All aboard with Tony Hull
What was your starting point for Elliott From Earth?
We started Elliott when Mic and I were still working on Gumball a couple of years ago. A lot of the Gumball team, we were trying to work out what the next show might look like. And we'd not really done a sci-fi show before. I grew up watching shows like Quantum Leap and things like that, it's a really fun genre to work in. So we started the idea 3 or 4 years ago and we started making the first series in 2019. It should have gone a lot quicker, but obviously we hit lockdown and it got a little bit more complicated to make.
What do you, Tony, take care of in this show?
Mic and I come up with the ideas for each episode. We write the stories, the scripts – what all the characters are going to say – and then we get a storyboard, which is kind of like a comic book, and our storyboard team draws out each episode. Then we put that together and Mic and I do all the voices temporarily just to see if the show is funny and the story makes sense. Once we're happy with that, it goes to the rest of our team, who design all of the characters properly and make the environments and the backgrounds. Mic and I are there from start to finish to make sure that everyone knows the worlds we're trying to make and the characters and everything. And then it comes back to us all animated. It takes long, it takes about a year to make 1 episode. Then we look at it and we work with the sound guys to make all the sounds in the show and the music. We try to hold things together because there are so many amazing people working on it.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration for the Centrium
Going to all these different worlds, we thought it would be really interesting if all these worlds were kind of in 1 place as well. The Centrium is like going to a big city where you get to meet all different types of people and cultures and you can try all different foods. It's really having his amazing, multi-cultural place. And going to space you get all these different, amazing environments. There's a rainforest that glows in the dark, there's another biosphere with these octopus creatures that make this pure water. It's really there to explore our imaginations, as much as anything.
What inspired the exterior design of the Centrium?
There's an old movie that Mic really likes called Silent Running, which had all these… we call them biospheres in the show, these pods. We imagined if we wanted to go to all these other places and see them from the outside. Hopefully, it's something that kids can draw as well and put their own environments in that they'd like to see. It has a weird kind of cellular thing to it like things you might see in biology. There are all sorts of strange influences that come up.
In this environment, humans are aliens as well. What did you notice about us when writing that?
Everything we do is just as strange as what you'd expect aliens to be like. It's a journey for Elliott and Frankie meeting the aliens, but the aliens are just as interested in them. It's an equal interaction every time they meet new people. Everyone's there, getting on with their lives. Elliot and Frankie are asked, “Why do you only have 2 eyes?”, or “Why is your hair there?”, or “Why do you sneeze?”, and even they're not quite sure because they've been so used to it and no one has ever questioned them on it. We had quite a lot of fun going, "Why do people do that?" It's nice to examine what you do yourself. I think we've got something about “why do you wipe your own nose on your own arm?” This is a strange thing people do. It's 1 of those things people do all the time but they're not really aware of. We like to point those things out.
Talk us through creating Frankie as a character.
Frankie was Mic's idea. We were interested in exploring a different relationship between a child and a parent that we weren't aware of seeing too much of on screen. Frankie is an amazing single parent. She's a brilliant scientist and she's just as much a driver of the story as Elliott is, because it's her rock that she finds and she investigates and she's asking questions about. And it's that rock that takes them across space. It's her curiosity about the world. She never stops Elliott from suggesting things, like you see with other mom characters. We've shown the series to some kids already and they've really, really enjoyed that, that Frankie is cool. She’s someone they'd want to go on the adventure with as well. You don’t stop having fun just because you're an adult.
How do her and Elliott's perspectives on this world differ?
Frankie comes at things a little more cautiously. As an adult, you're a little more cautious about things. She thinks before she acts; Elliott and Mo sometimes act before they think. But it works out because there's no right way of doing these things. It's a learning process for all 3 of them. They get into fun situations, they get into tricky situations all the time.
Were you able to bring your childhood fantasies about meeting aliens and going into space into the show?
We've all wanted to meet aliens and wondered what they look like. I used to draw really bad aliens as a kid. We've also been lucky to go to different countries around the world and see new and amazing species on our own planet. Just finding out how different things work is central to the show. We've applied it to the aliens, who can talk back. But it's almost like, what would lions think of us if they could talk?