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How 'Community' stole Christmas: Behind the scenes of the big holiday episode

December 9, 2010 |  9:54 am

Community holiday group 2 NUP_142681_0001
It’s a Christmas miracle! On a very special “Community” that airs Thursday and will no doubt get big props from animation fans, kids, stoners, and, well, pretty much everyone else, the Greendale gang gets sucked into a winter wonderland that’s reminiscent of classic Rankin/Bass holiday fare like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Titled “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” the episode follows Abed’s search for the meaning of Christmas, using stop-motion animation to transform the show’s characters into toys: In the photo above, you’ll find Ballerannie, far left, Professor Duncan (who appears to be pulling off the Dumbledore look pretty well), Baby Doll Shirley, Britta-Bot, Troy Solider, Jeff-in-the-Box, Teddy Bear Pierce and Abed. (Chang also appears as Snowchang, a way more catty version of Frosty.)

“We were really inspired by recent stop-motion pictures like ‘Coraline’ and ‘Fantastic Mr Fox,’ ” explains James Fino, who animated the episode with his partner Joe Russo and their company 23D Films, along with a few animators who worked on “Coraline.” “We wanted to take it away from being toy-like and make these characters look like actual art sculptures.”

Russo explains that 23D Films came to the project through Russo’s longtime friend Dino Stamatopoulos, who has a recurring role as Star Burns on “Community.” “We both worked on ‘Mr. Show’ years and years ago,” Russo explains, “and Dino has his own stop-motion show, ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole,’ so he was excited about the idea.”

Because they wanted to use as little CG as possible, Fino and Russo went through the painstaking process of creating each piece by hand, including the individual snowflakes.

Since Abed’s quest for the meaning of Christmas is partly inspired by the TV show “Lost” (you’ll have to wait and see why), the duo also spent long hours peppering the episode with “Easter eggs,” or blink-and-you’ll-miss-them background scenes filled with in-jokes and pop culture references. “We have a special dinosaur who makes an appearance,” Fino says. “He’s a throwback to the Ray Harryhausen style.”

In the spirit of the Rankin/Bass specials, each of the cast members also sings a song. Abed reprises his own anthem, “Sad Christmas Song” throughout the episode. “It’s funny because they knew they wanted to have a sad Christmas song somewhere in there, so [“Community” creator] Dan [Harmon] just temped in the words ‘Sad Christmas Song,’ and Dan Pudi, who plays Abed, sang them,” Russo says. “But Dan Pudi did such a funny job with it that it stayed.”

Despite some good jokes, Russo insists that the episode isn't meant to be ironic. “The show is really  funny, but it’s also meant to be heartwarming,” he says. “I think Dan Harmon wanted to make this an episode that people come back to year after year in the same way that they did with the Rankin/Bass cartoons. The goal is to make people remember what makes this such a great time of year.”

See for yourself in the sneak peek below:


 -- Melissa Maerz