Super Jail holds ASIFA captive!

Posted by on Feb 23, 2009 in ASIFA Events | 33 Comments


Article by Sam Marlow.

On Thursday, February 19th, the creators of “Super Jail” got together at The School of Visual Arts to give insight about their first season. The panel was moderated by animator Dan Meth, and the guests included Christy Karacus (creator, director, the voice of Alice), Stephen Warbrick (co-creator, editor), Britt Myers (sound designer), and Richard Mather (the voice of the Twins). “Lets get this party started… in my pants.” Said Richard, in the voice of his character. Christy Karacus explained the origins of his collaboration for Super Jail. In the 1990’s, Karacus worked at MTV doing background designs for Daria. At the time, MTV was proposing to commission animated shorts for a program called Labs. In 1999 Christy and Stephen collaborated on a short film called “Bar Fight”. In the similar style of Super Jail, bar flies find themselves erupted in violence for 4 minutes. After its completion, MTV shelved it, along with the rest of their animated shorts program. Karacus and Warbrick made copies of it on VHS, as passed it around.

Without success from Bar Fight and not animating for three years, claimed Christy, he moved on with Warbrick to create Super Jail. They approached Dave Hughes, an editor from MTV (Beavis and Butthead, Celebrity Death Match), and at that time he was at Adult Swim (Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Squidbillies). The show was animated at Augenblick Studios in Brooklyn, and distributed by Adult Swim. The pilot aired on May 13th, 2007, followed the next year by the first season, which included 10 episodes.

The show itself has a different approach than most Adult Swim cartoons. Like most of the shows, there is a lot of improv, or simple animation, with room for adjustments (Aqua Teen Hunger Force). Christy explained that Super Jail is not that kind of show. They can’t repeat background, every environment is different for every scene, and the timing has to be worked out early on in the animatic, which was explained as being more animated than a usual animatic, in order for the action and story to play without losing momentum. In terms of the animation itself, they used an “Army of animators”… “They were 1000 % into this thing”, said Christy. Using the animators and many interns, they hand drew each frame, mostly doing it with 24 frames per second. Christy explained how they were using on screen Wacom to draw each frame into Flash.

When they were discussing the opening title sequence, they had to animate it on ones, with no holds at any point, which is a technique used a lot when there are many characters playing out their action. They do this because it’s easier to miss all the mistakes, and keeps the eye moving along with the animation.

Super Jail required a very tight script for the same purpose of the timing. They explained how they write a story, and then hand it off to a scriptwriter, such as John Glazer or Ben Gruber. During the script-writing phase, the animators and the creators collaborate on any idea they might have for the fight scenes.

The sound design of Super Jail is just as important as the animation, as is gives credibility to the action. Britt Myers, the sound designer, claimed there were 5000 sound effects in each episode. “Every episode is like a mini feature film.”, said Britt.

The title song of the show is very catchy, and was done by a band called the Cheeseburgers, including a member such as Christy Karacus. Bradford Reed, who is a friend of Aaron Augenblick, created the music for ending credits.

Toward the end of the discussion, they showed us the last two episodes of season one (Time Police part 1 and 2, which was originally one story, but Adult Swim thought it was too long), and a music video by The Cheeseburgers.

As of now, the creators are shopping around for a studio, so they can begin working on season 2.

As a funny anecdote, they talked about a Comic-Con fan, who suggested they start keeping a death count on the bottom of the screen. – Sam


  1. Elliot Cowan
    February 23, 2009

    “As of now, the creators are shopping around for a studio, so they can begin working on season 2.”

    So is the suggestion it’s not being made at Augenblick?

  2. Dayna Gonzalez
    February 23, 2009

    There was no suggestion made. It was more that since there is no official word on a season 2, they cannot say where or what studio may be available to house the show. What I thought was really cool about this show, is that its creators were very interested in having the animation produced here in New York City, as opposed to outsourcing it. There is so much talent here and it’s great to see local talent hiring local talent and proving how successful an endeavor it can be. I hope more creators will follow suit, and explore new and inventive ways of keeping animation in house whenever possible.

  3. Will Krause
    February 23, 2009

    I was amazed to learn that I’ve been mispronouncing Christy’s last name for the past dozen years.

  4. David Langkamp
    February 23, 2009

    How is Christy’s name pronounced? I always thought it was Kah-RAH-cuss.

    Note to Sam: the band is just called Cheeseburger, not The Cheeseburgers.

  5. Robert Schaad
    February 23, 2009

    Another topic mentioned was the non-strict-adherence to character model sheets, allowing for some flexibility, and utilizing staff creativity. This concept also carried over to the use of color…which is one of the series’ strong points, as the color scheme(s) seem unlike any other toon.

  6. Andrew
    February 23, 2009

    Didn’t Cheeseburger perform at ComicCon this year (it was on a day I couldn’t go)? 🙂 Seeing those guys afterwards was icing on the cake, and I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    I really don’t see why anything has to be made in a certain place. They did an excellent job just doing it where they felt comfortable… and it bent them over backwards and made them stay up late! Animation requires so much more than what even producers realize, and they faced it through and through. When they most likely get a second season, I hope they make it! I’ll probably look into them for a possible job, too.

    I noticed they kept mentioning Jesse Schmaal. I saw his RISD short a long time ago, and I’m glad to hear he’s still successful!

    Ditto on the death count.

  7. DarthFurby
    February 24, 2009

    When Augenblick Studios worked on Super Jail they had:
    22 employees(paid),
    and 15-16 interns(not paid).

    These people worked long 14 hour days for months, and nearly half of them worked for free.

    It’s admirable that Christy and company were able to meet their incredibly demanding production standards(painstaking hand drawn frame by frame animation, 5000 unique sounds per episode, etc) to create a fantastic show, but it encourages a network like AdultSwim, already notorious for their low budgets, to expect more for less money. According to Christy, only Augenblick Studios was willing to meet the brutal production schedule at AdultSwims price. That’s why nearly HALF the studio worked on the show for FREE.

    Obviously, Super Jail was a labor of love, but giving so much for so little only hurts the industry in the long run. The networks sprinkle out their breadcrumbs, and the studios fight for table scraps. Or die trying.

    And their reward? A second season for Super Jail is still in doubt.

  8. David Levy
    February 25, 2009

    Hey Darth,

    One could also argue that these interns got the most invaluable internships ever. So often an animation internship meant making coffee, taking out garbage, and working the xerox machine. These interns got real world studio experience, killer samples for the reel, and probably learned more about flash than any book could ever teach. And, these interns planted the seeds for their future employment.

    I don’t argue with you about the low budgets problem. Other adult swim shows feature such light animation that the low budgets are more justified.

    The reward for the efforts of the entire crew is not that a second season is in doubt. The rewards were the relationships made and the great show they came together to create.

  9. Elliot Cowan
    February 26, 2009

    I’m a little torn about this issue really.

    I’d like to hear some other opinions on the matter if anyone has them.

  10. David Levy
    February 26, 2009

    Hi Elliot,

    The other issue here is that the interns and the paid crew both wanted to be a part of this special production and their commitment went above and beyond the normal hours and weekdays associated with “normal” production time. All seemed to recognize this was a unique show and everyone wanted to go above and beyond.

    Other studios have done “forced labor” where they demand that everyone stay till 8 PM each night with no compensation and within hostile conditions. That is the crime.

    With Super Jail it was a case of “we can do this” spirit that MADE this crew want to go for it.

  11. DarthFurby
    February 27, 2009

    Hi David,
    As an industry, I think we need to campaign for better budgets so that studios can afford to properly pay their staff. In this I hold ourselves responsible. At times our love for the craft rewards self abuse and exploitation. Of course, a network can always threaten to export the work overseas, where labor is cheaper and more experienced, but going above and beyond basically tells Adultswim “Thanks! We love turning in high quality work for peanuts!” It sets a new precedent of higher quality for nothing.

    That’s why studios need more interns.

    The ratio of paid to unpaid staff is disturbing. It’s also necessary, and may get worse. When these interns are ready to become working professionals they will be competing with an army of new volunteers, perhaps for a budget where the ratio favors free labor.

    We need a better system. We need to keep the work at home, but we need a budget that doesn’t ask us to starve for a living, or encourage an environment of unpaid labor.

    This is not about love. This is about fair compensation for the work.

    We need a better system where the networks, the studios, and the artists all profit.

    And for that I have no answers.

  12. Elliot Cowan
    February 27, 2009

    Darth makes a compelling argument here.

    We don’t have interns as such in Australia, so it’s not a part of the culture that I’m overly familiar with.

    Although I see how it can be a positive experience, it seems to me that it’s also a way to get a lot of work done for free.

    That can’t be right, can it, regardless of what you are learning on the project?

  13. David Levy
    February 27, 2009

    Interns equal free work for the production, but does this make the work “unpaid” for the interns? Sure, if money is the only form of payment one acknowledges. Experience is one of the most important things to a recent grad or student. Don’t think for a moment that the interns didn’t pick up marketable skills that will help them land paying work next.

    Is the equation perfect? Not by a long shot. But, shades of grey are all over it.

    The problem with the argument above is that it is attempting to use Super Jail (a rare example of a hand drawn flash show on TV, in which an entire crew wanted to go the extra mile despite the budget) as the trend that the industry will follow. Super Jail is the exception to the rule. Most TV animation, by its very design, fits in to an equation of simple animation that puts the emphasis on scripts/audio to do the heavy lifting.

    I don’t see that changing any time soon.

    BUT, I think Super Jail also shows a different trend. In the last two years the local animation schools have graduated armies of animation students in numbers that cannot be absorbed easily into the current scene. I have never seen so many unemployed graduates in my 15 years in the business. The interns are seeking any opportunities they can in this impossible market. This is leading to situations like you saw in Super Jail. In the current climate, its leading recent grads to the conclusion that interning is better than nothing. It beats sitting on the couch and eating a bag of chips.

  14. David Levy
    February 27, 2009

    Hey Darth,

    I didn’t meant to ignore this part of your message:
    “We need a better system. We need to keep the work at home, but we need a budget that doesn’t ask us to starve for a living, or encourage an environment of unpaid labor. This is not about love. This is about fair compensation for the work.We need a better system where the networks, the studios, and the artists all profit.And for that I have no answers.”

    I disagree. It IS about love. Our love, our passion for this medium, brought us to working in an industry that offered little in the way of stability.

    How do you keep work in NY? Start by making your own personal work. Make films. Write scripts. Pitch shows. Go to festivals. I’ve been doing that for 15 years. Since 2006, my self investment created 5 productions for NYC animation. 5 productions that would not have existed other wise. One was a full series. Two were short-form interstitial series. The other two were pilots. In each case I leveraged to take on the job, do it in NYC, and work with NYC area animation artists.

    I think I understand your bitterness and fears are coming from… you are looking for answer where it does not exist. The industry is not here to make things easy or ideal for us. I’m here to tell you that when we each invest in ourselves it brings the entire industry up. It generates work.

    Its always up to us to earn a living, and to make this industry work for us. The answer is not from outside. The answer comes from within. I have no scapegoat to blame. I own my mistakes and well as my accomplishments. To me, that’s empowering.

  15. TV Animation: Art versus Entertainment « Fantazmigoriuh!
    February 27, 2009

    […] week I attended the ASIFA-East screening of Superjail, which, if you’re a regular reader of this blog (in which case congratulations my friend, […]

  16. Elliot Cowan
    February 27, 2009

    What’s wrong with chips?!!

  17. DarthFurby
    February 28, 2009

    Hey David,
    I should’ve clarified my comments about love and pay. I would say that love for the medium is our most important asset, but we should be wary when it affects our ability to make good business decisions.

    Compensation for services rendered should be based on quality and demand, not love. I would never pay an accountant based on how much he loved doing my taxes no more than you would pay a plumber based on how much he loved fixing your pipes, yet this seems common practice when quoting animation services.

    So is Super Jail too super?

    Providing high quality work for cheap convinces more clients to expect the same. A reputation like that can kill a studio, or an artist’s career and love for the medium.

    That is the one point I attempted to communicate, perhaps ineffectively, in my first two posts. Mostly, I agree with what you’ve written. We both want this industry to thrive, and I think we are saying the same things in different ways.

    Incidentally, I saw you at the Super Jail panel discussion the other night and regret not introducing myself. I was the guy who asked Christy how many employees worked on the show. Perhaps we’ll meet at another ASIFA event.

    I prefer popcorn, plain and unsalted. Chips can be unhealthy.

  18. David Levy
    March 1, 2009

    Hi Darth,

    Good discussion. This is a complicated issue. And, you make valid points. However, I think its a matter of where you put the emphasis. You may feel that the larger point is that the network got a lot more than they were entitled to and that the interns/employees got a lot less than they deserved. While you have made your position on that clear, I think each member of that crew would have their own unique opinion.

    The interns and crew I spoke to (and I spoke to many) where very proud of their work and anxious to come back and work on another season of the series.

    I stand by my point that there was a value earned by the interns for the time they put in. The skills they developed are theirs to keep and will serve them over their careers.

    I don’t suggest that love should be a factor in pricing. Sorry, if there was confusion on that. Love is why we chose to work in this unstable field. Our love of animation is why we couldn’t imagine doing anything else with our lives. That’s the “love” part. I call it, “passion,” myself.

    Darth, we’d all like to be paid fair, and we’d all like to have steady work. I can tell you from my 15 years experience that the best route to that is self-development. My method has always been to turn the mirror on myself. When one takes responsibility for their own future, they can do great things. I don’t look at the world as what it owes me or how unfair its treating me. Instead, I try to make my own luck, and by doing so, it tends to generate opportunities, steady work, and fair pay. Give it a try. It certainly beats waiting for the industry to take care of you.

    On the chips issue, I tend to eat a small bag of chips with lunch.

  19. Richard O'Connor
    March 2, 2009

    I just handed my landlord a check to cash in the bank of “love”.

    David, I disagree with you 100% here.

    No one needs animation. It’s a luxury. If Adult Swim wants it, they should pay for it.

    If a studio wants it, they should pay.

    I’ll admit that I’m not innocent of screwing people out of money they deserve -but I’m not going to justify by “getting paid in experience”.

    It is fundamentally wrong and bad for business, bad for industry and bad for the artform to rely so heavily on unpaid talent. In case you forgot, 660000 Americans died over the issue.

  20. Richard O'Connor
    March 2, 2009

    PS/ I’ll take responsiblity for giving Christy his first internship at The Ink Tank.

    He sent his reel from RISD and I push R. O. to hire him.

    It might not have been all that glamourous but we did pay meager salary (probably like $300/week in 20th Century wages). On the other hand, I can’t say there was a studio to model your business plan after.

  21. David Levy
    March 2, 2009

    Hi Richard,

    Adult Swim did pay for the series, but the creators and crew wanted more and went the extra mile. If they had checked with you first, they wouldn’t have. Write them each an email and tell them how they betrayed the animation industry and why they got nothing out of their experiences. And, don’t forget to tell them money is the only value for work. Be sure to also include that building relationships means nothing and that they didn’t plant any seeds for their careers.

    If you don’t agree with my summary of your position, then perhaps you’ll understand my point of view that this is a gray area and not a black and white one.

  22. Richard O'Connor
    March 2, 2009

    “Building relationships” is the biggest B. S. line there is.

    Did the creators work for free?

    The director?

    It’s their “labor of love” more than anyone’s, yet they stand to profit the most. You’re presenting an untenable arguement.

    As for “planting seeds” -we’ll see what kind of fruit this bears. Lower and lower network budgets like the “Flash boom” created? A perpetual underclass of slave labor to rival the Asian sweatshops?

    And, yes, ontologically money is the only “value”. It’s the only commodity that can be exchanged for food, clothes and shelter.

    “Feeling proud” about your work and “doing a good job” are not viable resources in any economy. Nor are “connections”.

    Connections, I’ll add, that could be just as easily had with a 1099 at the end of the year.

    If a project can not afford to pay workers, then it is the duty of management to a find a way to produce that project so they can.

    I’ll publicly say that to anyone involved in this -or any other three card monty production.

    I can do so, readily admitting that I am personally guity of the same misdeeds. But at least I don’t try to sugar coat it like me ripping people off is a medicine they should be thankful for. I’m ashamed of it, and do my best to prevent my clients from putting me in the situation where it’s necessary.

    Does “the New York animation community” really need nearly half of it’s work to be done by slave labor? Situations like this make shipping to Korea seem like a bless -just as many New Yorkers are employed, but at better wages.

  23. Richard O'Connor
    March 2, 2009

    One more thing: You should look up the law regarding “unpaid interns”.

    You may be surprised to find that the practice as descibed on this production doesn’t jibe with Federal Labor Law.

    But, hey, “love” didn’t get a vote on the Supreme Court.

  24. David Levy
    March 2, 2009

    Hey Richard,

    I agree with you, Darth, and Elliot more than you realize. Unlike your positions, however… I see gray areas.

    In my eyes, this is a complicated issue. I argued the side that had not been represented, but I see both sides of the argument.

    And, I know from personal experience how much I have gained by caring about relationships, planting seeds, and not using money as my only compass in this industry. If that means that I’ve wasted my time and energies of the last 15 years, then I own that too. And, in that case, I warn others to not follow in my path.

  25. Elliot Cowan
    March 2, 2009

    Dave, you feisty little goblin.

    I don’t entirely disagree with you, of course.

    “And, I know from personal experience how much I have gained by caring about relationships, planting seeds, and not using money as my only compass in this industry.”
    is entirely valid and I think important.


    1) Let’s assume the project is renewed for another season.
    Who makes it?
    I’m reasonably sure that AS isn’t going to say “Well, you did it for $3.50 last time so this time you can do it for $7.85”.

    2) I am very sure that nobody is suggesting you’ve wasted 15 years of your life.
    I would also guess that you didn’t intern for free on a project for 9 months…

    3) Let’s get into the nitty gritty of animation and debate who is better, Fred Flintstone or George Jetson.
    I say Jetson and anyone who disagrees doesn’t get to buy me a beer.

  26. Richard O'Connor
    March 2, 2009

    There are grey areas, sure. Staffing your production with 42% interns -that’s not a grey area, that’s exploitation.

    That’s robber baron, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory stuff.

    The law sets very reasonable rules for interns. I can’t imagine anyone in this day and age wanting to roll back the advances of the Labor movement.

    All of these “interns” have to be covered under disability and liability insurance, too. Is that another law this production skirted? You know who pays for that -people who follow the law and carry higher premiums.

    As an artist, an individual you can choose to work for free so that others can profit. As a producer, I hope to offer conditions where everyone can pay their rent (or buy a home). The law, however, sets standards to protect individuals who are offering their skills and talents in exchange for “contacts”.

    And Elliot makes a great point -I have never, ever worked for a client who paid MORE the second time than they did the first. It almost always goes down.

    What are the options for a production like this, then? Do they switch the ratio so 58% goes unpaid? At what point do we, as artists, start writing checks to broadcasters for the priviledge of a late night time slot?

    It seems like that grey area is putting more and more people in the red.

    3) Barney Rubble is the pimpin’est. q.e.d.

  27. David Levy
    March 2, 2009

    Hi Elliot,

    That’s all too true, that a season 2 does not usually get more money than a season 1. If anything, sometimes the price goes even lower.

    No, I have never worked on free project for 9 months… (I did several weekend jobs for free as a student) but, I also didn’t graduate with 40 other bodies during a time when there were few to no jobs. My graduating class was 7 people, and only 2 of us went on to stick with animation out of that. This army of willing interns seems to be indicative of the weak economy and the too-large numbers of grads that the industry cannot currently support.

    I hope things get better for everyone as soon as possible. I’m trying to do my part in that recovery by keeping on with my work with ASIFA and through personal projects, etc… We are all in this together, even when we disagree.

    And, I’m a Jetsons man myself.

  28. David Levy
    March 2, 2009

    I think it should be said that nobody leaving comments should be throwing around percentages or numbers of employees to interns without knowing all the facts.

    Internships could have been only 2 days a week. And, from the ones I’ve spoken to, that is the case. The large number of interns suggest there were always interns around on any given day, but it doesn’t imply the breakdown of labor that has been suggested in comments above.

    Would any of us want our reputation or company discussed without having all the facts correct? But, in the attempt to assign blame, that’s just what happened above.

  29. Richard O'Connor
    March 2, 2009

    Point taken on the numbers. I (falsely) assumed that what was posted was accurate.

    The point of fact, however, does not diminish the merits of my fundamental position.

  30. Elliot Cowan
    March 2, 2009

    “And, I’m a Jetsons man myself.”

    You win.
    I agree with you now.

  31. David Levy
    March 2, 2009

    And, on a lighter note, I am chuckling at the icon pictures that are representing us. We all look so angry! LOL.

  32. DarthFurby
    March 2, 2009

    I’ll trade you. My icon looks like he’s just had a lobotomy.

  33. Tim Rauch
    March 4, 2009

    Well, I just made two films out of “love” for Diddly Squat, and now I’ve made industry connections and may very well draw a paycheck to do EXACTLY the work I want to do and be the Man In Charge, or at least one of two Brothers In Charge. Let’s hear it for doing work you love and believe in. Sometimes that’s making your own film, sometimes that’s pitching in for free or a below-market-rate check on someone else’s project. In the end, it’s worth it if you make something good. It’s doubly worth it if you make something good and people pay you to make more of the same. If you spend too much time harumphing about inadequate pay, or poor production values or lack of “creative vision” you will probably never get around to actually MAKING something, which is what you should have been doing in the first place.