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‘BoJack Horseman’ Season 2: Interview with Production Designer Lisa Hanawalt

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bojackS2posterDescribed recently by The Guardian as “more Six Feet Under than Family Guy”, BoJack Horseman‘s second season made its way to Netflix over the weekend, continuing the tortured yet doggedly-narcissistic adventures of the titular equine. Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg with a voice cast led by Will Arnett and Aaron Paul and bolstered by such comedic stalwarts as Patton Oswalt, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tomkins, Kristen Schaal, Maria Bamford and Alison Brie, BoJack Horseman tells the story of a sitcom actor whose glory days are behind him, attempting to build some semblance of a future career whilst constantly battling an assortment of inner demons and his own misguided impulses. While the show’s first season proved somewhat divisive among critics, the early praise for the twelve new episodes has been far more unified. Certainly the premise requires some acclimation – in BoJack’s world people live amongst animals anthropomorphised to varying degrees, yet their multitudinous idiosyncrasies and frailties are, more often than not, distinctly human. The end result, come the end of season one, is a surprisingly deft exploration of misery and self-destruction, wrapped up in an assortment of curiously lighthearted animal puns and showbiz satire. With the breathing room afforded by having this strange universe now established, season two picks up on far more secure footing and consistently strong humour.
During the production of the second season Skwigly spoke with production designer Lisa Hanawalt, whose prior illustration work includes the webcomic Tuca the Toucan and the 2013 Drawn & Quarterly graphic novel My Dirty Dumb Eyes. Lisa’s distinctive illustration style helped get the ball rolling on BoJack and has remained a vital presence throughout.

LisaH_DQWere you involved with BoJack from a very early stage?

Yeah, when my high school friend Raphael (who’s the creator of the show) pitched the idea he included some of my drawings with it. It was somewhat inspired by my animal-people drawings, but mostly about his experiences living in Hollywood, that feeling of loneliness even when you’re on top of the world. So he brought in my drawings with his pitch and from the beginning I was brought on to design the characters, then later I came back on to art direct backgrounds and work on the presentation episode, which was like our pilot. So yeah, I’ve been really involved from the beginning.

So from the presentation episode to the main show were there any significant changes or were you able to keep it pretty much as-is?

It really sticks to Raphael’s original vision for the show, which is great. I think if we had sold to a different network we would’ve had to make a lot of compromises and edit stuff a lot more, but Netflix gives us a lot of freedom.

Had you worked with Raphael before?

Yes, after college we started doing a webcomic together. We did it for two years, it was called Tip Me Over, Pour Me Out. He would write it and I would illustrate it and it came out once or twice a month. So that was our main collaboration.
We met in high school and used to hang out and joke around about our ideas for TV shows. I never expected it to actually happen but Raphael was always headed in that direction. He’s such a good writer. And he loves TV!

BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

That there’s actual substance to the stories themselves and that there’s a sense of humanity to the characters, I found as a viewer that you buy into the universe very quickly. I think that’s sort of a testament to the visuals and the writing working together harmoniously. Were there ever any concerns about the visual style being an issue for audiences?

I think when it came out a lot of people were like “This is a really strange, surreal show”. But I’ve never thought of that as being a strange way to do artwork or express myself. I’ve always drawn animal-people, since I was really little it was one of the first things I ever started drawing. If you look back through art history there’s a long history of people drawing animals as people and it just works so well for allegory and for expressing emotions. It’s also funny – when I first get a script and look at all the characters we’re gonna need coming up I almost always start with the animals and leave the humans ’til last, because they’re less fun.

So as far as what is brought to you with each episode, is it put together week-by-week as it would be with a network television show or is it all worked out at the beginning and then broken down?

It is broken down episodically and, roughly, chronologically, but I am doing a lot of things concurrently because we have storyboarders, writers, actors doing the voice recording, all of that has to sync up. So I’ll start designing a character, say a fish, and then the storyboarder will say “Oh actually I was thinking of that as more of a crow” and then we have to talk to the writers and see what they want. That’s the hardest thing but also the most fun thing, is just trying to sync up with all these groups doing their own thing, making sure that it makes sense across the board.

As far as the people who are brought on to do the voices for the characters, are they in mind at the beginning or are they cast after the designs are done?

It depends, a lot of the side characters are cast after the fact and then it doesn’t matter what they look like, for the main actors I’d say that their voice acting definitely makes me think differently about the design. If they have a deeper, more manly voice, say, I’ll probably change how their face looks as opposed to a more boyish, innocent voice.

BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

The cast on the whole features such a great cross-section of humorists and stand-ups…

Yeah, people like Maria Bamford and Kristen Schaal, Paul F. Tomkins, a lot of my favourite comedians are on this. Patton Oswalt is so terrific, we were lucky to get him to do a whole bunch of side characters, and Will Arnett really brings his own talent to the table, just watching him in the voice recording sessions it’s clear what a tremendous talent he is, he’s just very charismatic and really smart and funny. He’s not just reading the lines, for sure.

It does seem that the show has gotten a really positive audience response.

Oh yeah! Sometimes I’ll look at the #BoJack hashtag on Twitter and it’s just crazy how many people are watching it and responding to it. Me and Raphael did a Reddit AMA and there were so many fans asking questions, there are people really excited to dress as BoJack for Halloween which is really surreal and awesome, there’s fanart on Tumblr, it’s just crazy, I love it! It makes me feel really excited about the second season, I can’t wait for people to see it.

You can check out Lisa Hanawalt’s work at and follow @lisadraws on Twitter. To hear more from our interview have a listen to episode 25 of the Skwigly Podcast (stream below or direct download). Lisa also co-hosts her own podcast Baby Geniuses with Emily Hellor that you can hear at

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