Creator Trevor Pryce Discusses Spectacle and the Future of ‘Kulipari’ at SDCC

Trevor Pryce, Kulipari’s Creator and Executive Producer

At the Kulipari panel at San Diego Comic Con, series creator Trevor Pryce did something unexpected. Instead of announcing a third season to the Netflix animated show, he announced five new animated projects in the Kulipari universe:

  • Dawn of the Hidingwars, a prequel to the first season of Kulipari.
  • Veneno, a new work that takes place in the Amazon that will be done by a Brazilian animation studio, aired in Portuguese and Spanish (with English subtitles).
  • Warflower, which follows Quoba from Kulipari  An Army of Frogs after she lost her poison.
  • Scorpion School, a comedy following scorpions going to finishing school before going to join Marmoo’s army.
  • Army of Frogs, a CGI feature film remake of the first season of Kulipari.

It’s an ambitious goal; each project is targeting a 2021 release, and the animation samples shown during the panel were impressive. I met up with Trevor after the panel to discuss his work on Kulipari.

Sean
As I understand, this is your second career. Can you just say what you did before you started writing children’s books?

Trevor
I was a professional athlete. I played pro football for 14 years. I played for the Broncos, the Ravens, and the Jets.

Sean
What made you decide to switch to children’s media?

Trevor
It wasn’t a switch. I’ve kind of been doing it all my life. I’ve always been a creator or a writer or a music maker or something of that sort the entire time I’ve been alive. So, it wasn’t switching as much as natural evolution of what I’ve always done. You always wind up writing what you know. Since, when I was first getting started, really taking it seriously, my kids controlled the TV, I just wrote animation. That was the only thing on in my house.

Sean
You said you write what you know. How did you get the idea for warrior frogs?

Trevor
Three things: first of all, I’m scared of frogs. I’ve always had a phobia of frogs, not so much now but when I was younger, I had a really bad phobia.

The second thing is we played a game in Australia, my second year in the NFL ,and they took us out into the Outback, like a tourist thing. And we saw frogs and scorpions kind of circle each other along these little water pools, and somebody pointed it out to us, and I always remembered it.

Third thing was Planet Earth had just come out. There was a scene in Planet Earth where a tree frog was leaping from tree to tree, and when they slowed the frame rate down 120 frames per second, it looked like a superhero flying through the air. I was like… all those things kind of conversed to make one cohesive idea.

Sean
That all formed the novel, which you then wrote.

Trevor
Mm-hmm.

Sean
How did that end up going from the novel to, if I may make a horrible pun, how did it make the hop to animation?

Trevor
There you go. Cartoon Network owned Kulipari for a while and it didn’t work out with them.

Sean
So did you write the novels as you were speaking to Cartoon Network? Were the novels done?

Trevor
They were done. I signed both deals at the same time.

Sean
Okay, so you had spoken to Cartoon Network and you were working with the publisher—

Trevor
Publisher at the same time, and both of them said yes. The publisher, they were quick. Cartoon Network was not very quick. What happened was, after the three-year development process not going anywhere, once I got it back, I could’ve gone back out and went to Nickelodeon or Disney or whatever. I started to say, “I’m just going to make it myself.”

I started developing it as a real animated property, not as a pitch. I founded a studio, and we started making it by literally making it all. I think one of the executives at Netflix, his son had read the books or something like that. It happened really fast. We pitched it to Netflix and two other big companies, and all three of them said yes. We picked Netflix at the time because it made the most sense to me at that particular time.

Sean
Why did you choose to make your own studio instead of going for one of the more, like, contracting out to an established one?

Trevor
Kulipari is only good if I’m standing over it. So, if I farm it out to a studio in California that I don’t know and don’t quite… trust is a weird word to say, but if I don’t know them, I wind up getting back something that’s not quite what I wanted.

The reason why Scorpion School does is because I’m standing there, I wrote the jokes. And the live-action thing, those shots that you saw, we had to change a lot of those. And I’m always like, “Can we make that look more real?” Because the artists think they’re done and you’re like, no we’re fifty percent done.

Whereas if I farm it out to England, the live-action stuff, what you get back is what you get back. And you don’t get to send it back to them.

Sean
I assume there’s something like a markup that they charge for revisions.

Trevor
Right. And then they’re charging you fifty percent, it’s a fifty percent markup.

And so instead of paying that, I’ll just pay people to make it for me.

Sean
That makes sense. Since you had this really firm vision of what you wanted, did that make casting that much harder because you probably already had a voice in your head?

Logo for Kulipari: Scorpion School, a new comedy set in the Kulipari universe.

Trevor
It does. For Scorpion School, it was just me and the animators. Because I was supposed to cast it in Maryland with John Hopkins University—they have a great theater program. And what you do is you cast theater actors, so you voice direct them.

Sean
Did you voice direct them?

Trevor
Yeah, I did everything. I voice directed. But, what we did, we were doing the scratch animation, we were doing the scratch to get the animatics right so we could send it to the voice actors, and we all did a great job and I was like…

And another thing is, when animators, if they’re drawing their own words and their own voices, the animation is better because they understand it. They know what their emotion was at that particular time.

Sean
So by letting the animators basically do the voices…

Trevor
You want it because it gives a better performance. Because you don’t have to direct them. Once you’ve seen the animatic, and you go, “It’s great,” they know the voices sound good. So what you heard [in the Scorpion School preview] was me and five animators who have never voice acted in their lives. And they did a great job.

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Sean
And as the original writer of the novels, where you have a lot more control and probably a lot more space, were there any difficulties when you decided to make the TV show? Were there things where you were though, “Oh, I really want to keep this, but I have to cut it.”

Trevor
There’s a lot of that.

Sean
Was that mostly time-related?

Trevor
It was time related. We only had 13 episodes and it was supposed to be one season per book. The first season was supposed to be 10 episodes, 10 episodes, 10 episodes. Netflix decided 13 and they said put all three books in one season. Which, at first, I was like, “I’m not doing that.” But then, my executive, he made a point to me. He said, “By the time you’re done making these three seasons, these three shows and three books, your books are going to be 10 years old.” They were like, move on, write a new story. And so we shoehorned them together.

Sean
So season one is just those three books. Season two is completely different from the novels.

Trevor
Yes. Season two is a completely different thing. A whole new story, whole new characters, everything’s new.

Sean
Was that challenging to make?

Trevor
It was very challenging because you don’t know how much story 10 episodes of animation is until you got to make 10 episodes of it. When you’re starting, Dream Walker was pulled from thin air. And they were like, “We’re ready to go!” And we had to write it very, very, very quickly.

Sean
Was it easier to write for animation or write for the novels?

Trevor
It was easier for the novels because animation you have, you have to think about animation quality. So, you can’t do a whole bunch of fight scenes because fight scenes have to be done by certain people in a certain way. What happens is, animators have to know how to act. And that’s really hard.

They have to know how to act with their fingers. You know what I mean? And convey emotion and funny movements and things with their fingers. If they’re good at that, they’re not good at the fighting stuff. That’s the difference.

Sean
You mentioned, like, you really try to make sure people are surprised constantly in your works in the panel. Do you sit online and look at what fans are theorizing?

Trevor
Sometimes. I’ve read some things and I get a lot of, “What the hell was that?” And I’m like, good. That’s what I need you to say. But then I get people that are really upset at some things that I do and I’m like, perfect, that’s what I want as well.

The best ones are the people who go into it thinking one thing and then a character gets slashed across his chest. And they’re like, “What the f— was that?” That’s always, that is always my favorite.

One girl said, “Look, there is so many things wrong with this show. But, one of the thunder frogs was raining down exploding puffer fish on the iguana lizard’s castle, so this show owns my ass.” And I was like, that’s the greatest tweet. Because she said, I really don’t like this show, but look what you just did. So that type of thing I enjoy tremendously.

Sean
So you’ve shown off a lot of new content here. Scorpion School is going to be done by your studio, you also have the CGI feature film. The other ones—Warflower, Veneno, The Hiding Wars—when can we expect to see more on those?

Trevor
Probably the next three months. I think all five will be out in 2021.

Sean
Why did you decide to go with a broad approach like this instead of following the more traditional route and doing a season three?

Trevor
Because they would’ve expected a season three.

We have a saying in my studio. If we’re supposed to do it, we’re not doing it. If we are supposed to have cinematic score, we’re not doing that. Everybody else is doing that, we ain’t doing it. We’ll do something different. That’s why I put loud rock music on one of my trailers because no one else is doing it.

Sean
It did look really good though.

Trevor
My job is not to be a great storyteller. My job is to create spectacle, whether visually or audibly that makes you say, “I have not seen that before.” That’s my only goal. And story-wise, I’m a good, but I write spectacle. I write spectacle. The stories have to make sense, so I have some emotion to them, but I write what I like to call grounded spectacle.

So it is big, but there’s somebody here that is keeping us on the ground in the middle. Even as the world explodes around them. Somebody has to keep up, somebody has to be that arm’s length between the craziness on the screen and the people watching. That’s what I’m good at. I put the craziness on the screen, it needs to be big. The Hiding Wars is going to be bonkers-sauce. That’s going to be nice, really nice.

Sean
As we finish up, is there any particular thing that you’re excited to see how fans react to coming up?

Logo for the newly announced Kulipari: An Army of Frogs feature film.

Trevor
I’m excited to see how they react to the Army of Frogs [the live action remake of Kulipari season one]. Because we had to take out a lot of what was in the Netflix show. We’re condensing thirteen episodes into an hour and a half. So we have to literally cut 75 percent of it and make it a really tight and concise because I don’t want it to be a two hour CGI feature.

So what’s the best hour and a half version of that story I can tell, that’s basically taking three books and giving each book half an hour. We can cut out the entire end of the book and stick the first and last two books into a story and they mesh and they make sense. The middle book kind of takes place with the same characters way off somewhere else.

The funny thing is, when I signed my book deal with my publisher, I didn’t tell this story, when I handed her the third manuscript, she’s like, “We’re not publishing this.” I said, “You will publish this or you will publish nothing.” Because she hated it.

Sean
Really?

Trevor
Really hated it. Because I burned down the frog’s home. She was like, “You can’t do that.” I was like, “Well, I’m the writer.” They learned to love it.

Sean
Really?

Trevor
They learned to love it. Susan loved it. Loved it. So, at the end of the day, I tell everybody, just trust me. It’s weird now, it goes against the grain, but you have to trust me.

Sean
I’m sure all of us are definitely looking forward to seeing it.

Trevor
I think they’ll flip out… next year when we come to this [Comic Con], we’ll be in Hall H (1), and we’ll have the real trailer for Army of Frogs, and the characters will talk. And there’ll be Josh and Mark Hamill, whatever movie stars I want in it. And it will be bedlam. It will be pure bedlam.

Sean
Thank you so much, sir.

(1) Hall H is the massive hall at San Diego Comic Con, used by Marvel, Netflix, etc for their large reveals because it’s the hall with the highest capacity. People routinely queue overnight to get a seat.

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This post was last modified on July 25, 2019 12:07 pm

Sean Z

Sean Z writes about fandom, media, and queerness for GeekDad. When he’s not researching fandom, he enjoys listening to video game music, playing boardgames, and writing code.

View Comments

  • Insightful interview. It actually answered a few questions I had, including season one's weird pacing in the later half. I don't really agree with Pryce on avoiding a third season because it's "predictable", though. They set up a lot of story to follow on, and having such a long wait for a continuation (if it happens) is a major bummer.

  • The Kulipari animated series is among the best of Netflix. Except, I agree with GSR. Predictability is not the issue Pryce thinks. Nobody fails to consume the conclusion of anything just because it's predictable. A story is a meal. Cutting a customer off partway through a meal or Shakespeare play is a supplier fail. Everybody knows what's coming. So what. That's not a negative, it's a positive. Everybody WANTS what's coming. Everybody is invested, everybody is executing on momentum, everybody wants to taste the dessert. If you block them, they won't tip, and they won't come back. Meeting or exceeding expectation is the sole basis of economics. Perhaps Price has confused expectation with predictability. You can expect predictable, you can expect unpredictable, but you don't expect to have the experience withheld. IMO.

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