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A Day With 'Phineas and Ferb'
Series creators show what it takes to bring an animated episode to life


It's not often one gets the chance to see the inner workings of an Emmy-nominated animated series, but that's exactly what I had the opportunity to do during my day with "Phineas and Ferb" at Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. I wanted to see the many things that occur during a typical day of creating this Disney Channel series, but as Phineas and Ferb always say, "There's no such thing as an ordinary day."

"Phineas and Ferb" focuses on two stepbrothers and the wild backyard adventures they have during summer vacation. This series premiered in February 2008 to a worldwide audience -- a first for a Disney Channel original series. The show's U.S. premiere was marketed as "Phineas and Ferb-uary" because new episodes aired each day in February.

After arriving on the Walt Disney Studios lot, I was introduced to series creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, who worked as layout artists on "The Simpsons" in the mid-1990s. One night at dinner, Povenmire drew on the butcher-paper tablecloth the triangle-headed kid who would become Phineas. The rest, as they say, is history -- or at least a successful animated series.

The first order of business found me sitting in a conference room with many animated storyboards on the wall. Marsh gathered his team for the daily design meeting where he first approves screens of animated cells currently in development and then assigns the characters, backgrounds and scenery for each scene.

<BR>Video: A Day With "Phineas and Ferb," Design Meeting

On the way to a songwriting session with Povenmire and Marsh, we swung by a small office where Povenmire was wrapping up voice-over work on some new storyboards. The technology in the animatic room was certainly inspiring, because he can sketch scenes on his tablet, upload them to the mixing computer and add (in true character voice) the initial voice-over content that will be used later when animating the episode.

<BR>Video: A Day With "Phineas and Ferb," Storyboarding

While exiting the animatic room, I was directed to two memos taped to the door. Both were from the 1930s and '40s when Mr. Disney was still the man in charge at Walt Disney Studios. After having brushed up on my Disney history recently, it was interesting to read the memos that urged male employees to watch their language around the "ever-so-fragile" women who held many of the painting and colorist positions at the studios during those early days.

In its first season, "Phineas and Ferb" was nominated for two Emmys in music categories: one for Original Main Title Theme, the other for "I Ain't Got Rhythm" in the Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics category. Knowing this, I was excited to spend an hour with the guys as they crafted a new song for an antigravity machine episode. What they created in 40 short minutes still amazes me.

<BR>Video: A Day With "Phineas and Ferb," Songwriting Session

After being wowed by the songwriters, I saw how the staff pitches an episode to the network. Storyboards line the walls with the script written underneath each frame. Povenmire quickly jumped into an episode that they were going to do voice-over work on later in the day. Povenmire, who voices Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, takes me through a scene. I can still hear the laughter of one individual in the room that day and continue to wonder whether she's specifically brought in to these meetings because of her infectious laugh.

<BR>Video: A Day With "Phineas and Ferb," The Pitch

After the network pitch, we drove to the recording studio where Povenmire, who was just getting over an illness that made it difficult to do voice-over work, would record scenes to make the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz come to life.

<BR>Video: A Day With "Phineas and Ferb," Voice-over Session

And that concluded my day with "Phineas and Ferb" -- well, Povenmire and Marsh, but close enough. I was inspired by the inner workings of an animated TV series and the vast amount of work so many individuals do to create each episode.  Everyone I encountered seemed to love the content they were working on and strived to improve each episode. 

Looking back, here are my top five things to remember when creating a hit Disney Channel animated series:

  1. Have the design staff call me "Sir" when the press is around.
  2. Don't be afraid to write songs about absolutely anything, and when stuck coming up with a proper rhyme, use the Internet to find the right word.
  3. Hire someone with an infectious giggle and have him or her attend every meeting or storytelling session where I need to be funny.
  4. While doing voice-over work, start talking after the third beep.
  5. Be born with incredible creative genius and the abilities to draw, play instruments and write content that kids and parents love. Repeat throughout the year.

"Phineas and Ferb" airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. ET on the Disney Channel and Saturdays at 8 a.m. on Disney XD.