BEHIND THE SCENES

Matt Groening animates Netflix

How the Simpsons creator made his new show, Disenchantment.

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Over the past 30 years, Matt Groening’s TV shows have redefined cartoons. With The Simpsons and Futurama, Groening and his team of writers and animators at Rough Draft Studios have built iconic characters and instantly recognisable worlds, each shot through with biting jokes and social commentary.

Now, with the Netflix original series Disenchantment, he’s added a third animated comedy to his legacy. Like Groening’s previous work, Disenchantment is a character-driven satire. But whereas his earlier projects were built for traditional broadcast TV, this series is made for the app age.

We spoke with Groening about the show, his creative process, and how streaming technology has opened up entirely new creative frontiers.

Elfo, Princess Bean, and Luci – the stars of Disenchantment.

The Simpsons takes place in the present, and Futurama takes place in the future – is this the reason you set Disenchantment in the past?

Disenchantment is set in a fantasy medieval setting. Fantasy worlds are particularly resonant in pop culture these days, on TV and in movies and games, so I figured I’d try my hand at it and see if I could be funny in such a world.

Tell us about Disenchantment’s heroes: Princess Bean, Luci, and Elfo. What are they all about?

Bean is sort of bucking the idea of what a princess is and has to be. She’s tough and out in the world and likes to party. Luci is basically Bean’s personal demon. And Elfo by contrast is feisty but doesn’t seek out trouble. Still, when the three of them are on the same page, that gets really fun. 

With all my shows, we build the main characters to be strong enough to really carry episodes on their own. But we do that by letting them go through things together and interacting with everyone else in the worlds we build. So all I’ll say for now is that they’ve got a big story I’m excited to tell, and this is all really going somewhere special.

Bean is anything but a stereotypical princess.

Did creating Disenchantment for streaming instead of broadcast TV impact your process at all?

Because there are no commercials and no interruptions we can be more cinematic in so many ways. Having those extra several minutes each episode to play with means we can throw in jokes just for the sake of being funny, even if they don’t advance the story.

Does the fact that people will be watching Disenchantment on iPhone, iPad, and TV change the way you make the show?

When we made The Simpsons, and even when we kicked off Futurama, all people watched those shows on was a TV set. Over the years, we do update what we’re doing to look good on the latest TVs, but this is the first show where I really thought about people watching on their phone or iPad.

So when we designed the characters, and looked at colour palettes and backgrounds and camera angles, we thought about how it’d all look on a phone too. It’s amazing, really. It is a different experience.

Bean’s stepmom, Queen Oona, and dad, King Zøg, rule the Dreamland kingdom.

Do you use any apps when making Disenchantment?

The one app everyone on my writing team uses is Final Draft. It works on Mac, iPhone, or iPad. And it’s what we do all of our writing in because it’s built for writing scripts, it syncs across all our devices, and we can collaborate easily in it.

As for me, when I get to sit down and draw, I’m always listening to podcasts; I do that in the Apple Podcasts app. I also love to listen to podcasts when I drive.

This trio will embark on many misadventures – and get through it all together.

Youve made two iconic shows, and you might have a third hit on your hands. What inspires the work you do?

For me, everything that I’ve ever done is an extension of being a kid and playing. I used to have a bunch of dinosaurs, and my neighbour down the street had little Spartan solider toys, and every day after school we’d have them fight each other.

So I feel like a lot of what I get to do for work is really an extension of playing as a kid – coming up with characters and worlds and jokes and playing with friends – only now it’s my writers and producers and storyboard artists and animators, instead of my neighbour.

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