Talking ‘Danger & Eggs’ With Co-Creator, Mike Owens

Danger & Eggs is a new series from Amazon Prime Originals. What’s it about? Well, “it’s kind of hard to explain.” Maybe you should watch the intro…

 

The series centers around Phillip, an anxious bipedal egg, and D.D, a thrill seeking Daredevil. Mike Owens and Shadi Petosky developed the show at Puny Entertainment in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Puny now resides in L.A).

The show has unique roots. It evolved from a short film, which was produced using improvisational acting. Basically everyone at Puny Entertainment pitched an idea for a short, and put it up on the wall. The studio then employed Splendid Things to pick one of the outlines from the wall. The actors were given an outline of the characters, and through the process of throwing them into different scenarios and improvising, the short took shape and the characters evolved.

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The short completed the festival circuit and was eventually used to pitch the show that we know today. But that was just the beginning of the story. The show evolved over a period of six years, which included a succession of pitches, rejections, and iterations. One of the most notable of which was the addition of D.D Danger.

No one was sold on just a pure Egg show. A paranoid, neurotic, egg couldn’t carry a show [by himself]. It was really as simple as figuring out, ‘What’s the opposite of Phillip?’

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So a fearful and a fearless character duo was born; balancing each other out. Amazon gave them an option deal to do an animatic and scratch voices, which led to the Amazon pilot season. Since then Danger & Eggs has been garnering a lot of attention, like an Annie Award Nomination for Character Design for series co-creator Mike Owens, and a Critics Choice Award Nomination for Best Animated Series.  The show’s success is in large part due to the solid development of its two main characters.  And the LGBTQ community, as well as individuals suffering from anxiety have found the show’s unique and honest representation comforting and refreshing.

 

Co-creator, Mike Owens, sat down with us to talk a bit about his career and the development of Danger & Eggs.

Can you tell us a little bit about your career before the show?

Most of my career has been in Chicago. My whole career as a Character Animator has been in the Midwest, and I don’t know how I’ve done it. I went to school in Chicago at Columbia College. In my last semester, I got a job working on The Animaniacs at a place called StarToons, which was run by Jon McClenahan who used to work at Hanna Barbara.

When I was going to college I used to work at one of those Warner Brothers Studio stores they used to have. They had those big screens in the stores with all the cartoons playing. About a year after I started working at StarToons, I saw my own animation up on that screen. It was like the greatest moment of my life.

After Animaniacs was finished, I started working at Calabash Animation in Chicago, where I worked on a number of cereal commercials, like Lucky Charms. It was there that I got a really old school animation training experience. I also taught animation in India for a while, which was a great experience. Then I moved up to Minnesota, and found out what Puny was doing up here. I’ve been the Animation Director here for the past 8 years.

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Phillip Circa 2003

Where did Phillip the Safety Egg come from?

Phillip is the embodiment of all my fears. When I was a kid I was afraid of everything. My mom was an ER Nurse, so she told me a lot of horrible stories about things that could go wrong and being prepared. It’s a fragile thing, he’s an egg.

How did you approach his design?

It’s my philosophy of funny shapes doing funny things. It’s kind of a guaranteed formula for success. It’s why Sponge Bob is so great; he’s just a rectangle, a funny looking rectangle doing hilarious things!

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How did you develop the humor for the show. Were you influenced by any other popular kid shows or is it an amalgamation of your own sense of humor?

What really locked it in was Eric Knobel doing the voice of Phillip. When he first improvised a line with Phillip it was exactly what was in my head the whole time. The way that Phillip phrases things, Eric was able to pick up on immediately, and he’s really good at being a paranoid neurotic character (that is meant to be a compliment Eric). I also think it’s a combination of the awkwardness of Phillip’s phrasing, voice and his body; his arms and legs makes zero sense. Another big part of the development was his size. When I started developing the show with Shadi, Phillip was literally the size of an egg. She suggested we make Phillip six feet tall, and his mom a godzilla-sized chicken. A brilliant idea that added a new layer of funny.

If Phillip is the embodiment of who you were as a kid, would you say D.D, being the opposite of Phillip, is a personality that you would aspire to be? What was the inspiration for D.D?

I come from a very small town where no one ever leaves, but my sister did. She very much stepped out into the world, and broke a lot of the barriers we all thought we had. It was this idea of ‘it’s probably terrifying, but do it anyway.’ D.D definitely takes more risks than I would, but I find risk taking terrifying and D.D. thrives on it. I try to live my life as both Phillip and D.D

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What was the original pitch like to Amazon?

There were hardly any words. It was really just images of the characters in good poses. There were word balloons of Phillip saying Phillip-like things. It was all done in the room, talking about the characters and how they’re going to react to each other, and explaining the narrative of this giant chicken in the park (Phillip’s mom). In the short, she destroyed the park. This is supposed to be ten years later, and the town has rebuilt. She’s docile and happy, and has roosted in the park. She could move at any moment, but this is Phillip’s new home.

I don’t even think Amazon saw the original short until later in the game because we didn’t want to scare them away. In the first scene of the short Becky stomps on a bus, which catches on fire and they wanted a kid’s show…This is the first show that Amazon has done which wasn’t adapted from anything else. We had the short, but that didn’t have a following like some of the other properties they’ve made shows from. I’m hoping they continue to produce a wave of not just kid’s shows, but original kid’s shows.

What were your responsibilities on the show as it got going?

I led the storyboard animatic team here in Saint Paul, MN. It was a big learning curve. The crew we assembled were amazing but new to series production. My responsibility was to develop the pipeline, motivate the crew and communicate the storytelling style, character performance and visual humor of the show. It was a huge challenge for all of us but our whole crew banded together in a beautiful way.

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How did you react when you found out about the Annie and Critics Choice Awards nominations?

We submitted to various awards shows because we were trying to promote the show, and I kind of forgot that we did it. It’s been so long since the show first aired, so the anxiety of working on the show had sort of dissipated. When I found out I was nominated, all that anxiety came rushing back and I was pacing around the house a lot, responding to text messages, and explaining to my parents what the Annie Awards are. My dad kept explaining to my mom, “Kath, he’s got an Emmy!”

Regarding the Critics Choice Award,  the show’s been getting a lot of attention from the LGBTQ community for its representation. We’re not preaching about it or being heavy-handed about the message. We are representing people who are usually overlooked or ignored on television, especially in kids programming. This is the world that everyone lives in and they can be their true selves. When we did a panel at Comic-Con we had people that deal with a lot of anxiety who were genuinely happy to see a character like Phillip up on the screen representing them. He wasn’t the butt of the joke because of his anxiety.

He has these techniques that he uses to calm himself down that are real anxiety techniques, breathing exercises and mindfulness, and his friend D.D, who’s the opposite of him, doesn’t judge him for it. These are all intentional things that we put in the show, and people really responded to that. We’re reaching people and I think that’s doing really well for the show. It’s funny and the characters are good, but it’s also reaching people that haven’t been reached before.

What do you hope for the future of the show?

Most people don’t know about it because not everybody has Amazon Prime and most people don’t think about watching cartoons on it. I’m hoping shows like ours changes that.

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