Annie Award-winning Gravity Falls writer, director and storyboard artist Matt Braly has created a new Disney Channel animated series. Amphibia, starring Mouse House staple Brenda Song, premieres June 17th. The show has just wrapped production on Season 1 and has already been renewed for a second year.
Jerry Beck: What does the title of the show refer to?
Matt Braley: The title is the world itself. And the town they’re in is called Wartwood. But the world proper is Amphibia. That’s the entire magical world that Anne gets sent to.
JB: It is a magical world. It’s a mythologically enchanted world. There’s a giant mantis, and of course you can talk to the frogs. I guess there are some secrets because this has a story arc to it, doesn’t it?
MB: Yes it does. The show is episodic, but light serialization – kind of over-the-top. I took huge inspiration from shows like “Gravity Falls” and “Steven Universe”. I think how they handled long-form storytelling was really inspiring to me.
JB: What got you into being an artist? Were you a creative artist kid? Did you read a lot of comic books? What is it that got you into this?
MB: All it really takes, I feel like, as a kid – your mom or your dad puts a drawing on the refrigerator. And from that point on you’re like, “Hey! I’m pretty good at this.” I spent my whole childhood drawing. I loved drawing Mortal Kombat characters and Transformers. But I didn’t really take animation as a career path seriously until my freshman year of high school.
My high school had a job fair, and this Pixar animator named Bobby Podesta came because he was an alumni. And he talked a little bit about what he did. He did this great drawing on the chalkboard of Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast. And from that minute, I was kind of hooked.
JB: Did you look at the old Disney classics or watch any of the Warner Bros. cartoons?
MB: I grew up watching all kinds of Looney Tunes and also those Disney classics. I feel like when I was growing up in the 90s, there was that huge VHS boom: “What was old is new again!” I remember even watching things like Fun and Fancy Free thinking it was new as a kid, but of course it wasn’t. (laughs) But I definitely soaked in all that stuff.
JB: I read on your bio is that Anne is inspired by your grandmother.
MB: I have this incredibly old photo of my grandmother. It must be from the 1920s. It’s her as a child, and in that photo, she has this amazing “wild child” hair and this ferocious look. And I remember always loving this photo and looking at it and saying to myself, “What a fantastic character.”
JB: Wow. That’s great. What is Sprig’s personality?
MB: Sprig is this very youthful, optimistic and energetic kid. He’s genuinely a kid. That was something we really honed-in on as we were casting him, as we were developing him, as we were writing him. We wanted him to feel very genuine. For example, we cast an actual youth to play him. Justin [Felbinger]… he brings an authenticity to the performance.
JB: And Hop-Pop is the grandfather.
MB: Yes, Hop-Pop is his Bilbo Baggins-esque grandfather voiced by the amazing Bill Farmer.
JB: He is also the official voice of Disney’s Goofy.
MB: He’s amazing, dude! Anyone who can sing as Goofy, that’s something, right?
JB: Let’s talk about your point of view of the fact that he show is a combination of humor and adventure – and real danger.
MB: I’m so glad that you’ve keyed-in on that. For this show, and it was something that I really picked up from “Gravity Falls”, which is really where I cut my teeth in terms of TV animation… things were always incredibly real in “Gravity Falls”. Even though it had the trappings of a sitcom, somehow at the end of the episode, the characters’ lives were genuinely at stake. I was absolutely looking to deliver that, so as an audience member you would feel worried for these characters in the third act. So this world, as cute and as friendly and magical as it can seem, it’s got some teeth.
JB: Yes, literally.
MB: (laughs) And mandibles.
JB: Clearly in the second episode, there’s a hint of what is [really] going on here.
MB: The whole draw in terms of the long-form storytelling is that you have these three best friends and they all get zapped into the world in different places. And the three of them together will have very different experiences – to the point where when they meet up over the course of the series, they’ll have changed dramatically.
JB: In the first two episodes, we’re mainly looking at things from Anne’s point of view. But are you going to be doing episodes down the road from other characters’ point of view?
MB: Without giving too much away, I’m just gonna say Yes. And that’s really exciting for us.
The creators behind Disney’s AMPHIBIA – writer Jack Ferraiolo, creator Matt Braly, Story Editor Gloria Shen – with yours truly, interviewer Jerry Beck
JB: I also got a vibe from the second episode… this show can go dark. It’s starting off in a very fun, upbeat way, but I can feel a turn might be down the road.
MB: Absolutely, man. You’re keying right into it. As you say, it’s very friendly and fun at the start. But I think the whole idea here is there’s something much richer and much deeper under the surface. I think that for the relationships of these three girls… this place will allow the three of them to re-evaluate their relationship as well.
JB: I love that it’s got this deeper thing. To be fair… I guess you need to watch the entire show – all the episodes. You almost can’t get a real sense of it from [not just] that first episode.
MB: That would be my preference. And it’s funny because we live now in an age where that is kind of storytelling. It’s really “in”: this serialized, binged storytelling. Props to Disney. Ordinarily I would expect a little push back when it comes to stuff like that. But they’ve been very encouraging in terms of, “What’s the overall payoff for these characters in this world?”
JB: I’m a big fan of Disney leading the way. Those Marvel movies are pretty much transforming theatrical movies that way. As an old timer, I was a big fan of those old-time movie serials from the 40s, with Flash Gordon and things like that. That was a thing that was lost for decades. It’s something that started cinema, believe it or not, it goes back to the 1910s in movies, and then it was lost for decades – and is just really resurging now in the last 10-15 years.
MB: Infinity War [and Endgame] – it’s insane. It’s like we all watched a TV show at the same time. We’re all experiencing this crazy payoff. And I also wanted to tell you too that I’m an artist with my influences. Obviously on “Gravity Falls”, I worked with Alex Hirsch. He was amazing – a great friend and mentor.
But I also got to work with Aaron Springer, who is an absolute comedic genius. And I remember the lessons that I learned from him. He was a director on Season 1 of “Gravity Falls”. There is a little bit of Springer in this show as well. His comedic timing and sensibilities really rubbed off on me.
JB: I feel it in terms of the humor style. I think you’re taking all these inspirations and sources and putting them all together in a new mix that is very, very satisfying.
MB: Even the way the first episode starts, not from her POV, but from the town… vagrants – that kind of style choice. I was so sure that Disney would not have been encouraging of that, but they loved it.
JB: And even the second episode that starts with her back in her regular world… you got the cinematics of it… and the beautiful Disney production values of it.
MB: Oh, yes. And you actually came to visit “Gravity Falls” crew back in the day, didn’t you?
JB: I did.
MB: Ian Worrel… is also the art director of this project. And the man is a genius. The entire look of the show can be attributed to him. No one paints rocks and trees better than this man.
JB: What is the [target] age group for Amphibia?
MB: The demo is 6-11 boys and girls. But from my point of view, I’m striving to make something that anyone can enjoy – that families can sit down together. I feel like the gold standard has been that all-inclusive Pixar feeling.
JB: And how long have you been working on this?
MB: I’ve been working on this for three and a half years. It was in development for almost two years, and then we’ve been in production for about a year and a half. So all in all… that’s comparable to a feature.
(Special thanks to Jackson Murphy)
from Animation Scoop http://www.animationscoop.com/interview-creator-matt-braly-on-amphibia/