‘Teen Titans Go!’ At Comic-Con: Songs, Fursuits And So Much Food [SDCC 2013]
For obvious reasons, we’re pretty big fans of triumphant returns, and there aren’t many that have been as awesome as Cartoon Network’s revival of Teen Titans Go!. Over the past few months, it’s been a hoot to watch every week, and at San Diego, we sat down for a roundtable interview with producer Aaron Horvath and voice actors Tara Strong, Greg Cipes, Scott Menville and Khary Payton to find out just what it’s like to work on the show and why they’re so focused on food.
Producer Aaron Horvath:
On what viewers can expect from the upcoming season:
“We’ve got some returning characters. Some beloved characters are going to come back in a pretty cool way. I think it was actually Sam Register who came up with that idea. “Why don’t you do a Wonder Twins episode?’ ‘Okay, that’s weird, sure.’ That’s one of the rules on the show: Keep it weird. So of course, why wouldn’t we?”
On whether he’s done anything that was too weird to make it through:
“Yes. They haven’t aired yet, but there are a couple of episodes where we have some regrets. There’s standard stuff that didn’t make it through. I don’t know if you guys have been watching the show, but you may have noticed that we tend to kill the characters a lot? [Laughs] Most of the time they’re okay with it, but there have been a couple of deaths that we had to pull back a little bit. They’ve been crushed, they died of old age, there’ll be a drowning later. It’s hilarious.”
On inspiration and food as a major theme of the show:
“The real answer is the old show. There’s so much to pull from, and it’s such a fun universe to pick at. We go there a lot. For me, a lot of the times, we’ll have a story meeting around lunchtime, so I get very hungry and that’s why you might see a preponderance of food jokes on the show. We started with sandwiches, then we got into burritos, and then I think we’re in a good taco place toward the end of the season. I’m not really a fan of desserts for the most pat. It’s kind of an extravagance, you really just want to focus on the meal. It’s about focusing on the meal, on what matters.”
Do pizza places still do the ’30 minutes or it’s free?’ That episode was a pitch from Amy Wolfram, who was one of the writers on the original series, she’s super awesome and funny. I’ve actually never run up against a pizza place that did that, they just give you the pizza whenever.”
On the breakdancing and background visuals of the show:
“Generally, all that stuff is inspired by our storyboard artists. In the script, it’ll just be like ‘The Titans dance.’ A lot of the show is actually inspired by our board teams and our directors, because we leave the scripts loose. Initially, the idea was to do the show as a premise-driven show, but with our schedule and the way we’re scheduling our pipeline, it wouldn’t work. So what we do is a loose script sometimes, where the action description is just ‘The Titans dance,’ and it’s up to the director and the artists to decide what to do.
Dan Hipp is the king of all that stuff. We hired Dan because he’s such a fan of all things comics, and when we were developing the world, I was just like ‘Go nuts, dude.’ Anything that he wanted to put in the show, I was good with. I started seeing him putting little touches, and it just started with the characters, just portraits hanging on the walls, and they were really remarkable, thoughtful touches. There’s a portrait of Beast Boy as a giraffe with a little tiny Raven riding his back. It’s awesome, and when he started doing that stuff, I wanted more. Detail it out everywhere.
We’ve actually had to take Etrigan the Demon out of a few backgrounds because he’s so bright that your eye will just go right to him. We had a scene in the Trigon episode where Raven and her dad were arguing and he was right in the middle. Sometimes he’s there, sometimes he’s gone. It’s magic.”
On fan reaction:
“Before it came out, I was super sad. I was like ‘Why do they hate us already? It’s a baby, man!’ At first it was 100% hate, and maybe there was that one dude who was like ‘give it a chance,’ rarely. Then when it started airing, there were still people who were like ‘I still don’t like it,’ but then there were others who were saying it was funny. Now I’m finding that there are people who, every time someone is like ‘This is crap,’ they’re defending it. There’s people who like it and defend it and people who still don’t like it, but I’m just glad they’re watching it, honestly.
It’s really cool, and I’m glad some people have turned around. It’s really tough. We’ve done a complete reset on this beloved universe. It’s a tough thing, especially for people who have seen all these unanswered questions from the last series and want to know what happened. That’s not the story that we were tasked with telling, so it was a difficult thing for us to do. We’re having a lot of fun doing it, and I think it shows now. I’m glad people are responding to it.”
On Mix Master Mike’s involvement:
“We had one artist lined up and it didn’t work. They were into it, it was Passion Pit originally, but we couldn’t get the deal to work. The guy lives underground in a bunker — that’s not true, guys, I just made that up. So we just started throwing names out of artists that we like, and Mix Master Mike came up. We reached out to him and he was interested, and it’s great. It totally makes sense, because what we’re doing is a remix of existing material, and that’s what he does.
He initially wanted to be credited as ‘The Legendary Mix Master Mike Of The Beastie Boys,’ and we were like ‘We don’t have that much room on your credit card.’ But in our hearts, we know.”
Tara Strong, the voice of Raven:
On reuniting with her co-stars:
“I’m having a ton of fun. Teen Titans was one of those shows that when it got canceled, we were all as devastated as the fans. We’ve all been praying for more, because it was a really magical group in the voice cast. That happens a lot in voiceover, but not quite to this extent, where we were all so close and loved each other so much. To get the opportunity to be together again has been extraordinary, and then to have Raven in these really boring situations has been fun for me, because it’s just… ‘Yeah, whatever.’ She’s just so bored with everything, and I love it when the director’s like “Oh, you’re really working hard today?” Poor Scotty Menville is screaming ‘Titans, do this!’ and I’m like ‘Yeah.’ [Laughs]
Initially, I was nervous about it, because I know how voracious the fans were for more, as was I. But it’s so good and it’s so funny that you have to like it even if you don’t want to like it. For me, performance-wise, I’m not changing anything except that Raven’s really bored and annoyed, even more than normal. It’s actually easier to do the voice that way. When she’s really bored, it’s easier.”
On Raven being a contrast to other characters that she plays:
“Raven is certainly a departure from any character that I’ve played, but I also think Raven’s a departure from any character. She’s so interesting and dark. Obviously, not many characters are the children of the devil and have to coexist with other teenagers, so it’s an interesting character. Definitely very different from Bubbles.
In fact, when I first auditioned, the Starfire breakdown said ‘She’s a grown-up Bubbles,’ and I thought I’d probably book that one because I am a grown-up Bubbles. [Laughs]”
On recording together with the rest of the cast:
“We all make out a lot more. If you follow me on Twitter, we have this thing called ‘Fondle Friday,’ where we all just hug and kiss each other. I can’t tell you how much we all just love each other. There’s such a mutual respect for everyone, and everyone on the cast is so important for their roles. We could probably all play each other on camera. We all really love each other, it’s not fake. I think that’s why it’s translating into so much fun, because we really are having that much fun.
We record the Titans show every Friday morning. Typically a voiceover session is booked for four hours, and depending on how many lines you have, how many scripts to get through, we’re usually there from 9-12, or 9-11:30. We’re usually all together, but it depends on the show. On Fairly Oddparents, we’re all together, Powerpuff Girls we were all together, and then some shows tape separately. Drawn Together, we had table reads and then taped separately. Usually prime time stuff tapes separately — Family Guy, you’re always alone.
If you’re doing a show that needs to be dubbed, like if it’s coming from Asia or India or whatever, it makes a lot more sense to do it alone, because it takes a long time and more tedious to bring out this acting with a character that already exists in another language. You want to make sure it’s really good. So to sit around and wait for everybody to do that would be… not smart, time wise. When you’re doing that, it makes sense to be alone, and when you’re doing a video game it makes sense because you might have ten thousand lines. But for animation, it’s nice to play off each other. All the voiceover people are the most amazing, loving people, so we all like to work with each other.”
“He’s the one that goes off the most, Mr. Cipes. He’ll just say the weirdest things, and it’s either ‘Okay, that kind of works’ or ‘You can’t say that word on TV.’ It’ll be one or the other [Laughs]”
On being recognized by fans:
“My husband posted a picture on Facebook of the big Raven balloon and said ‘My wife is huge… at Comic-Con.’ In these scenarios, people know us a lot. It’s fun for my kids, they’re with me this time. We’ll go for a walk and hear people go ‘That’s Tara Strong!’ and they’re like ‘That’s my mom.’
It’s actually really nice, I have to say. A lot of us have been in the business a long time, and I think because of Twitter and Facebook, and just the Internet alone and people being able to search who their favorite voice actors are, it’s just nice to know that they’re appreciating what we do. I think my predecessors didn’t have that, so it’s nice for voiceover celebrities to have the Internet.
In my regular life, I get recognized here and there, but nowhere near as much as in the vicinity of a convention. I can’t go anywhere, it’s so funny. When I see that in these scenarios and then go back to my normal life where I can relax and it’s okay if I don’t have makeup at the grocery store, you actually feel bad for celebrities that are constantly hounded, because there are moments where you just want to be with your family and not care what you look like. They don’t have any breaks. Probably, I’ve got the best life.”
On her favorite episode:
“Oh gosh. It’s probably coming up. Raven gets to sing. Spoiler! It’s really funny, it was insanely fun. I had a recording session and we were crying we were laughing so hard. In the session, we ran the gamut from [in Raven’s flat, bored tone] ‘this is how she sings’ to like, full-on pop star. We went the whole way and I don’t know what they ended up picking, but it was really fun.”
Greg Cipes, the voice of Beast Boy:
On the costume he wore to the press hour:
“It’s actually a cosplay from my band, Super Space Fighters. We just released our first music video on superspacefighters.com. I wear this in the first video, and it’s a band based on a comic book, ultimately. Also, I consider myself to be Beast Boy. Beast Boy turns into every animal, so it’s kind of like a Beast Boy/Super Space Fighters crossover. It’s space pop. Kind of like Bowie meets Duran Duran meets the Doors. Lots of electronic stuff, but we play live instruments. Very dancy. We want people moving and having fun.”
On recording with the rest of the cast:
“It’s the highlight of every week. We do a new episode once a week, and I look forward to it so much, because we have so much fun. South Park meets Teen Titans, it’s crazy. I never know what to expect, every time I get a script I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, they’re doing this? How did they get it past Warner Bros.?’ But it’s awesome, I’m glad they are. Sam Register from Warner Bros. is really overseeing it, and making sure we’re able to get wild and crazy with it. That’s what I love, having no limits and being unchained.
It’s kind of cool that it’s a comedy. I had an idea after Teen Titans, actually during Teen Titans, that they should do a Beast Boy Comedy Half Hour, and it’s only like ten minutes. It manifested in its own way, it’s a personification of Beast Boy’s energy as the comic relief, but now everyone’s funny. I think Robin’s maybe the funniest one on the show, which is so left field.”
On what has surprised him from the show:
“The most surprising thing is that they have Beast Boy as a musician on the show. He sings a lot, and they’re actually using some of my songs that I’ve written. That’s so cool. Mix Master Mike from the Beastie Boys is right there on the turntables, spinning. That’s crazy. That’s wild. That’s so cool. Beast Boy meets Beastie Boys.”
On the shorter, more concentrated shows and how that boils down the characters:
“This new format… basically life is funny. It’s truer to life because life is funny. You could almost say it’s like the Teen Titans doing a reality show, which is also very real. It’s fun. Actually, I’m doing a show about my life right now that Seth Green is producing, along with Fly On The Wall, who did Big Brother, and Teen Titans will cross over into that. It’s like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but with me as the main character. It’s cool. Seth Green is a brilliant creator and all-around good dude, so it’s good to keep things true and real.
It’s a sitcom, basically. I start a commune at my house in Laurel Canyon, I have 15 to 20 18 year-old kids move up there, and my family, my dad, my mom, my stepmom, my brothers and sisters all move in there, so there’s a lot of drama but I’m basically teaching people and kids how to live off the land and grow their own food and meditate and have a great time. At the same time, I’m going to Teen Titans Go for recording and living the rest of my life while I have this crazy stuff happening in Laurel Canyon.”
On his favorite episode:
“The thing that I love most about Beast Boy is that he can turn into every animal that’s walked the face of the Earth, because for me, animals are the most loving things there are. Love is the most powerful thing there is in the universe, so the fact that he gets to turn into all these animals is so cool, because that means that he’s massive love. That’s so cool.
I’m a vegetarian most of the time, and I think it’s important for all of us to balance out the fact that animals do feel things, and there’s pain that goes into eating meat, and Beast Boy has turned a lot of people into vegetarians, or at least to look at the fact that animals do have feelings just like us. We’re no different, we’re all just animals. It’s a really deep thing, actually, and I love that about Beast Boy. He’s really deep.
My favorite episode coming up is probably the episode where Beast Boy sings to Tara. The writers, the creators of the show, I don’t know how they come up with this stuff. It’s never gonna stop.”
Scott Menville, the voice of Robin:
On having fun while working on the show:
“I’m having a blast on this show. It’s just a gift. This show was gone five years ago, at the height of its popularity, and it’s a gift to come back and do it again with the same cast. So fun.
I’m on some other shows where they record us separately, which is cool too, but the the special thing about this show is that we get to record together in the same room and play off each other. The scripts are very well-written and great, but the writers and producers encourage us to play off each other and throw in little ad-libs here and there, and come up with our own ideas for stuff. That’s one of the things about everybody being together at once.
Cyborg, there’s one episode where he goes ‘I am a genius! I am a genuis! I’m a genie in a bottle, I’m a genius!’ and that was all Khary.”
On the differences between the characters on Teen Titans Go and the original Teen Titans cartoon:
“It’s a little bit lighter. You won’t see a lot of the darkness that the original show had, and I love the dark stuff but it’s fun to see the brighter stuff.
It was definitely an adjustment. For the first two or three episodes, I kept asking them ‘Are you sure? I don’t know if Robin would scream like this,’ and finally I just jumped on board and committed. He’s still coming from the same truthful place, you just get to see a different side of him from when he’s out fighting villains with his proverbial armor up. You see him letting his guard down, and he has a hard time doing things like not going on the mission and relaxing. In that episode, he says ‘The first thing I remember is the circus,’ and yeah, you understand why he’s kind of quirky. His earliest memories are around the time when his parents died.
He’s still an overachiever. When it comes down to it, he’s very truthful, but it’s interesting to see him having to go take his driver’s test. He rips around Jump City on the R-Cycle to go stand in line with common people at the grocery store to get a loaf of bread.
The storylines are getting even crazier and more fun, so I’m just excited to see where they take it. We’ve had some guest characters from the past that are resurfacing too, so that’s kind of fun. It’s the same actors who played those characters in the original series coming back to play them again, for you voiceover fans. I’m just excited to see where it’s going to go.”
On his favorite episode:
“There’s one that hasn’t aired yet that’s coming up called ‘Puppets, What?’ As a voice actor, I got to do some fun stuff, but I think that’s all I’m allowed to say.”
Khary Payton, the voice of Cyborg:
After opening the interview with an impression of Cyborg doing an impression of Prince:
“I hope you guys aren’t the people who are like ‘Oh man, the show’s not serious anymore,’ because this interview’s going to be weird, y’all. It’s going to be about as off the rails as it gets.”
On the reaction of fans who actually do think it’s not serious enough:
“I was just telling somebody, I was like, Teen Titans started in the ’60s. There was no Beast Boy, no Cyborg and all of that, and then it changed in the ’80s, then it changed again in the ’90s, and in the 2000s, when we did the animated show, we did something totally divergent from the comic books. It’s innate in what Teen Titans is, it’s constantly changing and pushing. What teenagers do is look at the past and say ‘You know what? Screw that, we’re gonna do our own thing.’ You can’t be Teen Titans and just do what you did before. You always push it. When we’re done with this series, we’re going to do it again and do like a Food Network show. It’s already practically a Food Network show, we have a meatball episode coming up, we did the pies… I don’t know if you’ve had rhubarb pie. It’s horrible.
So that’s the essence of Teen Titans. It’s about changing it up and pushing the boundaries.”
On recording the show and improvising lines:
“I was so happy, because these characters, these people, it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had working. Not that what I do is work anyway, but really, when the five of us get together, we have such a good time. If we just straight did it, we could record these episodes in half an hour, an hour, but we’re constantly riffing off each other. The producers are great about letting us improv. We’ve been doing it for a long time, we know each other really well and know all the characters. I think Hynden rewrites every line of Starfire’s because she knows how to work the grammar. She’s a genius anyway.
I’m just having so much fun. Cyborg was my first audition. It was my first job doing voiceover after I moved to LA, maybe two years after I moved I got that audition. I was just being me, a little more exuberant, a little more out there, but not really. Sometimes I get that big. I’m just loud and a happy guy most of the time, so it’s really just an extension of myself, so whenever I get that impulse, I just blurt it out. Fortunately, the show is just nuts enough that they throw that stuff on in there.
We’ve made up songs in the moment. It’s been great.”