Interview: CURSES! co-creators Jim Cooper and Jeff Dixon spoke to The Natural Aristocrat® about the Apple TV+ animated series from DreamWorks.
This interview with Jim Cooper and Jeff Dixon contains light spoilers for animated series, ‘CURSES!’.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): When I started watching CURSES!, it made me think of Medusa from Greek mythology. How much of an inspiration was Greek mythology for you guys? Were you big on it growing up?
JEFF DIXON: Mythology, absolutely! Mythology is funny because we always talk about how this show is an amalgamation of both Coop and I. He’s a lot more history focused, and I’m a lot more horror focused. And mythology is kind of a combination of history and horror.
JIM COOPER: I would say it’s a history of horrors. If you will.
JEFF DIXON: Yeah, I mean no specific story. But the idea of all mythologies? Absolutely!
JIM COOPER: The funny thing is you’ve probably also been thinking, oh, she’s named Pandora. One of my favorite aspects of this, Jeff’s sister is actually named Pandora!
JEFF DIXON: Yeah, my oldest sister, that’s her name!
JIM COOPER: And of course, the first question I had when he told me was, ‘Did your parents know the story of Pandora?’ The answer was no. But we thought, wow, what a great character name for someone who is naturally curious and jumps in with both feet.
So it’s funny, we thought about a lot of different mythologies and stuff. Interestingly enough, we didn’t dwell so much on Greek mythology, or for that matter, Egyptian, because we kind of felt that’s been pretty well represented in things. So we were actually always trying to look at what’s slightly has been-
JEFF DIXON: Underserved.
JIM COOPER: Yeah, exactly!
THE NATURAL Aristocrat: How did you decide on the cel shading animation approach? I remember first seeing it years ago with Jet Set Radio on the Sega Dreamcast and it’s become so popular ever since. What made you go you with that art style?
JEFF DIXON: That credit all has to go to Leo Riley, who sadly cannot be here. He’s our supervising director and our art director, David T. Chung. They wanted something that really evoked a specific horror emotion. Which we all like leaning into…
I mean, I’m obsessed with Tales from the Crypt and old EC comics (Entertainment Comics) and Vault of Horror and all that, and they are too.
They presented the idea of drawing inspiration from those old EC comics. And it was honestly like get out of our heads! (laughs) Like it was just this perfect amalgamation.
And so we always joke that it’s like 2.5D because it is a CG show, but it has a combination of 2D elements. Not only does it look 2D in a lot of the modeling, but a lot of our backgrounds even are 2D. And there’s like some tricks. There’s some magician tricks in there a little bit.
JIM COOPER: The matte painting.
JEFF DIXON: Yeah, so we joke that it’s 2.5D and that just lends itself to that overall comic aesthetic that we all fell in love with.
And just to kind of expand on that a little bit, one of the things we really love about our show is the atmosphere.
There’s just a real strong atmosphere and a lot of that atmosphere is because of that EC comics aesthetic. That’s almost like a knee jerk reaction, even if you don’t realize it.
JIM COOPER: One of the interesting things about giving it a 2D look, is it’s still 3D models.
And what you don’t realize is how often camera work that you can do in 3D is really difficult to do in 2D. There’s factors in where you can move the camera, you can follow a character down a hallway in a way that’s very difficult to do.
2D you can move the camera… And you start to realize that like with the language of horror films, being able to move the camera in certain ways in a 3D environment is so valuable.
So it gives you a tool that you wouldn’t otherwise have in 2D but you get to have the 2D look also.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Is there a demographic aspect to it as well?
Where kids today grew up with 3D video games & animated movies and might be more comfortable with it than traditional animation of the past?
JEFF DIXON: You know, the funny thing is a lot of aspects of this show were never what should be good for them or what should be good for them.
It’s more about what would we wanna see?
So even in the writer’s room, we would say, ‘You know what? Don’t write something that you think kids will want. Write something that you want!’ And then that’s accessible to kids.
So with the visual style, it was honestly what we all really, really wanted to see and really wanted in a show that then also translated into, being accessible to kids as well… Which kind of was every component of the show.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: For the voice casting, was any preliminary voice casting done beforehand? Did you have anyone in mind from the onset of the show’s origins?
JIM COOPER: I mean, we had written the show or at least a huge chunk of the show before the cast was actually assembled.
But it was really the casting department at DreamWorks that did such a great job. They’d be like, who are you thinking about? What would be your wishlist for certain characters? And we’d throw out things.
And shockingly, in some cases they’d be like, ‘They’re interested and would like to do it!’ In other cases, we genuinely didn’t have a specific person in mind, but would talk about it and they’d present various different people.
And it was always a magical moment. You’d hear the voice and be like, ‘That’s the person that we might not have realized we exactly wanted until the moment we heard them! That’s them!’
But the, the casting department really kind of was the one who brought it all together.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Were you going for a real eighties, early nineties kind of throwback writing wise?
The whole hide & seek aspect in the first episode where the dad keeps finding his daughter, reminded me of those ’90s era Tiny Tune Adventures cartoons in a way.
JEFF DIXON: Again, I think it’s probably just the things we like that soaked in. Less, trying to go for it as much.
It was just everything about the show has a core about family, whether it is literally the storylines about the family or even some of the artifacts that deal with family.
We always thought that our driving force of this series was always about family because Coop and I are family guys.
We’re just like dads who are really into the concept of family. And so a lot of the stuff that maybe we liked when we were kids we wanted to share with our kids and using that same cycle of family type of thing. So I think a lot of that just kind of soaked in that way.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What do you think, Jim?
JIM COOPER: Well, you know what’s gonna sound funny? This is a little bit of how the sausage got made. Like answer the hide & seek literally as writers who go, I want to show this mansion.
How do we introduce the mansion in an interesting way? And I remember, let’s go do hide & seek. You’ll be looking throughout the mansion. And it’s so funny ’cause I’m always intrigued from like the writing perspective of some choices you go.
How do we accomplish it but do it in an interesting way?
And so you try to come up with a version thereof and you’re like, ‘Okay, this is information that we need to get out quick! How do we do it?’
Sometimes, it’s a really great inspiration for things like that because you’re like, ‘Dude, how are we supposed to get that information across in 20 seconds?’
JEFF DIXON: I will also add one other thing, a real big factor for us is tradition.
And so we wanted very early on to show that this family was also very much rooted in tradition and this hide & seek game was a tradition that they did.
So I know that that was also a lot put into the thought of various components is the idea of traditions. Both good and bad by the way, as the series goes.
JIM COOPER: (laughs) Exactly. Turning to stone is a tradition. Another great one.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Yeah, I mean, you kind of held back that revelation till the end of the first episode.
When it comes to the writer’s room, is it difficult to keep one person’s vision intact the more writers you have? Or do you feel it’s still a collaborative process till the end regardless?
JEFF DIXON: Just the opposite man. I mean, we love our writer’s room! It was awesome and everything got expanded because of the writers’ room because all of us came from such different worlds and different backgrounds.
And so any ideas that were thrown out, the other people just didn’t have any concept of it.
Instead of like battling against it out for ideas, it was almost like we all had that thorough line that we were all connected with.
But then we were all putting a different flare on it. And so it ended up really being a lot more colorful and expansive because of the writers. It was an amazing writer room experience!
JIM COOPER: Jeff and I have always described the show as our Venn diagram where it is sort of like his interests here, my interests here. And the show is kind of where they cross over.
And the writer’s room & crew, the artists, the lighting, the special effects people. I gotta tell you, one of the things that was really fascinating in literally interviewing people like who are there for the special effects or various different things.
And once again, this is something we realized after the fact… The moment in the interview you knew the person was the person.
We would talk about the concept of the show and they just started riffing on things like the head of animation Marcos, who’s originally from Spain, he’s like, ‘Oh, this kind of makes me thinks of the temples of Hercules or the legend of something in Spain.
And you’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome! Tell us more.’ And we realized we knew they were part of the crew when they just started creating ideas and bringing something new to it.
So it was like every new person added to the thing. So it wasn’t like a sole person’s vision. The show really kind of became a group vision, which was really, really wonderful.
‘Cause you go, I never would’ve thought of that, but I love that! So it was really fun.
JEFF DIXON: We’re always of the mentality that we’re just two brains. And so it’s like, bring in your other brains. We want to hear everybody’s ideas and opinions.
It was always a very collaborative experience, even outside of the writer’s room. Just every aspect.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: I just wanna mention, I see you’re wearing a Tales from the Crypt shirt today. Representing!
JEFF DIXON: You don’t understand how many horror shirts I actually have! (laughs)
JIM COOPER: Yeah, I mean I’ve known you (Jeff) for I don’t know how many years now. Literally every day is a different horror shirt.
And I’ll be like, how have I not seen that one before? And you’re like, ‘No, it’s not new. I mean, you have several Tales from the Crypt shirts. Not just the one.
JEFF DIXON: I do, Tales from the Crypt and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are the ones that I probably have the most of the same shirt of.
But yeah, I am who I am. I know who I am! (laughs)
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Tales from the Crypt was a classic show for sure. Thanks a lot for your time!
JIM COOPER & JEFF DIXON: Thank you!
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