Cartoon Network's "The Fungies!" with Stephen P. Neary – Mushroom Revival

Cartoon Network's "The Fungies!" with Stephen P. Neary

Meet HBO Max's animator, Stephen P. Neary who created "The Fungies!" This new, mushroom centered cartoon is guaranteed to be enjoyable by the whole family. We have our talented guest, Stephen, to thank for this delightfully wholesome series. We talk with Stephen about the past, present, and future of The Fungies! and story behind his inspiration. Sit back and enjoy some behind the scenes information, as well as lots of teasers for a variety of episodes, now streamable at www.hbomax.com!

Stephen P. Neary is a producer and writer, known for Chicken Cowboy (2008), The Fungies (2020) and Epic (2013).

Show notes: 

https://www.hbomax.com/series/urn:hbo:series:GXw35cQHtSrnDHQEAAAfA

https://www.instagram.com/thefungies.official/

http://stephenneary.blogspot.com/

 

Transcript

Alex 0:21
Welcome Welcome everyone to another episode of Mushroom Revival Podcast if you are tuning in from YouTube, this is one of our first video recordings of our podcast if you are tuning in from any other audio streaming platform Hello, hello, do you want to see the video portion of this head over to YouTube. And we just want to say We love you. We are mushroom revival and we are bridging the gap between you our lovely beautiful listeners and the wonderful wacky world of fungi. And we are absolutely obsessed with mushrooms and fungi and we bring on guests and experts from all over the world to geek out with us and go on an epic journey into the world of mushrooms. So let's invite a very, very special guest on our next episode.

Lera 1:08
Perhaps very appropriately for our first video cast, we have Stephen P. Neary who works for Cartoon Network and was the creator of HBO Max's "The Fungies!". Welcome Stephen, thanks so much for jumping on this recording.

Stephen 1:24
Thank you. Thank you for having me. This is so cool.

Lera 1:27
So how long has Fungies has been out? I saw this in a newsletter sent maybe a month ago and I was like— what?! Cartoon Network has a whole cartoon all about Fungie's.

Stephen 1:38
I think the first 20 episodes came out in August, actually, on all at once on HBO Max, that's where you can see them. And I think we actually have the next 20 episodes coming out October 8, which is really cool. So that'll be a whole nother 20 episodes to to dive into. We've been working on it a lot longer than that. But it's it's really cool to see it out there. And to know that people can watch it. It's cool, great.

Alex 2:05
By the time this episode is launched, that would be live and people can tune in to that we won't give any spoilers. But it's a fun show. You know, and for mushroom people, it's it's great to have it mushroom centered. And I'm just curious about your story and like how, what got you into creating a mushroom themed show? And, you know, what's the backstory for this?

Stephen 2:29
Yeah, thanks. I grew up just in a big family in Indiana, you know, growing up in the suburbs, close to the woods. So, you know, a lot of my childhood was just spent riding around on bikes and, you know, playing in the woods and watching cartoons. And actually my my older sister, I think when I was like four or five, she told me there were, you know, gnomes living in the forest. And, you know, probably an effort and an effort to get her her little brother to be quiet would say, you know, if you sit very still and wait patiently, they will come out and you can talk to them. So it was a lot of making little known decoys and putting those in the yard and sitting patiently for them to never show themselves. But I just, you know, I watched so many cartoons, like the Smurfs. And I feel like in the 80s there were so many cartoons about like creatures sort of like, like popples and noodles and fraggles and, and all those those things that are kind of mushroom adjacent, almost just just in spirit, I feel like so, so really the show kind of evolved from from there. If that makes sense. I just wanted to make a cool show about these prehistoric mushroom creatures kind of living in their own microcosm. In time that's very, very similar to ours.

Alex 3:57
I was actually born in Indianapolis and my grandma spent most of her life in or a big chunk in Indiana and and every time we would go visit her, which was a lot she was super family oriented. Loved, you know, Saturday morning, cartoons. And that was like a big part of my childhood if you know all the cousins coming around in Indiana watching cartoons is funny, like you're telling that story and it had a bunch of flashbacks. And then now we're both into mushrooms. So something about Indiana and cartoons I don't know.

Stephen 4:17
Yes, yeah, I think so. is maybe there's not there's not a ton to do besides, you know, play in the woods and watch cartoons sometimes is what it seems like, but I don't know about you, but to me, being a kid like mushrooms were sort of this mysterious thing. You know, like don't eat them. Like Don't mess them mess with them. We don't really like to talk about them a lot, but they seem to be kind of kind of everywhere. A little bit. You know, and it's cool to to be older and learn how much they are a part of ecosystem and the world around us at large. So yeah, I just, I just wanted to make sort of a cartoon that was very, very open and, and so we can really explore sort of all those issues about being a child, and you're, you're dealing with emotions for the first time, you're sort of constructing your entire worldview. And to me, you know, mushrooms were a great metaphor for really, kind of kind of thinking about the world around you. And, you know, considering it for the first time. So that's sort of the vehicle for the fungi, which, which sounds a little insane. It's also a cartoon, and it's just fun to watch. And, but, you know, to me, there's, there's sort of a deeper meaning, hopefully, behind everything. And hopefully, it's a show that adults can enjoy with their kids and not not feel like they're wasting their time. Like everybody can watch it together and enjoy it.

Lera 5:57
Yeah, I would say so. It's a very wholesome show. Like Seth is a great character. He's the main character who is like a geeky scientist, and every episode, he's going on a whole new endeavor of trying to discover something. So it's great to encourage curiosity and make that the cool thing to do. I have to say, y ou're the voice of Pascal, which is Seth's brother. And your real voice sounds nothing like that. So I am impressed with your vocal cord adaptations.

PASCAL 6:28
We all need alone time. That's why keep this box.

Stephen 6:32
Thank you. Yeah, um, Pascal is is Seth's older brother who still shares a room with him. He's very much like my brother, we shared a room, you know, all through school and everything. And Pascal is very kind of shy and introverted. He's an artist. So he's sort of the main character set, as you said, is very science oriented. And he always is, wants to go outside. And his his big deal is, you know, he wants to kind of share his discoveries with with the world. And they're not always interested in those discoveries.

SETH 7:07
Yep, this is bad. I guess the old way of making chairs was just fine. I'm sorry.

Stephen 7:13
And he usually kind of over the course of every episode sort of learns that, you know, while while it's great to learn and explore, he also needs to connect with everybody around him and be part of his community. But yes, the voice of Pascal is very, it's kind of the voice everybody in my Midwestern family uses when we're like, a little bit passive aggressive, kind of like, oh, you're really good to wear that today. Okay, you know, just, I think everybody is very, like, non confrontational, sort of, so we, we use this voice affectation to kind of disguise our discomfort with speaking with each other.

Alex 7:53
It's a It's unbelievable, I remember the first time I saw a picture of you, and was hearing the voice of Pascal in my head, I was like, that there's no way that voice is coming out of that, that human mind. It's amazing. I, you know, I wish I could adapt my voice and have more than the voice that I just have. I think it's a it's a incredible skill that I would love to learn. I think it's incredible.

Stephen 8:19
I think it's something that everybody, you know, if you can tap into that, that spirit of just being a kid and playing again, it's, you know, it's how so many of us spend a large portion of our, of our childhood is just, you know, playing with toys, and doing little voices and everything. And I think, you know, we're gradually sort of trained out of that. And, and to me, the show the fungie's is all about kind of reconnecting with that sincerity of us being a child. So it's a really fun place to go to every week. And, and we have, we have this amazing cast of, you know, like, actual, real actors to I don't know, if I would consider myself an actor necessarily, but um, you know, like, Dr. Nancy in the show, she's, she's based on my mom. She's played by Jennifer Coolidge, who is just so, so hilarious and funny and you, you never know exactly what what she's gonna say. Today is mother's Sunday, mother's Sunday. Yeah, mom and I are gonna get Mandy Petty's. But yeah, my mom growing up was always this very, very loving person who would occasionally just say, these really wacky and inspiring things like, you know, I always thought in the future, we would fight wars with music, and it's the kind of thing you hear as a kid and and it just, it sounds normal. And then you grow up. You're like, wait, wait, she actually said that. So yeah, it's a it's a great cast, though, to get to get back to your point. And yeah, thanks. Thanks for watching.

Alex 9:55
Of course, and well, for anyone who's never watched this before. Could you get Kind of a brief synopsis of the plot the intention behind it, and just a little bit more for people that wanted to knit.

Stephen 0:21
Yeah, absolutely. So the fungie says about the fungie's which is this small town of prehistoric mushroom creatures. And the main character, Seth is this very science oriented fungie, who, who loves exploring, he's still in elementary school. So he's very into sharing his discoveries through school projects. And he sort of leads this large cast of other characters have, you know, dinosaurs, and prehistoric crustaceans to kind of aid him in his quests. And so he has his older brother, Pascal, who's, who's more of the fisheye artist type. And Seth kind of gets him out of his shell and gets him to go outside. They also have their, their little siblings, the twins, who are these hyperkinetic pranksters who just want to run around and have fun.

The Fungies 0:21
The twins look up to you, spend some more time with them! I would, but— I was but!

Stephen 0:21
And then he has just this large cast of characters at school that that he interacts with, and usually through through Seth's drive to discover and explore he kind of opens Pandora's box over the course of the episode and, and has to do something to sort of write whatever wrong you've he's committed or whatever sort of over assumption in his head that he is assumed. So in one episode, there's like, this herd of trufflo, that, that come to town and sort of start eating all the mushrooms and the fungi are very afraid of them. And then, over the course of the episode, he realizes that by helping to, you know, imprison these trufflo because all the fungies are afraid of him, he has actually, you know, created this ecological imbalance, and the mushrooms are growing out of control. And now he has to convince everybody to free the tremolo to restore order. In a town, it's all a lot funnier than I'm making it sound right now, also, the fun, geez, as organisms can also pop their limbs off and on, and combine their limbs to make sort of different, like vehicles and they can all sort of work together in a way to you know, make a fungie motorcycle or make a fungie dinosaur.

The Fungies 0:21
Fungie extendor! I didn't know you could do that.

Stephen 0:21
So it's it's a lot about working together as a community also.

Alex 0:21
That was one of my favorite episodes, I really like that one. And especially the overall lesson is, especially if you're a kid, or an adult, really, I think we forget the importance of how we're all interconnected, and we're part of a larger ecosystem and we forget to really be curious and in an age where everything is so instant, an instant access a lot of people will just forget their innate curiosity with the world around them. And especially we get trapped in social media and you know, a lot of distractions that we forget to look around in the natural world and connect in especially in an age where there's so much fear and it's good to just pause and reflect and ask questions and investigate and you know, see, you know, is this benefiting the whole system as a whole so I think those lessons beyond just that episode, you know, we watched one with their gardening that hurt having a garden off the pumpkin off. And that was great, you know, just little gardening tips here and there and I think it's an amazing way for for kids to not only kind of let go with their natural fear around mushrooms, which is so apparent here in the United States, other countries are all for mushrooms. But United States most people are terrified of mushrooms, just like the people, the fungi were afraid of the truffle you know, in that episode. Everyone thinks they're poisonous or they're slimy or they're XYZ and they hold a lot of the keys to the world's problems and and amazing solution, their whole kingdom and like we were just touching on the beginning. mushrooms and fungi are incredible. So it's amazing to have this show for all ages to tune in and really highlight it in a really funny enjoyable way. So Thanks for creating the show. I really appreciate it.

Stephen 10:07
Thanks so much. Thanks, I really appreciate it. And I, I think just mushrooms as a metaphor for that interconnectivity is is, is, is a really beautiful thing that you can choose to dive into as deep as you as you want to. But I know it's something in my life that that has really allowed me to harken back to that time as a childhood, when you're just more free and more open to, to everything the world has to offer. And I think if you can kind of keep that attitude, alive a little bit in, in your everyday life with, with all that's going on right now and how stressful it is, it just just opens you up to being a little more positive and open. I was I was on a run this morning. And I, I you know, I found I found some like chicken of the woods just growing. So it's, it's just nice to keep your eyes open, you know, literally and metaphorically, sometimes to everything that that nature has to provide. But that's a great point about internationally. Also, I know we have, we have a lot of people on the crew who have been interested in mushrooms for a long time, our art director valaria libretti. He's, he's from from Italy, in Rome. And he grew up foraging, you know, all the time with his grandparents in in the mountains of northern Italy. And it's just, you know, it's something in certain communities that's a little more incorporated into their way of life. We actually got a chance last year to go with him over to siano in northern Italy and do some some foraging. And it was it was incredible. I had never like forage before and environments like that. But um, it was just beautiful. We're in these, you know, these mountains with these pine trees all along all around. So it's really great soil for like porcine, and chanterelles, and parasol mushrooms. So every every morning, we would just get up a couple other people from the crew went over there and forage for like four or five hours, and then you come back, have lunch, and then clean the mushrooms and then kind of cook all afternoon and then like, eat all night, it was pretty much how I would love to live my life. And I think to I don't know, if if your listeners have a lot of experience with foraging, but I love like distance running, but um, foraging specifically, just always looking at the ground was so so fun, and how present, it makes you just being outside all day. And constantly like being on the lookout, you really don't have room to think about a lot of other things because you're just, you're like, Oh, this is what a video game is like, in real life. Just like this is where that that human kind of addiction comes from is just being out in nature and foraging for food naturally. And always wondering sort of what's what's around the next kind of hillside and what what you're going to find is really exciting. So we Yeah, we try and kind of feed that curiosity and sense of discovery back into the show a little bit. I don't know that it's always always there. But hopefully it comes across

Alex 18:31
Honestly, one of my favorite things in the world is to trail run. And specifically look for chicken in the woods, which is anyone who doesn't know and is not watching the video is kind of a bright orange shelf like mushroom. And it really, you know, it can blend in during the fall time when there's like orange leaves and stuff and yellow leaves. And it could, you know, you can have a lot of false sightings of it, and it's just a leaf. But right before that, we start falling and in the change colors, you see, they just pop out and you can be running as fast as you can and just kind of look in your peripheral vision. If you see like a spot of orange, you just quickly changed direction. And you know, I always love coming back with my runs and like have it use my shirt as a basket and, you know, all these mushrooms and it really taps you into that primal prehistoric state of, you know, when we were hunters and gatherers and you know, a lot of people still do it, but it's it. It's amazing. It's super healthy and and yeah, I love how you tap into that essence in the show and just coming back to our roots.

Stephen 19:44
Absolutely, yeah, I feel like we're, you know, everybody's making content right now and you know, stuff to put on the internet and, and it's we're seeing this explosion in creativity. And I think it's really healthy. You know as as an artist Have these, these things that you draw inspiration from that aren't exactly what you're making but but something that that really is refreshing and recharges your batteries a little bit. And I think foraging and trail running is is a great way to really center yourself and be more mindful in your everyday life. So that's, that's cool. That's really cool.

Lera 20:26
And finding mushrooms brings us so much gratitude because of their ephemeral nature. And if you find a good mushroom and a good prime state, that would have only been like 24 hours if you came yesterday or the day after, it wouldn't have been as, as prime. So there's, there's a really awesome level of specialty and wonder, it's, it's awesome.

Stephen 20:47
Absolutely. That was that was one of the things we noticed, in ziana, when we were foraging is just everybody who's local, they're kind of has their spot that they're very, you know, protective of because they don't want to, you can ask somebody like, oh, did you get a good haul today? Like, where did you find those? And they'll just say, like, oh, over there, you know, and they'll point to an entire mountain.

Alex 21:08
And it's, it is not even the mountain that they found it.

Stephen 21:13
They probably like drove for 20 minutes and went to their super secret spot. But um, it is it is almost like it's out there. But you gotta you got to find it for yourself. I don't think anybody can exactly pointed out to you. But um, that's a that's a really great point.

Lera 21:28
So I'm super curious about how this whole process when I mean, you, you are a producer and a writer, and you've done Epic and Chicken Cowboy. So do you have experience with like, proposing projects to Cartoon Network and HBO? But how did that how did this unravel? And what was the reaction of the people who approve or deny your proposal? And was there anything that you had to compromise in order to get it to be aired?

Stephen 21:58
Yeah, I've, um, I've been working in animation maybe could be like, 12 years now. And, you know, I've been an animator on preschool shows, I've done storyboards on like, big, you know, hollywood animated movies. And then I worked on this other Cartoon Network show before this called Clarence. But I always sort of have this drive to kind of express my specific point of view, and I think really, you know, pitching a show is, is maybe not quite as glamorous as it sounds like in Hollywood and everything, but it's just something that you've got to practice and, and try and fail at over and over again. So, you know, this, this was an idea that I definitely cultivated, I used to work at this studio. And I had to commute I was living in Brooklyn at the time, and the studio was in Connecticut. So I would ride the train two hours, both ways. And I just really had all this time every day to, to sit and draw and read. And, really, that's sort of where the fungies came from, was just, when I've, when I've read my book, I finished my book, I've done all my work, I'm still on the train, I know, I've got another hour, let's doodle some fungies. Say, I think maybe to pitch a show, you've got to kind of tap into that thing that's personal to you, if you want it to feel authentic. And Cartoon Network was very open to, you know, the, the ideas that I have, I think sometimes in animation, it's less about the idea and more about the people behind the idea almost, and knowing that it's a specific point of view and that you had the experience to, to pull that off. They were super supportive. And, and at times, you know, they were definitely, like, we, we don't necessarily understand everything you're talking about, but like, we love that energy, and we love the art. And we want to, you know, support artists with with original ideas. So that was really cool. And then I think I pitched it maybe five or six years ago, and then just you know, I was I was running the show Clarence and then I would come home on nights and weekends and work on the fungies and just kind of chip away at it bit by bit. And I think because it it really came from this sort of initially abstract feeling it was the idea was sort of how do you make this relatable to other people. So you have to make sure that it it works as a kid's cartoon and that it's funny and colorful and it has a lot of action and and fun characters that kids can love. But ultimately, at the end of the day, you've got to make sure that it's it's watchable as a cartoon to everybody so that they can tap into that deeper, deeper thing that the show was actually about. But it it took forever. It was so hard.

The Fungies 24:53
You know, Seth, you remind me a lot of myself when I was your age. I wanted to see it all. I was young. Sam, could you please tidy up your room? So I left behind my small town forever. I traveled far and wide exploring the depths of the universe, I won't rest until I've explored the whole galaxy and exploited it. That's the exact thingI want. Like, just the other day I wasexploring, I found these rocks. You do you, Seth my man.

Alex 25:23
How much time would you say you spend on each episode? And do you? Do you work in like segments? Do you? You know, make a bunch of episodes, stockpile them, and then release them all at once are you? I know, some shows like I think it was South Park, they went behind the scenes. And I remember watching I think they had like a mini documentary or something on like, how they make it. And it was week by week. And every week, you know, they would submit the next episode. And then, you know, they had a week to work on the next episode. And that was scrambling, scrambling and submit at the end of the week. And, you know, which sounds so chaotic. And I mean, so much respect. I mean, you have a ticking timeline of I need to submit this episode. I don't know if it's the same way with you. Can you just kind of walk us through that creative process of how each episode gets produced?

Stephen 26:17
Yeah, absolutely. Um, yes, we, it takes about nine months to make each episode. So, but we're sort of making 40 episodes at the same time. So something like, like a feature animated film, you might work on that for years, and then you release it. And, and it's over. But it's sort of like a stair step to production model. So you start, you know, Episode One in week one. And then you're making that for nine months, but then the next week, you also start making episode two. So um, you know, it starts with writing, you know, we have a small team of writers, that will write an outline, and then the next week, they'll kick that off to a team of storyboard artists who work on that for about five weeks. And then there's just all these steps in the process, and you just kind of check in every week with what's going on. And it's, it's really exciting, because eventually episodes after about four months, get shipped to a studio in Korea, who does the animation, and they will take our storyboard poses and from there, add all the in betweens, even as of last last year, they were they were still drawing on paper. So it's a it's still a very, you know, traditional process where a lot needs to be drawn. All our backgrounds are drawn on paper, and then colored digitally after they're scanned. So it's, it's an amazing team of about 40 artists we have working at Cartoon Network alongside producers to just keep track of everything. And then about that same amount of people in in Korea making, making the episodes. And then after they're animated, they come back and we do all the editing, you know, post music mixing, it's, it takes forever, it's so long, but I'm I'm getting that far away. Look in my eyes, just thinking about how long it takes. But it's really it's super rewarding. Once you see it all come together and and you know that it's done forever, and you can share it with the world. It's it's really an amazing and rewarding experience.

Alex 28:28
I had no idea that it took this long. I mean, it makes sense. And writing on paper drawing on paper. That's, it's crazy and amazing. It really shows the artistic nature, that and the skill that goes into producing something like that. It's unbelievable. That that's, that's incredible. Thanks for sharing.

Stephen 28:49
Oh, thank you. Yeah, it's, it's definitely a labor of love. And you know, every time you see a cartoon, you just, you just have to kind of stop and think about how many people are behind it. And at the same time technology, you know, is is allowing us to work faster than ever. So that's really exciting. You know, I think that's really why we're seeing this explosion of, you know, animated programming right now is just computers, you know, can speed up certain things about it. But there's still such a human element to creating all the art behind it. And the stories also. So it's Yeah, it's a constant feeling of kind of steering the ship and trying to get it back on track. And it's, it's amazing what the storyboard artists do week after week, though.

Lera 29:37
We have a whole newfound respect for animators in the past month. We've just been exploring that and like trying to see if we can get some added to our future educational content. It's huge. And I have a good friend who did storyboards for adventure time and I visited the Cartoon Network in Burbank. Oh, awesome. Yeah, it was such a fun place. I was like, this seems like the dream job. The whole environment and atmosphere is really fun. And then this guy was just making coffee brought me to his desk is just a bunch of action figures everywhere like they're playing music. It's it seemed really like a labor of love, like you said for sure.

Alex 30:15
It's like never ever land. Yeah. It's great. I yeah, I feel like, you know, if you could really love your job working at Cartoon Network or any other like, like minded places, I mean, it's so much fun, or it seems like it I'm sure there's, there's rough days or weeks or, you know, it's a lot more work then. Then the final product looks but yeah, everyone's doing an amazing job.

Stephen 30:43
Ah, thanks. Yeah, I don't, I don't know anywhere else where I could, you know, capitalize off this specific skill set that I have of like, you know, drawing pictures, making funny voices, you know, talking about music with composers and working with actors and improving stuff for lines. So Cartoon Network studios is just a really great place for, I think making original things and a lot of that started with Adventure Time is just really the explosion of, of creativity, and really utilizing a lot of these, you know, indie artists coming from comics, who are just so creative, I mean, and passionate about about what they're doing. So yeah, I'm really thankful every day, even when the nights are long. The work piles up.

Lera 31:35
And Cartoon Network is so open minded, at least that's the impression that I get but did you have any experience with like, friction of trying to make mushrooms the center of your series? And what kinds of things were you told no, you couldn't do? Or was there even any of that?

Stephen 31:54
Yeah, I think that, you know that the hardest part is just making sure that an audience can can relate to it. At the end of the day, it is it is a show for, for children, and I hope that, you know, the whole family can enjoy it together. But you just got to make sure that you, you know, don't lose sight of the forest for the trees, is that what they say? But making sure that it can work on all these different levels. So I think you know, because I'm in a very, you know, introspective person. And you're, you're just kind of drawing by yourself all day listening to music, you can really forget sometimes to step out of your head. And it's important to show your work to others to get feedback sometimes and just know, oh, this is like, does this make sense? Or is this clear? Is the story clear? Do I make sense? Is this what I should be doing with my life, even all the others questions can really like haunt you, if you're inside your head, and just collaborating with other people is really, is really great. And then once once HBO max got on board, I mean, they were just super chill about everything, and very, very hands off very much, you know, make make the show that that you want to make so very grateful for for everybody. Everybody's support. Definitely.

Alex 0:21
So I want to zoom back to Pascal. And one I'm curious about the name? And if that is based off the mathematician, or it's just kind of a coincidence. And then were you looking for a voice? And then you know, you're like, I volunteered to do it? I'll just do it. Or did you know from the beginning, you know, I want to play the role of Pascal?

Stephen 33:26
Yeah, no casting is really, it's such a, it's such a toss up, because you you live with these characters inside your head for so long. And then usually when storyboard artists pitch there, they're pitching all the voices. So a storyboard pitches like you know, everybody kind of draws how the episode is going to be in black and white. And then we'll have a meeting and an audience of other artists who are all watching everybody go through the whole episode and just like a, like a living comic book, you know, describing what's going on. And everybody kind of develops their own voices that they use for for those pitches. So I think Pascal was just one of those characters that I was doing it for so long, and it got so specific that it became hard to see it as any other person. The main character, Seth is a friend of mine from college, Harry teittleman. And he just has such a distinct and amazing voice and I think he makes me laugh harder than anybody else I know. But you know, the mayor Sam Richardson is obviously such a such an amazing comedic character actor. Other people like Jennifer Coolidge. So I think animation is really democratic in that it's always kind of the the best voice for the character kind of wins out at the end of the day. I think I think it was the same with with surgery, I do the voice of surgery. Oh cool and awesome that, that kind of, I think a kid was going to do that voice for a while. And then we auditioned a lot of kids, but kind of the way that I did the voice always made everybody laugh in the room. So that's really the best place to get feedback about what's working and not. Oh, the name Pascal. I don't know where that came from. I just thought it was nice.

Lera 35:34
It's great. I love that name. So as we were watching it, we were paying really close attention to any and all mycological subtleties that would be included. It's based in prehistoric times. So I'm sure you're familiar with prototaxities. This is a, you know, a giant licheness tree that existed, and it's all fossils now. But once upon a time, you know, fungi were one of the most prominent and large creatures. Does the timeline that you base it on have anything to do with this era?

Stephen 36:07
Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. You know, reading about prototaxites was on unlike Wikipedia, late at night was just a huge inspiration for just thinking about deep time, like geological deep time, as, as this idea is so much fear right now about climate change, you know, which is completely justified. And it's, it's easy to forget that, well, we're, you know, we're not just wrecking the planet, it's like we're wrecking the planet. For us, there have been all these creatures that that came before us. And I think as kids, we we really, you know, we hit the dinosaurs, and then it's kind of, we're kind of out. But But there have been just so many layers of creatures and ecologies over the years. And that's, that was more a metaphor that got me towards thinking about thinking about my childhood. And then I think over the process of, you know, the Devonian area kind of gradually morphed into this amalgamation of just all all time before humans existed. And yeah, we're like, let's let's throw some dinosaurs in there to.

The Fungies 37:19
"Is this where you live?" "For now." "Wow. Can I shadow you, Pam, show me a day in the life of a Pam." "Okay, most of the day, I'm looking for food." "You eat this?" "Yes.""Is it good?" "No."

Stephen 37:39
Just because the science is so specific, but just reading about all that stuff is so you know, PBS aeons I don't know if you ever watched that that show but it's it's so interesting to read about just all the all the life that has evolved on earth and how it got to specific places. And even with fungi, sort of, you know, how that helped shape the early Earth atmosphere and and lead way to other animals. It's it's easy to forget sometimes that we are, you know, the living continuation of, you know, the first the first organisms that ever appeared on Earth. That's, that's pretty cool.

Alex 38:20
Yeah, I liked in the episode, I forget what it was called. But it was the the ghost story in the cave, the dinosaur ghost. And it showed that they ate rocks and and you know, that's what prototaxites I mean, these early fungi on earth, where, you know, breaking down this hard, barren Earth, or rocky atmosphere and creating soil. And so that was cool. It was like, Yeah, cool. This is a, you know, kind of highlighting this terraforming of our soil today. And, and even you know, taking off limbs and, and putting them back on in different places and stuff. And that kind of highlights the totopo—

Lera 39:08
Toitipotence I don't know if that's how you say it but—

Alex 39:11
Nature of fungi of you know, being able to take a small piece from any part of them and they can reproduce and you they can form back together. And I thought that was it was awesome. And to highlight it in such a animated interesting way. It was it was cool to see.

Stephen 39:31
Oh, thank you so much. No, it's cool. We're I feel like we're throwing around so many words that I only read but don't ever pronounce out out loud.

Alex 39:38
Likewise for us, you know, we could totally be saying it wrong.

Stephen 39:41
So, you know, you're on a Wikipedia hole at night. You're like, wow, that's, that's cool. That's cool. But yeah, I think you know, again, just just fungi as as the metaphor for that interconnectivity, and, you know, as a way of making us look back at this at this Earth that, you know, gave us all life is cool to think about.

Alex 40:04
And then I'm also curious, were there any? Do you consult any mycologists? On the show? Where were you trying to? Maybe not keep it very scientific and? And pretty child friendly? What was your process on? Or scouring many Wikipedia pages trying to?

Stephen 40:25
I would say it's, um, it's definitely more on the casual side, then I would like to admit, maybe I, I think I research was more going to a lot of, you know, mycological gatherings and just talking to people. And I think what, what started out as an interest in the science of things really transformed into like, wow, this is a really cool community to be a part of. And it's a very, it's a very welcoming community. And I think it's, it's very diverse in terms of there are people who are into mushrooms for the science of it. There are people who dig the aesthetic, there are people who just, you know, like being outside all those things. So, you know, we try and hit one one kind of science thing every episode, but I think we keep it more in broad terms most of the time, because the things that's going on science wise is usually more of a metaphor for for what's going on in sets had totally

Alex 41:23
Well, if you ever need anyone to fly out to Cartoon Network, say to run some ideas. were totally down to do that.

Stephen 41:33
Yeah, please do, please do when we open the studio back up, you guys will be the first people invited.

Lera 41:40
We definitely had some thoughts. There was one episode where there was a bunch of ants and the twins got kidnapped. And we were like— cordyceps!

The Fungies 41:48
"Wow, such industrious insects, pants work together with their families. They're able to lift 10 times their own weight. Look at them marching along, stealing the twins. Stealing the twins. Excuse me coming through!"

Alex 42:04
Have you heard of cordyceps?

Stephen 42:06
I those the mushrooms that that infect ants.

Alex 42:10
Yeah. Yeah. I don't know how kid friendly it would be. I'm sure you could you could write it in a way that's more kid friendly. It's It's wild. I'm sure young boys would like it. Or Yeah, I mean, kids. Some kids find that fascinating. You know, that kind of like that horror, gross. thing. But yeah, it's wild.

Stephen 42:33
Yeah, I feel like we're making like Cronenberg for kids kind of body type, like with the ideas we're exploiting. But But those are. So to be clear, those are ants eat the fungi. And then they eat the spores and then it grows out of their head.

Alex 42:47
Sometimes, sometimes they'll eat it. Sometimes, they'll just walk across and it'll get attached to them. Sometimes the spores will land on their back or something and it'll the hyphae or the mycelium are the roots of the mushroom, so to speak, will drill through them. It's I mean, if you want to go deep, it gets pretty. Like anymore right out of a sci fi film. It's really nuts. But we're obsessed with it with cordsets we Those are my favorite kind of mushrooms or fungi or any fungi that attack insects. I just think it's unfathomable. Like it's you can't make it up. You know, it's it's like you're watching a crazy sci fi movie, but it's real and you can find them everywhere. And they also have so many solutions like for insecticides, instead of using chemicals we can use these this fungi, you know, for right mosquitoes carrying malaria or ticks carry Lyme disease or whatever it is. Which I think it was cool in the pumpkin episode when I think it Mr. Beef commander beefy, yeah, yeah. When he was like, Oh, you want some nice baseline or space juice? And he's like, No, I want to keep it organic.

The Fungies 44:07
"So it appears you're building some sort of plant prison? Am I right?" "Well, not exactly." "Lucky for you. I've got just what you need. I'm listening space to dumping my space juice all over your land will definitely help your plants and the best part. Absolutely no side effects. Look, my spaceship makes a ton of this stuff and I really need somewhere to dump it all right, help me out. That's not supposed to happen." "No thanks, Commander beefy, I'm keeping this garden organic."

Alex 44:41
So yeah, I like that, that reference of, you know, again, just like bringing it back to basics and teaching kids something that's really easy to digest. And you know, plants they need water, you got a weed, they need sunlight and a lot of love and try To use chemicals. And so I think I think it's, it's a great to make dense information really accessible for all ages. I think that's a real skill to be able to explain something to someone very easily and and really accessible.

Stephen 45:21
Thank you. Yeah, I hope so. And I, I hope also that, you know, just just the main character kind of learning to question his own his own beliefs in every episode is, is something that kids can kind of get on to also just the idea of seeing other points of view and, and being open to thinking about other ideas. And also, you know, thinking, just thinking for themselves and making their own informed decisions, hopefully, based on the evidence that's available to them is important.

Lera 45:49
A much needed some practice these days.

Stephen 45:52
Yeah, and that's, that's sometimes a little bit easier to translate into a cartoon, a short cartoon, and then some of these more scientific topics that I hope this show inspires kids to get more more more interested in.

Alex 46:05
I'm curious if you have a favorite character, or a favorite episode, or, or kind of section of an episode, or I don't know if you are many most fun making part of something or Yeah, what what are some of your favorite highlights?

Stephen 46:26
Yeah, I, oh, gosh, I love this episode. Nevins cocoon is about this character. Nevin, one of Seth's classmates who's who's convinced that he isn't pretty, he wasn't beautiful, and sort of his quest about learning about butterflies and how they metamorphosize and how he wants Seth to apply that science to his own body. So, you know, he makes a little cocoon out of a sweater. And Nevin goes inside the cocoon, and he's convinced that when it comes out, he's going to be beautiful, and have butterfly wings. And, of course, he doesn't. And so Seth and his brother, Pascal, you know, make him wings very quickly, and convince him that, you know, he's changed and he's become beautiful. And then when he realizes the wings aren't real, you know, he has has sort of a questioning of his body and his appearance, but, but it's one that ultimately drives him to, to think about his body as something that he's comfortable with. And that's beautiful in its own way. So I yeah, I love I love those kind of episodes where we can just reinforce those positive messages to kids. I love this episode, new Pam in town. Also, Pam is kind of the resident dinosaur, around fungie town, and she has been bullied by this, this giant Spinosaurus. And Seth convinces her to move to fungie town where where her, she applies her fight or flight instinct, to giving people advice on what they should do with their life. So they all ask, you know, questions like What should I do with my life? And she's, she's thinking like, oh, fight, and they they take that message and and think to themselves, like, yeah, I need to fight for my carpentry skills. So yeah, stuff like that is just, it's just really fun. Like improving like, yes, and how far can we take this idea? Stuff like that. But every every step of the process is really delightful. For me, seeing the art all come together, and just seeing the cartoon being made is just a really amazing process.

Alex 48:37
Have you seen the documentary? The social dilemma?

Stephen 48:42
Yeah, I did. I watched I watched it. Oh, like last last week or so? Yes. Yeah.

Alex 48:49
Yeah, I'm, I'm really glad that you touched upon kind of body image and beauty standards and things like that, because one of the most kind of surprising points of that documentary was, you know, the rates of suicide and self harm, especially in young girls, and with the rise of social media, and younger and younger and younger, you know, middle schoolers having iPhones with Facebook and, and face filters, and, you know, and younger and, you know, no matter the gender or etc, it's affecting everyone's sense of self worth, wrapped in likes and comments and followers and things like that. And, and so, you know, they're in the documentary he was, he was saying, you know, when we had Saturday morning cartoons, we could have kind of control over the information that was fed to kids, and now we kind of lost control of that. So it's more important now than ever to make content that is teaching kids positive. lessons and positive reinforcements and kind of catching them when they're young and planting those positive seeds. So thank you seriously, it's way more important now than ever, so, so really appreciate it. Oh, thank you. Yeah,

Stephen 50:16
I hope so. I think most of all, I just, you know, I was feeling a little burnt out just from working so much in the industry. And I just really was trying to harken back to that that childlike feeling of how to feel sincere, and it's, it's harder than ever, and there are more distractions than ever. And I hope that I hope that that, you know, it's hopefully, like, a warm hug that you can, that you can spend some time with, when you're when you're feeling down. So thank you, thank you so much. Yeah.

Lera 50:49
So are there any other shows or films that inspire you? as a creative?

Stephen 50:56
Yeah, I mean, I, I love to kind of watch watch everything. It's just such an exciting time for for seeing the kind of stuff that that people are making right now. I think for this show specifically, it was a lot of going back and thinking about those shows that I watched as a kid like, you know, Gumby which is is is something that's that's like a little just out there you can really see kind of the spirit of the 60s alive in this cartoon that's you know, coming back for four children and then you know, I love I originally went to school to study live action and then along the way kind of graduating during during the recession realized like, Oh, I should I should maybe think about what I'm going to do for like a job and stuff. But I you know, I love live action film and that's something we kind of, you know, spoof a lot in in the show. Just thinking about kind of these melted taking these melodramatic turns and treating, taking an observed content concept and, and, and really taking it extremely seriously, is something that I like, but yeah, I'm trying to think, you know, David, the gnome. I don't know if I don't know if you guys remember David, the gnome at all. But it's this, this, this preschool show that I watched as a kid, just about this gnome who is living in the woods and was a doctor to the animals there. And it has a has a really bumping theme song that's that's all about, you know, the kingdom of the gnome and stuff, stuff like that. So that's, that's kind of where I draw my inspiration from. And it's hard to I think there's so much stuff out there right now. It's it's also nice to just take a break sometimes and, and go for a walk. Because there's Yes, so much TV, and there's so many movies out there.

Lera 52:54
It's live action when you are filming like items to be your animation. I noticed you do this a lot in the fundraise like, it'll flash to like a real glove with like real seeds.

Stephen 53:07
Yeah, I think live action. I was referring to just actually, you know, making making films that are like real films and stuff, but we love you know, stop motion. And I always remember they did do that on SpongeBob, where they'd cut away to something, right? That's real. And and just as a kid, I was always like that that's the funniest thing in the world, how to how to think of that cut away to like real beach or real waves on SpongeBob was always always really hilarious. Because you kind of realize, like, Oh, that's how the cartoons like, see the world around them? Right? It's not a cartoon to them. It's it's real, right?

Alex 53:45
Yeah, I love whenever they would surface and you just see a regular sponge. And it's like, oh, you know, cuz you get sucked in. It's a it's a portal. And likewise, you know, stepping away from the screen and taking a walk, that is kind of a subtle way to do it in a animation because you're sucked into the movie or the animation or the show. And then to cut away, it's like, oh, kind of steps you out of that portal for a second, which is cool. And, you know, one of the major themes is almost in every episode, Seth, you know, proclaims, you know, I'm a scientist and is always on his next scientific curiosity. And it seems you know, one major theme is to inspire kids to have that scientific curiosity about the world around them and run experiments and question and have different points of view and question your own understanding of things. What advice would you give kids young and old? Because we're all kids at heart, whether we'd like to admit it or not, to, you know, about our curiosity and about, you know, exploring our passions, what advice Would you get?

Stephen 55:01
Oh, gosh, I feel really, I don't know if I should give advice to anybody. Um, I think, you know, just just following your qiat curiosity and and, you know, seeing, seeing where that goes is just so exciting for me. And I think one of the things that that we really try to drive home is that while you know, this main character Seth is super interested in, in science, you know, he's a little bit more interested in and how that knowledge is going to earn him respect within his community. He wants to kind of be this like, Big Shot scientist, and I think just exploring knowledge for its own sake, sometimes is maybe a healthier way to, to approach it in the long term, rather than kind of expecting that recognition, in response, so I don't know if that's, I don't know if that's advice, really, but that's, that's one of the things that I try and hit in the show is just that, um, you know, Seth needs to listen to other people also, and stuff like that.

Lera 56:10
Yeah. It's important as a researcher, or anybody and making any decisions that affect other people. I'm just curious if there was any debate on whether to call it the flungees or the fungies.

Stephen 56:24
It was tough. Yeah. I think, you know, originally, we did this pilot, it was called the fancies and we kind of we kind of thought, Oh, the fun Geez, they're like their own thing. They're like fancies. And then I think, I think they did some testing. And they showed it to kids. And they're like, Where are the bow ties? They're not hits that were the top hats. So just just making it fun. Geez, I think helped it be a little more mushroom oriented. I don't know. I thought there was some debate back and forth. But I think like fungi, fungi, cheese made the most sense to me. But yeah, the jury's still out on. I see people pronounce it both ways. So we tried to see it as many times as possible and the theme song. Fungies!!

Alex 57:09
we have one final question. And we asked all of our guests on a show this same question. And in your opinion, if mushrooms or flunkies had the mic, had the microphone and could say one thing to the whole human race? What would you think they would say?

Stephen 57:36
Oh, boy, woof, that's tough. I would like to think they would, they would say just, you know, be thankful and be good to each other. That seems to be what they're doing for each other is looking out for each other through that mycelium network. So that's a great question, though.

Lera 57:56
It's definitely a hard question. I'm glad I've never been put on the spot. Except for in the spooky mushrooms episode. You asked me,

Alex 58:04
Right. I think by this time when we publish, the next 20 episodes will launch. So where can people watch the Fungies? And learn more about you follow you your other work?

Stephen 58:21
Yeah. So October 8, those new episodes of the fungies are going to be on HBO max. So you can see all those there. And then I know I know Cartoon Network and HBO max family have been posting a lot of a lot of clips on YouTube as well. So you can you can watch episodes there and check it out and see if it's something you're interested in. You can follow our crew Instagram is the fungies dot official that's on Instagram and we try and post a lot of behind the scenes art that all the all the wonderful and talented artists have have done on the show. And yeah, we're on Twitter too. And, and all that all that good stuff.

Lera 58:59
Awesome. I'll have direct links to all of these things in the show notes for anybody.

Alex 59:05
I just want to say the theme song is extra catchy. It's been in my head both constantly for like three days straight.

Stephen 59:13
Yeah, no, I just I remember being a kid and just cartoon theme songs were just like such a currency of childhood you know? You know even now they're they're like, important friends. I forget their birthdays. But I will never forget you know, the lyrics to David the gnome or something like that. So yes, I'm in pain record did that he's our composer. He's He's incredible. It's a great theme song.

Lera 59:35
A shout out to Simon.

Alex 59:37
Yeah, and I can't wait to check out the Instagram and I'm really excited for the next 20 episodes to tune in and true men. And I just wanted to thank everyone for tuning in intruding into this episode. Really appreciate all of our listeners and now viewers and subscribers and just won't be so much sending a big fungal hug your way And again, we're always here if you have any questions, comments, if you have any suggestions for future guests or topics that you want us to talk about or people that you want us to bring on a show, please reach out, or you just want to chat about mushrooms. We are friendly and we'd love to talk about mushrooms, obviously. So hit us up, and be sure to go to www.mushroomrevival.com. Much love everyone. Thanks for another episode.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai