Looking back to our first honest-to-goodness episode of What The–?!, I’m filled with a mix of glee and dread. It’s by far our longest episode and I remember the intense production and late nights trying to get it done on time. I’m the only one to blame, though, since I wrote the first draft of the script…
It probably took me the better half of a week just to create that opening shot of the NYC skyline and the little cars moving on the streets below. Easter Egg: The office worker who’s interrupted by Colossus crashing through his wall is modeled after Tim Heidecker’s character Mr. Henderson from Tim & Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job!
Like I mentioned before, I wrote the first draft of the script which changed A LOT throughout the production. Originally, it was going to be a Fantastic Four episode with Johnny Storm losing his cosmic power and becoming a talk show host, all the while being tormented by The Thing, who was mad that he wasn’t the one who lost his powers. But when I was told after the fact that FF were unavailable at the time, I managed to switch out the characters with X-Men, replacing Johnny and Ben with Iceman and Beast, which worked out perfectly, I think. We lost a lot of good FF jokes, though, like Johnny’s “Other Qualifications” on his resume ranging from “Proficient at wearing numbered jumpsuits” to “Ability to count (four max.)” Sean T. Collins and Jon Gutierrez both made revisions on the script and provided a ton of great jokes for this episode. Here are some bits of dialogue that we couldn’t use because it didn’t fit the X-Men cast:
H.E.R.B.I.E.: “Reed, are all my emotions really simulated?”
REED RICHARDS: “Yep. Except the sheer emptiness you’re feeling. That’s all real.”
JOHNNY: “And we’re back with our guest Victor Von Doom. So Vic, I’ve always wondered—what exactly are you a doctor OF?”
DOOM: “Doom holds an honorary doctorate from Latveria A&M—in VENGEANCE!” (Doom blasts Johnny)
JOHNNY: “Alright then!! FLAME ON!”
[He flames on. We then cut to the outside of the studio where everyone’s watching it burn down]
JOHNNY: “FLAME OFF! FLAME OFF!”
H.E.R.B.I.E.: “Um, I don’t think it works like that.”
It was also great to work with voice actor (and Marvel Director of Merchandising) Jesse Falcon on a longer episode, having previously collaborated with him on our first What The–?! promo. Jesse, being a long-time improv comedian, ad-libs some great, great voiceover lines for What The–?! all the time. For example, when Cyclops mentions Baryshnikov in the episode, Jesse had the idea to mispronounce his name as Barry Shine-akoff and be corrected by Professor X, just to make Cyclops look even more foolish and it’s one of my favorite gags. The voice cast for this episode was pretty huge, too, and all voiced by Marvel employees/interns. Perhaps the greatest milestone of the episode, though, was to give Marvel.com Editor and What The–?! producer Ben Morse the chance to fulfill his dream of voicing Bobby “Iceman” Drake, one of his all-time favorite X-characters.
Working on this episode was probably the most exciting time in my life at that point because I was able to put all the animation skills and story-telling knowledge I’d gained to the test. The idea that something with my name in the credits, something of which that I had a large hand in the creation, would be hosted on Marvel Comic’s main website was thrilling. BUT I kinda was in over my head… I had no real idea yet how long it would take me to create all these sets, record all the voices, animate all the characters, create any visual effects needed, edit the audio, etc, etc…. so at first I was like, “Yeah, 9-Page script! Let’s do it!” … Insane. I still remember the sheer panic of the night before the video had been scheduled to premiere on Marvel.com (which had already been pushed back a few days, as I recall, adding to my distress.) I finished the final photography on the final shot minutes before I had to leave to catch the train into the city on time. I animated the final touches on my laptop on the way to work that morning, too. Ugh. I also would’ve gone completely insane if not, again, for the technical help from fellow video editors Jason Harvey and Ramon Olivo on this episode. Jason created some great visuals like the burning studio at the end as well as the opening What The–?! graphic that I still use today.
Understandably, this early episode looks and feels choppy to me. Though the animation looks good in some parts (like Iceman’s ice-slide moving through the skyscrapers and the Bullseye & Kingpin sequences) other parts are embarrassing for me to look at. I wasted a lot of time making some shots look as best they could, which caused me to have to rush other scenes in order to get it done on time. I’d like to think I’m better at time management now, but I still fall behind on projects every once in a while… But at least now I know that a 9-page, 7-minute animation can’t be crammed into a few weeks of work without lost sleep and suffered quality.