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The Blacklist made a radical move that paid off big time for its startling Season 7 finale. To complete what it could of its latest season, the NBC crime drama turned to animation and fleshed out what hadn't been filmed. It turns out that the series took inspiration from Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hunger Games in doing so. Before going any further, this is the context.
Production was shut down across television toward the end of the 2019-2020 TV season, and The Blacklist was among the shows forced to end early. Initially set to end with twenty-two episodes, Episode 19 turned into the impromptu Season 7 finale. As promised by The Blacklist’s Diego Klattenhoff, the installment ended up working as a fitting finale.
There was just one issue. The Blacklist had not finished production on Episode 19, leading the show to a creative solution. It opted to animate the portions of the episode not available to film. The cast even recorded their audio from their homes! To accomplish the animated vessels for their voices, The Blacklist’s executive producers, Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath, turned to the company Proof.
The company that animated The Blacklist’s Season 7 finale also worked on the films Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hunger Games. Hence, The Blacklist’s executive producers’ faith in the team being able to pull off the extremely ambitious method to cap the season. Proof’s global head of production, Patrice Avery, told Animated World Network:
Johns [Bokenkamp and Eisendrath] wanted to see what might be possible [with toon-shaded animation]. So, John E. contacted [Proof owner / president] Ron Frankel to see what Proof could do. With no idea on the scope of the work and knowing it would actually be aired, we had some concerns, as previsualization is primarily a planning tool for production, not something taken on as final for broadcast! With multiple productions going on hiatus for the shutdown, we decided it would be a great opportunity to see what we could do.
Did this team ever show what they could do! You would have never known while watching The Blacklist’s Season 7 finale that it was put together in such a way. In fact, it went so well, in my opinion, that I hope that The Blacklist utilizes it again in the future. Hopefully, when there is time to explore the method more fully.
While The Blacklist did not come to the animation table armed with the traditional previsualization, it had something else going for it. The Blacklist has its own comic series, providing a baseline for the cast’s appearance in graphic novel form. Along with the comic, two other movies provided guidance and inspiration for the Season 7 finale. Proof’s sequence supervisor Matt Perrin said:
The Blacklist has its own spin-off comic series, which provided us with great style reference early on. We also discussed graphic novels and movies we wanted to reference; the rotoscope animation in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly played a big part in helping us find our 'look.' We modified our existing previs toon-shader for the project to give a more sophisticated outline and painterly texture to the characters.
The films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, which both feature life-like animation, proved helpful to what The Blacklist wanted to achieve. I certainly think the show and Proof captured something that compares to those movies. When you think of what they accomplished and how much impact they could have with more time, it is beyond impressive.
When The Blacklist returns, it will be interesting to see if it attempts more animation. Liz started her full-blown alliance with her mother during the animated portion of the Season 7 finale. If another bold move in that direction takes place, the show would come full-circle to have it animated too. Plus, an episode entirely done with Proof’s effects would provide an even more seamless ride.