BEHIND THE SCENES
Matt Groening Animates Netflix
Tap to read the Simpsons creator on his new show, Disenchantment.
Over the past 30 years, Matt Groening’s TV shows have redefined who cartoons are for and what they can be about. With The Simpsons and Futurama, Groening and his team of writers and animators at Rough Draft Studios have built dozens of iconic characters and two instantly recognizable worlds, each shot through with biting jokes and social commentary.
Now, with the Netflix original series Disenchantment, he’s about to add 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 new show, his creative process, and how streaming technology has opened up entirely new creative frontiers.
The Simpsons takes place in the present, and Futurama takes place in the future—is this the reason you set Disenchantment in the past?
Well, to a certain extent the past is a genre. More specifically, Disenchantment is set in a fantasy medieval setting, which is its own genre. 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. Abbi Jacobson voices Bean and really brings her to life. Luci, played by Eric Andre, is basically Bean’s personal demon. And Elfo, voiced by Nat Faxon, 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.
Did creating Disenchantment for streaming instead of broadcast TV impact your process at all?
Well, one of the most fun things—and a big difference—is that Disenchantment’s episodes are longer than an episode on conventional broadcast network TV, because there are no commercials and no interruptions. So 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. That’s something that we couldn’t do before, because each episode of network TV pretty much had to stand on its own and be a self-contained 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. And this was before wide-screen TVs and high definition and all that. 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, in some cases an entire season, on their phone or iPad.
So when we designed the characters, and looked at color palettes and backgrounds and camera angles—everything—we thought about how it’d all look on a phone too. It’s amazing, really. It is a different experience.
This show is animated in 4K and it’s certainly meant to be experienced on as big a screen as you can get, but it looks so fantastic on your iPhone, especially if you have a newer one with the HDR screen.
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—which, living in Los Angeles, is something I do a lot of.
You’ve made two iconic shows, and you might have a third hit on your hands. What inspires the work you do?
One of the most fun things about working in animation is that you really are story-building from the ground up. You can build your own world and populate it with dozens to hundreds of characters. It’s a bit like the way kids can imagine entire worlds when they play.
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 neighbor down the street had little Spartan solider toys, and every day after school we’d have them fight each other. Then we outgrew that and went on to monsters.
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 neighbor down the street.