It’s the End of the World and She’s Just Fine!

How the cre­ators of Dream­Works’ new Kipo and the Age of Won­der­beasts in­tro­duced a re­fresh­ingly orig­i­nal vision set in a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world.

Animation Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Ramin Za­hed

How the cre­ators of Dream­Works’ new Kipo and the Age of Won­der­beasts in­tro­duced a re­fresh­ingly orig­i­nal vision set in a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world.

Rad­ford Sechrist and Bill Wolkoff are gen­uinely ex­cited about pre­sent­ing their charm­ing new post-apoc­a­lyp­tic sur­vivor to Net­flix au­di­ences this year. Af­ter all, the two cre­ators worked hard to make their highly imag­i­na­tive, funny and en­dear­ing 2Dan­i­mated se­ries Kipo and the Age of Won­der­beasts for over four years. The first sea­son of the show, which de­buted last month on Net­flix, cen­ters on Kipo, a young Korean-Amer­i­can girl (voiced by Karen Fukuhara) who is find­ing her way in a mysterious world where hu­mans have been forced to live un­der­ground and an­i­mals have mu­tated in un­ex­pected ways.

Sechrist, a story artist on fea­tures such as Kung Fu

Panda 2, How to Train Your

Dragon 2 and Pen­guins of Mada­gas­car and head of story on Sony’s Wish Dragon, says he came up with the idea for the show just walk­ing around his neigh­bor­hood in Los An­ge­les.“I knew I wanted to cre­ate a project that was set in a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world, so I’d walk around Los Feliz and try to imag­ine what ev­ery­thing would look like with over­grown plants and mu­tated crea­tures walk­ing around some 200 years af­ter a ma­jor apoc­a­lypse,” he recalls.

“I’d go to the cof­fee shop and see a barista dressed like a lum­ber­jack and try to imag­ine how a cat would look in that same out­fit. I also based a lot of the char­ac­ters in the show on my friends and peo­ple I knew.”

Orig­i­nally, Sechrist con­ceived Kipo as a we­b­comic, but when Dream­Works An­i­ma­tion TV CCO Peter Gal dis­cov­ered his con­cepts, he en­cour­aged Sechrist to pitch it as a TV show. “I pitched the se­ries as, ‘Walk­ing Dead, but ev­ery­thing that’s try­ing to kill you is adorable,’” he says. “Our main char­ac­ter, Kipo, grew up in an un­der­ground city, and life for her was pretty much like ours. Her bur­row gets at­tacked, she ends up on the sur­face for the first time, and she’s like the view­ers’ gate­way in.”

Pos­i­tive Pro­tag­o­nist

Be­fore long, exec pro­ducer Bill Wolkoff also joined the project to help guide and pace the nar­ra­tive. “I saw the po­ten­tial to tell a big story about a young girl com­ing of age against this amaz­ing, ir­rev­er­ent back­drop that had in­cred­i­ble ad­ven­ture and com­edy,” Wolkoff says. “I loved Kipo in­stantly. Here is this re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive per­son with this great sense of won­der, set it in a dan­ger­ous world, which would turn most peo­ple cyn­i­cal. This was the per­fect char­ac­ter to root the rest of the show around.” Wolkoff, who has writ­ten for shows such as TRON: Up­ris­ing, Star Wars Rebels and Once Upon a Time, says he can’t praise Sechrist’s unique vision and draw­ing style enough. “The show stands out be­cause his style is such a huge part of ev­ery frame. I’m so ex­cited to tell this whim­si­cal endof-the-world story that is not bleak and apoc­a­lyp­tic.”

The show’s vi­su­als owe a lot to some of Sechrist’s fa­vorite movies and TV shows from his youth. “It’s def­i­nitely in­flu­enced by a lot of anime,” he says. “I am a huge fan of things like Tekkonkink­reet (2005), Stu­dio Ghi­bli movies and At­tack on Ti­tan, as well as Amer­i­can shows too, like Teen Ti­tans. So, it is a mix­ture of things I love.”

Help­ing bring Sechrist and his team’s vi­sions to an­i­mated life is South Korea’s Stu­dio Mir, best known to U.S. view­ers for their

‘I knew I wanted to cre­ate a project that was set in a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world, so I’d walk around Los Feliz and try to imag­ine what ev­ery­thing would look like with over­grown plants and mu­tated crea­tures walk­ing around some 200 years af­ter a ma­jor apoc­a­lypse.’ — Exec pro­ducer and cre­ator Rad­ford Sechrist

work on ac­claimed shows such as The Leg­end of Korra and Voltron Leg­endary De­fend­ers. “We were look­ing at some dif­fer­ent an­i­ma­tion stu­dios, and I was al­ways a huge fan of Stu­dio Mir. They had worked on all my fa­vorite shows and I was su­per ex­cited to have the pos­si­bil­ity to work with them.” Ac­cord­ing to Sechrist, Stu­dio Mir gen­er­ates some 22,000 hand draw­ings per episode for the se­ries. “It’s all drawn on pa­per and pen­cil,” he says. “All com­pletely hand­drawn.”

Stu­dio Mir Spreads Some Magic

The pro­duc­tion team in­cluded five writ­ers in ad­di­tion to Sechrist and Wolkoff. “For our first sea­son, we had two teams, and each team had a di­rec­tor and three board artists,” says Sechrist. “It takes us about six weeks to board the show. Then our edi­tor would work on the an­i­matic, and we would ship that over­seas to Korea. Mir would send us back a full pass, full­color an­i­mated, at which point we would do a few re­takes — but they would do such a great job. I talked to other peo­ple who work on shows, and they were quite sur­prised at how few the re­takes were that we needed to do with Mir.” Ap­prox­i­mately 60 peo­ple worked on the show at Dream­Works, and about 55 at Mir.

Of course, both Sechrist and Wolkoff ad­mit that the ex­pe­ri­ence has had its share of chal­leng­ing mo­ments. “I had worked in fea­tures be­fore this, so I was quite shocked by the speed with which peo­ple work in TV,” says Sechrist. Wolkoff adds, “This was the first time exec pro­duc­ing for both Rad and I. The main chal­lenge for me was that we had to cre­ate this rich mythol­ogy for this se­ries. We had a lot of con­ver­sa­tions about the role of each char­ac­ter and where it was go­ing. We are also for­tu­nate to have a great writ­ing staff that re­ally took own­er­ship of the show. It was an epic un­der­tak­ing.”

Wolkoff says he’s re­ally ex­cited that he and his team get to tell a kind of story that is quite rare in chil­dren’s an­i­ma­tion. “We also have a re­ally di­verse cast that is re­flec­tive of the world to­day,” he adds. “It was re­ally im­por­tant for Rad and I to have a cre­ative team that was di­verse and in­clu­sive to tell these sto­ries in the best way. We wanted to em­power our team to make de­ci­sions that we couldn’t have made on our own. That’s why the show feels au­then­tic and has a fresh per­spec­tive. It’s also very funny.”

Sur­prise Mes­sages

“For me, ev­ery day of work­ing on the show feels like Christ­mas morn­ing,” ad­mits Sechrist. “It re­ally never gets old. I have this grin on my face. I thought it was so ex­cit­ing to tell this story that was fun and funny and cool. I thought it was so great that we could go so much deeper a sea­son of the show than we could with a fea­ture. Dream­Works let us do some re­ally cool stuff, and I was ac­tu­ally sur­prised that they let us do some of the mes­sag­ing that we got to do through­out the show. I can’t be any more spe­cific be­cause I don’t want to give away any spoil­ers!”

Sechrist, who stud­ied chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing at UC Santa Bar­bara, ac­tu­ally be­gan draw­ing comic books for fun when he was in col­lege.“I grew up draw­ing, but when I grad­u­ated from high school, I didn’t know an­i­ma­tion could be a ca­reer,” he recalls.“It wasn’t un­til I pub­lished my comic books and met other artists and pro­fes­sion­als when I re­al­ized that I could pur­sue comics and an­i­ma­tion as a ca­reer, so I moved to L.A. and got into an­i­ma­tion.”

For Wolkoff, it was the Na­tional Film Board of Canada and shorts such as Richard Condie’s The Big Snit that prompted him to get into writ­ing for TV af­ter fin­ish­ing his stud­ies at Wes­leyan in Con­necti­cut.“I ac­tu­ally made an­i­mated films in col­lege. When I saw the Big Snit, I couldn’t be­lieve that an­i­ma­tion could do so many things at once — be funny as hell and tell a deeply emo­tional story as well. That was the bar I set for my­self. I wrote a 10-page script dur­ing my se­nior year, but only got to an­i­mate two pages of it. I knew then that I was best suited for writ­ing.”

The dy­namic duo of­fer a cou­ple of tips about get­ting into an­i­ma­tion be­fore the end of our in­ter­view. “If you want to be an artist, I al­ways tell peo­ple to check out the Con­cept De­sign Academy in Pasadena, Calif.,” says Sechrist.“It’s a great place to learn.”

“I would say watch the TV show or movies that you love very closely and try to un­der­stand what they do,” says Wolkoff. “Study them care­fully, and then de­cide what it is that you have to of­fer; what is the per­spec­tive that only you can bring to the world, and that will help you find your path in an­i­ma­tion.” ◆

The first sea­son (10 episodes) of Dream­Works’ Kipo and the Age of Won­der­beasts is cur­rently avail­able to stream on Net­flix.

‘I saw the po­ten­tial to tell a big story about a young girl com­ing of age against this amaz­ing, ir­rev­er­ent back­drop that had in­cred­i­ble ad­ven­ture and com­edy.’ — Exec pro­ducer and co-cre­ator Bill Wolkoff

Cool Crea­tures: Kipo and the Age of Won­der­Beasts cre­ators Rad Sechrist and Bill Wolkoff were heav­ily in­flu­enced by anime and some of their fa­vorite fan­tasies.

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