In­ter­ga­lac­tic Trav­els with Grandpa!

Rick and Morty, Justin Roi­land and Dan Har­mon’s quirky new sci-fi toon, takes view­ers along for a fan­tas­tic ride. by Ramin Za­hed

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Rick and Morty, Justin Roi­land and Dan Har­mon’s quirky new sci-fi toon, takes view­ers along for a fan­tas­tic ride. by Ramin Za­hed

Time and space con­tin­uum-bend­ing he­roes are a fa­mil­iar sta­ple of sci­ence fic­tion books and movies, but what if the galaxy-trot­ting lead is ac­tu­ally a nutty older man who drags his grand­son along for the ride? That’s the premise be­hind the hi­lar­i­ous new Adult Swim an­i­mated se­ries Rick and Morty, which is exec pro­duced by ac­tor/pro­ducer Justin Roi­land ( Fish Hooks, Ad­ven­ture Time) and Dan Har­mon, the man be­hind NBC’s pop­u­lar sit­com Com­mu­nity.

Roi­land, who voices both grandpa Rick and grand­son Morty, re­calls get­ting the call from Har­mon a while back to come up with a show for Adult Swim. “I was so ex­cited when Dan called me to col­lab­o­rate with him on the se­ries,” says Roi­land, who also pro­duced the an­i­mated we­bisodes for The Sarah Sil­ver­man Show. “I just get so in­spired when I think about th­ese two very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters and how they re­late to each other. When I’m in the booth do­ing th­ese char­ac­ters as they talk to each other, my brain shuts off and it taps into some­thing else. I think that’s where the magic comes from—the way Rick and Morty riff back and forth. I just go crazy, and it’s re­ally fun!”

Har­mon also be­lieves that the suc­cess of a com­edy show de­pends more on what he calls “the cre­ative bliss,” much more than the ac­tual premise. “That is the most im­por­tant thing: You know right now they’re prob­a­bly work­ing on the Slinky movie some­where, and they hired a writer to find the story be­hind that con­cept. But that’s a cre­ative mis­take.

They’re start­ing with a prod­uct in­stead of cre­ative joy. I think it’s most im­por­tant to make sure that the idea is the most joy­ful, or­ganic and spir­i­tual thing pos­si­ble. Justin has been mak­ing videos with th­ese char­ac­ters for­ever— and he makes me laugh. I like to say that there’s nat­u­ral gas there—that’s a good place to build a casino!”

Rick and Morty, as Har­mon sees them, are two sides of the hu­man brain: One is the child­ish, naïve part that is con­stantly ask­ing ques­tions, while the other part is this gruff, self­ish thing that never apol­o­gizes for any­thing that he does. "It cre­ates a per­fect bat­tery be­cause it has two per­fectly charged ends that power the sto­ry­lines."

The duo’s adventures be­gin when Rick ar­rives at his daugh­ter Beth’s (Sarah Chalke) doorstep look­ing to move in with her and her fam­ily af­ter a 20-year ab­sence. He soon con­verts the garage into his per­sonal lab and de­cides to drag along his grand­son on his poorly con­ceived adventures and in­ven­tions.

In­ter­est­ingly enough, Har­mon also likens

“I think it’s most im­por­tant to make sure that the idea is the most joy­ful, or­ganic and spir­i­tual thing pos­si­ble. Justin has been mak­ing videos with th­ese char­ac­ters for­ever—and he makes me laugh. I like to say that there’s nat­u­ral gas there—

that’s a good place to build a casino!”

the tone of the show to great Bri­tish scifi fran­chises such as Doc­tor Who and The Hitch­hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “There’s some­thing about those Bri­tish shows. They are able to give au­di­ences so much more credit to be able to han­dle dark­ness or edgi­ness. The lead char­ac­ters are of­ten ass­holes who al­ways know more than you, and don’t care how long it takes for you to catch up,” muses Har­mon. “Maybe it’s be­cause Amer­ica be­came flooded with money, and our sto­ry­telling for chil­dren be­came cap­i­tal­ized, as if we have to pro­tect our chil­dren from the harsh­ness of the world.”

He fur­ther ex­plains that the side­kicks on th­ese shows are the stand-ins for the view­ers. “We iden­tify with them be­cause we can’t re­ally con­nect with the guy who knows ev­ery­thing, but we look up to guy who knows ev­ery­thing just as the in­no­cent char­ac­ter on the show does.”

The pro­duc­tion pipe­line of the show is also built in a way that en­cour­ages more loose im­pro­vi­sa­tion and on-the-spot in­spi­ra­tion. The an­i­ma­tion, which is done with Toon Boom Har­mony, is split be­tween Bur­bankbased Star­burns In­dus­tries and Van­cou­ver stu­dio Bardel En­ter­tain­ment. Roi­land says the sto­ry­boards, de­signs, color keys and back­grounds are all done in Bur­bank and then as­sem­bled in Van­cou­ver, with some pro­duc­tion help in the Philip­pines. “Our an­i­mat­ics are so tight they can al­most play by them­selves,” he notes. “When we get into color, we’re three steps ahead of other an­i­ma­tion shows in terms of pro­duc­tion. What’s in­ter­est­ing about Har­mony and our pipe­line is that the show’s su­per­vis­ing di­rec­tor and I can fol­low each show along the way. By the time you get to take one, you’ve been able to catch a lot of mis­takes that oth­er­wise would have slowed down the process. It takes us about six to eight weeks to get things back.”

On Rick and Morty, the script and the ac­tors’ ra­dio play is used to pro­vide guid­ance for the sto­ry­board team, while on many of the other toons, the sto­ry­boards are done by the time the ac­tors get in­volved. Roi­land be­lieves that this al­lows the ac­tors and the writ­ers to re­ally drive the sto­ry­boards.

One of the main things that Har­mon loves

—Cre­ator and exec pro­ducer Dan Har­mon

about work­ing in an­i­ma­tion is the con­trol the writ­ers have over the fi­nal prod­uct. “When you are work­ing in live ac­tion, there’s a dis­con­nect be­tween what you have in your head and how it will play on TV. You can be on the set, have a great di­rec­tor and a fan­tas­tic ac­tor, but the fi­nal re­sult may not be what you wanted. You get to fol­low your bliss more in an­i­ma­tion. The di­rec­tor can’t come in with a com­pletely dif­fer­ent vi­sion and set up a long pan­ning shot be­cause they think it’s go­ing to be fun­nier. In an­i­ma­tion, you can con­trol the re­al­ity.”

Har­mon does point out that in both live ac­tion and an­i­ma­tion, the an­i­ma­tion and line producers tend to act sim­i­larly to­wards the de­mands of a scene. “When you have a char­ac­ter walk into a room full of peo­ple, they re­act the same way be­cause in terms of re­sources, it’s go­ing to be al­most as dif­fi­cult to have all those new char­ac­ters de­signed and an­i­mated as to find a whole bunch of ac­tors to play the scene.”

Past Fa­vorites

Both of the show’s creators name John Kric­falusi’s Ren & Stimpy as a big in­spi­ra­tion on their new se­ries. “I was only 12 when that show first came out and it had a huge im­pact in shift­ing my per­cep­tion about what could be done stylis­ti­cally and ton­ally in an­i­ma­tion,” says Roi­land. “Of course, Beavis and ButtHead was also re­ally funny, and es­tab­lished th­ese two cen­tral char­ac­ters who were id­iots as they fum­bled through life and ev­ery­one else in the world played the straight man in their world—and of course, Mike Judge voiced both of those char­ac­ters, which is some­thing that I also do in Rick and Morty. South Park also was a great model be­cause you could see how far they could push the en­ve­lope, not just in terms of tone, but also legally get away with in terms of like­nesses and prod­uct names."

Roi­land also men­tions some of his fa­vorite childhood toons like In­spec­tor Gad­get, The Trans­form­ers, Real Ghost­busters and Teenage

“When you look at what a show like Star Trek was able to

do, the de­vices and sci­ence it fo­cused on all ap­plied to the­o­ret­i­cal physics. You can trace all of those things to real sci­ence. We wanted to do the same thing—to have our char

acters play in the same sci-fi space.”

—Cre­ator and exec pro­ducer Justin Roi­land

Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles as lead­ing him to his show to­day. “Another great one is An­i­ma­ni­acs,” he says. “That’s why we made sure we cast as many peo­ple from that show as we could. To have stars like Rob Paulsen, Jeff Har­nell, Mau­rice La­Marche—we even got Tress MacNeille for an episode—is in­sane to me, be­cause it was such an honor to have them on our show.”

When we ask Har­mon about his fa­vorite toons, he turns the con­ver­sa­tion back to In­spec­tor Gad­get. “I’m not that good with vi­su­als—I can’t even name my fa­vorite painter,” he ad­mits. “But I do love work­ing with visu­ally gifted peo­ple be­cause so much of that part of my brain is squelched. I re­ally en­joyed watch­ing In­spec­tor Gad­get when I used to come home from school. I was also a big fan of that Pro­fes­sor Keen­bean on Richie Rich who could ap­par­ently in­vent any­thing. I didn’t care at all about Richie Rich, who had this sci­en­tist on his pay­roll. In fact, I re­ally wished the sci­en­tist would kill Richie Rich and just take over so the show would be all about him.”

Th­ese days, Har­mon doesn’t have to dream about the demise of Har­vey Comics’ spoiled rich boy. He is quite pleased with see­ing his flawed char­ac­ter drag his poor grand­son to the far reaches of a very sur­real galaxy. “I love Rick’s char­ac­ter—there’s some­thing so lib­er­at­ing and provoca­tive about him,” says Har­mon. “He’s a great metaphor for men­tal ill­ness. He is all about sci­ence and is so smart that he wants to beat God at his own game. That’s why we love Doc­tor Who— this idea of a sci­en­tist/crafts­man who doesn’t fall back on re­li­gion or re­la­tion­ships with oth­ers. He’s play­ing check­ers with God and he’s go­ing to win. I also love the fact that we didn’t have much trou­ble with cre­at­ing the show we had en­vi­sioned. The notes we got from the cen­sors were very mi­nor. Like, ‘If you re­ally have to have that much di­ar­rhea on the screen, can you at least please make it pur­ple?’ or ‘If you need to blow this guy’s brain out, can you make his brain not flesh-col­ored?’”

Roi­land brings up one last point that stresses the sci­ence fic­tion as­pect of the se­ries. “When you look at what a show like Star Trek was able to do, the de­vices and sci­ence it fo­cused on all ap­plied to the­o­ret­i­cal physics. You can trace all of those things to real sci­ence. We wanted to do the same thing—to have our char­ac­ters play in the same sci-fi space. And I have to also say that the show’s an­i­ma­tion, vi­su­als and col­ors are also in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful and cin­e­matic. We wanted ev­ery episode to feel like a mini movie.”

Rick and Morty pre­mieres on Adult Swim on De­cem­ber 2 at 10:30 p.m.

Gods and Mon­sters: Show cre­ator Justin Roi­land sup­plies the voices for the show’s two lead char­ac­ters Rick and Morty. The voice cast also in­cludes Spencer Gram­mer, Sarah Chalke and Chris Par­nell.

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