• Interview: Jayson Thiessen (Friendship is Magic Director)

    "Phoe, why is there a picture of a man who is not a pony on the blog?"

    Well, I'll tell you. That is Jayson Thiessen, the Director of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Captain of the good ship lollipony from here on out, and all around awesome guy. And we're posting his picture here because we just got back his responses to our interview questions, which you can see below. We asked 20 questions built around your suggestions, and he soldiered on and responded to every last one of them. I had so much fun composing this interview, and I'm giddy getting to share the results with you now.

    I'd like to take this second to thank Mr. Thiessen one more time for agreeing to this and letting us learn that much more about how our favorite equine cartoon lives and breathes every day. I hear he's in a competition to gain Twitter followers. You should thank him to by becoming a follower of @goldenrusset. And thanks as well to Hasbro Studios, producers and developers of series such as Transformers, My Little Pony, and GI Joe Renegades, for oking all of this and generally filling my television with neat cartoons based around your toy lines. You're the best.

    Interview / Q&A
    Jayson Thiessen
    My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Supervising Director
    Equestria Daily administrator: Sethisto ([email protected])
    Interview conducted by: Phoe ([email protected])

    My Little Pony and all related characters and indicia are ©1982-2011 Hasbro.
    All rights reserved. Equestria Daily claims no ownership of the aforementioned.
    Hello, Mr. Thiessen. On behalf of Equestria Daily and the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic community, I'd like to thank you for giving us this opportunity to speak with you. We're always excited to make connections with the show's creators, and to have access to someone such as yourself is an absolute thrill. If it's all right with you, I'd like to begin by asking a few questions about yourself.

    1) Have you always had an interest in animation and directing? What got you started working in the industry?

    I’ve been fascinated with animation ever since I was very young watching Looney Tunes with my dad on Saturday mornings. When I was a teenager, I realized you could actually have a job MAKING cartoons. It was then that it became my main focus. I did my work placement program at a local animation studio and took animation courses when I could afford it. After I graduated from film school I got a job as a classical animator and over the years I worked my way up from the trenches. Creating my own show has always been a major dream of mine and i'm always pitching something. Maybe someday you'll see my name in the "created by:" credit... if someone takes a chance on one of my crazy ideas.

    2) In a similar vein, do you have any advice for those among our readers who would like to follow in your footsteps?

    Animation is tough. you have to REALLY love it and put be willing to put all your energy into it. Do NOT do it for the money. DRAW, go to SCHOOL, WATCH FILMS... the CLASSICS and not just animation. I used to watch frame by frame, cartoons that I liked to figure out how they did it. develop your OWN style, too much out there looks the same. DO YOUR BEST on a job no matter how lame you think the product is. DON'T GIVE UP, I did not have natural talent, I worked at it every day and over time I got better.

    3) Obviously, you're no stranger to licensed animation, having served as the assistant director on Studio B's run of Pucca. How do your experiences with My Little Pony stack up to that? Does working with a different subject matter change the work environment?

    The only thing that's different really is the length of the stories. Pucca was 7 mins each whereas MLP is 22. We really had to get to the point and boil everything down to the basics or broad actions with Pucca. There wasn't much time for nice long shots of scenery or deep emotional acting or tangental gags just for fun. I really loved Pucca a lot and was very enthusiastic about it.

    When I heard through the grapevine at the studio that Pucca might be the next show coming through the pipe, I grabbed a Pucca water bottle that my wife, Jocelan had on her desk and went right to the boss and said "I'm gonna direct this show!" I never directed anything before that, but I think my enthusiasm didn't leave them much choice and they let me do the test to get the project. Obviously we got the job as the result and they took a chance on me and let me be an assistant director. Which meant I was in charge of 26 of 78, 7 minute shorts... for season one. season two I was promoted to Co-Director.

    4) Shifting topics a little bit, when did you first learn about the extended pony fanbase? And how does it feel knowing you've been so successful outside of your target demographic?

    Well, I was pretty excited for the debut of the show, I knew we had something pretty good and I was anxious to see if anyone would notice. I figured that Lauren being the creator and executive producer was going to turn heads. I was pretty aware of the new fanbase right from the beginning. I lurked all over the internet looking for people commenting about the show... of course I wanted to see what people thought. I was definitely surprised by the response though, the fans have really out-done themselves! we must have done something right.

    5) Speaking of the fanbase, your Twitter feed has been an invaluable source of info for fans chomping at the bit for anything relating to Season 2. Do you get many opportunities to connect with the community: checking fan sites or anything like that?

    I do answer some twitter comments now and then, and I revealed myself on Ponychan that one time, I felt a little bombarded as I'm not a message board user and had no idea how they worked.. I just lurked and read comments before. I really didn't think anyone would care about little ol' me. I'm not that great at twitter either, my day is pretty full so I usually forget about that stuff.

    I nearly fell over one day walking home from the studio as I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts "The Skeptic's Guide To The Universe" and they used an audio clip from MLP in one of their segments. It was a, "guess that sound" kind of game and I was completely taken aback that they used it. I tried to reply to the game but I was late catching the podcast and it was already answered.

    6) On the more technical side of things, how long does it take to get an episode finalized after the script is ready? What sorts of deadlines are involved en route, and how difficult is it to meet them?

    Oh man. We're ALWAYS chasing the deadlines. TV series have limited budgets and time scales. But it's hard to tell with just one episode because we overlap all 26 in a staggered schedule. we started production on episode 1 in October 2009 and it was in the can around August 2010. it didn't take a whole year to make that episode but because we had to schedule all the other episodes to start ONE WEEK after each other it got stretched out that long. So there were weeks where nothing happened on episode 1 while we worked on other episodes. I would focus on one episode and Wootie, my co-director, would focus on another one. At any given time there are like 7 different episodes in various stages that we have to keep track of. One is a script that is having dialogue recorded, another is in process of storyboards, while another might be in animatic, another in Layout, another in animation, and another in post production such as musical score and sound mix. That's during the worst part of the schedule, when everything is happening at once. it builds up to that and then ramps down as episodes finish. it can get pretty crazy and its tough to stay sane. I've had a few freak outs. If anything goes wrong it creates a domino effect for everything else. On season one there were a few storyboards handed in that were almost a complete re-do, and guess who has to fix it? ME. I remember staying up till 2am every night with Jocelan helping me call revisions on the Trixie episode. It was a mess. But, when I was finally happy with it I got Lauren's approval and I think it turned out fine. Pucca was definitely worse, there were days where I was literally RUNNING to the different departments to get everything done.

    7) And on the subject of the scripts themselves, what sort of process is involved in delegating writers to an episode? Is there a process involved, or is the same team at work on every one, with only the lead shifting?

    Once a premise is approved by the network, a writer is assigned. If at all possible, we try to cast the right writer to the story that suits that person best, or if they express interest in writing that episode. It doesn't always work out because of the schedule, but we try.

    8) One major aspect of the success of Friendship is magic is the extremely well executed voice work. Was there a lot of searching needed to assemble the cast, or did everything sort of come together from the beginning? What sort of process is involved?

    Well, we had a long casting session over a couple days and auditioned a LOT of people. Some stood out right away, others didn't present themselves quite so easily. We definitely have the best cast. They all bring something special to their characters, and I have to give credit to Terry Klassen, our voice director. He really knows how to keep things fun and energetic and he always pushes the talent to do their best. And they do.

    9) As a followup, would you say it's easier or harder to find the right fit for minor role than it is for a main character?

    We have such a versatile cast that we often throw it to them to take on a minor role. But if we need a more unique voice then we have another casting session. you get to know the local talent and see a lot of the same faces, so sometimes you know who would be perfect to play a character. But it's ultimately up to the network.

    10) Another much beloved aspect of the show is the quirky and unique blend of modern technology and classic mythology. How much planning and discussion goes into figuring out where to put a sewing machine and where to put a cockatrice? How much of Equestria has been mapped out?

    We try to keep things from getting too modern, but we do want to keep it relatable to kids living now. It's really up to what's needed to tell the story, and how clever we can get. Equestria is as mapped out as we need it to be. things may change depending on the needs of the story. The geography is all movable within reason.

    11) Friendship is Magic has always done a tremendous job of balancing on the line between entertaining young viewers and entertaining more mature ones. A large part of that success is built around references to classic comedy and pony wordplay jokes, which I can imagine probably need to be reigned in sometimes. In your opinion, is this a creative liability or a boon? Is there ever any concern that an episode trends too far in one direction?

    Yeah sometimes it can go too far. We try to keep it relevant enough that if you don't know the reference, it still works in context with the story, characters and world. There is stuff that was scripted or boarded that we've cut out because once we saw it in context, just seemed to cross that line where you realize that nobody is going to get it.

    12) Here's a hypothetical situation: for one episode, you have been handed an unlimited budget. Every possible idea is immediately green lit, and time is of no importance. What does your perfect episode look like?

    Hmm, well then I would have to say a full length theatrical feature film in CGI. BUT the CGI would be rendered to look just like the 2D designs. It can be done, and look awesome.

    13) Reminiscing about Season 1, what would you say is your personal favorite episode? Why?

    OH geez. you had to ask that one. All of them. Ok ok... um. I guess i'd say Sonic Rainboom stands out to me. I felt that it had a great character arc and it builds up to a really rockin climax. It's all about believing in yourself which is a good message. I like the episodes that really make you feel something genuine. But i'm sure fans will disagree.

    14) And continuing the trip down memory lane, what was your most memorable experience during the season's production? What did you have the most fun with?

    It's all a blur to me. But seeing the final mix of episode's 01 and 02 was a memorable milestone. It's always amazing to see the whole thing finally put together with all the final picture and sound. You work on it for so long, only seeing it in its unfinished form. You have to imagine it all finished and beautiful because it isn't really until that last pass where its all polished, that you realize its a real piece of entertainment. Also, working with Lauren in person was lots of fun. She has a really great sense of humour and we got along quite well.

    15) How did it feel when the final touches were made on the season finale? Did you get to take a break afterward, or was it straight back to the next project?

    Well, we were already underway with season 2 at that point so it kinda felt like any other episode, but there was a sense of accomplishment, and it did mean that the schedule was going to open up a bit and have a bit of a breather. I guess by now you can tell my life revolves around schedules.

    16) Looking ahead a little bit, how has working on Season 2 compared to Season 1? Is the process any different for the crew being more used to it?

    Season 2 is just like season 1, only we are a little wiser and have made improvements in efficiency and storytelling.

    17) Much ado has been made about Lauren Faust stepping down from direct involvement with the show. How much has her departure affected your own job? How do you imagine things will change moving forward?

    By the time we got to the end of season one, we were pretty much in line with what she was looking for, so when we moved on to season two and she left me in charge, we just kept going with what we had already set up. I miss working with her though, she is a great talent and a great person and I hope we do her show justice.

    18) On a lighter note, what things on the horizon are you most looking forward to showing off? Has anything special got you jazzed up?

    there is something i'm looking forward to, but its way down the road and a mega spoiler so i'll shut up now. ;)

    19) I appreciate that this might be a difficult question to answer, but I feel I would be remiss if I didn't at least try to ask it. Is there a timetable for the release of the next season? Can we mark a date on the calendar yet?

    That's more of a HUB question. There probably are proposed dates, but those can change as we go along. I know there is a schedule for when each episode is supposed to be delivered. But i don't think about that too much, I just go along as the schedule dictates and as long as we stay on track with it we will get there. Sarah Wall, our producer, probably could tell you off by heart the delivery dates, but its up to HUB to actually choose the air dates.

    20) Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. It's been an honor and a pleasure getting to do this. Before I let you get back to work, do you have any final thoughts?

    I really have to hand it to the Bronies, You guys have really made people stand up and take notice of this show. It's great to see all our hard work really appreciated by people who understand the subtle nuance and subtext of it. I also like the fact that it proves that just because a show is intended for girls, it doesn't mean it has to be all princesses and sparkles with no substance. Had the show been forced to be that way, there wouldn't be nearly as much response to it, and none of us would be doing this right now. It would have just been briefly mocked on Cartoon Brew and passed by. So thanks for noticing, and thanks for building such an awesome community around it. It's every director's dream to be a part of a show with a following like this. Without you, we are nothing.