Edmonton born animator Kaylee Gauthier discusses her work on Rick and Morty Season 3 and upcoming projects

Kaylee Gauthier // Supplied

By Tim Rauf

Kaylee Gauthier makes animations seamless and jokes funny in the increasingly sophisticated world of cartoons. Currently working on storyboarding, she’s worked as an animator on the show DC Animated Super Hero Girls, Mike Judge’s project Tales from the Tour Bus, and received an Emmy award certificate for her work on Rick and Morty season 3.

It takes a few weeks to animate less than a minute’s worth of footage—every figure needs to be drawn then redrawn in slightly different poses hundreds of times over.

“On Rick and Morty I was doing 20 seconds of animation every two weeks,” Gauthier explains

The first week is just primary layout, she explains—just planning out all of the primary poses in a segment.

The second week is where the animations are polished and fully realized. According to Gauthier, this process is just as painstaking as it sounds. Ultimately, though, the result is fully worth the pain of repetition.

“I would definitely say animation is probably one of the most tedious things I have ever done, but part of it is really just having your passion for the industry, and knowing that all of those little things go into crafting such a beautiful final product.”

Her contribution to this final product is what won Gauthier her Emmy, for her work on the Rick and Morty episode “Pickle Rick.” It was the first nomination and win for the series. Despite the significance of the Emmy to her friends and family, Gauthier’s initial reaction was quite different.

Kaylee Gauthier’s work on Rick and Morty

“It was kind of surreal because I never expected to get something like that for working on TV animation. And it was definitely really mind-blowing just to see how other people reacted to it, because I didn’t really think of it as a big deal; it’s kind of part of my job,” she says.

Gauthier grew up in Edmonton—mostly around its outskirts— before moving to British Columbia where she got her education in Kelowna at the Centre For Arts and Technology .

It was BioWare, pioneer of Edmonton’s video game industry, that inspired Gauthier to pursue her career, she says.

“They [Bioware] made Mass Effect and the Dragon Age series, and I remember being really blown away and wanting to be a part of that storytelling process. So it kind of just made sense to try for animation, and it was so weird to me that the people who helped create something so important to me were so close, like, within a seven-minute drive.”

Despite the place video game storytelling has in her heart, Gauthier says the current precarious state of employment in the industry has her keeping her distance.

“I’d kind of like to see how that industry plays out a bit more, but I would like to keep it in mind for the future—especially with BioWare.”

When thinking of other influential creators, the first names that come to Gauthier’s mind aren’t animators. Mike Mignola, creator of the Hellboy series, serves as an inspiration because of his artistic style. Gauthier holds Stephen King in high regard as well.

“I’ve just always appreciated how much effort he puts into his characters and essentially every book is a giant character study. I’ve always thought that good writing and characters should come before any other aspect of creating any piece of content, be it a movie or a game or a show.”

Besides strong storytelling, Gauthier also sees humour as a lynchpin to keeping audiences on their toes.

“The type of humour I like to go for is kind of defying of expectations,” she says.

“I like to think of comedy as the setting up of something that everybody’s seen and then doing something different. Comedy usually comes in threes, which is pretty easy to apply to any type of humour.”

Gauthier leans towards  absurdist and surprising humour—exaggerated expressions are also part of her toolkit.

Despite her talent and success in animation, Gauthier says—at least in television animation—there isn’t as much flexibility for adding in creative input. Now that she’s moved on to storyboarding, Gauthier has more freedom to spice up the stories she’s working on.

Her most recent gig, working on Rainbow Butterfly Unicorn Kitten—which is airing its first season on Nickelodeon—has allowed Gauthier and her fellow storyboard artists to collaborate on the script, and add in the odd joke or two. The added level of input lets her tweak things if the show misses emotional notes or if it’s “just not funny enough.”

“I’ve found that to be incredible as an artist wanting to tell stories, just getting to put in my own ideas and have them be heard and make it in,” she says.

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