Interview with Elizabeth Ito, creator of Welcome To My Life
During this year's Annecy International Animated Film Festival, we had an opportunity to sit down with one of Adventure Time's most remarkable writer/storyboarders and supervising directors, who recently finished developing her own Cartoon Network project, "Welcome To My Life"!
Animac Magazine: Glad to meet you! We'll begin with the usual question: what led you towards loving animation and working on it?
Elizabeth Ito: Sure! I mean, I loved to draw since I was a little kid, and I think I used to say I wanted to be a children's book illustrator and author, because that was the first thing I knew you could do with drawing. As I got older, I was finding what avenue of art filled all the things that I want to do. And I like music, and I like films, so I think animation is something that combined all these things that I like - especially drawing, though, there's a lot of drawing involved. So I guess just loving drawing is what inspired me to be in animation.
Animac Magazine: I think your first experience writing and boarding for television was on Phineas and Ferb, is that correct?
Elizabeth Ito: Yeah, that was probably the first time that I was on a show that was outline-driven, like Adventure Time is.
Animac Magazine: Was it a learning experience, did it help you with your work on Adventure Time?
Elizabeth Ito: I think so! It was different, because from studio to studio, the way they handle outline-driven things is different... I think with Phineas and Ferb - I don't remember it that well because it was so long ago, but the characters are way different, and the types of shows that Disney makes are so different from Cartoon Network's, even joke-wise... I think Adventure Time sits more with my actual sensibility. But it was still fun to work there! Both episodes I boarded were with other female boarders [Kim Roberson and Aliki Theofilopoulos Grafft], so that was really cool.
Animac Magazine: What's the moment you're most proud of through all your seasons of work in Adventure Time?
Elizabeth Ito: It was just really fun storyboarding with Adam Muto. My favorite moments were always when I would pitch to Pen [Ward] and I would make him laugh. It was really, really rewarding. It feels good - it's sort of hard, sort of a challenge. There's this joke I put in there once where Mr. Cupcake takes his wrapper off and he says something, and I just remember feeling really proud that I made Pen laugh.
Animac Magazine: As you just mentioned, you were responsible for, in my opinion, some of the most iconic episodes on the first season of Adventure Time - I was wondering which was the thing you enjoyed the most about boarding and, later on, about being a supervising director; and how those two jobs on the show differ from each other.
Elizabeth Ito: In storyboarding, I really loved writing. I really loved writing jokes and dialog, really goofy dialog... I think, even more than Pen, I just like hearing people react to my boards, like laughing and really enjoying it. It's way different from being a supervising director because you're sort of entrusting somebody else and supporting their vision, and I think making sure that you're not trying to alter what they're doing so that it still feels like their story.
Animac Magazine: During the panel, you mentioned some of your goals for Welcome To My Life, like characters you could relate to, a calmer sensibility... If your short becomes a full-length show, are these some of the themes you hope to explore in a deeper way on it?
Elizabeth Ito: Yeah! I'm a really big fan of documentary stuff, so I would like it to have that same feeling. I used to say it should be like a reality show, but there's some really trashy reality shows, so maybe not like that! (laughs) But yeah, I would really like kids to feel like they relate to this character who is different but likable. I think that would be really awesome.
Animac Magazine: You also mentioned during the panel that you tried to make Welcome To My Life for Disney before Cartoon Network. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Elizabeth Ito: It was so long ago, I'm trying to remember a lot of it, but it was different because it's a different studio - there's limitations on the freedom to do kinda different stuff... One of the things that people keep talking about - I think George [Gendi] mentioned it - is there's this awesome freedom at Cartoon Network to make these shorts in a really unique and personal way, and it's really hard to be able to do that at Disney, I think. It might be different for other people, but for me, if stuff is way too different it makes them a lot more nervous there... Luckily, at Cartoon Network, I really enjoyed working with the creative executives who've helped bring in people who have these different visions.
Animac Magazine: Last question! What would you say to the readers who might be considering watching your short - or future series! - after reading this interview?
Elizabeth Ito: I think they'll find it incredibly different from everything that's on right now, and I really hope that it's enjoyable and fresh and new - and even just visually, I hope that it's sort of refreshing to see something that's CG but looks different, and how it fits into the real world... Yeah, I would encourage people to watch it, just to see how the flavor of something different is. (laughs)
Interview conducted by Adrian Carande
Photos by Carolina López