Tabletop RPGs aren’t the first thing that probably comes to mind when you think about animation. There’s a lot of stuff going on at any given time and humorous or action-filled moments are often dispersed among hours of the player characters shopping or doing other tasks that don’t translate well to being encapsulated in a short spurt of animation. But over at Gee Whiz Productions, those drawbacks to a tabletop RPG session haven’t really been drawbacks at all. They’re doing amazing work in taking scenes from longer sessions like Critical Role and transferring them into animated gold.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Georgia about the process and where inspiration comes from and I hope you enjoy the responses as much as I did. Make sure to visit Georgia’s Gee Whiz YouTube channel to see the wonderful animations over there. Georgia also has a Patreon, where patrons can support the work as well as getting sneak peeks at works-in-progress and early releases. If you dig what Gee Whiz is doing, check it out here.
Where do you draw your inspiration from in terms of animation? Famous animators, companies, etc.?
“My current style of animation takes a lot of inspiration from Lisa Hanawalt’s designs for Bojack Horseman. I love her art and that show so much; the underwater episode is so beautiful and the kind of animation I can only dream of making. I finally watched Over the Garden Wall recently, and that’s been another inspiration because the backgrounds are so rich — again, I wish I could draw backgrounds like that. I’d say I also probably unconsciously picked up things from the many, many hours of Simpsons commentaries I’ve listened to.”
What’s your process like when you start to animate something? Ideas first, or concept art, etc.?
“So far I’ve only ever animated segments from longer shows, like Critical Role. So the first step is picking a scene I think will work well for an animation. Then I take the audio and edit it down, and even rearrange things slightly. I try to make the scene work as a standalone as much as I can. Sometimes I can’t edit the audio into something that I think works, so I give up there. After that I’ll figure out a very basic storyboard and then get to work. I usually do the backgrounds first, and the lip sync and facial expressions last.”
How long have you been doing this and what’s your journey been like?
“I’ve been making animations for a little over two years. The first ones I made were for podcasts like SPONTANEANATION with Paul F. Tompkins, and Comedy Bang! Bang! They’re still on my channel — and back then, I didn’t draw noses and gave everyone stick fingers. I had been making those animations for a few months when I first started watching Critical Role in early 2016. I saw the episode with the first appearance of Viktor and I couldn’t believe nobody had animated it yet, so I rushed and made my first animation for CR. Since then I’ve just been plugging away and (hopefully!) slowly improving.”
Do you feel that D&D or tabletop roleplaying in general lends itself well to animation? Taking chunks of content that have happened in game and translating them into visual media?
“In terms of translating the spontaneous nature of tabletop roleplaying into animated shorts, I think just like any act of translation you probably lose something as much as you gain something. I love the slow, rambling style of D&D and I can’t really capture that in my animations. But I love being able to highlight the improvised, comedic aspect of D&D in my work. My first animations were of improv podcasts where comedians play bizarre characters in heightened situations, and so it’s not much of a leap from that to D&D animations. There’s so many parts to Critical Role and to RPGs — fight scenes, high drama, comedy — and so with my channel I’m just trying to focus on the comedy aspect. Mostly because I don’t think I could animate a fight scene, but shhh.”
I highly suggest checking out Gee Whiz over on YouTube if you enjoy animation or tabletop RPGs or both!
On the Gee Whiz YouTube channel Georgia has a great selection of animated videos, and they’re not all Critical Role scenes. But they are all terrific! One of the more recent ones, which Georgia is particular proud of, is this scene from Critical Role, campaign 2. Caleb Widogast, played by Liam O’Brien, visits the Invulnerable Vagrant to stock up on wizardly supplies and meets Pumat Sol, firbolg enchanter, for the first time. Fans and Critical Role cast alike instantly fell in love with the enchanting shopkeeper. Here’s a little taste of why in the video below.
From the Nerditor’s desk
Are you a Critter? Do you like to speculate about Critical Role and enjoy writing? We’re looking for a writer to take over our Critter Corner series while our friend and fellow nerd Gin is pursuing her master’s degree. It’s a big role to fill – Gin did a terrific job sharing her thoughts and ideas about Critical Role campaign two on a weekly basis. Here’s the deal. Each week on Wednesday, fledgling Critters Nerdarchists Dave and Ted talk about Critical Role episodes with a two week delay to give fans a viewers a chance to keep up with the latest episode, like this one where they discuss episode 12. Critter Corner follows on Thursdays, giving a writer the opportunity to share their own thoughts about the Mighty Nein’s adventures. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, hit us up through the Contact page!
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Graduate student in pure math by day, avid tabletop gamer by night. Austin is a lifelong gamer who enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction, and musing about all things tabletop roleplaying, from classic hidden gems to modern powerhouses like 5e D&D.