The animated series “Frog and Toad” on Apple TV+ preserves the magic of the books
Showrunner Rob Hoegee told IndieWire that he trusts the power of the story and the subtleties of the animation to engage young viewers with Arnold Lobel’s beloved characters.
If you grew up reading Arnold Lobel’s books or have children with whom you shared the award-winning adventures, Apple TV+’s animated series Frog and Toad is an extension of the characters you know and love. At least this is the main goal of the presenter, Rob Hoegee, who loved books even as a child.
“These are iconic characters that are just begging to be included in an animated show,” Hoegee told IndieWire. “My goal was to faithfully adapt the books to preserve the characters as everyone remembers them.”
Like the book series, “Frog and Toad” follows best friends who enjoy what they have in common while embracing their differences. The cast includes Nat Faxon and Kevin Michael Richardson as Frog and Toad, along with Ron Funches, Fortune Feimster, Cole Escola and others.
When designing the look of the show, Hoegee wanted to stay as close as possible to Lobel’s “timeless and classic” illustrations. “I don’t think anyone had any interest or even a passing thought to change that,” he said. “If you took the style away from these characters, it would take away a huge aspect of what makes them so special.”
Therefore, the animation team of roughly 30 people (plus another 60 people from the Titmouse animation studio in Vancouver) drew and painted the series by hand before animating it with a program called Toon Boom Harmony. The result is a style similar to the dotted line illustrations originally featured in Lobel’s books.
“It’s kind of hybrid CG, so the characters are created with rigs and built into a computer program. And then those rigs are manipulated, but what’s different than, say, another CG platform, is that it’s able to maintain linework and texture in a way that looks hand-drawn,” Hoegee explains.
One of the advantages of this is that you can add new characters and details in a few hours, as opposed to CG, where artists have to design and model each new element. “You can change things a little more flexibly,” Hoegee said.
“Because this show takes place outdoors, we were able to vary our backdrop a lot by mixing it up with foreground, middle and background elements. We are able to take trees, rocks, bushes, landscape elements and swap them with each other to create an almost infinite number of environments.”
The showrunner adds that when you have simple stories (“Frog and Toad” is aimed at early readers), you can immerse yourself in a scene and let the subtleties emerge. Some episodes contained only 45 to 50 shots, compared to a typical preschool animated series, which Hoegee says can have 60 to 70 shots per episode—perhaps more depending on the show.
However, one of the biggest challenges in adapting “The Frog and Toad” for modern audiences is keeping things moving and interesting. “You set the scene and allow the characters to live in the frame, which is consistent with the books,” Hoegee said. “But you always want dynamic visuals, interplay between characters, movement, action… fine camera work.”
He likens some of the visuals to looking into a diorama, with a limited sense of perspective and parallax, and layering with characters that are created on a non-human scale. “It feels like a world you’re peeking into,” he explains. “It’s such a rich, layered, interesting feeling, like being in the backyard and peering through the blades of grass and the dandelions can be the size of a tree. A rock can be a mountain.”
He adds that when kids are engaged with characters and story, they don’t need a lot of action and movement to be absorbed. What you need, and according to him, “Frog and Toad” has all the elements. together: the visuals, the soundtrack and the music, which in this case has the atmosphere of old, early jazz, bluegrass.
“Those who are not familiar with ‘Frog and Toad’ will have the same experience as so many people when they read these books for the first time or for the 100th time,” he said. “Everything that is lovable about the characters in the books is there on the screen. So if the success of the books is any indication, the audience’s enjoyment will be equal to that.”
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