Matt Senreich (pictured above, left) and Zeb Wells (right), the co-creators of the animated comedy SuperMansion, discuss making a career out of playing with action figures, how they landed Bryan Cranston and the real reason Greg’s puppet was so… well-endowed.
Q: What was it like having Greg visit Stoopid Buddy Stoodios?
Matt Senreich: It was amazing to bring him back. He did an episode of Robot Chicken back in the day and we hit it off with him, and I think he’d known Seth even before that. To show him how we’ve grown and to see his eyes light up like a little child only got us more and more giddy. Anytime a person comes in here and just has fun, that’s what we’re going for with how we built this studio.
Q: You made Greg his own (well-endowed) puppet. Whose idea was that?
MS: [Laughs] As soon as we heard he was coming in here, we wanted to do something special for him because it was such a nice thing that Geeking Out thought of us. So, I was thinking about the idea of creating a puppet for him that we could potentially use on an episode of Robot Chicken.
Zeb Wells: I want to be very clear about this. We gave him a choice of three bodies and he chose the well-endowed one! He liked that one. I think he took another one which had a unitard look and he called it “Zumba.” He’s showing off the well-endowed one. [Laughs]
Q: Where did the idea for SuperMansion come from? How did you pitch the show?
MS: Zeb had been directing Robot Chicken, and I just knew he was really good with superheroes. We started to sit down and brainstorm some sort of superhero concept because he does comic books for Marvel and a bunch of other stuff. We wanted to create an original superhero type of show and Zeb took it from there.
ZW: We had been branching out and experimenting with longer form stories in the Star Wars specials that we had done. I think studio-wide, there was an itch to do longer-form narrative but we wanted to keep the flavor of Robot Chicken. It was just a way for us to spread our wings a little bit. Once we dug into it and stared creating these characters, they sort of took over and we just fell in love with them, especially after we started attaching voice talent to them. They really came to life and now we’re just passionate and want to play with those characters for as long as possible.
Q: You’ve said you wanted a Bryan Cranston-type to voice Titanium Rex, but did you ever think you’d get the real deal? Why was he what you needed for the role?
ZW: Well, we knew that he could do comedy because he had done Robot Chicken and because of his years on Malcolm in the Middle. We knew that he was the perfect combination of that gravitas and also that impeccable comic timing. I don’t think we ever imagined that it would go as right as it did — that he would say yes. He was in the middle of making Breaking Bad at the time he read that script, so he was pretty much the most popular character on television at the time. To think that we’d be able to lure him into this little bit of madness was a little beyond us, but thank god we tried.
MS: I was scared sh-tless when we sent him the script, but I figured worst case, he would just say no. The shocker was that he called us back probably within 48 hours of sending the script out and told us that he was reading a bunch of scripts on an airplane and ours stood out to him and he was excited about getting his feet wet in the animated business.
Q: How did actually landing Bryan impact the development of the character/show?
ZW: We definitely had conversations and it was great to use him as a sounding board. He comes with a lot of experience with episodic television, so he could tell if a story was light and things we should focus on. When you’re first starting a [show], not every character is as defined as you need them to be. He really helped us nail down what we needed out of each character in order to sustain a series. The gravitas he brought to it did affect the writing on the pilot. I think he deepened the character across the board.
Q: Unlike Robot Chicken, you aren’t using pre-existing characters. Does that allow you to push the limits more?
MS: I think it’s just different types of comedy. Robot Chicken is a sketch comedy show, whereas this is a comedy and with a series format. It’s just a different type of writing. I don’t know if it necessarily pushes the envelope more so than we actually have to pay attention to characters and how they evolve over time.
ZW: On SuperMansion, we’re trying to make funny characters that you want to watch do anything. The jokes are different. We’ve been working on Robot Chicken so long that I think our barometer’s off. There are times where I won’t realize how much SuperMansion episodes do push it because we don’t really notice it anymore.
Q: Would you ever like to include mainstream characters?
MS: I’ve never thought that George Lucas would ever call and want to do a Star Wars special, so if Disney wants to call and put Mickey Mouse into SuperMansion, it’s a conversation. But I highly doubt it. [Laughs]
Q: How does using the puppets and stop-motion limit or enhance the stories you want to tell?
ZW: The longer I write things and bring things to life, the more I realize that those limitations are really valuable and important because it just makes you look at what you can stretch. I’ve never felt like SuperMansion is a small show, even though we are under serious constraints with budget and what we can build, but I think everyone at the studio has gotten really smart about how we use our resources. Every season, our crew gets more efficient with how we do things. So, we get more bang for our buck every season.
MS: There are limitations that are different than live-action. We can create the most awesome action sequence in the world that would cost millions of dollars in live-action, but because these are little puppets, it’s just two people fighting. A massive crowd sequence where we’d need hundreds of puppets moving, for us, would be a nightmare whereas in live-action, it’s just getting extras standing in the background. It’s lots and lots of money to build every one of those puppets.
Q: Do you ever pinch yourself realizing you’ve kind of made a career out of playing with toys?
MS: Every day, I have that moment during the day where I can’t believe I get to be on an call where I’m talking about if Voltron can breakdance, or being able to run downstairs and talk about the different outfits this puppet has to wear — or the size of a puppet penis. These are the conversations I have and this is my job. It’s very strange.
ZW: And it is a job, so you do get stressed out and it is hard at times. But when you’re really stressed out, something that always pops up in your head is, “Oh, right. This is the best job on the planet and I am arguing about a puppet penis, so maybe I can relax a little bit.”
Q: What do you guys geek out about?
MS: I’m all over the place. I grew up as a comic book kid and I read tons of Marvel comics. I still go to the toy store once a week. G.I. Joe, Transformers and every ‘80s cartoon in the world, I’ve seen probably more than I would like. Now I’ve evolved into the geek who binge-watches every television show I could possibly watch, from Narcos to Big Brother.
ZW: It really is insane that this whole culture is catering to the geek now. When we were kids, we were starved for anything like that. Now, just that a movie like Captain America: Civil War exists and that there’s battle between all these characters and then all of a sudden Spider-Man shows up and he’s the Spider-Man that you’ve been trying to explain to your wife for the last 10 years about why you like him. That stuff is just super cool. I don’t know where all these geeks were when we were younger because it always seemed like I was the only one reading comic books in my high school.
MS: I started as an intern at Marvel back in 1991 and I would tell all my friends and every one of them said it was such a geeky job. Now, if I told someone that, everyone’s head would explode and they’d say it’s the coolest job in the world.
Q: Would SuperMansion even exist if that geek explosion hadn’t happened?
ZW: That’s what’s interesting about SuperMansion. We never had to explain superheroes to the viewer. There’s a common language now that the culture has and we don’t have to do the usual superhero joke about where they get their tights cleaned because those have been done a thousand times. Now you can just have funny characters who happen to be superheroes because everybody gets it.
MS: It wasn’t until The Simpsons that adult animation started to show up. Then, when Adult Swim evolved, it was like a whole new array of animation. I don’t think before either of those existed, a show like SuperMansion could have ever existed. And then to bring the fact that superheroes have become so popular and are in the highest-grossing movies in the world, now you can do a comedic twist on them.Read More