This month, fans of Amazon’s clever and addictive fantasy series The Legend of Vox Machina were treated to a second 12-episode season of the show. Originally based on Critical Role’s successful livestream series, the new season kicks into a higher gear with multiple locations, an impressive quest, explorations of the side characters and some very horrifying dragons.
We were thrilled when two of the show’s brilliant exec producers and stars Sam Riegel (who voices Scanlan Shorthalt) and Travis Willingham (Grog Strongjaw) were kind enough to answer a few of our questions about their show’s excellent second season:
Animation Magazine: Congrats on the terrific audience response to your second season, guys! You’ve been pretty much working nonstop, right?
Travis Willingham: Yes, we rolled right from season one into two, had good momentum and great writers.
It was really nice to be set up with two seasons in advance because we knew that we could do a lot of establishing for the characters in the world in the first season, and then we knew could use Season 2 to introduce the dragons from the Chroma Conclave and also spend some time with the other characters and tell their individual stories. We were able to flesh out what the group is like and get a better feel for what Exandria is like as a whole.
Sam Riegel: As you know, the show was conceived by us the cast doing this role-playing game for many years around the table. That is mostly improvised obviously and the world’s created by our game master Matt Mercer, but the show itself is heavily scripted. Every member of the cast gets to touch the scripts to make sure that they sound like the characters that they created. When we’re recording the stuff in the room with each other or apart (due to the pandemic), we allow ourselves a certain amount of freedom to improvise and improve on dialog or to come up with new jokes in the moment. I would say it’s still 90% scripted.
You have some fun stories about your virtual writers’ room during the pandemic!
Sam: Most of our writers/performers are based in L.A., but it was all done virtually via Zoom. It actually worked out really well. This was the early days of the pandemic, and so we were trying different things to spice up the Zoom room. I was actually able to Zoom in a monkey, because back then, you could just call zoos and ask them to let us share a camera with one of their monkeys! They actually let us do it, and we were able to brighten our room with a primate!
It was great to learn more about both your characters during this new season.
Travis: It was great for me, because I think everyone loves Grog because he’s like this amazing combination of The Hulk and Joey from Friends. He has a heart of gold and it was nice to see where he came from, what shapes him, and who really knows how to pull at his heartstrings. I think he learns a very valuable lesson this season and understands where he fits into the group. It was fun to see his back story and all these stories that we’ve had in our heads for so many years put into tangible media. It was like a little a little dream realized for me.
Sam: The animators at Titmouse, which produce our show’s fantastic animation, love drawing Grog because he gets to be involved in some amazing fight scenes. In Season 2, he got some epic fight scenes and they got to draw some really brutal and bloody, bone-crunching combat which I don’t think animators get to do that much for kids shows!
My character Scanlan gets some growth this season. During the first season, he was a bit of a just one-note guy — a Lothario and a player, and some would say a scumbag. This year, he starts to realize that maybe that kind of a life isn’t super fulfilling. He knows that there’s a problem and that he’s missing something in his life and so he embarks on this new quest to try to figure out if you can find real love!
Can you tell us about the most challenging aspects of the new season?
Travis: I think from a technical perspective it was an undertaking to go from one dragon in the first season to four very vastly different and attribute-driven dragons. Our CG supervisor at Titmouse, Eddie Gonzalez, and Production Reve in Korea are always up to the challenge. We really needed to beef up the CG team so that we could have dragons that were forces of nature. These dragons are intelligent and have incredible dialogues, with personalities and dynamics that they’re working through. We were really impressed with what they were able to deliver with these characters in terms of animation.
Of course, the fans of Critical Role — or Critters as they are affectionately called — have been super supportive of the show.
Sam: We have the best fans in the world. They have been just amazing through this whole process, and they are the reason that the show exists. When we write and record these episodes, we’re doing it with them in mind. They are our touchstone and they always tell us when we’re doing great and also remind us when we could be doing better.
Travis: We tried to make sure that the people that know the show from the livestreams are kept on their toes. We didn’t want to just retread old ground. We wanted to sort of change the story a little bit just so that things are kept fresh. We want things to pop up that are new and just keep them guessing like everybody else.
This is the part where we beg you to tell us something about the third season!
Travis: Well, the scripts have been written and some are already in production. We’re working through storyboards and know that time is of the essence. We want to get through as many of these stories as we possibly can. We also know that we have a really solid team Titmouse and we got to hold on to those folks and keep them fed and moving through stuff. We don’t take a break and like to keep on rolling.
The interesting thing now is we’re in our third livestream campaign. We’ve been going for almost eight years now and every additional story we tell starts to inform the earlier stories. The universe starts to get bigger and more complicated. We are doing that MCU thing where you whiteboard everything and figure out how things can be more complex and interesting. I think that’s really the part that makes people salivate as they try to figure out when all the mysteries are going to be revealed and how!
Season 2 of The Legend of Vox Machina launched on Prime Video January 20 with three episodes; three more premiered today and new episodes will roll out Fridays. This week, Amazon Studios announced a multi-year exclusive overall TV and first-look film deal with Critical Role. Their next project together is an animated series titled Mighty Nein, based on CR’s second RPG campaign. The series, which will also be produced by Titmouse, follows the titular band of criminals and misfits — who also happen to be the only hope of saving the kingdom when an arcane artifact capable of reshaping reality falls into the wrong hands.