BoJack Horseman Season 2: Horsin’ Around with Art Design

We talk with Lisa Hanwalt, the designer of Bojack Horseman, about where the narcissistic horse is headed this season...

Bojack Horseman turned out to be one of the most delightful surprises to gallop out of Netflix’s stables last year.

The network’s willingness to double-down on Will Arnett seemed to pay off the best it had yet in the form of a deeply irreverent animated sitcom that was interested in talking about Hollywood, television, and all of the insecure egomaniacs in between. 

Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, and featuring a poachers’ row of voice talent ranging from Paul F. Tompkins, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul, and Amy Sedaris, the series became a breakout hit with one of the most unique, refreshing voices in a comedy in some time. A second season couldn’t come fast enough. 

In preparation for the show’s sophomore year, we took some time to talk to Lisa Hanawalt, the series production designer and co-producer, about what makes this horse so important.

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DEN OF GEEK: You’re a production designer on Bojack Horseman, a position that I think would be particularly exciting for an animated series. Would you mind explaining what you do for the series for those that may not be aware?

LISA HANAWALT: I designed all the main characters when I was first brought on to the show, and then once we decided to make a pilot I art directed all the backgrounds and additional characters. And now I make sketches for all the characters and then animators take those and flesh them out, and I art direct and draw details into all the backgrounds. And I kind of just manage the visual look to everything in the show. All the texts is my font; my own handwriting. It’s all sort of made to look like my work.

DEN OF GEEK: Were you always hoping to be working in animation ultimately, or would the art department for live-action stuff be just as exciting for you?

LISA HANAWALT: I think animation is a natural fit because I’m a visual artist and I’ve been drawing comics and artwork since I was a little kid. I know the creator of the show, Raphael [Bob-Waksberg]. We went to high school together, and we used to make up TV shows together just for fun. So it’s pretty cool that I ended up doing this with him.

Absolutely. Why do you think we haven’t seen more of Netflix embracing animated programming? Obviously a lot of childrens’ programming is being produced, but do you think that Bojack will open the doors for more animated fare?

I actually don’t know! That’s a good question. I think they probably saw the success of the show that they had available through streaming–like Adventure Time and Cartoon Network shows–and just figured, we have to get in on that adult animation. I think there’s an adult animation renaissance happening right now. There are so many good shows now, like Rick and Morty, and even a lot of Nickelodeon shows are really amazing, and they’re meant for little kids.

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This season of Bojack has advertised itself by showing a reinvigorated Bojack, claiming that he’s a brand new version of himself? Can we trust this, or are we dealing with the same old Bojack?

Haha! Well…I think the sort of overarching theme of this season is how people want to change, but it’s not clear if people really can change themselves, improve, or whatever that involves. So, he does his best. But Bojack’s a deeply flawed character.

Of course, but all the best characters are. Is there a particular episode this season that you’re especially proud of or excited about?

Yeah! I think my favorite this season is episode seven. There’s a lot of issues that are brought up in it that are close to my heart. That one’s going to be really amazing for people to watch. But I’m also really fond of episode five, just because it’s super silly and I do the voice of the chicken.

That’s great! Yeah, that one is really bonkers.

Becca the chicken is maybe my favorite–well, let’s see, I have so many favorite characters but she’s definitely one of them.

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On that note, and this might be digging a little too deep, but is there any reason why some of the animals can talk and others are reduced to grunts? Was there a discussed hierarchy at play here, or was it whatever best serves the joke?

I think in some ways it’s similar to people. People come in different levels of being eloquent and intelligent, and that’s similar to the animals in this universe.

That makes sense, like we see Herb’s maid grunting rather than talking.

Right. She can’t speak really because she never was educated. And animals that are raised for food are never really schooled because it helps create distance. It would be harder for people to eat them. I wonder if Raphael might have a different answer, but we definitely discuss it.

No, it being class-related makes sense, and it’s nice that you’ve obviously put thought into it. Bojack also has an amazing voice cast and this year you even have Lisa Kudrow along as Bojack’s love interest. Who would be your dream guest star if you could have your pick?

Gosh, I have a different one every day and I like to pester Raphael by telling him to hire all of my celebrity crushes, haha. Like right now if we do future seasons I’d really like him to cast Channing Tatum because I just saw Magic Mike XXL.

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He’d fit into your world pretty well.

Big time.

One of the more fascinating things about Bojack’s first season is that it very much became a show about depression (as much as it is about lampooning television, celebrity, and anthropomorphic creatures) and inner satisfaction. It goes to some very deep places. Was this always the plan with the show, using Bojack as like a conduit for mental health/fulfillment, or was it just something you stumbled into with the character?

I think Raphael always–his ideal vision for the show was one that would explore really sad feelings like that. Raphael’s writing–he’s a very funny guy, he writes very funny things, but all of his personal work is very deeply sad and emotional. Mine too, actually. So that’s what draws me to the show. I don’t think I’d want to work on a show that’s all silly, all animals being friends. That can definitely help uplift a show and make it more entertaining, but I like that we ground our show in real human feelings. That’s what we’re drawn towards. Both of us are really into Mad Men, haha.

No, I get it. i even felt like the premiere of this season feels like a season premiere to The Sopranos, like with everything going on with his past and his parents. 


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It really hits some veins and I think it even holds your show up to a higher set of standards and expectations accordingly.

We’re more comfy with that now that we’re in the second season. In the first season we were a little more worried if people would be on board with a cartoon show that’s really sad, but now we’re like, okay we’ll go there.

You kind of just stumble into it in the first year, but now everyone’s aware of it so you can just be upfront with it all. I guess along those lines, to do you even think that Bojack can be happy or fulfilled? Would that be an interesting dynamic to the character, or is sort of the point of all of this watching him better himself?

I don’t know what Raphael’s vision for what happens to Bojack in the long run, but typically I would say that you don’t want to see a main character be 100 percent happy, right? Because then where’s the tension? Also, I don’t know any humans that are 100 percent happy that I think are particularly interesting. I’m drawn towards people who have a little pathos and a little dark side, and I feel the same towards fictional characters.

To the point where they almost don’t even feel fictional.

Yeah, I mean, there are moments in this season where I really hate Bojack and think he’s a terrible person, and then there are others where I’m like, well he’s got redeeming qualities… Nobody’s 100 percent good. But yeah, it makes him feel really real to me.

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In a similar sense, I think Bojack is one of the better shows out there about the process of writing itself, and just how draining it can be to be a creative person. Why do you think the show has such a grounded, unromanticized look at all of that?

I think being creative is incredibly difficult and painful. I mean, you sound like an asshole if you complain about working creatively. So I like the show gives off that impression and is honest about it all.

I think a lot of people were pleasantly surprised by the random Christmas Special that you guys did between seasons. What was the story behind that? Did Netflix approach you to do an extra episode, or was it always part of the plan and held aside?

I believe Netflix just asked us to do it as sort of a fun, surprise release. It was great. We got a lot of new viewers with that too.

If yearly holidays became a mainstay for Bojack, what holiday would you like to focus on next time? Because you don’t want to do Christmas again.

Ooh, that’s a good one. And yeah, obviously not Christmas again. I think Halloween would be a good one. But maybe we would release it in January because of Todd’s idea of a Halloween store that’s open in January.

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That would be a nice deep cut that half the viewers would get.

Yeah, might have to pitch that…

Is there some sort of animal that you think is underrepresented on Bojack? Are there any critters that really justify their presence this season? There’s a really solid capybara on the police force this year that I hope gets a lot of attention.

Thank you. Actually though, it’s not a capybara, it’s a wombat.

See, now I’m glad that’s on the record.

They’re extremely similar, but now I think we should add a capybara. I think of all the critters we have–there are so many–I’m really drawn to the creepy crawlies like the lizards. Anything that’s difficult to make look cute. Early on in the season Bojack goes on a bunch of quick dates. He goes on one with an eel named Sheila, and this gross looking chameleon critter. I tried really hard to make them look sexy. Like maybe in this whole universe beauty standards are really different.

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Like for that animal, they could be a 9 or 10.

Yeah. I keep meaning to make a list of animals that I want to add to show though. I follow a bunch of Tumblrs and Twitters of unusual animals so I want to introduce more of those. There’s a blue tongue skink in there somewhere. That’s a different one.

You and Raphael had some very insightful things to say on “All Things Considered” on NPR on the topic of gender, not just in comedy but in animation. I think what you said and what you’re trying to do is very important. Since then have you noticed more of a trend towards the direction of equality?

Yeah, I think so. It’s still my problem with a lot of TV shows that are out there and I think now is the time that all of us can just do a little better. I’m very lucky to work with people who are open to that, and understand, and agree with it. I feel really proud to work on this show.

I’d even say that Netflix is a network that has shows that are literally built from algorithms that use demographics and data, that they could probably literally tell you what your show’s gender divide is and how many other shows are putting as much thought into their characters in that regard.

I know! It’s super interesting. And there’s a lot of encouraging programs coming out. It’s a good time.

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All twelve episodes of Bojack Horsemansecond season begin streaming on Netflix, July 17th