Zoo Day Q&A w/ Matt Maiellaro & Co.

12 Oz Mouse creator Matt Maiellaro and producer/editors John Brestan, Nick Ingkatanuwat and Brad Lee Zimmerman were kind enough to field some questions for Zoo Day 2021/the relaunch of the site! Check it out!

The first two seasons of OzMo became available in HD quality recently, and the difference in quality can be surprisingly striking. Have you rewatched the show recently in HD, and if so did you notice anything in the visuals you might not have previously, or had forgotten about?

Matt Maiellaro: Really? I didn’t know. Probably didn’t come out of our show budget; has to cost 10$ per ep to uprez I would imagine. I will have to look for the series in HD and get back to you.

John Brestan: I’m shocked that they were able to uprez those first first two seasons. I designed season one specifically to only work at NTSC 29.97 interlaced. I remember getting into a screaming match with the Burbank office in charge of making sure that we could translate everything into PAL and SECAM formats. I ruined a lot of peoples’ day. I eventually lost that fight and we switched to 23.98 progressive but I wasn’t going back and rebuilding for China so they can turn our show into a recruitment tool. The HD uprez looks great! When they walk around you can still see all the artifacts from us building it as an interlaced project but you win some and you lose some. Oh well.

The original run is renowned for being made with "$5 and some paper from the copier". Production values clearly increased as the show went on, and especially with Invictus and the third season, but is there anything from early in the show you wish you'd had the resources to "do better"?

Matt: No I really loved the direction the show was going with the small budget. It made us think more creatively with what we could do with zero money. No regrets at all.

John: First of all, the production values didn’t really increase. Of course from 2004 to 2018 inflation happened but our budget didn’t really change that much. Everyone just got much, much better at their jobs. We learned so much about After Effects and Premier Pro. We discovered that our PA was a super gifted illustrator. Our staffers were as willing as I was to bite the bullet. We just were surrounded by an amazing talent pool that wasn’t available back in 2004. And all of the pros from back then were willing to come back for the heck of it. Season three cost more in absolute terms but not really when you put it in context. Also…

Yes! I wish Williams Street switched to Premiere Pro away from Final Cut Pro much, much, much earlier! The Adobe applications are great at talking to each other and they use the same engines. I remember how hard it was to get the show to look like the PSDs back in 2004-2005. This is really technical and nerdy but we had a devil of a time getting the show to look like we imagined on the first three episodes. Final Cut Pro was absolute trash when you rotate the file by 15 degrees. It introduced an insane amount of “stair stepping” and other video artifacts. FCP couldn’t bicubically resample stills and the software couldn’t interpret alpha channels very well. We had to rebuild everything numerous times with a black alpha.

Also, this is not a technical issue but if I could go back and redo seasons 1&2 of mouse, I would be less of an asshole. I would get into less arguments with everyone. I was a young garbage human. I thought I was better than everyone. I fought the other editors too much. I thought I was smarter but now 15 years later I understand that I was an idiot. I picked too many fights. Now I understand the value of disagreement and compromise. I wish I could take back all of those arguments I had with everyone.

Lastly, I wish I saved the Pilot episode. Only Maiellaro and I know it. It’s lost to time now. I kind of hate myself for not documenting this history. It’s so rare. Our SVP Keith Crofford was the voice of Golden Joe and he was Mouse’s boss for real. It’s gone now forever. I hate that I didn’t document it.

Nick Ingkatanuwat: I wish I had had the time to make the Corndroid battle more epic. I really loved designing the character and I wish we could have given it the time it needed after all the hype about it.

Was there any specific inspiration or source for the focus on 222, or was that simply the time the clock happened to be drawn at?

Matt: John Brestan said he drew it when I was late getting him the background and that’s just where the clock hands ended up. But - unknown to John - since the age of digital watches I’ve been haunted by 2:22pm and 2:22am. Even now I have thousands of pictures where I happened to glance at my phone at it was 2:22 am or pm, or my DTE in the truck said 222 miles to empty. My kids were born 2 months, 2 weeks and 2 days apart. Something is definitely up with this number for me. I had to change my phone and truck clocks to 24 hr time but I still manage to catch 14:22.

John: Maiellaro and I have different memories of how this happened but I swear my memory is correct. 222 was an accident. The pilot episode wasn’t supposed to actually air so I just drew any background I needed just to make a glorified animatic purely to sell the show to Lazzo. At the very beginning Maiellaro wanted an intense David Lynch homage. He wanted crazy weird close ups and cutaways, awkward pauses, SFX etc. Matt drew every BG in the pilot but he forgot to draw the most important one, Shark’s front office. I couldn’t screw around so I drew it. I thought Matt would replace it instantly but I needed something to edit to. I felt like we needed a ticking clock just to fill the pregnant air so that’s what I did. Matt loved it. I asked him to re-draw the background so that the first ep would match but he refused. Matt loved the clock so much he asked me to turn him into a character. 2:22 is just what I drew way back in 2004. And from there Matt created this insane story.

What prompted the creative decision to release the original series as a continuous feature on the DVD, and how do you feel about that version/edit today?

Matt: Since the series is “serialized” it made sense to make the DVD a movie. I remember we had a few gaps here and there between episodes and we created content to fill. But my favorite part is that there are no chapters..

The end of the second season seemed to indicate Archeus and the New Angel as important figures to look out for going forward. Are there any future plans for these characters, or have we perhaps already seen them in a different guise?

Matt: Archeus and New Angel are important in the worlds they live in within our box of worlds. If we get more seasons we might end up back there and see what’s going on but the last season ended up in a number of different environments where Archeus and New Angel don’t occupy.

Originally there were 5 webisodes planned and written after the second season ended, but only one was ultimately produced. Was there any specific reason they didn't continue as planned, and did any of the content influence the eventual Invictus special and the third season?

Matt: Hm…. I don’t remember the exact reason we didn’t continue the webisodes. It’s possible that we didn’t have a great platform to run them on. The Invictus Special happened when the Aqua Teen Special fell through and the network asked me if I’d be interested in a Mouse Special. I wanted to pull from the original storyline (yes, there actually was one) from the first two seasons and start in a different time. I think that was pulled off really great, making Invictus a nice standalone special; but of course, with a cliffhanger. So the third season came about due to the Special being so liked by Lazzo.

John: I think the cost of Enter the Sandmouse just caught the digital/website department by surprise and they backed out. After the fact no one cared for how it turned out, myself included. We did our best but it wasn’t great enough. Invictus and season three assumes that Enter the Sandmouse never happened. Yeah, we retconned it.

The third season of OzMo introduced a number of new characters to the show's already-diverse cast, and many of the prominent "old guard" characters from the first two seasons seemed to take a backseat for some of the action. Was this a conscious decision, and if the story were to continue, would you see the world continuing to expand, or refocusing on the original cast?

Matt: Yes. The world is enormous. Seasons 1&2 hint at the possibilities of infinite continuums in regards to worlds within worlds and what’s not real or what is real. Thing is; it’s all real, and the story unfolds this during the 3rd season. So since S3 sets up Mouse entering Aria’s world it made sense to control the journey through her POV with Wilks while Mouse is getting his memory back due to the forces of the portal at the end of the Special. The other characters are locked, trapped in other environments - although two of the original cast members are actually dead. We see Sirus running the show and secretly making a plan to defeat Clock.

Nick: I loved seeing Peanut Cop and Golden Joe together. We should pitch a buddy cop show that is just the two of them, like Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop combined into something way stupider and weirder.

The third season seems to have brought a new generation of viewers to the show. Many young people engage with media quite differently than they did 15+ years ago, and "fan characters" for OzMo have been prevalent in parts of the fandom recently. Have you seen any of this content, and in general what are your thoughts on the various ways fans express their creativity?

Matt: I love looking at the Discord and threads throughout the net on the show! A lot of them are theorizing very interesting story points - some of which I think should have actually happened! Also I’ve seen a lot great fan art on these places. I hope to soon have enough grills to invite them all over for some bbq!

John: We have fans!?
Side note. We never refer to Mouse as OzMo or Fitz. It’s just Mouse. The OzMo thing was an accident. Matt wanted the title graphic to be bigger than life so I made the graphic as big as I could but it wasn’t big enough so I jokingly leaned on the scale button expanding the title graphic. Matt said “Stop!” when only the OzMo was visible. We aired it once and then the legal department flipped out on us. Apparently there’s a famous British show about a mouse named ozmo.

We never call him Mouse Fitzgerald for different reasons. Just trust me. Mouse is not named Fitz. His name is Mouse.

Brad Lee Zimmerman: I have seen a lot of fan content and it's really touching to an old guy like me. Something we started to make 15 or whatever years ago is resonating with a new generation and that's an incredible feeling. Where I don't have a lot of answers for you here, I hope to drop in on the watch party and say hello and THANK YOU for the love and support. I know it means a lot to Matt and me and everyone involved.

Nick: I haven't seen this personally, but I'm excited that it exists! I honestly don't know how to deal with it when someone is super into the show. I spend most of my time just explaining what it is, and having someone nod at me with their mouth doing something weird.

Season 3 continued the tradition of original music being written for the show by multiple performers. What influenced the choice of musicians for this season, and are there any plans to make this new music available?

Matt: Yes! I really loved the original theme by 9lb Hammer but I wanted a fresh musical take for the Special and S3. I had been listening to a ton of Amaranthe before the special and I approached them about doing a new theme for the show. They were way into it and did a killer job. They also wrote and performed Portal to the Doorway - which is a supercharged mini-song about the dumbest concept in the world.
I also worked with Mary Spender on a couple of pieces. Mary plays Aria. We got to meet up at Skywalker while I was there mixing some episodes and recorded Freebird Your Mind for the ending of the Francis special. I wrote the lyrics and she wrote the music - all within one hour before our record session. Mary is a super talented singer songwriter from the UK and when I approached her about playing Aria she blew me off for months because she didn’t believe me. Finally I had field detectives track her down and then I flew over in a heli-jetsycle with the Mouse DVD and convinced her that the project was for real. She did a killer job playing Aria. As far as the music being released I’m not sure how that would work at this moment. There aren’t as many original tracks like we had in S1 &2. I believe the only piece missing in it’s entirety is Freebird Your Mind. We cut that song in half to fit the credits. The Amaranthe stuff you can find on the net easily.

It's often been mentioned that the editors of OzMo essentially are the animators. Can you think of any examples of contributions you've made to the show's story or worldbuilding as an editor that might be surprising?

Nick: I'm not sure if you can see it anymore in the cut, but one of Topaz's many weapons was a report card that had all "F"s. I think Matt humored me when I pitched it, and maybe didn't really want it in there, but I ended up making it anyway because wires got crossed.

John: Nah, I’m pretty boring. I can’t believe Maiellaro keeps hiring me.

From custom-engraved flasks, to wristwatches, to giant New Guy umbrellas, OzMo has had more than its fair share of distinctive merchandise produced. If you could have one item from the show made into/used on merch, regardless of budget, what would it be?

Matt: A Sirus costume.

John: Instant reaction, Jet Taxi. A real Corn Droid would be bad ass too. I’m not really into guns but that crazy sniper rifle at the end of Ep6 would be fun at parties.

Brad: I would like to see 12OZ Jet Skis. I have a Jet Ski. I might just paint it.

Nick: I got to design and animate the box in season three that contains a whole universe. To see that in real life would be pretty cool, with or without the universe. I'm not picky.

For those of you who have children, have they seen any of the show, and if so what are their thoughts?

Matt: My kids love it. My youngest played “The Kid” in a few episodes. The other night I saw that he had downloaded S1 and 2 to watch. It’s fun to have a job that your kids think is cool.

Brad: My then 7 year old daughter came to tour williams street one day while we were working on Invictus. She thought the building was so awesome. Then she watched my cut and, after a long pause, asked me why I did this. I didn't have an answer and I've been effed up about it ever since. Probably for life.

What's the story behind this? (This appears for a single frame in Star Wars VII)

Nick: That was a rough sketch of the Shark car interior. It might have been a placeholder I gave to John so he could keep working without final art, or maybe just to pitch Matt on the layout. Either way I think it made Matt laugh so he threw it in the show.

How can a mouse grow a moustache when it's already covered in fur?

Matt: It said “fur-stache” in the script - don’t know how it got translated wrong on TV.

Nick: Maybe Mouse just has clammy green skin, like one of those hairless cats?

Is there anything else you can share with us about the future of 12 Oz Mouse?

Matt: I can regrettably share that we are not doing a Season 4. New regime at Adult Swim applying a different agenda. I’d love to do countless seasons because the world is so vast. Hell maybe up the road we could get a green light. I mean, look how long it was between end of S2 and the Special. Maybe the material is too overwhelming? I wouldn’t know to apply an answer to that.