In our latest interview, we spoke with Animation Editor Stephanie Earley, whose rise in animated post-production came after a previous tenure working in the unscripted and reality storytelling worlds.
As a lead editor, Stephanie worked on the third season of Central Park, premiering on Apple+ on September 9th. The animated musical series tells the story of a family of caretakers who work and live in Central Park and must save the park from a greedy land developer. Stephanie has been a part of the show since its beginning as an assistant editor in season one and then grew into her role as lead editor for seasons two and three.
PH: How did you get your start in the film industry and what was your first project?
Stephanie Earley: I have always loved movies and tv, but never thought it could be MY career. I would see names in credits and figured that there was no way I'd be able to follow that professional path. I went to the University of Georgia and declared fashion merchandising as my major, thinking I wanted to design, but quickly learned that I was in no way fashionable - haha!! I applied to the journalism school for telecommunications and signed up with the student news station - redirecting my focus to news directing or producing. A few of my friends and I preferred entertainment over the news and pleaded our case to the school for more robust options geared toward film and television.
With a few independent studies in some basic industry areas under my belt, I decided to move to LA. After sending out so many resumes, I landed a logging job on The Real World: Hollywood, thus starting my career in unscripted. I worked my way up to Editor in about 5 years, learning everything I could about different workflows and Avid Media Composer, the unscripted industry-standard NLE - which I was not taught in school. The move from unscripted to animation came when I randomly met a producer in need of an AE who was fluent in Avid. I happened to go to a housewarming party for a friend of my boyfriend (now husband and fellow animation editor!). I was introduced to a producer who was looking for an assistant editor for an animated show she was staffing up called The Awesomes. She felt I'd be a good fit with the crew and she brought me on despite having literally zero animation experience!
PH: What attracted you to Central Park? What has your experience been like working on the third season?
Stephanie Earley: So many things! For one, I was eager to work with the producing team again! I love being a part of shows at Bento Box and my executive producers, Janelle Momary-Neely and Loren Bouchard really care about the people who work on their shows. That matters to me so much when choosing projects. Then, of course, Central Park was exciting because of the idea. A 2D animated television show that was a musical? It hadn't been done before, the voice cast is spectacular, and I could work with an amazing team. Sign me up.
Animation is a massively collaborative effort already, but we had to learn to work together in new ways because of the innovative (and musical) nature of our show. Plus, we made this show entirely from home! Teams slacked and zoomed and happy-houred - fighting to stay connected during this time of solitude. We tore episodes apart frame by frame and stitched them back together on day-long edit sessions over Zoom. We fought through internet connectivity problems and technical issues and endless kids interrupting meetings to get this show to the viewers. My husband is an animation editor at the same company and we sit back to back in our dining room, without doors, editing our respective shows- all while we have in-home childcare for our 2 kids under 4... who are very loud- haha! But through all of the struggles of working from home, everyone on our shows "got" it. We all laughed and connected over these human moments. It's been one of the most fun show experiences for me personally and I can't wait for everyone to see this labor of love!
PH: Can you share your journey with this project and what it was like to grow from assistant to lead editor?
Stephanie Earley: Each new season has learned from things that were difficult the season before. The musical nature of Central Park is crazy and revolutionary when you think about what goes into musical numbers on top of what is needed for story beats for a normal animated show! I was brought on as the assistant editor in season 1 during the storyboard animatic phase, which is very early to have an AE compared to many 2D animated shows. The editor on season 1, Kris Fitzgerald, and I worked closely together to track changes and communication across all departments. We constantly had pipeline discussions to assess needs on the fly and implement new ideas for better workflow. In between seasons, our teams scrutinized issues that came up and worked through how to prevent them from moving forward or adjust workflow to compensate. It has always been a constant conversation towards the same goal - to create the best show possible.
I would not have been able to be an effective editor for Central Park without everything I learned from every step of this process. My understanding of the full workflow and all the pieces of the puzzle helps me be the best I can be for this show. Kris pointed me in the direction of other shows and episodes to learn to pace. He also taught me the mechanics of lip sync and some techniques for speed on editorial-specific tasks. I knew I could edit, but in animation, the only limit (outside of schedule and budget) is what can be drawn or created out of a frame, so flexing editorial muscles is an intoxicating push and pull of creating new shots to send for new animation and fixing the ones that exist by creating layers to the frame. Kris opened my eyes to the possibilities! I love being both technical AND creative and animation is the perfect blend of these elements.
PH: What was your favorite scene to cut together and why?
Stephanie Earley: We have an opening sequence in episode 313, though it's airing as 312 and it's an instrumental story of a man named Louie, who owns a hot dog cart in the park. Boards were done and shipped without the final music, which we didn't receive until we were about to get rough animation. It was my job to cut that sequence to the new music and only use frames that we knew we were going to have. It was a challenge! The showrunners put a lot of trust in me to cut it without direction and I am so thankful they did because that was the most fun sequence to put together when it probably should have been the most stressful.
PH: How did you collaborate with others involved in the post-production process (assistant editor, directors, producers, etc)?
Stephanie Earley: I couldn't do what I do without the team surrounding me. The directors and artists during pre-production are so talented! My assistant editor's name is Matt Parcone and he is pivotal in the show's success. We brought him on to finish being the AE on season 1 when I moved up to cut season 2 animatics, so he has been there with me from the start. He even assumed control of the edit chair during season 2 while I went on maternity leave for my second baby.
Collaboration on this show was essential. We all have our specific departments, but since everything goes through Editorial, Matt and I are the linchpin. We raise red flags, communicate across departments, help coordinate scheduling and priorities, and generally maintain an overall presence connecting pre-production and post-production. Once post-production began, my EP brought on our amazing post supervisor, Aaron Missler, who helmed the push to the finish line. Since we have been working from home, our Editorial slack channel has been our lifeline for communication. I am so proud to have been a part of this show and I hope it gets picked up for another season!
PH: How has your background in dance helped you as an editor?
Stephanie Earley: This is a crazy good question! Since our show is a musical, my background in dance has helped tremendously! My music editor calls me a human metronome. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but I just close my eyes and tap my finger to the beat, so when I have to cut into songs, I try to make the best cut possible. Music has to take my trims, cuts, or changes and make sure they can be rebuilt on the tempo grid of the song. I've been able to get as close as one can each time and it just makes so many things easier! I am unbelievably tone deaf, but can count measures like I've been singing my whole life, because of dance- haha!
PH: Can you share some of your other editing experiences such as your work on The Bob’s Burgers Movie and The Awesomes?
Stephanie Earley: I was brought on to The Awesomes despite never having worked in animation before. It was my first foray into learning the language of this medium. I had to take my unscripted experience and translate it to animation. That was an amazing learning experience, and I used that when fighting for other unscripted people to come over to animation. My own AE was a colleague from unscripted and I knew he was fluent in Avid as well because of that past. I also was confident that I could teach him the language, so I fought for him to come aboard.
After cutting season 2 animatics on Central Park, my EP approached me about helping out on the Bob's Burgers Movie. Obviously, I was stoked and couldn't wait to jump in. The level of talent in those edit sessions left me speechless. I was given the opportunity to lead a few edit sessions during a transitional period. We came back from holiday break and I saw some edit sessions start popping up on the schedule, but we didn't actually have an editor. I reached out to the production manager and asked if the other AE or I could get the software on our computers to be able to lead the sessions if they wanted to go that route, and he was like, "yes- how about you do it." okay, then, guess I'm in the chair for a little bit- haha! That was an experience I'll never forget.
PH: What is one thing you wish you would have known first starting out in the film industry?
Stephanie Earley: How much networking really matters. I chose my path and I don't regret any of my choices because I love where I am today, but what could I have done if I was adept at networking? Or not shy about talking to strangers at a guild mixer? It is crazy how much people really want to work with people they like. So I wish I had known to put myself out there outside of work and make more friends.
PH: Can you share one of the most fun parts of your job that most people don't get to see?
There are so many things, but two things, in particular, are my favorite. one, how much I get to affect change and rebuild frames with animattes. My timeline often has 5-7 layers of animattes. Need different eyebrow acting? I got it. Pupil fixes? Fixed in Edit. Lip Sync? Done. Want to adjust framing and have that character exit frame earlier? Cool, I've got an animatte for that. I can literally build a frame from all the takes and viewers have no idea. I've been able to save our show some serious resources and animator time because of what I can fix in Edit. My second favorite part of my job that no one sees is working back to back in the dining room (with no doors) with my husband - also an animation editor at the same company! We play defense for each other during meetings when our two kids (3.5 and 1.5) try to join in. We were sent home with our oldest was 15 months old and had the second during the pandemic.
Stephanie’s past animation credits include The Bob’s Burgers Movie, a feature spin-off of the hit animated TV series Bob’s Burgers, and The Awesomes, a comedy about a new generation of superheroes filling in their parents’ shoes. Prior to working in animation, Stephanie dabbled in the unscripted realm for nearly a decade. Her last unscripted project before making the leap to animation was Ghosthunters, where she was a member of the editorial department for over 100 episodes.