Extinct Director David Silverman on the Journey of Bringing the Flummels to Netflix

Pat J. Fraley

The idea of an animal shaped like a donut may not be one that had anyone intrigued a couple of years ago, but Netflix changed that with the introduction of the exotic animals known as flummels, featured in the original animated film Extinct. The cartoon adventure tells the story of flummel siblings, Op and Ed, as they travel through time to try and save their home in the Galapagos Islands from being destroyed and their entire species wiped from existence. The adventure is one that sounds pretty familiar to movie fans, but at its center are a couple of adorable, furry creatures with giant holes in the middle of their bodies.

Op and Ed are unlike any lead characters we’ve seen on-screen before, and it was a process to get their story and design just right. The challenge of bringing the donut-shaped flummels to life fell on the shoulders of director David Silverman and co-director Raymond S. Persi. ComicBook.com spent some time talking with the former about their journey from concept to screen.

“They did it for no other reason other than they said, ‘Well, they’re in the Galapagos, and we wanted animals that looked like nothing else,'” Silverman told us of the flummels’ unusual design. “We had some people try to do designs, and we just kept getting things that looked like normal animals that had a hole blown in the middle of them.”

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(Photo: Netflix)

Getting the flummels to be strange and also adorable proved to be tricky, especially when sticking with the “hole in the middle” idea. But Silverman said that the “aha moment” for the character design arrived from a storyboard artist that thought to make the faces and bodies of the flummels one cohesive component. Once the creative team zeroed in on that design strategy, it was off to the races.

Of course, any time you create something so odd and different, there is going to be some doubt as to whether folks are actually going to connect with it.

“It was such an interesting, weird design, we didn’t know,” the director said. “We looked at it, we said, ‘Well, we like it, but let’s show it to people.’ We thought, ‘What if they all hate it and they all think it’s grotesque?’ But everybody we showed it to said, ‘Oh, they’re adorable.’ I said, ‘Oh, thank God.'”

The flummels worked, and to prove that their shapes could be used for both comedic and storytelling purposes, Silverman and the team put them in the spotlight in the film’s very first scene. The movie opens with a clumsy bird flying around the Galapagos, introducing audiences to the time 1800s time period and the gorgeous island scenery, only to end up getting stuck in Ed’s hole.

“We introduced first the bird and then we showed the bird getting stuck inside of Ed, and then we can sort of demonstrate right off the bat that they have holes in the middle of them,” Silverman explained. “And we already made a joke about that, and then we’re kind of off to the races. We sort of did a lot of nonverbal exposition, visual exposition, introducing these strange characters, and then also, I think, hopefully presenting the tone of what it was.”

As with any animated film, the story of Extinct changed quite a bit throughout the production process. There were opening scenes that focused on Op and Ed instead of the bird. There were different methods of time travel here and there. Perhaps the most significant change, however, came in the third act. 

The initial plan for the ending was to have the flummels’ island destroyed entirely, moving them to a new location to establish their happy ending. Silverman had a different idea.

“Originally we were going to destroy the island and they were going to go on to a different island and that’s how the happy ending would be,” he recalled. “And I just said, ‘Wow, it seems better if somehow we suck the whole island away from the bomb, and we transport everybody to the 21st century.’ I said, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do that,’ but that’s what I told everybody. ‘I think that’s what we have to do at the ending.’ Also, the way we had the third act, there’s no way we could afford to do it. It was very complex, lot of water effects, and it was really crazy.”

Budgets can be tricky for animated projects, and many films run into problems when they try to cut corners, attempting more than their money allows. Silverman and Persi made sure that each creative decision was made to service both story and budget, which allowed them to tell the story they wanted to tell without any of the animation feeling rushed.

“Raymond and I and the writers, we were thinking, ‘Okay, how do we do this in ways that we don’t look cheap?’ Because we wrote it and boarded it in a way that would work,” Silverman said. “We were, in a sense, using the limitations of our budget to our benefit and tell them how we’re going to present the story. And I think that’s always important. So you don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

For Silverman, bringing Extinct to life wasn’t just an exercise in telling a great story or using a budget to its potential. As he said several times throughout the interview, working on this movie was simply, “a lot of fun.”

Extinct is available to stream on Netflix.

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