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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jayson Thiessen at Animation on Display

Jayson Thiessen, photo by Jodi's Goodies

Breaking! Humans really exist! They are not just a figment of Lyra’s imagination. Apple Cider linked me that photo; the description says “Jayson Thiessen … about to nom on a Pinkie Pie bonbon,” in case you were curious.

Over the weekend, Jayson Thiessen was guest of honor at Animation On Display, an animation convention in San Francisco. Chef Sandy and Apple Cider of Bronyville moderated a Q & A panel, and Jayson did another panel all alone and on his own. NorthCalBronies filmed both panels and put them up on their YouTube channel. The videos I’m about to summarize—after the break—are Animation On Display 2012 – My Little Pony Creative Panel and Animation On Display 2012 – How Ponies Are Made Panel, in that order, though the chronological order is the opposite.

If you are at all interested in, you know, ponies, and also information, and Jayson Thiessen, I suggest you stay tuned to Bronyville. I don’t know how much I can reveal, so just subscribe to their feed, wait, and listen.

Now, the panels!

The My Little Pony Creative Panel:
  • From 2:50 onward, Jayson described a few memories from his childhood that turned out to have been seminal to his decision to work in the animation industry.
  • Since early May 2011, and certainly since Lauren Faust’s FAQ, this question should no longer be raised, and I’m only including this here to maybe alleviate the load of questions she is constantly inundated with by a teeny-tiny bit. After season one, Lauren Faust was only involved in the first two episodes of season two and slightly in the writing of the rest of the season two episodes, but not in season three. (9:41)
  • The staff is learning a lot, constantly, so that the quality of the production increases noticeably. I would’ve liked to hear the expert opinion on which aspects in particular have improved since season one, but he doesn’t go into much detail. (10:53)
  • The writers are mostly a separate group, so that Jayson “is not exactly privy to all the ins and out that they put into the show.” (13:45)
  • At 24:00, he outlines the process of the creation of a song for the show, the same process Daniel Ingram described in more detail on the last BroNYCon.
  • Pinkie Pie may be a “pretty strong candidate” for best pony. (Nothing against Pinkie Pie, but really, he should know better.) For animators, Pinkie Pie has also very practical advantages over the other ponies as some properties of spacetime and physics can be unwieldy at times. (27:45)
  • “The show could sustain a movie, and it’s just a matter of the powers that be making a decision such as that.” Obviously—and Apple Cider had even procataleptically (Is that the right adverbial form?) framed the question that way—he can’t be any less evasive on that topic. If you are good at reading body language and the like, watch his whole answer from 32:00 onward, and tell me what you think.
  • There are always about five to seven episodes in production in parallel, in an assembly line–like fashion. Each episode could be said to take several months (up to nine in the case of the very first), but that figure is misleading with all the other episodes being produced at the same time. (33:33)
  • Scenes that were tricky to animate include Rarity’s successful fashion show at the end of Suited for Success and the scene from Friendship is Magic, part 2 alias Elements of Harmony in which the Elements actually come to live for the first time. (36:23)
  • The background is completely created in Flash, and in fact they have to all the time work around all kinds of kinks, bugs, and limitations of Adobe’s software. The files often crash the program when they become too big, which imposes artificial limits on the degree of detail they can endow us with. Meh. (40:16)
  • Each pony comes with an “eight-point turn-around” and “a run cycle, a walk cycle, and a trot cycle,” as well as a bounce cycle in Pinkie Pie’s case, for each angle. They also have a few mouth shapes, eye blinks, and hair cycles pre-made. “Beyond that, it is customized for each scene.” (43:35)
  • They don’t have set floor plans and are themselves a bit fuzzy on which exterior window of the Books and Branches Library really lines up with which interior window. (45:14)
  • His reaction to the creation of the 4chan /mlp/ board: “Wow, that’s something!” (52:45)

Now to the How Ponies Are Made Panel:
  • The first days of pony: the importance of hair, hair again, more hair, but also eyes! (1:24)
  • “The first season is always the one where you find your legs… or your hooves.” (10:51)
  • The script meetings of the writers, originally with Lauren Faust, were (are) in Los Angeles, but when his team in the later stages of the production notices that aspects could be improved, their suggestions can still be incorporated. (12:05)
  • One such late addition was the barking pony in Read It and Weep. In fact Jayson himself is the one saying “Hey, get back to the hospital!” (14:40)
  • The Big Lebowski reference in The Cutie Pox was also added by the design staff. (21:33)
  • The Trainspotting baby in Baby Cakes, however, was scripted. (22:00)
  • But the Nightmare Moon in the hourglass in the first episode was again an idea of Jayson and James “Wootie” Wootton. (22:28)
  • Dr. Whooves is “just a pony with an hourglass on his flank.” (25:05) That may have changed since his first appearance though.
  • Nope, no info on Princess Cadence and Shining Armor. (30:19) Why do I even mention that?
  • He had been aware of our fandom from early on, when it was still mostly confined to /co/. (30:57)
  • A movie “would be cool.” (33:06) See above for no more information on that topic.
  • At 34:35 he was asked about his opinion on Equestria Online and Fighting is Magic: “The animation on that was great … I was amazed by that.”
  • Hasbro, as their client, is involved in every step of the production and has “all the influence.” (36:00)
  • For a Scootaloo-centric episode, just keep watching. (43:49) Or click that link for a bit more info.
  • This is one of the most interesting pieces I gleaned from this panel: “Oh, what is the [best] idea that I couldn’t get ‘past the censors’ is what you’re saying? … I don’t know; there’s been a few, but I don’t really want to spill them, because who knows about the future. Sometimes there’s an episode that you think would be really great, but then … all the episodes are taken up for that season, … maybe this idea will find its way into another episode down the line.” (48:44) If he is just talking about small ideas and gimmicks he might introduce in one of the animation stages, this may be not significant, but if he is actually talking about basic premises for episodes, like the one Lauren Faust described in her FAQ, then he seems very optimistic that there’ll be episodes beyond the thirteen mostly written and recorded season three episodes we know about. Given the italicized “an episode,” I actually tend towards the latter interpretation.
  • Discord was written by Lauren Faust with John de Lancie in mind, but he actually talked about that in more detail on the September 2011 BroNYCon. (52:50)
  • They don’t have the whole historical continuity figured out yet. (53:50)
  • How Pinkie Pie can break the fourth wall? “Science will never know.” (55:36) I call bullshit on that. I’m sure Twilight has long figured it out!

What did I forget or fail to pick up on? Anything crucial? Please leave a comment, and I’ll add it.

Update 2012-02-25 00:25Z: At 44:10, Jayson mentioned Raven Molisee as an artist who was a fan of a show (Ed, Edd n Eddy), and then, through sheer talent rather than glowing credentials, became part of the team making the show. Now she has expanded on this seminal experience in reaction to a fan question on DeviantArt. (I suspect GlamourKat may also have an interesting story to share. Everyone has, I’m sure.)


  1. Well that was cool. You just saved me about an hour of listening to the podcast. Now I can get back to more pony related stuff.

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