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Phil Hartman animation to be made in Harmony 20 years after his death

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of Phil Hartman’s tragic death. The Canadian-American comedian, best remembered for his time on Saturday Night Live and his iconic voice work as Troy McClure, Lionel Hutz and others on The Simpsons, created a sketch audio compilation called Flat TV. Toronto-based animator Brian Lemay is working to bring those stories to life — and he’s using Toon Boom Harmony to do it.

The late actor’s brother, Paul Hartmann (Phil dropped the second “n”), brought Lemay onto the project and he is single handedly doing the animation work and character design needed to pitch it to investors. So far, there is about seven minutes of completed content. Watch the trailer below.

The original Flat TV recording consists of 22 short comedic audio sketches written and performed by Hartman, ranging from parody commercials to mock television and film clips. Among them are an ad for a product called Husky Boy Toilet Tissue, a 1950s-style game show with Groucho Marx and a Peter Lorre murder-mystery. Though Lemay and Hartmann had hoped to get the finished product out for the 20th anniversary of Hartman’s death, it’s looking more like it will be in a year or two.

“We have two ideas: One is a standalone short film compilation, about 45 minutes long, and we put it out in theatres and film festivals,” says Lemay. “The second is a documentary about the art of Phil Hartman.”

Beyond his comedic work, Hartman was also a trained graphic designer who created album artwork for bands like Poco and America, as well as advertisements and logos. The proposed documentary would highlight this aspect of his career, with the cartoons supplementing it. Given the diversity of the vignettes’ content in Flat TV, Lemay is tapping into his over 30 years’ experience to utilize a variety of styles including 3D, 2D, traditional paper, cut-out and puppet animation.

FlatTV_Phil_Hartman_Toon_Boom.jpgSource: Brian Lemay.

Much like Hartman, Lemay’s career is extensive and exceptional, having worked in studios on television series including Inspector Gadget, Care Bears and Teddy Ruxpin. He also taught at Sheridan College, helped launch the 2D/3D hybrid program at Seneca College and is now a professor at Humber College as well as a freelance animator. Having worked in so many different styles, Lemay has become cartoon chameleon of sorts — and the Phil Hartman project allows him to flex that flexibility.

Though no two sketches will be done in the same style, for the latest 2D animation portion of Flat TV, Lemay knew Harmony was the right choice.

“Toon Boom gives me an in-house studio. The rigging with the characters is absolutely amazing and Harmony offers me a lot of flexibility,” says Lemay. “It brings together all three elements I need in terms of cut-out animation combined with 3D integration, which is the rigging portion, plus the traditional animation and image replacement.”

Toon_Boom_Harmony_Phil_Hartman.jpgSource: Brian Lemay.

To further augment and future-proof his abilities, Lemay attended the Toon Boom Animation Career Camp in Toronto last November. Over three days, he was taken through the industry’s most cutting-edge, specialized steps, strategies and skills by leading local professionals and in-house expert, incidentally including one of his former Sheridan students: Stacey Eberschlag.

“One of the cool things I saw at the Animation Career Camp was the 360 element. I like the idea of 3D animation, but most of it basically looks the same,” says Lemay. “You have so much more flexibility with character design in 2D animation. Harmony’s capabilities offer the best of both worlds: to move a character like its in 3D, but in 2D.”

Having developed confidence with Harmony at the Toon Boom Animation Career Camp, Lemay has continued his training journey with the Learn Portal. Though he is a highly experienced animator, he started from ground zero in order to traverse the full learning curve. He also uses the Portal to problem-solve when working in Harmony.

Brian_Lemay_FlatTV_ToonBoom.jpg

Source: Brian Lemay.

Beyond Flat TV, Lemay will also likely be using Toon Boom Harmony for one other Phil Hartman-inspired project:Yogi and the Kid. The cartoon will follow an East Indian immigrant who comes to Canada and imparts his homeland’s more grounded philosophies to his neighbour, a rather spoiled little boy. The series, consisting of 11-minute episodes, aims to avoid stereotypes and err on the side of diversity and inclusivity. Preliminary storyboarding, and character and production designs for the pilot are being done by Lemay in conjunction with a writer in Vancouver. 

For now though, to paraphrase his beloved The Simpsons character Troy McClure, the world may have to just keep remembering Phil Hartman for such shows as NewsRadio, The Groundlings and Pee-wee’s Playhouse until these new projects are released. Fortunately, thanks to Lemay’s dedication and Toon Boom’s digital solutions, the wait shouldn’t be long.

Are you working on a project in Harmony we could write about? Let us know in the comments below!

Cover image source: Den of Geek.
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