Talking Shrooms with the Guy Who Animates 'Broad City'
Mike Perry's psychedelic animations bring Abbi and Ilana's mushroom trip to life.
In last night's episode of Broad City, Abbi and Ilana spend a day tripping on shrooms, which turns New York into a neon, animated dreamscape. The episode was kind of like that sequence in Mary Poppins where Mary, Bert, and the kids hop into a sidewalk-chalk drawing and enter an illustrated, alternate universe full of horse racing and dancing penguins—only with more drugs and an awkward attempt at a threesome.
If the animated portions of last night's episode looked familiar, it's because they're the work of Mike Perry, the illustrator behind every single one of Broad City's trippy, fluorescent title sequences. Perry spent a solid six months animating the girls' psychedelic romp through the city, and boy, do we wish we could pay rent to live in his version of New York, rather than the concrete trash pit we normally dwell in.
Drug-fueled fantasies aside, we caught up with Perry after a screening of the episode at A/D/O in Greenpoint, and he told us all about collaborating with the "yas queens" of comedy, merging live action and animation, and visualizing New York city through shroom-tinted glasses.
VICE: Whose idea was the animated episode of Broad City?
Mike Perry: I got a really good text message from Abbi and Ilana that was like, "Hey, we're thinking about doing this. What do you think?" Of course, I was immediately super stoked. I started fantasizing about what it would look like. When the conversation started happening about doing a drug-trip animation, it was a good opportunity for me to explore how the show would look and work as a cartoon. I had done a bunch of concepting over the years of miscellaneous ideas, and the animated episode has given me the opportunity to explore some of the themes I was interested in—like putting googly eyes on top of live action. It's so simple and dumb that it's hilarious.
Abbi and Ilana had some ideas, but the first thing I pictured was this canyon scene, with them wading through warm water. I did a concept drawing of what that could look like, they hit the script, and the whole vision came together. We wanted it to glow and have warmth, which is so nice because Abbi and Ilana are all about love and togetherness on this trip.
What was it like turning New York City into this psychedelic wonderland?
The story's set in New York, but it's loose enough and abstract enough so you're not even sure where it's taking place. It was an opportunity to think about traffic, background characters, stores, and the landscape, and how could we have fun with those things—what Easter eggs we could put in the background.
But it's really about trying to understand the ups-and-downs of the trip that's taking place. That's one of the things I really responded to in the script—how there are highs and lows on any trip. When you're feeling the high, you feel good and everything's exciting, which gave me the opportunity to use signifiers like happy colors and more positive elements. As you go through the lows, that gave me the opportunity to create some drama, and more movement.
It was really fun to play with the emotional range of the story being told—almost letting that become the world, as opposed to dropping the characters into a pre-made city. We're in control as we're animating their story, so we can morph and shape reality. When you walk through a tunnel, the bottom doesn't normally fall out. You don't normally fall down a tube into a giant mouth. But that's true to the emotion of the moment.
What was the most fun to draw?
It was fun to slow down time a bit. It keeps you on your toes, the way you get to affect timing in animation—speeding something up, or slowing it down just a hair. I had a lot of fun designing cars. It was like, "Let's put faces on the cars and turn them into weird car-people or something!" It was almost like an exercise in being a city planner: You develop the city, and then you've got to layer in the cars and the buses and the trucks. I drew a fire truck, which I'd never done before—I was never one of those kids who drew fire trucks, so it feels like my first fire truck. It only took 36 years.
How'd you turn Abbi and Ilana into animated characters?
I went about figuring out how the characters look like you would with any drawing. You just start doing it, and you do a lot of bad ones, and you keep working until all of a sudden you start to pull the characters out and they turn into their cartoon selves. It's a whole evolution.
It was fun, because we got to work with the wardrobe team to make sure the outfits translated well from cartoon to real life and vice-versa. With Ilana, the story takes place in the middle of winter when it's gross and cold outside, and she has one of those big sleeping bag coats. It gave us the opportunity to not draw her feet, because the coat was so big, so it was like, "Cool, she'll float. There's no reason she needs feet." Things like that. We cleared that with the styling team to make sure the coat still had fun energy and characteristics.
What's it like working with Abbi and Ilana?
They run this really beautiful top-down business where they put a lot of respect and trust into the people involved in the process. I've been given a lot of space to be myself and do the things that I believe in, because they know I have the best interest of the show at heart and mind. It's always nerve-wracking when you spend months of your life working on something and then reveal it to everybody. But from day one, the positive feedback and collaborative nature of their creative process has really led to the piece being what it is. There was never a moment of stressful back-and-forth with anyone involved in the process.
Sounds like you guys are kindred spirits.
I'm not usually involved in anything other than doing the titles. I don't read the scripts or normally know what's going on—basically I have my space to geek out and make these crazy title pieces. But when I got this script and started working on it, I had all these initial ideas and then found out there was a witchy theme written into the whole season, and I was like, "Oh, cool, I'm harnessing the witchiness without even trying. That's also my ethos." Throughout the episode there's this purple, naked fairy dude who's wearing a witch hat hanging out in the background. When you throw the word "witchy" in, you get to have some fun times.
What else was involved technically in bringing this to life?
It was a good opportunity to pause and heavy-duty focus on one project. I think that's pretty healthy for creative people, when you're given the time to do some slower, more conceptual stuff. You get to reflect on what you're making, so you can respond to it and not just pump something out and cross it off your to-do list.
I started out storyboarding in pencil and turning that into an animatic, which is basically moving storyboards. We didn't get the voiceover for quite a while, so we were starting work without it. There's a hilarious version of the animatic that's basically one of my animators reading the parts. It's totally insane and doesn't make any sense, and the drawings are so shitty and loose. But it's fun to look at and be like, "Boom. That thing turned into this." Everything starts with a little idea or sketch, and then, boom, it turns into a thing.
Follow Kara Weisenstein on Instagram.