The Inside Story Behind ‘Seinimations,’ the Greatest ‘Seinfeld’ DVD Extra Ever

Okay, maybe they’re second to the blooper reels, but they’re still pretty great
The Inside Story Behind ‘Seinimations,’ the Greatest ‘Seinfeld’ DVD Extra Ever

Back in the days when DVDs still ruled the world, DVD extras were a cottage industry all to their own. They included not only commentaries, deleted scenes and making-of documentaries, but also wholly original material like short films and cartoons. Case in point: When season-by-season box sets of Seinfeld were released in the mid-aughts, they came with something called “Seinimations,” which took classic audio segments from various episodes and animated a purposefully crude-looking stick figure cartoon to them.

There were a total of 11 “Seinimations,” and they were all done by an animator named Eric Yahnker. He credits “Seinimations” with providing him with the money to pursue his art career full time, which is part of the reason why he’s still so fond of his animated doodles today — that, and the fact that he happened to be a huge Seinfeld fan.

Designing the Foursome

“Sony wanted someone to crudely animate these scenes as though they were from Jerry’s sketchbook, like Jerry was doodling,” Yahnker explains. “They chose the audio clips, and then I decided to put them on lined paper because I didn’t think Jerry would go to an art store — he’d go to CVS and get a spiral-bound notebook or something. Each of them took about three or four days to make. That was it.”

He distilled down the show’s foursome into the simplest forms possible. “For Jerry, it was all about the attitude,” Yahnker tells me. “Jerry’s the straight man in the show, but he doesn’t do eye-poppy reactions. He’s more sleepy and just going with it. For Elaine, she’s very attractive, so I gave her bigger eyes because you get lost in them and she’s so expressive with them. Kramer and George were the ones I could really push into a stereotype. Kramer was the long, lanky praying mantis and obviously the hair was the most important feature. Finally, George was the meatball.”

‘The Big Race’

“This is the first one that I did, and when Jerry tells the story about the big race, he’s in someone else’s apartment,” Yahnker says. “So I patterned this after the apartment that he’s in, but then, when it made it to YouTube, all these people commented that Jerry’s apartment was wrong. I thought Seinfeld fans would remember that he was in a different apartment when telling this story, but no. Either way, by the time I got to the second one, I decided to change some things, like I went into the characters’ imagination more quickly.” 

‘Seinfeld Noir’

“I went pulp with this one,” says Yahnker. “Elaine’s doing this investigation, she’s in P.I. mode and she’s doing that voice, so I put her in a dark room with that swinging light.”

‘Kramer vs. Monkey’

“Michael Richards is such a brilliant physical comedian, so to do him justice in animation is a little tough,” says Yahnker. “It was less about adding too much and more about showing that you understand this character and that you can access him with a few economical lines. There’s one where he walks in and raids the fridge; I just did that because the audience expects that of Kramer.”

‘Dr. Cosmo on Marriage and Family’

“Kramer is always an expert at something, even though he’s an expert at nothing. So in this one, I had fun with Kramer being other characters, like a therapist and Jerry’s mom and dad,” explains Yahnker. 

‘George and the Whale’

“This and the pinky toe story are the most epic tales I got to tell,” says Yahnker. “We all knew we were in for something when George says, ‘The sea was angry that day, my friends.’ I wanted to make it this big thing, so I made them pirates, but I also wanted to make clear that George was exaggerating the story; so when a wave crashes, it’s Kramer throwing a pail of water on him, making it not quite as dramatic as you think. I also patterned this after The Princess Bride, with Peter Falk telling Fred Savage a story in bed, but here it’s Geroge telling them a story in bed.”

‘The Del Boca Vista Express’

“They gave me a few stand-up ones to choose from, but I chose more clips from the show instead because it had more of the characters we all know and want,” Yahnker explains. 

‘Pinky Toe’s Wild Ride’

“I had a lot of fun making up the villain and the other people on the bus,” Yahnker says. “Having a pinky toe flying through the air was already so imaginative, so, for the animation, it’s really about what these three idiots would do with that. I patterned it after the Three Stooges. My favorite detail is when I turn Kramer into Batman, and his hair becomes the Batman ears.”

‘Thy Voice of Thee’

“I put them in this medieval fantasyland to match the voice,” says Yahnker. “I loved putting George in a peasant costume with Jerry as a squire and Elaine as a princess. Again, this one felt like the Three Stooges, as it was three idiots talking about something dumb.”

‘The Waiting Game’

“This is another stand-up bit, but I snuck Kramer into it in the background,” says Yahnker. 

‘Circus or Zoo’

“With the clips they gave me, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to put Elaine in things, so I stuck her in there where I could,” says Yahnker. “For instance, when George says he’d prefer to be in the alien zoo rather than the circus, he says maybe they’d put a woman in with him, so I dropped Elaine in. But then I had her banging on the glass like, ‘Get me out of here!’”

‘Conquering the Van Wyck’

“This one is unfinished because they said they were done with them. I’d only spent a day storyboarding it — that was it. Then, when the DVD box set came out with all the seasons, they said, ‘Let’s include the unfinished one as a bonus feature,’” Yanker recalls. “I kind of cringe at it now because it would have taken me maybe two days to finish it.”

After ‘Seinimations’

“Years later, Jerry contacted me again to work on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, but I couldn’t do it because I was making art shows at the time and I was on a crazy deadline. I passed it off to a friend instead,” Yahnker concludes. “The coolest thing though was when he mentioned me on Letterman, along with a clip of ‘Seinimations.’”

“Before that Letterman episode, they’d called me beforehand and told me they were going to show a clip. All I asked was, ‘If he can get my name right, my mother would be thrilled.’ Most people mispronounce it as ‘Yanker.’ On the show, Jerry pronounced Yahnker correctly, but he messed up my first name, calling me Greg. But hey, it resulted in some nice banter between him and Letterman, which is pretty cool for a guy like me.”

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