The Croods: Family Tree are streaming now on Peacock and Hulu.