As children, Patrick Harpin and his sister would pile into their father’s white work van — his sister in the passenger seat and Harpin in a lawn chair in the back where there were no seats — and the trio would head out for a day of adventures.
The family would film local commercials for Fox Bangor, where Harpin’s father worked as a nighttime camera operator. Those adventures with his father were Harpin’s introduction to filmmaking.
“My dad would do this thing where, in a flat straightaway in Levant, he’d floor it and I’d be bopping around in the lawn chair in the back feeling the turbulence,” Harpin said. “It was our favorite thing to do. We always wanted to go with our dad to work, and he’d take us a lot of the time. I drew a lot of those things for the show from the back roads of Levant.”
Now 34, Harpin has co-created one of Netflix’s newest animated children’s shows, “My Dad the Bounty Hunter.” The show’s first season premiered on Feb. 9 and quickly took a spot on the streaming service’s top 10 lists for both children’s and adult’s TV shows and movies in multiple countries. In the United States, the show peaked at No. 3 in the children’s show category and No. 6 in the general adult’s category.
“My Dad the Bounty Hunter” features siblings Sean and Lisa who accompany their father, Terry, on his missions as an intergalactic bounty hunter. The trio travels through the galaxy dodging dangerous aliens and doing a little family bonding on the way.
Harpin called the show’s genre, “blue collar sci-fi: where ordinary people go through an extraordinary experience,” something horror writer and fellow Mainer Stephen King has mastered, he said.
The premise for the show was born from a conversation Harpin had with a friend when they were both working at Sony Animation in 2015 and weren’t excited about their projects at the time.
The pair, both sci-fi fans, began brainstorming a project that would be excited to work in every day that felt like the shows they grew up with.
“I wanted the kids to feel honest, not like watered-down versions of being a kid,” he said. “We missed shows where kids are the main characters and they can be in danger. Kids appreciate storytelling that doesn’t talk down to them.”
After developing the storyline, Harpin and his co-creator, Everett Downing Jr., pitched the idea to multiple studios before finally striking a deal with Netflix Animation. The show has since been in production for about three and a half years, he said.
“We made something that we would want to watch as adults, and I’m pleased and excited by how it has been received,” Harpin said. “You always hope it’ll be a hit and everyone on the crew thought we were making something special. The story felt different from anything else out there, but we didn’t didn’t know if we were delusional.”
The show also includes Easter eggs Maine viewers might recognize, including a reference to Splashtown, a water park in Saco.
“When we were designing the dad’s apartment, I knew he needed cheap vinyl flooring with brackets, and that’s where his boots need to be sitting,” Harpin said. “Some of the artists didn’t understand what I meant because they didn’t grow up with snow. There are little details like that when you’re trying to make things look imperfect and lived in.”
Born in Bangor, Harpin lived in Levant until his family moved to Orono when he was in the seventh grade. He graduated from Orono High School in 2007, then studied animation at the California Institute of the Arts.
“That was my dream school — it’s like animation Hogwarts,” Harpin said, referencing the fictional wizardry school in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
When Harpin completed the two art classes Orono High School offered, he discovered he could take classes from the University of Maine while still in high school. With help from Sally Nevells, who worked in the high school’s guidance office, he took figure drawing courses at the University of Maine, which he said is what helped him get into animation school.
“Figure drawing is what most of your portfolio is when you’re trying to get into animation school,” he said.
Harpin also credited his current success to Chris Luthin, an Orono High School English teacher who taught a film class Harpin took.
“He exposed us to a lot of great films and encouraged me to pursue filmmaking,” he said. “Those people make a huge difference, especially when you’re far away from the film industry.”
Harpin previously worked on “Hotel Transylvania 2,” “Hotel Transylvania 3” and “The Emoji Movie,” all of which are children’s movies, along with “Clarence,” an animated children’s Cartoon Network show, and “Moonrise Kingdom,” a live-action movie directed by Wes Anderson.
Now living in Los Angeles, Harpin said he reminds other creators that there are people across the country who could be great artists, animators and storytellers, but didn’t grow up with the access to the technology and opportunities to hone their skills at a young age.
Harpin said fans interested in seeing more episodes of his Netflix show should “stay tuned.”