According to Disney XD series creator Chris Prynoski, his futuristic car-crazy animated show had a long winding path to actually getting on the air. "It's actually an idea I've had for a long time—oh, for ten years—actually, the original network I sold it to was MTV, who ultimately passed on it." Motorcity takes place in future Detroit, which has been refashioned into the metropolis Detroit Deluxe by a sinister corporation headed by Abraham Kane (Mark Hamill). The gloss of this shiny new city is tarnished by the corporation's restrictions of all personal freedoms including personal transportation, leading a gang of teens calling themselves "Burners" to excavate, rebuild, and turbo-charge cars in the old Detroit underneath the new one.
While the home base may have passed on it, Eric Colman, who took the pitch while at another network, remembered Prynoski's pitch when the executive became the Senior Vice President of Original Animation for Disney, and urged Prynoski to bring his "future car show over to the mouse house.
It's not like Prynoski hasn't been busy or anything in the interim: besides his MTV work (he directed episode's of Daria and won an award for the drug trip sequence in Beavis and Butt-Head Do America), he's most well-known as as the head of his own animation studio, Titmouse, Inc., home to series like Metalocalypse, Superjail!, with smaller gigs like an animated sequence on Community and Scott Pilgrim vs. the Animation. With Motorcity, though, the veteran animator is in the director's chair again as well as serving as the series' executive producer.
Still, he couldn't let the concept go over the years, owing in part to his own upbringing in car culture thanks to his dad. "My dad was a real car culture guy. I think he's got every issue of Road and Tractor from like 1960 on to present. He would take me to car shows a lot, and I was always drawn to custom cars and I worked in a garage in high school." Ultimately, making a cartoon about cars was an itch that he had to scratch.
While Motorcity doesn't use licensed cars, Prynoski still takes the opportunities where he can to homage some of his favorites or what he describes as "car genres." For instance, series hero Mike Chilton (Reid Scott) rolls in an early 70's muscle car, while Dutch (Kel Mitchell) has "a 60's, whimsical MOD car," as Prynoski explains it. Texas' (Jess Harnell) ride is more like an armored-up Italian sports car while Julie's car (Kate Micucci) has a more futuristic build than the others, based on a modified police cruiser. Since Motorcity takes place about 150 years into our future, Prynoski says this was an opportunity to drop in vehicles not only from our past, but from hypothetical future vehicles as well. "There's bits and pieces of all kinds of cars and as we go further into the episodes, we see different types of genres of cars," he promises.
Besides providing cool new vehicle designs for the series, it presents the Burners as something like junior archaeologists of transportation's past, allowing both the series and Prynoski to celebrate the history and future of cars. "It's almost like these [cars] are like some throwback to some ancient age. Detroit Deluxe, the society above, doesn't really pay attention to cars... they're technically illegal. But Mike, the Burners, and some of these other groups have—because Detroit has such a wealth of car parts and factories stuff... [they can] fabricate new pieces and kind of put new stuff together." The first episode makes this archaeological element explicit with an homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark as the Burners attempt to hunt up long-lost auto parts.
When I joked about the dystopian corporate takeover of Detroit possibly rivaling the OCP power grab in Robocop, Prynoski said that verhoeven's film was one of several points of inspiration for Motorcity. "that was definitely one of my influences growing up. Robocop for sure, Escape From New York and a lot of 80's science fiction action movies definitely influenced me." He also points out The Warriors and Star Wars as influences that make themselves known during the course of the show. "Even anime influences... [from] some of my earliest memories, they used to rerun Speed Racer when I was a kid, so that was definitely an influence. Mad Max/Road Warrior-type movies, absolutely... and even TV shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team, Knight Rider, all of those shows were definitely, definitely influences."
When coming up with the distinctive look for the series, Prynoski says he simply put together a team of animators who shared his sensibilities. He points to Gorillaz animator Robert Valley as a member of the Motorcity character design team who have brought their own unique style to the series (Valley also worked on Titmouse's Beatles: Rock Band intro as well as TRON: Uprising). "I wanted something cool and not super-realistic, something that felt a little design-y in a world that's a little more solid with cars that are somewhat plausible." In terms of the look of the series, that translates to vehicles that look like solid hunks of screaming metal that nonetheless seem to bend and warp at what feels like warp-level speeds.
Prynoski says that's in part inspired by those stalwarts of the toy aisle, Hot Wheels stunt tracks, which loop, wind, and curve, and give Motorcity some of that crazed racing vibe. "Oh yeah, I loved Hot Wheels growing up. I think the over-the-top nature of Hot Wheels is definitely something that we wanted to employ. Definitely when I was talking with the designers, [I said] 'Look at Hot Wheels and make sure that the cars that we're designing... are super broad and crazy.' Although they look like they kind of work, they don't have to look really real."
In terms of the characters, the animator says that he feels closest to the boisterous Texas, who he feels is the easiest one to write for. He jokes that along with the character's enthusiasm, the character is something of a "dumb dude," something he empathizes with."I think he's one that we could definitely write a million stories about him. [Laughs] We could write every episode about him—he's a super-easy character to write for." He credits actor Jess Harnell with being "amazing" in the role. He also cites the sometimes-villain Detroit who's voiced by Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snyder as another highlight to write for, and he gives Snyder credit for being great in the role as well.
I couldn't let Prynoski go without asking about Metalopaypse and some of the other shows on the Titmouse slate. He offered up that the shift to a 15-minute format for the Adult Swim series actually allows for tighter storytelling. "You know, for Metal, I really like how those characters play in an 11-minute episode. One of the challenges we found with the half-hour episodes of Metalocalypse is that you have to make your characters care about something and Dethklok is basically five self-absorbed ass***** who don't care about anything [laughs]. And 11-minutes is a really good format for them."
Recently, Titmouse collaborated with Aeon Flux creator Peter Chung on an animated short for Diablo III, which Chung directed and Black Dynamite coming this summer. He and his team have some other titles coming up that they can't quite talk about yet, but we'll keep an ear to the ground as more news develops.
Motorcity airs Monday nights at 9 on Disney XD. The current season of Metalocalypse airs Sunday nights at 12:15 on Adult Swim.