Community's December 9 animated Christmas episode, in which Abed (Danny Pudi) learns the meaning of Christmas (and which featured a shout-out to TV Guide Magazine!), is a holiday miracle in itself. As overseen by 23D Films owners James Fino (who previously worked on King of the Hill) and Joe Russo (The Simpsons), the stop-motion animation was completed in four months, less than half the time it takes to produce an episode of The Simpsons.
"We needed every ounce of that time," Fino says. "It couldn't be whipped off. We had to be at the top of our games." Animators from the movies Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas also contributed their talents.
Fino and Russo offered the following production timeline:
August 1: Community creator Dan Harmon tells writer Dino Stamatopoulos (who also plays Star-Burns) and Russo (friends with Stamatopoulos since their days together on Mr. Show with Bob and David) that NBC OK'd an animated episode.
August 15: Harmon and Stamatopoulos' script comes in; Fino and Russo and their art department of 70 begin design and production on 19 sets and 66 puppets.
October 18: Animation begins. A week earlier, 23D Films discovered that Chevy Chase's Pierce was in a wheelchair, scrambling to create stop-motion wheelchairs. The first week, only 30-40 seconds of the episode is created. "We worried, 'Did we bite off more than we can chew?'" Russo recalls. By working on 10 separate stages simultaneously, they soon catch up.
December 8: 23D Films turns in the final completed shots of the episode, just one day before it airs.
"We wondered if we could do it," says Russo. "But we knew we'd regret it down the road if we weren't part of this, producing a special episode of a really cool show."
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