It happens all the time in this industry. People work with popular animated series like The Simpsons or Family Guy for a while then they want to go off and do their own thing BUT maybe they are inspired their predecessors. It’s only natural, right? Daria was totally inspired by Beavis and Butthead, Futurama totally has strokes of The Simpsons, and with the relatively new Shut Up Cartoons topping the charts, it’s no secret that people who love Robot Chicken noticed the obvious DNA strands in Zombies vs Ninjas. After the jump we talk to Michael Granberry someone who very well could be the NEXT mad scientist in stop-mo.
For those who have never heard of the show, what is Zombies vs Ninjas about?
“ZOMBIES VS. NINJAS” is about a rag-tag team of 5 Ninjas who struggle to survive in a world overrun by Zombies.
How did the concept of the show come about?
I had finished a long job and didn’t know what I was going to do next. I had some old, 3″ tall action figures I’d bought at auction, some of which were very flexible and some that were really stiff. I figured I’d turn the flexible ones into Ninjas and the stiff ones into Zombies and make them fight! I planned on creating a little web series for my own amusement. I built several puppets and sets and did a short test scene to see how it would all look. Then the phone rang and I got offered a job on “Robot Chicken,” so all that work got boxed up and put into storage where it remained for about a year and a half.
Why Zombies vs Ninjas? Why not Zombies vs Vampires or Werewolves or Zombies vs Freddy vs Jason?
I’m a big fan of both horror and martial arts films in addition to having a great love of anime. I’ve always wanted to mix those genres up and as there have been quite a few mash-ups lately–”Monsters vs. Aliens”, “Cowboys & Aliens”, etc.–I figured the time was ripe for “ZOMBIES VS. NINJAS”. Both zombies and ninjas have become so ingrained in our cultural consciousness you don’t have to explain what they are; you just drop them into a setting and let them run loose. The show has gained fans all across the globe, many of whom don’t speak English but perfectly understand the visual shorthand of zombie and ninja films as well as the universal language of slapstick comedy.
How were you approached by Shut Up Cartoons?
I learned about the new channel from my manager, Peter McHugh, who encouraged me to go in and pitch. I didn’t have anything prepared but I remembered the “ZOMBIES VS. NINJAS” project I had stored away and thought it might fit in with SMOSH’s unique style of humor. Having nothing to lose I got myself scheduled for a meeting and went in with my laptop (which I’d never done before) and showed the short test scene I had done to Barry Blumberg and Lenora Hume, two of the visionary executives at the new channel. They liked the look of the test and asked me to submit a writing sample and a proposed schedule. I didn’t think we had a chance in the world of getting selected, but lo and behold, Shut Up! Cartoons was willing to take a chance on this strange little show!
What was the casting process like for the voices?
The cast members were all friends of mine whom I’ve worked with before, so it was a very simple process. I find it easier to write with my friend’s voices in mind. They are all wonderful actors as well, so it’s a joy to write for them! James Elden (Spence) and Shaun Loeser (Colonel Flunkerton) have voiced animations I’ve done for “Santasia-A Holiday Comedy” and Traci Dinwiddie (from the CW’s hit show, “Supernatural”) has been a friend and collaborator for years. She voiced Tanzy as well as a small galaxy of colorful supporting characters. My composer, Mars Homeworld, added his voice talents to a couple episodes and I played everyone else–a choice made more out of necessity than an urge to act. However, it turned out to be great fun to play so many parts: Rogi, Andre, Bartleby, Dr. Braynes…sometimes I would get them confused, which made for some funny outtakes.
What are some of your inspirations in creating an animated series and growing up what were some of your favorite shows, animated or otherwise?
“ZOMBIES VS. NINJAS” was inspired greatly by “Robot Chicken,” which I’ve worked on for three seasons, as well as “A Town Called Panic” which I truly adore. It was that show that inspired me to see how much you could do with extremely limited figures and still tell a story in a funny, engaging way. Our show falls somewhere in between those two series, stylistically. In general, when developing an idea for a series I try to start with things that I love (in this case, Zombie and Ninja films) since I’m going to have to spend so much time with it.
I was a huge animation geek growing up: “Land of the Lost”, “Jonny Quest” and the many incarnations of the “Super Friends” were among my favorites. Adventure seemed to be the key to holding my attention as a kid.
Do you have plans for other animated series and what else are you working on?
I have a couple of ideas for future series in the works but am letting them simmer on the back burner for now. I’m back to working full time on Season 6 of “Robot Chicken,” which is an animator’s dream job due to the wide variety of sketches and characters, not to mention the high caliber of talented artists who work there. Every day is inspiring and educational…and so much fun!
You can check out new episodes of Zombies Vs Ninjas every week on Shut Up! Cartoons!