‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ EPs on Season 2, Adapting an RPG for TV and Amazon as a Dwelling for Animation

With solely its second season underway, Prime Video’s animated grownup fantasy The Legend of Vox Machina is proving to be one of many streamer’s newest and fruitful ventures into the medium and geek culture-at-large.

Debuting in 2022, its critically acclaimed first season — largely funded by way of a kickstarer marketing campaign and produced in partnership with Amazon Studios and Titmouse — arrived in the identical 12 months as a couple of different epic, sprawling fantasy TV collection. Most notably His Darkish Supplies, The Sandman, Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Energy and Recreation of Thrones spin-off Home of the Dragon. After garnering an early third season renewal and simply 5 days after the present’s Jan. 20 second season premiere, Amazon Studios introduced a multiyear unique general tv and first-look movie cope with Essential Function.

The deal will see the studio and streamer additional investing in animated collection — on the heels of its success with Vox and Robert Kirkman’s Invincible — distributing a TV adaptation of the multimedia manufacturing firm’s second profitable marketing campaign, Mighty Nein. That story follows a gaggle of criminals and misfits who combat to stop the dominion from plunging into chaos after a reality-reshaping artifact falls into the mistaken palms.

With season two of Vox Machina already underway — in an arc that pits the group towards the Chroma Conclave, a sinister assortment of dragons — The Hollywood Reporter spoke to government producers, writers and voice actors Sam Riegel, Travis Willingham and Brandon Auman. The trio speak what they’re most enthusiastic about for season two, elevating animation amid TV’s fantasy wave, adapting an RPG for the small display and why Amazon has confirmed to be a promising associate following a tough 12 months for animated TV properties.

Animation hardly ever will get talked about in the identical method as big-budget live-action fantasy, however Legend of Vox Machina feels in the identical large visuals, large drama realm of Home of the Dragon or The Rings of Energy. How do you are feeling like your present matches into that dialog of epic TV fantasy?

TRAVIS WILLINGHAM We performed these tales in a tabletop setting initially, so it’s actually a theater of the thoughts. You’re getting these visceral photos in your head, they usually could be the identical as another individuals have, or they could be barely completely different. So once we have been capable of go to an animation workforce and see them manifest, the primary query we requested was, “What are the boundaries of animation?” We discovered in a short time that it was expansive, perhaps as unlimiteless as what’s out there in live-action at present. We discovered a tremendous associate over in Titmouse that has the identical form of anime-leaning types that now we have, visceral motion and excessive comedy beats. So the place Home of the Dragon and a few of these different exhibits have actually good talking-head drama and it holds rigidity very effectively, we actually wish to push the tempo of the present; hold the motion excessive, hold the humor excessive and hold individuals laughing. It’s why I fell in love with what the MCU did over the past 10 to 12 years. We discovered there have been numerous similarities between what we have been doing in our storytelling and what these exhibits have to supply. It’s been nice coming in in a half-hour format and with the ability to pack that filled with characters with humor and distinctive personalities that I feel individuals in all probability aren’t anticipating from an grownup animated collection. It’s laborious to place these characters in a field and likewise laborious to nail down the tone of the present. It jumps between humor, motion and critical drama very, in a short time.

SAM RIEGAL I feel the explanation that every one this fantasy is coming to market on the identical time is as a result of the individuals making it and watching all of it grew up both studying fantasy or seeing it in small items when a fantasy-type film or tv collection like Xena would come out. However there wasn’t tons of it as a result of it was actually laborious to make. Now with know-how being what it’s, and all of those individuals who grew up studying these things now being adults who need to eat it, it’s simply method simpler to make. Additionally, I feel persons are realizing that fantasy isn’t only one style. There’s high-fantasy, there’s low-fantasy, however I feel there are much more genres than that. There’s sci-fi fantasy and supernatural fantasy, and there’s our present. It’s not all one style, so now we have discovered a spot throughout the fantasy umbrella that’s uniquely our personal.

BRANDON AUMAN Fantasy wasn’t actually profitable earlier than Lord of the Rings. With Xena on tv, there was some success, however earlier than that, you’ve obtained Dragon Slayer and some films that got here out within the ’80s and ’90s. It didn’t actually pop till Lord of the Rings. I really feel like we’re very, very completely different from some other fantasy collection that’s come earlier than. We’ve obtained humor, however individuals can’t actually name us a comedy fantasy as a result of we even have dramatic components. It’s so emotional and we ping pong backwards and forwards between very critical high-fantasy to actually goofy grownup comedy. That’s what makes us so distinctive and why I feel we stand out within the fantasy house.

Travis Willingham, Brandon Auman and Sam Riegel

Courtesy of Topic; Robyn Von Swank (2)

Vox Machina relies on a collection of DnD campaigns created by you and your fellow voice actors and EPs. You’re adapting storylines but it surely’s not a one-to-one match and never the identical as adapting a ebook or comedian. With season two out now and a 3rd confirmed, how did you concentrate on adapting your campaigns with so a few years of fabric?

WILLINGHAM An RPG marketing campaign may be very very similar to an open sandbox online game. You possibly can go principally wherever you need to at anytime, and it’s the [game master’s] duty — our good Matthew Mercer — to tie that every one collectively and to be prepared at any time to reply to what we need to do or the place we need to go discover. The enjoyable that we had was sitting in a room, throwing up all these large marketing campaign beats, these character moments, the arcs and going, “OK, how can we make sense of this bowl of spaghetti and the way can we realign issues in order that they work somewhat bit higher?” Additionally, it’s not only a rehash of the ebook or the marketing campaign. We need to do some refresh in particular moments in order that the followers of the present that know the marketing campaign are saved on their toes.

We’re additionally protecting in thoughts that new individuals which are coming to the present are going to be seeing this for the very first time, in order that supply methodology can’t be too tongue-in-cheek. It may’t be made only for followers in order that all the things is inside baseball. We’ve to make it completely accessible to folks that perhaps do not know what fantasy is. It’s been a protracted course of the place we all know the way it occurred, followers know the way it occurred and as quickly as we begin shifting issues, there are ripples that have an effect on the story because it goes. However we’ve had our personal little battle room conferences the place we attempt to plot out episodes and seasons at a time and work out how that every one impacts one another as we transfer issues round.

AUMAN These battle rooms can final for months. We often take a giant chunk of time simply attempting to determine what the season goes to be about thematically. How can we finish the season? What if we don’t get one other season? This might cap the season if we don’t get greenlit for a brand new season. It’s a tough course of but it surely’s very worthwhile. It’s a lot enjoyable working with these guys and the remainder of the Essential Function workforce. We additionally need to shock the followers as effectively. We don’t all the time need to adapt it precisely to the marketing campaign. That’s what I feel makes this collection thrilling. No one’s actually achieved something like this earlier than — adapting an RPG marketing campaign right into a collection. It was a problem and it continues to be a problem but it surely’s a lot enjoyable.

WILLINGHAM I’ll additionally say we had enjoyable making our what-if lists. Like, “What if this occurs within the story? What if this character does this?” Then there was additionally the casting what-ifs. What if we might get this individual to be on this half? Individuals like Lance Reddick, Henry Winkler — they’re all on that listing of “They gained’t say sure.” Then they are saying sure, and we simply sit there and do a dance. (Laughs)

You have been already voicing characters for Essential Function, making it simple to think about followers obtained hooked up to them. So how did you concentrate on voice casting for this collection?

RIEGAL We’ve been taking part in this recreation for years and once we do, our recreation grasp, Matt, supplies all of the voices for all the opposite characters. He’s nice at doing numerous completely different voices and portray a complete world with completely different accents and flavors of characters. He actually established who these characters have been and what their quirks have been. However once we went to collection, we knew that Matt couldn’t voice each different character. It will begin to sound like simply Matt a bunch of occasions. (Laughs) Which there’s nothing mistaken with, however we wished to make it really feel like an actual world that was actually lived in. Like Travis stated, we began making our our want listing of actors that we wished to work with, but additionally actors that we thought had distinctive voices, expressive voices. It’s animation, so not all on-camera actors are nice at doing animation and voiceover stuff. We additionally wished to seek out individuals who followers of Essential Function, the critters, would acknowledge. Individuals who they’ve seen in films and TV exhibits or in different animated initiatives.

So we threw out a large web. We obtained some individuals who have been on the live-streaming present, different mates who’re voice actors and unbelievable abilities like Gray Griffin, Khary Payton. Then we introduced in some new blood: Gina Torres, Stephanie Beatriz — individuals who haven’t achieved a ton of tv animation, however who have been unbelievable and wonderful and actually embodied these characters. The forged that we have been capable of put collectively simply at the start based mostly on the story of how we made this present — telling them in regards to the Kickstarter, telling them in regards to the fan base — was so thrilling, they usually wished to be part of this even when that they had by no means heard of it earlier than. Now it’s a lot simpler to get individuals to say sure to doing the present simply because it’s on the market and you’ll watch it.

There’s an ongoing dialogue about hiring untrained live-action actors in voice work versus educated and established VAs. The place do you are feeling such as you landed by way of casting a recognizable title versus a storied voice actor for Vox?

RIEGAL Travis and I are voice actors and so are a lot of the government producers of the present.

AUMAN Aside from me.

WILLINGHAM Don’t promote your self brief, Brandon.

RIEGAL Brandon makes somewhat cameo. However we see either side of this, proper? As voice actors, we all know that our fellow voice actors are so good and so gifted, can knock it out of the park each single day. And we should always rent them for all the things on a regular basis as a result of it makes it simple and enjoyable. They’re the perfect at this kind of work. Then again, we’re government producers and we would like individuals to be excited in regards to the present. We would like individuals to see a reputation and acknowledge it and be like, “Oh, I need to take a look at that present although I’ve no real interest in fantasy.” So there are advantages to either side of it. Additionally, whenever you rent somebody from the on-camera world — be they a giant superstar or a very cool character actor — there’s a little additional advantage as a result of what you’re getting forward of time. For a personality that we’ve simply invented for the present, as an example, sure, we might undoubtedly rent a voice actor and sit there for an hour within the recording sales space and say, “Alright, what ought to this man sound like?” and determine it out collectively — that’s enjoyable. Or we might forged somebody who we already know what they sound like. We all know precisely who Stephanie Beatriz is. She’s gonna are available in and do Stephanie Beatriz and he or she’s gonna kill it. I feel we’ve made a great sturdy mixture of actually gifted voice actors, actually gifted on-camera actors, and it’s made a very wealthy world of voices, I hope.

Animation within the U.S. have traditionally been handled as a kids-focused medium, however this sits squarely in grownup programming territory. Have been there ever any conversations about it being geared toward kids? And what does being focused at an older demographic allow you to do creatively?

WILLINGHAM There was an early second. A really pure and understood dialog and query arose of can we make this accessible to bigger audiences if we tone down the profanity, if we make it out there to a youthful viewers. That’s fully comprehensible, however the supply materials — the way in which that we performed the campaigns, actually the vibe of the buddies that have been round that desk, which actually comes by way of within the characters — that’s simply us uncensored. That’s actually the fantastic thing about what tabletop gaming gives: that camaraderie, that unchecked filter. We attempt to replicate that within the dialogue, which implies that there’s going to be profanity, there’s going to be grownup conditions, and there are going to be horrible reactions — awkward reactions to these grownup conditions like there are in actual life. We knew that if we have been going to make this the way in which that we actually wished to, we needed to push for that grownup present. We grew up on animation within the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s — X-Males, He-Man, Voltron, Thundercats.

Then seeing good animated collection which are out there to youthful audiences like [Legend of] Korra and the Voltron [Legendary Defender] remake — issues which have nice storytelling, however are lacking that fringe of how a extra grownup viewers reacts. There’s additionally only a extra relatable grownup story that may be informed in reactions and understandings. I feel even for youthful audiences that discover their method into the present that perhaps shouldn’t (Laughs), there are numerous issues that we discover that I feel will be revealing or attention-grabbing or only a good subject of dialog as you’re taking a look at new media. We actually need to push the boundaries of what normal fantasy storytelling is. It doesn’t must be one sort of fantasy. It doesn’t must reside in strict verse or prose. We like to combine fantasy with trendy comedy as a result of that’s the place the sweetness is, in little nuggets of widespread converse or lingo simply dropped in right here and there to make it contemporary and interesting. We knew if if it was gonna be consultant of the present, at the least for our followers, on the very minimal, it needed to have the identical type of vibe because it was round our desk.

The Legend of Vox Machina season two

Amazon Prime Video

One factor you do this type of breaks the final, easier mildew of grownup western animation and feels extra in keeping with western kids’s animation or jap anime is your artwork fashion. Are you able to discuss why you selected it and your inspirations?

WILLINGHAM We talked about that precisely. A variety of grownup animation the place comedy is the main target, the design can generally be extra simplified. There’s a pattern, I feel, the place they tried to dumb it down into easier shapes. The road depend per drawing is less complicated. I’m positive the abroad studios that assist are like, “Nice. Simpler to animate.” However we need to work for it. For Brandon, Sam and I, we love anime. We obtained our begin dubbing anime. Doing that we have been aware about a ton of exhibits like Fullmetal Alchemist, Fooly Cooly, Wolf’s Rain, Vampire Hunter D. The visceral motion of these properties I feel has influenced the whole world of animation. It got here from the East, it got here West and now there’s this lovely hybrid.

We attempt to discover studios which are impressed by these animated properties, however match it with a fusion of Western character design. Additionally have in mind the physique language of the characters, the illustration of various bodily sizes, a extra numerous and consultant view of Exandria, that’s one thing that we wished to hit with out it being too cartoony or easy. For me, it’s simply refreshing to see it. It retains it actually, actually attention-grabbing. So, [Legend of] Korra was a giant inspiration for us. The Voltron [Legendary Defender] redesign was a giant inspiration. That’s why we initially went to Phil Bourassa as a result of I used to be coming off of Warner Bros. direct-to-video movies, and I used to be simply loving his characterization of a few of these characters — sharp strains, highly effective builds, dramatic in nonetheless body. That was actually, actually enticing to us as we checked out these characters.

AUMAN Additionally our fashion can convey emotion in a method that comedy design wouldn’t be capable to convey emotion. It’s only a lovely world. Our collection has to replicate that magnificence.

The collection is inclusive throughout a variety of communities, which is one thing fantasy TV has leaned into extra, to some reward and a few assaults on-line. Why did Vox being inclusive make sense to your story and the way did you concentrate on it in all the things from the artwork to writing?

RIEGAL Matt’s world is tremendous numerous — the universe that we play our tabletop role-playing recreation in. But additionally, the world of tabletop role-playing video games has expanded lately to be far more inclusive and numerous. It’s actually a a lot cooler house to play in now than it was. We wished to honor that within the present. Matt’s world that he created, the world of Exandria, represents all types of various individuals but additionally not individuals — completely different creatures and beings which are furry or fuzzy or tall or brief or broad or skinny, a broad spectrum of LGBTQ characters. From the casting, we wished to signify a broad swath of backgrounds and diversities within the voice forged, but additionally within the artwork. We’ve informed our artists and designers and board groups let’s combine up the characters within the scene so that they’re not all 5-foot-10. Let’s put some completely different physique shapes in there. With fantasy, you are able to do that everywhere in such attention-grabbing cool methods. We’ve an episode in season two, within the Slayer’s Take episode, there’s a band of rough-and-tumble badass mercenaries. Considered one of them is in a wheelchair and they’re tremendous badass. That’s one thing that Matt did within the marketing campaign a bit, so we undoubtedly wished to incorporate all of that. The followers of Essential Function are tremendous keen about inclusivity and we’re too, and it simply wouldn’t be a Essential Function present if it was one sort of individual.

WILLINGHAM The cool space we have been capable of flex is that there are a ton of government producers as a result of that’s the forged, the folks that made the tales, but it surely was my first time being in writers rooms and with the ability to pull in writers from all types of backgrounds and completely different views. It was nice getting everybody’s tackle these characters. There have been individuals generally vaguely aware of Essential Function and different occasions, individuals have been coming to it for the very first time, watching episodes, studying the tales, coming in with new concepts, freshening up the story. There’s nothing higher than throwing it on the wall after which shifting it round once more. Having individuals put their very own stamps on it was refreshing and thrilling, and it’s been among the finest issues having a room of writers polish it up.

RIEGAL The animation workforce additionally has been actually useful and vocal about protecting range within the episodes as effectively. A variety of the board workforce and the animators are followers of the present they usually need to see themselves in these characters and on the planet. So there’s been numerous nice pitches which have come from the animation workforce like “Hey, might now we have this be an LGBT couple, or might this character be consultant of a minority group in some particular method?” that we hadn’t even considered.

The type of method to inclusion and atmosphere you domesticate to get it, as you’ve described, isn’t all the time the case on initiatives. So how a lot of that inclusion is simply your workforce’s method to storytelling and the way a lot of that could be a byproduct of the character of RPG?

WILLINGHAM It’s the nature of DnD as a result of it’s what your creativeness can envision. For us, there are some issues which are treasured, however most of it isn’t. We’re followers of comedian books, novels. We see a number of iterations of issues over many years and also you see how tales evolve and alter, and that’s what makes them so beloved. So with us, we’re versatile. We need to see issues be higher and evolve and simply signify one thing that’s going to be actually impactful and significant to the group as effectively. It’s all the time greatest thought wins and our rooms and I feel some individuals, it takes them only a minute to go like, “Oh, that’s cool to throw out right here? It’s all cool within the recreation and everyone’s simply throwing out stuff?” And we’re like, “Yeah, greatest thought wins.”

RIEGAL We’ve seen — and also you’ve seen I’m positive, as a reporter on this house — large time initiatives which have come out the place fan reactions have been like, “What! You modified that character from a white individual to a Black individual?!” It’s a testomony to our followers, and the followers of RPG and fantasy generally, that we’ve achieved that on the present a bunch of occasions. We’ve modified genders, we’ve modified pores and skin colours. We’ve modified races of characters to non-human sort races. And we’ve by no means heard a peep about any of it aside from cool, hold going. As a result of our followers find it irresistible and we find it irresistible, too.

AUMAN So inherent in RPGs is the concept that you could rework your self. You possibly can go into an RPG, you’ll be able to grow to be a unique order of being. That’s what I feel attracts so many individuals to RPGs. You possibly can simply be who you need to be and never be judged for it. And I hope that displays in our collection.

The Legend of Vox Machina

The Legend of Vox Machina season two

Amazon Prime Video

Titmouse is well-known and long-trusted within the animation group, however you’re additionally working with Amazon Studios, which isn’t essentially generally known as an animation home. What’s it been wish to have them as a associate on this?

WILLINGHAM We’ve seen the form of exhibits that they’re placing their cash behind, they’re eager about and it looks like they’re changing into a hub for nerd fandom. For those who love one thing, if you happen to’re a fan of a giant time property, that’s what they’re actually impressed by and eager about. It’s been wonderful seeing what they pull in. Seeing Invincible, that may be a nice adaptation of that comedian. We have been impressed to attempt to push it even tougher after seeing one thing like that. So I might be shocked within the subsequent couple of years that individuals aren’t fascinated by Amazon and that method round animation. Only for me, it’s been wonderful to return in and be met with inventive executives on their facet that don’t are available in and attempt to inform you what the present is or what they’re eager about filling in a sure slot. They’re like, “You guys know the present. You’ve obtained a tremendous viewers and a group. We simply need to foster that and help it. How can we assist?” They’re there to present suggestions and particularly as individuals which are coming to the property not having seen 400 hours of the marketing campaign earlier than. They’re identical to, “We’ll offer you notes,” and it’s this reciprocal course of. So at the least for me, it’s been an unbelievable course of working with them in making the present. Very releasing, I’ll simply say that.

RIEGAL Yeah, I might say to all nerds on the market, don’t sleep on Prime Video. All of the streamers have dabbled in fantasy and nerd stuff, for positive. However it sort of feels like Amazon is changing into the place that’s simply gonna be the nerd vacation spot for stuff like this they usually’re doing it the appropriate method. They’re not getting in the way in which of creators. All of the notes that they gave us on scripts, animatics and edits, they’d all the time say, “Hey, right here’s a suggestion, but when this bumps towards your canon, ignore it.” That’s a fantastic factor to listen to from an government. They respect the canon and the lore of what we created they usually don’t need to mess it up.

AUMAN Yeah, they’ve been extremely beneficiant. They actually signify our viewers in a method, a basic, bigger viewers. The questions they requested are legit. They’re actually unbelievable to work with and like the fellows are saying, they actually personal the fantasy house — Wheels of Time, Rings of Energy, Carnival Row. timer. That is actually a one cease place for fantasy and I feel it’s gonna proceed. The truth that they actually rolled the cube with Essential Function, adapting it to an animated collection, that’s unbelievable. Adopting an enormous marketing campaign into an animated collection. It was a threat for them that’s paid off. We’ve a fantastic relationship with them.

WILLINGHAM As followers wanting on the new exhibits coming in, Peripheral, seeing the Fallout acquisition and Warhammer coming down the pipeline. This can be a nerdy bastion. It’s paradise.

It looks as if the streamer is making a constructive and calculated funding in sure animation amid the happenings of final 12 months, which felt a like numerous divestment and cancellations.

AUMAN We really feel secure right here. We really feel effectively taken care of at Amazon, whereas numerous these streamers you surprise are we gonna get the axe. Are they going to tug the plug for no matter cause.

RIEGAL Not solely given the axe. These days they will erase your present from the web.

WILLINGHAM Yeah, it simply disappears.

AUMAN Erased out of time and house. So it’s nice that we really feel very secure at Amazon.

With season two, what’s one factor you’re excited to do or have followers see?

WILLINGHAM On the finish of these first three episodes, we attempt to hold that launch in thoughts within the waves of three. It’s one thing that I don’t suppose we’ve ever achieved with this present earlier than and I feel it’ll assist add to, not simply the scale of the world of Exandria, but additionally the boundaries of what these characters could make you are feeling.

RIEGAL I like the music of season two. In Season one, I used to be the one one who obtained to sing some songs. In season two, much more of the forged members get to sing.

AUMAN For me, it’s when the present will get completely psychedelic — once we go to different dimensions, different realities. We get to discover different realms of being. That’s simply so thrilling and so completely different. We get to push the envelope, even by way of animation, of what we will do. We get to stretch the boundaries visually, not simply within the storytelling and the emotion. Season two is so completely different from season one. I feel the followers are gonna be actually, actually excited. What we’ve obtained, it feels larger than ever. Season one largely takes place in a single metropolis, however season two we go all around the world.

Interview edited for size and readability.