Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon talk making the home video release of their Adult Swim hit Rick and Morty as cool and essential as possible.
Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s Adult Swim hit Rick and Morty is getting its first home video release with season one arriving Oct. 7. The disc contains the first 11 episodes, creator and guest commentaries, animatics and a limited-edition comic book, with everything creator-guaranteed to be “better than BitTorrent!” We caught up with Roiland and Harmon, who also created and runs the live-action show Community, to find out how they survived season one, the video release and to learn more about the upcoming second season.
Animag: Tell me how you think season one turned out versus how you thought it would be when you started on the project?
Justin Roiland: Well, I think we were very pleasantly surprised with how it turned out. We couldn’t really afford to have any creative plans because it was our first experience doing the show and we didn’t really know what it was back then. When we started on the first season, as we were going along, we just started out by making ourselves happy and trying to figure out what the show was. So it was startling and really gratifying to see the public react to the show, particularly because they seem to feel the same way and like the same aspects of the show that we did. So we are tremendously satisfied with season one. It couldn’t have gone better. And I guess the difficulty going into season two is that now we do know what the show is a little bit and now we have the internal pressure to top ourselves.
Dan Harmon: We’re trying to do our best in season two to have fun and to try to remember what our process for was this, but, yeah, it’s crazy to look back at season one after it’s all done and it’s pretty insane what we managed to do with these characters on the show. And, to me, the reaction was kind of amazing.
Animag: Justin, you do the voices for both Rick and Morty right?
Animag: How do you manage that?
Roiland: I have to be careful — more so this season than in season one in regards to switching back-and-forth — because I’ve found if I do too much Rick I can’t go back to Morty, or I can go back to Morty but he gets raspier and raspier and my range for him starts to increasingly shrink. So what I tend to do is I start with Morty, and then if there’s any opportunities in the script for me to ping-pong back-and-forth and do a scene, I will do that once I do all of the scripted Morty lines and I’ll sort of riff the characters back-and-forth whenever there’s an opportunity to do so. Then I switch over to Rick, and by the time I’m done with Rick my vocal chords are shredded and that’s it — it’s time for a few days, or at least a day, of vocal rest.
Animag: People mention Rick’s voice a lot — some people really like it and other people say it’s the one thing that puts them off the show.
Roiland: Yeah, it’s polarizing. I totally get it, because I had the same reaction. My buddy does the same thing on his show, and it’s like, whenever you hear a young guy doing an old guy voice. I think from a really distant perspective, I understand, because I probably might react that same way at first. I’ve seen a lot of people come around on it and be like, “Okay, it’s the character, I accept it.” But in some cases you’re just gonna get people who can’t buy this old man sound that this young man is doing. But at the same time, I definitely think Rick is a more fun character to perform, definitely when I’m just riffing because he’s just so crazy and there’s a lot of weird stuff that can come out of my dyslexic brain. And all the burping — the burping is also pretty polarizing. Yesterday, when I was recording, I was trying to get more burps in there, and it’s very hard to do, for some reason.
Animag: Dan, what do you like about working in animation? What do you think its strengths are?
Harmon: First of all, I want to add a disclaimer by saying I love working in animation with Justin, who knows so much about it and takes care of everything that I would screw up. So, dovetailing with that, the real reason I like animation is because, if I were allowed to, I would never really leave the writers room. I love, hate and am inspired by breaking stories and solving problems on the written page, and I feel like the best job I can do is put out a really good script. And when that script is being shot and performed, sometimes it gets better, sometimes it gets worse, but it’s all out of my control and I don’t necessarily know how to fix things on a set. But I’m a reasonably good editor, and I get to do that in animation, as well, so basically my favorite thing about animation is it eliminates this thing I’m no good at anyway, which is managing live-action performers and directors. In Community, that section of the production pipeline gives me all kinds of gifts, but what I’m saying is I’m not in control of them, I’m not the reason why Joel McHale is good, I’m not the reason why Alison Brie is talented, or why the directors that direct Community are good, or why the set decorator did her job well. Those are all just flukes and luck for me. So animation is a chance to focus on story and character.
Roiland: Also, in animation, we have more opportunities across production to fix or adjust things. I’m sure you guys do table reads (on Community) like we do, but once you get to that table read you’re shooting fairly shortly after.
Hamon: On one hand, with live action, you have a table read, and then you’re shooting. But on the other hand, you’re shooting throughout the week — you can go to rehearsals and micromanage performances and not only can you reshoot stuff that doesn’t work but, most importantly, you’re shooting stuff from multiple angles and you can get 1,000 takes and you can see what works. But with animation, there’s a lot of things I had to get used to being final that usually I would be able to change. We really push the envelope on Rick and Morty because Justin is a writer-friendly animation producer. We’re not a board driven show, so he really shelters the writer’s room from the brutal reality that he tears his hair out over because he doesn’t want us writing scripts for a budget or schedule. He wants us to be creative, and he’ll figure out the rest. But still, I was shocked during the first season by how quickly things that I’m not used to being concrete were locked down.
Roiland: It’s crazy because you’re dealing with a bunch of artists who are essentially drawing, and then you’re like, ‘Okay, we need to fix a bunch of things.’ And then you get to the animatic phase, where you’re afforded an opportunity to fix things that are broken on a smaller, more surgical scale. But it’s tough, because you’re locked into certain things, and you can look at the schedule and go, ‘Okay, how much time do these guys really have to redraw?’ and ‘How much can we really change?’ and ‘What are the most important things to change?’ and ‘What things can we change that won’t cause a complete redraw?’ It’s a lot more like a Rubik’s cube in that sense. But what is interesting about animation is we lock our animatics, and in season one, we really worked hard to get those things as tight as possible before we even shipped those things over to Bardel to animate. And then, when we got the color back, it was like, ‘Okay, we’re already off on the right foot,’ but we still were able to make changes in color and the dialog.
Animag: It seems like a show that lends itself to a lot of improv.
Roiland: Exactly. We did that all across season one. We just did it on the first episode of season two, so I think that’s sort of the magic of the show, is we’ve got Dan writing these incredible scripts that were collaborative in terms of the genesis of what the concept is, and then taking it and making these amazing scripts. And then I’m going in, and — when we’re firing on all cylinders — I’m doing it as scripted but also allowing myself to just have fun with the characters and to go nuts. And it’s always a better episode when I’m having fun and don’t want to leave the booth. If I’m down there on a day when I’m exhausted or just not there, it tends to be a more by-the-numbers voice performance. But when I go down there and I’m just into it, and everyone’s bummed because they thought we would be out of that booth three hours earlier but I’m still riffing on takes and screwing around, it usually means the episode is going to have an extra handful of funny, weird moments in it that are kind of like bonus gravy on top of a great structural story.
Animag: You mentioned Bardel does the animation, how much do you guys do?
Roiland: A little bit. I mean, in post we do a lot of effects things this season and it will probably be the same where we’re fixing minor things — lip-syncs, etc. — but Bardel does the lion’s share of the work. This season, they’ve really beefed up their team in anticipation for our really ambitious animatics that we ship off to them, so this season should be smoother on that side of the fence because now they know really what to expect based off of the trials and tribulations that we had on season one.
Animag: What kind of special features will you have on the DVD for season one?
Roiland: Yeah, it’s crammed with stuff. I really made sure in the initial conversation that I wanted to make a DVD that would really incentivize fans to want to buy it, because now it’s just so easy to torrent stuff, and I always will buy a DVD if I see that there’s commentary on every single episode, that there’s animatics for every single episode, and these are all things we have. There’s also an 18- to 20-minute long documentary behind-the-scenes. It’s really funny and goofy and weird, but it also shows legitimate season one moments that we happened to candidly record. Probably one of the coolest and most exciting things to me is that we got guest commentary tracks for three different episodes, and I don’t think too many people, if anybody, has done that just for the fun of it ever on a DVD. We got Robert Kirkman and Scott Gimpel — you know Robert created The Walking Dead — and those guys are awesome. He’s a buddy of mine and a huge fan of the show and he was really enthusiastic about going in and him and Scott doing a commentary track for an episode. We also got The Simpsons guys. We got Matt Groening and we got Al Jean and a handful of Simpsons writers to do a commentary track for another episode, and then we got Pen Ward, creator of Adventure Time and Kent Osbourne who also works on Adventure Time to do a commentary track. What’s really cool is when you select the episodes on those three, you can pick between me and Dan, the writer and the director, or these guest commentaries. So you actually get three — technically four, including the animatic — opportunities to watch the episode in a new way, which is huge I think in this day and age of piracy and stuff. So we just make it easy for everybody to get it all in one package and not have to download some ridiculous cumbersome file off of BitTorrent.
Harmon: Yeah it would take you so long to steal all this stuff that you might as well just buy it!
Roiland: The other really cool thing about the DVD is that, in the first printing of it and the Blu-ray, we’re including a little prop from the show. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the “Council of Ricks” episode, but there’s a moment where Morty gets handed a little Chick tract-type religious pamphlet for the “One True Morty,” and he kind of throws it away. But we actually created that whole little comic and it looks exactly like a Jack Chick tract, and so the first printing of the DVD is going to include the first printing of those little comic inserts. We’re going to sign like 200 of them — those are going to be randomly shuffled into the DVDs and Blu-ray like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. That’s the coolest thing in the world to me, because me, being a fan of so many other things, if a show I really liked did something like that — like in comics or the first season of Community — that kind of stuff gets me so excited and that would motivate me to buy a DVD above almost everything else, and in this case there’s the fact that it has a limited-edition aspect. It still hasn’t been determined whether it’s going to be on the second printing, and if it comes down to the decision that they will, it’s going to have changes to it, so it really is going to be a sort of collectible component to the first printing of these DVDs, which is just the coolest thing ever and I love that kind of stuff. It’ll be really interesting to see what the reaction is to that.
Animag: What else can you tell me about the DVD and the new season?
Roiland: With the new season, we’re plugging along. Currently, we’re on schedule, and it’s looking really good. It’s a fun season. I don’t want to say too much other than, much like season one, I think we struck a nice balance between subtle continuity and really strong standalone, awesome stories that, for the most part, any one of which could be a great point of entry into the show. And that’s a pretty cool thing we’ve managed to do two seasons in a row. As for the DVD, I’m really excited to see what the reaction is, how they’ll sell and that’s kind of going to be our first real official ‘How can I support the show with my money?’ type moment, so that’ll be really cool.