Interview: Jayson Thiessen on Fictional Frontiers

By edvedd


A big thanks to Telofy of Ponyleaks, who forwarded this over to us. Thiessen was recently interviewed by Fictional Frontiers, didn’t reveal anything mind blowing but its an interview from the captain of ponies. Ponyleaks is a blog dedicated to all kinds of fresh background information  Below is copypasta from their article, original can be found here.


As Jayson has indicated, he was interviewed by Fictional Frontiers a few weeks ago. Today, the interview aired, and I of course took notes and ripped the stream.

  • “She’s a student of Princess Celestia, who is the ruler of all of Equestria, which is like the world they live in.” This seems to ever so slightly qualify his statement made on BroNYcon in September that “Equestria might have a border.” But there is the “like” and the “might,” so don’t rewrite all your fanfics just now.
  • He talks about us bronies.
  • He loves it when we recognize his/their hidden jokes and allusions. Well, who wouldn’t.
  • He gives useful lessons on pacing in storytelling.
  • He calls Friendship is Magic “award-winning” but then takes it back and states that, no, he doesn’t know something we don’t, that it was maybe just “wishful thinking.” But Friendship is Magic did win an award.
Have fun listening!

Update 2011-11-14 23:17Z: The interview following the Thiessen one is with Daxiong a.k.a. Guo Jingxiong. Check out his Wikipedia article! I can upload that interview too, though I’d much rather link to the folks at Fictional Frontiers. Do they currently publish their shows anywhere on their website?

Update 2011-11-14 23:30Z: Done uploading the Daxiong interview. I do hope that’s OK with you Fictional Frontiers ponies. Many thanks!

Update 11/17/2011: Thanks to Paraspite who has transcribed the interview, found beyond our page break.


The Transcript

Fictional Frontiers: And we’re back on fictional frontiers, with so hey(?). What makes for a story worth telling? For decades many lamented the perceived notion that cartoons based on toys were simply long form commercials. And yet, as evidenced by rows of unsold toys based on film and TV shows, children are not lemmings beholden to capitalism. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, the Hub and Hasbro Studio’s smash hit, is case in point. A series based on an 80’s toy franchsie because of the integrity of its creators. Jayson Thiessen, the supervising director on My Little Pony, is here to chat about the real magic behind the series. Jayson, thanks for taking the time, and welcome to Fictional Frontiers.

Jayson Thiessen: Hi, thanks for having me on.

FF: And Jayson, your road to My Little Pony, on the surface, it seems like you’ve been ready for this for quite some time, and yet I would hazard a guess you probably had some trepidation going in.

JT: Well yeah, well when I first heard about MLP, I had probably the same reaction as everybody else like, “Oh, well I guess it’s going to be a little girl’s show, I guess I can work with that,” and then when I saw the source material, and the fact that Lauren was a part of that, the re-imagining, I was like, “Oh, this could be really good.” Hearing the chance to work with Lauren was a huge thing, and yeah seeing her development material was like, “oh, okay, this is cool, I think this could be really good.”

FF: And Jayson, given the succes of the toyline, I know that with franchises like these, you have to be very careful, they’re not going to give you carte blanche with respect to artistic freedom, so were there any parameters set? I know it’s not Adventure Time with Finn and Jake, but you have had a lot of freedom, though.

JT: Well, I mean, yeah, I’ve worked with shows for kids and even girls, Pooka was a bit of a girls’ line when I was directing that, so I understand the limitations associated with that, so I was used to that, it wasn’t anything new for me. But I think Lauren kind of paved the way for a lot of that stuff and when she was showing us what we could do, “oh you can do this and this,” and it was like, “oh, hey, look, we can push things a bit,” she was trying to kind of break us out of what we thought the show could be, in a way because she was kind of breaking the boundaries ahead of time. She was letting us go, “no no, you can do it,” and yeah, it was good. There was that bounce, we get notes from Hasbro like, “Okay, this is too much,” but the limitations were reasonable.

FF: And you’re talking about Lauren Faust, the developer of the show, how did that realationship develop?

JT: It was pretty instant, she came up to Vancouver and had a look at what we were doing with the tests when we were doing the animation tests. She was really nice and we had a lot of fun, she was easy to get along with and we had similar sensibilities, so it was a great reaction right away. It was kind of isntant, I think.

FF: And the success of the show, it’s been stunning on so many levels. I’m sure a lot of our listeners want to know about this iteration, so give us an overview of what this show is all about, and how it differs from previous incarnations.

JT: I don’t know a whole lot about the previous incarnations, but this one particularly follows 6 main pony friends living in Ponyville. It’s a show about how they interact with each other and their friendships and problems that arrise with their relationships with each other and how they each grow within that. They’re unnoficially led by this on pony, Twilight Sparkle, who is a unicorn from this capital city called Canterlot, and she has a special talent for magic. She’s sort of a magical prodigy, and she’s sent to Ponyville to learn about Friendship, because she’s too much about her studies and needs to have that balance in her life. She’s a student of Princess Celestia, who is the ruler of all of Equestria, which is like the world they live in. She and the friends she gets in Ponyville are special to her in this greater sense of the Elements of Harmony, and each one of them represents a different element, and when they’re all brought together, they have this great power within them. And that’s sort of the theme of the whole series is this power of friendship, the Magic of Friendship. And on the surface when you say it like that, it’s like, “eugghh,” but the way it’s presented I think just blows everyone away, because it’s not what you expect.

FF: Well there’s such a lack of cynicism, there’s honest discussion, you’ve been praised by fans and critics because of that, how gratifying has that been to get the praise from critics and fans, to have them recognize the series as something that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

JT: Oh, it’s huge. It’s really really awesome, because when you’re making a show, before it’s aired, you do your best to make it as entertaining as you can, but you really don’t know how people are going to perceive it. Maybe it’ll just go on TV and nobody will really mention it. It’s every animator or director’s dream to get that kind of recognition. And you know, the stuff you specifically put in, and like, “oh this is a joke that I really like,” and then other people are seeing that and they’re loving it to, and you go, “Oh hey, it’s working! They’re being entertained and they like it!” They’re recognizing our hard work, how could you not like that? It’s awesome.

FF: Jayson, going back to the themes addressed on this show, do you feel you have a responsibility given that so many families are watching My Little Pony?

JT: That was sort of the set-up of the series coming in. I do feel like becoming a part of it that yeah, I feel a sense of responsibility. I want the episodes to have an importance to ther characters and how they grow from their experience and that the lesson that they learn is applicable to everybody. You can see an episode about Applejack and something that she has to get over and then ultimately conquers some sort of demon and people can go like, “I have a friend like that too,” or, “I went through that sort of thing.” I think people can connect with that better if it’s something truly sincere.

FF: How much effort went into creating a very unique artistic vibe for this show, and did you try to stay away from other shows of this time saying, “We don’t want to be like shows on other networks, we’re gonna create our own voice, artistically, and it’s gonna be seen as that, not something that’s copycat in any form or fashion.”

JT: A lot of work did go into that. We didn’t specifically set out to not copycat anything. I think that might be a bit why it’s unique, we’re not really parodying anything, we’re just going, look how can we tell this story in the way we want to, and then working with the designs and everything and working with flash. I think my experience with using programs like Flash, we’ve learned a lot of tricks and how to achieve that smooth, flowing animation and just going for it sometimes. People go like, “well you can’t do that,” and well let’s work so that we can. Find ways around it. And there’s a lot of work also into keeping that pace fast, but keeping some slow points. I like to see a story like a roller coaster ride. You build up to something, then it takes you for a ride, then you have a little break. It’s gotta be that kind of a ride. If it’s too stacatto or too straight forward or too much all at once, it becomes kind of dull. You get blind to it all, like an endless battle scene. You gotta have those ups and downs. That’s really important. A lot of work goes into timing that all out.

FF: You know I’m going to ask you about the bronies. I have to ask you about them. I guess in a sense, it’s almost an organic result of not making the show too girly, so talk about them and how this, I guess phenomenon, developed.

JT: The bronies. Yeah, that was something very unexpected. Who are they? They’re like everybody who was not intended to be a fan of the show, I’d say. Because early on, when the show was first being aired and I was getting out there, and looking, “did anyone pay attention, did anyone see it?” and all that, looking online for reactions. I was seeing some reactions, and I was starting to see some people identify them as guys like, “I’m a 20-year-old male and I’m not homosexual and I really like this show, what’s wrong with me?” Like, they were surprised themselves that they were into it. And I was like, “wow that’s really kind of an honor,” that even guys like me could enjoy the show. And then it just started building and building and building, until at some point they got to know each other. And then they started naming each other. I think to me, the bro/pony, brony makes sense. I don’t know how that came about, but it makes sense to me because it’s such a unique thing that such a girl’s property would be so loved by adult males that they would have to come up with a name for themseleves.

FF: Do you feel that this show is a response to critics who rail against toy-centric children’s programming. You’ve really proven them wrong.

JT: Yeah, I think so. It was Lauren who initiated all that, and also Hasbro and the Hub Network for recognizing, for re-imagining this property for today’s audience, there had to be difference. To bring in Lauren and follow with what she wanted to do, I think was brilliant. And what an unexpected turn. Nobody every saw this coming. Something like MLP? What? I saw some article somewhere that the property had no business being good, like nobody would’ve ever given this a second thought. To turn that around and turn it on it’s head and say, “Hey, you know what, just because it’s MLP, doesn’t mean it can’t be award-winning, well, hopefully award-winning entertainment. I don’t want to speak too soon.”

FF: Maybe you know something we don’t.

JT: No, I don’t. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. And why not? The source material is commercial, but entertainment is entertainment, and it should come from the heart, and it should come from a genuine sincere place. And you can have cynicism, we have plenty of cynical characters in the show. And it is possible. I think that this should happen more. If they re-imagine another show, another property, I would hope they would maybe take a little cue from what we were able to achieve and try to get someone with a true creative vision, you know with out copying us of course, we don’t want anyone to copy us. And allow that creative energy to flow and let it happen. I think that’s what Hasbro and the Hub has done really well is allow us to see our visions through to the best that we can. Of course, there’s mandates from a brand perspective and whatnot, but working within those boundaries, we can tell our story.

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