Kang was familiar with Shadow Machine from 2 of their shows, Comedy Central’s TripTank and Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. First season productions like “Jeff and Some Aliens” (soon to have its own show) and “Suck It Gary” easily related to the approach Kang wanted to take with his animations skills. As a fan of their production style and content, he reached out to them about a position and was hired almost immediately. Both sides felt the positive attraction of this working relationship as Zheng notes, “I guess my mischievous humor struck a chord with their producers, as well as my fast-paced animation and varied character designs. TripTank is a sketch-based show which requires a variety of styles and approaches. The common thread throughout the show is its comedy and my work is typically very comedic.”
While some prefer compartmentalization, Kang prospers in an environment which calls on him to conceptualize and propagate themes for his creations; luckily, this is exactly what Shadow Machine was looking to get from him. As a creative part of the production team at Shadow Machine, Zheng would come up with a list of ideas that he thought would work as an animated comedy sketch. These with the producer on the show, and then create a rough storyboard) to pitch to the team. Finally, he’d create the animation while [producer] Emily Izquierdo cast voice recordings and audio which resulted in the finished pieces. Izquierdo comments, “During his time on Triptank, Zheng constantly impressed us with his skill and directorial style. His vision has carried him far in the animation industry. It's not often that you find an animator who knows how to maneuver a scene so effortlessly. Zheng was vital to the production of Triptank and his ability to create a world showed us he had the mind of a director and the skills of a top-notch animator.” Discussing some of his work for TripTank, Kang relates, “I worked on episodes that took on a Samurai theme, and the Cold War. I designed bumpers (promotions of the name TripTank with varying episode-specific graphic treatments). There was a Christmas episode with a lot of lip-syncing in which characters sung carols. I did a couple of fight scenes with vfx animation, a sequence of “Sour Patch Adults” which saw our gummy friends in prison, and a sequence with an adulteress chocolate bar. The humor of TripTank is not offensive or gross; it’s genuine adult sitcom stuff, which means that the humor is based in more adult scenarios such as the workplace or bedroom rather than in schools and playgrounds like a kids’ show.
Zheng regards his time working on TripTank as beneficial to helping him develop his own method. The luxury of working on adult character-driven sketch comedy is that inspiration is easily accessible. Kang used his every day experiences as fodder; reading the news, hanging out at a bar, watching the crowds in a mall, he began to notice all of the inspiring material around him. As a successful director/animator these days, his time at Shadow Machine taught him what directors need and what was reasonable for him to ask as the director of his own productions. As someone who has played both sides of this coin, he states, “For me, there’s creativity and satisfaction in both scenarios. I don’t feel frustrated, working for other writers and directors because I know I have the freedom to take on those roles too if I wish. If someone wants to suggest a scenario, I’m as happy to explore it as I would be to just head out in my own direction; either way, creative visions and story ideas are being influenced by my input. I genuinely enjoy collaborating with others on all my projects. I see benefits of both approaches. When I work with another director, I’m typically joining a project in preproduction rather than at initial concept. By the time I arrive, the director already has a very clear vision that they have worked very hard to develop. It’s easy for me to design and write to that person’s defined brief. I saw a lot of this dynamic in my time working on TripTank. It was great to be a part of that creative and positive environment.”
Hard work and good work was appreciated and rewarded at Shadow Machine. Recalling how much he loved the work and the “vibe” at Shadow Machine, Zheng notes, “Our office was a large open-plan environment, with a lot of natural light, and typically with 3-4 pet dogs every day. I love cats and dogs, and I always found time to play with the studio pets. My day would start somewhere between 9-10am and typically end around 7-8pm. One week, a director friend was dog-sitting for his girlfriend and brought the dog into the office. Unlike the regular studio dogs who were used to the environment and pretty chill, this little guy was excited to meet everyone. He’d spend every morning running around and every afternoon fast asleep because he wore himself out. I spent an entire afternoon animating a shot with him fast asleep in my lap. I think all of these factors convinced me that I had made the right decision following my dream.”