The Big World of Adult Swim Smalls – Sam Lanier on ‘DAP: The Oven’

Adult Swim remains one of the strongest arbiters of animated talent and it’s always exciting when they’re able to apply that passion to those that can truly benefit from it. Adult Swim’s “Smalls” initiative has been around for years and in that time it’s introduced audiences to dozens of avant-garde animators and storytellers through bite-sized cartoons and surreal snapshots. 2023 is a big year for Adult Swim’s “Smalls” and every Saturday marks the debut of a new animated short in this unique curation project. 

The DAP series of shorts have already popped up several times in the “Smalls” series and they’re an unhinged look into everyday minutiae gone wrong. Coming from Sam Lanier, DAP: The Oven, continues to push the series’ strange brand of silliness in new directions. To celebrate DAP: The Oven’s addition to Adult Swim’s line-up, Sam Lanier opens up on what inspires his atypical comedy, the genesis of his experimental art style, and what the future holds for both DAP and himself.


Daniel Kurland: To begin with, what’s the genesis of these DAP shorts? Is it an idea that’s been gestating for a while in some form?

Sam Lanier: Yeah, it was really born out of the first summer of the pandemic. I found myself living, for the first time, with two of my best friends–Will and Felipe. We were living in this kind of depraved, adult situation. We were all stuck in this small New York City apartment together with not much to do. A lot of funny conversations and situations came out of that. It occurred to me one night that it might be funny to create an animation about a guy who’s asking his friends if he can have a date come over that night, which is a thing that you had to do during COVID all the time! It really came out of that and then when Dave [Willis] asked me to make more, I kept thinking about who these people really are and the types of conversations that they might have together. I used material from my real life for the fodder in the DAP shorts!

Daniel Kurland: DAP contains these really natural streams of consciousness tangents in each installment. Does it start from an improvisational place? What informs your writing process?

Sam Lanier: The writing begins as a hard script that I write. Then I record people’s voices saying the lines, as they’re written, but then sometimes I’ll ask them to deliver the lines in a style that’s more natural to who they are. Then I work really hard on the “radio play” of it all so it feels like these characters are really talking to each other. Everybody’s voices are recorded separately. They’re not in the same room talking to each other together, but I like to add in “mistakes,” whether it’s people’s “umms” or to put in dialogue from when people didn’t know that they were being recorded as ways to blend in a naturalism to the way that everyone speaks.  

Daniel Kurland: The DAP shorts also have these really atypical character models. Do you just mess around with weird looks to see what amuses you and works? Is there much of an editing and trial and error process when it comes to creating these figures?

Sam Lanier: So I’m new to animation, so I didn’t know the whole process of character design and doing like 360 character designs for everyone. I kind of just went with my gut when figuring all of this out. Sam is a little bit of a jock so I thought it’d be funny if his shirt were off all the time. Felipe is really excitable and I thought it’d be funny if he were a monkey because of these videos that I was really into at the time. And Zach is scared, so he just has these big eyes. So I guess the character designs were sort of born out of the qualities in the characters that I wanted to most emphasize. 

Daniel Kurland: Is that your preferred art style to work in or have you experimented in other styles or mediums?

Sam Lanier: I’m definitely sticking to 2D; I don’t know how to do 3D. When it comes to the drawing style, this is pretty much as good as I can make it! In my head I kind of have Joseph Bennett as the premier person whose art style I’m trying to mimic. He has these believable, well-rendered human bodies and then these kinds of bigger, expressive heads. I think that’s genius and I’m always trying to capture the minuscule body language and decisions that he’s really good at conveying. I think I’m drawn towards human bodies with believable anatomy, but as the DAP shorts went on I thought it’d be fun to just have arms that are sticks or something. And it’d be easier to animate. I did cut some corners, but it’s building to this uniformity. 

Daniel Kurland: Even just the backgrounds in these shorts have this uniquely stylized look to them where there are these expressionistic washes of color. How did that decision come about rather than getting overly focused on detailed backgrounds?

Sam Lanier: The DAP backgrounds are all traced over pictures of my actual apartment. When you’re looking at the show, that’s what my apartment looks like pretty much, barring a few differences. The wash of colors was really my attempt to imitate Jamie Wolfe, specifically this short she did that’s called Roommates. It doesn’t have any dialogue and it’s about this hot summer day inside of a house. She has these really vivid colors of greens, and oranges, and browns that blur into each other. I was like, “I want that. I want that color of background.” So she was the inspiration there.

Daniel Kurland: How did you get in touch with Adult Swim over this SMALLS project? Is DAP the first idea that you took to them or did you consider other animated shorts of yours as well?

Sam Lanier: So I knew Dave Willis because “Simple Town,” this comedy group that I’m apart of, had pitched to him a number of times. We made these previous shorts for Adult Swim SMALLS called “Quartet.” That was back when they were still commissioning live-action stuff. So I knew Dave through “Simple Town” and when I started animating I sent him this one idea–which I had made, I animated the whole thing–about this kid at a museum who’s fascinated by this statue that he’s looking at. He’s kind of turned on by this really abstract, ugly talisman. His friends tell him to come with them to go to another exhibit, but he tells them that he wants to stay. Dave passed on that and said that such an explicitly drawn painting couldn’t be shown like that and that it wasn’t really their voice. So, DAP was the second thing that I had pitched to him, and I had already made it just on my own. I showed it to him and he thought that it would work!

Daniel Kurland: Now that these DAP shorts are out, do you have plans to further explore these characters or their world? Would you like this to become a full series? Would more shorts suffice?

Sam Lanier: I would love it if it were to become a full series! Adult Swim just has to say “yes.” I’ll pray to the gods and goddesses of pitching that they do say “yes!”

Daniel Kurland: Do you have a favorite moment, animated detail, or piece of dialogue that really sticks out to you in these DAP segments?

Sam Lanier: I think there are some hidden jokes in the first DAP that I really like. The camera zooms in on this dancing guy on the TV, but beneath the TV is a set of board games. The first one is Settlers of Catan, but then there are others that are like Settlers of Virginia, Settlers of China…All of the books on the shelf are also all about dating and relationship advice. I thought that was really funny and I wanted to add more of those Easter Egg type of touches to the shorts. They got to be so much work that it just stopped being feasible–I mean I do the DAP shorts almost entirely on my own. I don’t have the bandwidth to put in all of these visual gags, but I really love that stuff and hope to do more of it in the future.  

Daniel Kurland: If DAP were to become a full series, how would you feel about having a larger team to work on the production? Are you precious about any aspects of it where you appreciate how it’s currently this personal solo project?

Sam Lanier: I would love a team to help me make these. I’ve thought often on what would be the part of the production process that I get the most nit-picky over. I think, truthfully, the radio play aspect of it all is where it comes alive for me. All of the important acting decisions get made there. While I’d love a full team to help me make these, I think I would find that I’d be a bit of a tyrant or a Napoleon over the radio plays. I’d want to make sure that I could listen to each one and maybe edit them myself. I hope more happens!


The ‘DAP’ shorts can be watched in their entirety through Adult Swim SMALLS