Dishing up visually delicious animation for Netflix’s Waffles + Mochi

Netflix's Waffles + Mochi.

Image source: Netflix.

By Meagan Keane

Posted on 09-02-2021

Produced by former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, and brought to life by L.A.-based animation studio Six Point Harness, Netflix’s Waffles + Mochi takes viewers on a global food expedition. Led by curious puppet pals Waffles and Mochi, viewers learn about food and dishes from around the world.

We spoke with the show’s director of animation, Musa Brooker, to learn how he created a feast for the eyes with the help of Photoshop, Animate, After Effects, Premiere Pro and Bridge.

Given Adobe’s commitment to democratizing creativity, we’re excited to bring you this behind-the-scenes look at a series that helps celebrate diversity through cuisine from across the globe.

How did you first get into animation? What drew you to it?

Honestly it’s the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do with any seriousness since I was about 5 years old. My father is an artist, so I was probably always going to be involved in some form of art making. Like so many of us, I grew up watching cartoons and just fell in love — as I grew older, I learned about other kinds of animation and the history of the medium and was even more passionate about it. I attended college at the University of the Arts in my hometown of Philadelphia and have been working in the medium ever since graduation.

What was the inspiration behind your project? What were you trying to achieve?

The project started with the idea of creating a fun show to help teach kids about healthy eating and the joys of cooking. It originated with the co-creators Erika Thormahlen and Jeremy Konner and was supported by the passion of Mrs. Obama, who has taken a particular interest in the health and fitness of young people, especially in relation to food. That was the foundation, with the goal of creating something that was playful, thoughtful, fun to watch, and educational about food. With regards to the animation specifically, we wanted to make sure there was a wide variety of animation styles and techniques to match the variety of different kinds of recipes and food we were exploring on the show.

Netflix's Waffles + Mochi.

Image Source: Netflix/Higher Ground Productions.

How did you begin a project/set up your workflow?

For me it began in the writers room, listening to the ideas of the writers and producers, pitching some of my own, understanding the thinking behind the project and the various animated segments. Then huddling up with the artists and designers at Six Point Harness and working through the designs for the characters and sequences. Presenting our work for feedback or approval by the producers, in various stages from designs to storyboards, animatic and animation through to final delivery of the animation sequences.

Describe your favorite scene or part from the project. How did it come together and how did you achieve it?

My favorite part of the project was really collaborating and working with so many talented artists, writers and producers, to come up with the various sequences that — while all unique — fit together quite well with the show.

It’s hard to pick just one favorite scene or sequence. I really loved working on the kids’ narration stories because each one was so different, but I think the music videos were my favorite. We had some terrific songs and wonderful singers to work with! I especially enjoyed the song about Umami featuring the Taste Buds. Because they were one of the few animated segments with recurring characters, we really got to know them over the course of the production, and it was fun to put them and their personalities in situations a bit outside of their normal stories. Plus, I got to pay tribute to one of my favorite eras of music, the 60’s — I slipped in a few easter eggs about Motown and the Beatles as well as other episodes of Waffles + Mochi, so that was fun.

Netflix's Waffles + Mochi.

Image Source: Netflix/Higher Ground Productions.

What were some specific challenges you faced in making this? How did you go about solving them?

One of the biggest challenges was the scope of the project and how many different segments and styles there were between all of the episodes. Even though we knew everything ultimately had to work together as a whole, we kind of tried to approach each segment as smaller separate projects that had their own aesthetics and parameters. It made it all feel much more manageable.

What Adobe tools did you use on this project and why did you originally choose them? Why were they the best choice for this project?

We used quite a few Adobe products on this project, including Photoshop, Animate, After Effects and Premiere, even Bridge. We used them because they are such wonderfully diverse and powerful tools to use in creative projects like this. They are really the industry standard, so why use anything else? And they work so well together and in our pipeline. We used Photoshop to sketch and design as well as for some rough early storyboards. Animate wasn’t the only animation program we used, but we found it quite useful for much of the animation on the show. It’s something our artists are very familiar with and works so well for so many of our needs. We used After Effects for VFX naturally and compositing various segments. We edited everything in Premiere Pro. I can’t imagine working on this project using anything else.

Netflix's Waffles + Mochi.

Image Source: Netflix/Higher Ground Productions.

Share your hidden gem/favorite workflow hack in any of the Adobe Creative Cloud tools?

That’s a tough one — I’m learning new tools and tricks almost every time I use the software. As the director, I am a bit of a jack of all trades, and not necessarily a profound expert in any one of these programs. Honestly, what I personally used most was Photoshop to rough out some story and design ideas that were ultimately passed along to much more specialized and talented artists to help fully realize. Overall, it’s such a versatile and well-developed bit of software!

Who is your creative inspiration and why?

It’s hard to choose just one from animation. I’m a lifelong student of the medium so there are probably too many to list here — I feel like I’d be leaving someone out. But if I had to choose one artistic inspiration, it would be my dad, who’s not an animator. He is a painter — a fine artist and retired art professor. He’s shown me that dedication to your craft, hard work and resilience are important for a career in the arts. He is a real example of the importance of following your passion but also of being open to learning and to challenging yourself in order to continue to grow as an artist over the entire course of your career.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for people aspiring to get into animations?

For me the toughest thing has been not always being where I wanted to be, whether that be the development of my skills, resources or a particular job or opportunity. One of the things that I am really appreciating now — and it’s a bit of a cliché — is how important it is to appreciate the journey and where you are, in the now. It’s of course important to work towards something — a goal, but appreciating where you are and the triumphs and challenges you face in the moment is so important. It will help you grow as an artist and as a person. Keep learning — stay open, stay humble, work hard and play nice.

Share a photo of where you work. What’s your favorite thing about your workspace and why?

For the past year plus we’ve been working remotely at Six Point Harness, and it’s really a blessing that we’ve been able to do that. I do miss the in-person comradery of the studio, and I look forward to returning to the office sometime soon. In the meantime I’ve been splitting my workdays between my apartment and a personal studio space, not far from where I live. I think what I like most about that is how comfortable it is. It is great having so many wonderful reminders on my desk and on the wall of previous projects that I’ve been involved in. It’s always nice to share a creative space like we have at Six Point Harness, but it’s also fun to have a creative space that’s all my own.

Musa Brooker Workspace.

Image Source: Musa Brooker.

Waffles + Mochi is now streaming on Netflix.

Topics: How I Cut This, News, Media & Entertainment, Creative Cloud,

Products: Creative Cloud, After Effects, Animate, Photoshop, Premiere Pro,