Attendees at San Diego Comic-Con, D23 Expo, and New York Comic-Con were among the first to see footage from the upcoming Disney Channel animated series, Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. With the February 10th release date drawing ever closer, animation industry hopefuls got a granular look at the show’s opening title sequence at LightBox Expo in a panel titled “Introducing Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur,” moderated by executive producer Steve Loter.
“It’s not really an easy show to produce,” joked supervising producer Rodney Clouden, who revealed that the show uses a production pipeline more akin to an animated feature than that of a TV series. Each episode gets a color script, just like a feature, and they approach each one like a mini-movie. The look of Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a huge source of inspiration, with a goal to produce a show that could capture a similar amount of energy but on a TV budget. Early on, the team started talking about music as a major element of the series. While it’s not a musical, each episode has a “mixtape moment” that features an original song by composer Raphael Saadiq, all of which had to be written before animation began so sequences and cuts could be timed to the beat.
Supervising director Ben Juwono storyboarded the opening title sequence, which we got to see in both its animatic form and final animation (with a demo track and the final song as well). His initial approach in early 2020, before the art directors had even been hired, was to attempt to do the entire sequence in one take. Those plans quickly fell through, so he found inspiration in an unlikely source. While eating breakfast at a restaurant, the TV above the bar was playing Cindy Lauper’s music video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which features the “so unusual” pop star going through her daily routine at school, home, and with friends. Without a song to base the boards around, Ben boarded the sequence to Lizzo’s “Juice,” which was later replaced by a song Raphael wrote that has a similar energy. Steve Loter revealed that while most TV theme songs go through a lot of executive scrutiny before being approved, Raphael’s song got an instant green light.
Now that we had seen Moon Girl’s world in motion, Chris Whittier took us on a deep dive into the art direction. Each episode uses several styles, starting with the real world, which takes its cue from Andy Warhol’s screen print style. Clumps of shapes suggest buildings, with a library of graffiti artwork that can be applied to buildings and additional details like signage, construction, traffic, and crowds to make the world feel lived-in. Set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, backgrounds and camera angles were set up based on the reality of filming in a city, with forced tight shots due to space limitations and object obstruction from immovable trees. The aforementioned mixtape moments get their own style, where everything is abstract, the focus is on action, and the colors pop off the screen. Flashbacks, particularly for villain introductions, are given simplified graphics, while color cards quickly enhance emotional beats. The animation also takes its queue from the style of comic books of the 70s (Devil Dinosaur debuted in 1978), with character construction lines to make it feel hand-drawn, edgy line work, and no perfect shapes.
Character design lead Jose Lopez said that if he had it his way, he would do nothing but draw and drink coffee all day. He says that the series celebrates his love of drawing as he showcased some of the character designs he did for the show. He wanted each character to have a variety of shapes and be fun to look at. Moon Girl’s silhouette changes when she dons her costume. Devil Dinosaur required some refinement, needing to look like a mean dinosaur while also being believable as a lovable pet. The project also gave Jose the opportunity to mirror the style of one of his favorite illustrators, Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes).
“I love this show and I have the coolest job in the world,” gushed animation lead Kat Kosmala. When she joined the project, animation tests (including a mixtape moment set to “Sweatpants” by Childish Gambino) weren’t matching the energy and fun of the story sketches. She had to create a set of rules for the show which included three hallmarks – focal point (character movement must be what draws the eye), clarity of action (should be simple and direct), and quality (simplification should be used as a design choice, not a limitation). As an animated example, Kat showcased how the shapes in Moon Girl’s goggles can change to express her emotions, which aren’t limited to conventional eye patterns, but can become question marks when confused or hearts when she loves something.
Another fun reveal was the way transitions were designed on the show. The team didn’t want any faded blurs, so they devised a new solution. Inspired by the dots of the old halftone printing style, a fade in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur features dots that expand to change the scene. Steve Loter sang the praises of Disney Television Animation’s contracted partner on the show, Flying Bark, sharing that they were sought out because of their work on Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They, likewise, were hoping they would be contacted for this specific project as fans of the source material.
And if you’ve ever seen a commercial for cat food, you may have noticed that an isolated paw reaching toward a bowl might seem like an impossible feline action. Devil Dinosaur may have little arms, but he’s a giant puppy at heart. The team approached his arm limitations in a similar fashion, cutting to close-ups of his claws reaching for something ala a cat food commercial.
I learned a lot about Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur at LightBox Expo. The panel left me not only with a better understanding of the hard work that goes into making a Disney Television Animation project, but also a desire to watch the show when it premieres on Disney Channel on February 10th.
Visit LightBoxExpo.com to learn more about the annual event held in Pasadena and how you can attend next year.