How Broad City Made an Animated Episode Using 14,000 Drawings

Abbi and Ilana, just as they begin to turn into cartoons. Photo: Comedy Central

Fans of Comedy Central’s Broad City are very familiar with artist, illustrator, animator, and all-around genius Mike Perry’s work, even if they don’t know it. He’s the guy who’s been making the seven-second animated interludes that announce the series’ title for the past four seasons (and more recently, created the Broad City coloring book). So it was natural that creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer would turn to Perry when they wanted to do their first animated episode, airing tonight.

“Going into the fourth season, Abbi and Ilana were given permission to push the boundaries a bit and see how they can grow the show into the future,” Perry says from his New York studio. “They were interested in doing a cartoon thing.” The idea for the episode is that Abbi and Ilana (the characters, not the writers themselves) would take mushrooms, and Perry would animate their entire trip.

It’s a slow build that begins with the two just having animated eyes. It then moves to cartoon versions of the two of them walking down a real street, and culminates in an eight-minute fully animated cartoon scape of psilocybin craziness. Once the two come down from their trip a bit, we see other animated flourishes throughout the rest of the episode, a wonderful way to show that, even as the mushrooms wear off, they’re still a little bit affected.

Perry says the difference between the “type pieces” — as his kaleidoscopic opening credits are called — and this episode was more than just the level of ambition. For the type pieces, Perry draws them himself and is only constrained by the time limit and expressing the visual language of the show. “The episode with the animation is actual television,” he says. “You get a script, you go through the process of the storyboards and the voice-over, and editing everything for time and doing a shot list.” He credits a “very organized Google doc” for making everything come together smoothly.

He also got some extra staff to help carry the load. Perry hired four animators for the entire process and a few more for the crunch time before the deadline. “Animators are great, beautiful people,” he says. “Their job is to capture the acting of the characters in the shot and how they move. It’s through their mastery of human movements and the ability to spend a stupid number of hours listening to the same dialogue over and over and over again to come up with the perfect sequence.”

In total, Perry says it took about 14,000 separate drawings and seven months to make the 22-minute episode. Perry, who got involved with the show after striking up a friendship with Jacobson at a party at Art Basel, says the last time he did mushrooms was just few weeks ago. The content of the episode didn’t require any, ahem, additional research.

“What I enjoy about mushrooms in particular is that they’re geared toward a loving energy and they’re very visual for me,” Perry says. “One of my favorite words is ‘wiggly,’ and I think it has that impact on your point of view. I reflected on the feeling of time moving differently and trying to sneak that in and embrace the ups and down of the vibes of the trip.”

Perry’s favorite part of the episode is when Abbi and Ilana are peaking, and they walk through a tunnel full of things that both frighten and amaze them. “That is what happens when you go on a trip and you’re not prepared or you find yourself where you’re not comfortable,” he says. “You feel like there’s a roller coaster that hits you. We wanted to capture those ups and downs.”

Broad City’s animated episode airs tonight at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.

Broad City Made an Animated Episode Using 14,000 Drawings