Bryan Caselli is a Storyboard Artist, Writer and Renaissance Faire enthusiast. Following tenure on top-notch cartoons including Star vs. the Forces of Evil and Sanjay and Craig, ‘twas our good fortune when he set sail to Costume Quest as co-Executive Producer, with a treasure trove of story skillz in tow. Here, Bryan provides his advice to young artists, fav things about Costume Quest, and remarkably realistic take on a 17th century Swashbuckler and his Mer-Lassy.
When did you know that you wanted a career in animation?
My friends and family were alway super supportive of my drawing when I was little, but I got really focused on art in high school. I had an amazing teacher named Kevin McGovern who encouraged me to apply to the California State Summer School for the Arts. CSSSA was a four week residency arts summer program on CalArts’ campus featuring many different disciplines. I studied in the animation department, and it was like I finally found my people. After those four weeks, I knew I wanted to work in animation, and I wanted to go to school at CalArts. There was no turning back.
(Every day is Halloween for the CQ crew! But this day was actually Halloween.)
Where are you from, and how did you chart your path to CalArts?
I’m originally from Sacramento, California. It’s a legitimately sized city, but it still has a small town vibe that’s warm and welcoming. I applied to CalArts straight out of high school, but didn’t get in on my first try. I actually didn’t apply to any other schools. My plan was to just apply again the next year, but my mom secretly applied for me to CSU Sacramento as a somewhat, “What if he doesn’t get into CalArts for ten years?” worst case scenario backup plan. After swallowing the tough pill of not getting into my dream school, I took a collection of figure drawing, portrait drawing, painting, and art history classes at both Sac State and Sac City college. I didn’t stay long enough to earn a degree. Luckily, I was accepted into CalArts the following year.
How did you decide you wanted to storyboard and write?
I got into animation thinking I wanted to be a character designer. It seemed to be the most glamorous position at the time, but I found out quickly that you have to be an exceptional draftsman to do that job, which I’m not. I fell in love with the story department in my 3rd and 4th years at CalArts. I had some awesome teachers who really set me on the path that I’m on now.
What do you love most about the job?
I can’t get enough of stuff like mythic structure, archetypal symbolism, and fable storytelling. I really get excited by just how universal storytelling is. It can connect you with anyone. That’s easily my favorite part of my work.
What was your first job in animation or art, and how’d you land it?
I interned on Regular Show. I actually went in to interview for a different show, but on my way out, I ran into Ben Adams, the Regular Show character designer and my former classmate. He told me to blow those other guys off and come work with him. He introduced me to Regular Show’s Producer, Janet Dimon, and we really hit it off. She offered me the position soon after that. At the end of my internship, I pitched the storyboards for my student film, Scout Wars. After the pitch, someone from development came up to me and said, “You need to pitch this upstairs.” That’s how I got my second gig.
The show was never produced, but getting paid to develop my original concept that early in my career really set in stone my desire to run a show of my own some day. I even got to work with our future Costume Quest Art Director, Ricky Cometa, on the development poster. After that, I did about a year and a half of full-time freelance, which eventually lead me to work with the creators of Sanjay and Craig on some of their punk side projects. I really liked working with those guys, so when they asked me to come on Sanjay, it was an easy choice.
That’s awesome. Was Sanjay the first show you wrote and boarded for? How is it to work on a board driven show?
Yep, Sanjay was the first TV show that I got to write and storyboard on. Both writing and storyboarding is really demanding, but it’s also really rewarding. Nick Bachman (Costume Quest’s previously interviewed Supervising Producer) was my Storyboard Director on Sanjay, and we really clicked as a team. Sanjay and Craig was a perfect show to be board driven because it was super cartoony and there were very few rules. It was a great opportunity for board teams to have their specific voices heard. When you watch an episode of Sanjay and Craig you can pretty much spot which teams did which episodes from a mile away.
How was writing on Star vs the Forces of Evil – is it board driven too?
Writing on Star was an awesome change of pace coming off of Sanjay. Daron Nefcy was a great leader to work for, and I became really close with my fellow writers. It was board driven, which made the transition from storyboarding to outline writing a lot more of a doable task for me. I was comfortable in that kind of production pipeline and pretty much knew what would be expected of me as a writer. The coolest part about working on Star was that it was a seasonally arcing, somewhat mythic story. It was so cool to get to craft a large story over multiple episodes. I took a lot of lessons learned writing on Star and brought them with me to the writers’ room on Costume Quest.
Is it odd being a bit of a ~star~ yourself, considering you have a whole fan page and everything?!
Oh boy, having a fan wiki page is a strange feeling. It’s really cool to be apart of a show that has such a passionate fanbase, but honestly I don’t want to be a star. Star Butterfly is the star of Star.
You’re Costume Quest’s co-Executive Producer. What does the job entail?
Being the co-EP on Costume Quest means I, along with the rest of our leadership team, am responsible to supervise just about every stage of production. From writing to storyboarding, animatics to art, voice acting and voice casting, logo design, score, sound effects, the list goes on and on. I got to script a handful of episodes. Nick and I storyboarded the first episode. Occasionally I do some (very rough) first pass character designs. I also draw story board punch-ups and animation redline revisions on the episodes I direct. I direct the first story of each of Costume Quest’s two part episodes, and Nick directs the second story. Beyond that I mainly keep my eye on the larger narrative of the show, making sure everything is tonally consistent and the story threads line up. If every person that works on this show is making one tree, I try to make sure the forest is working as a whole. I do my best not to force any artist to execute their assignments exactly as I would have, but instead, encourage them to showcase their personal artistic voices.
How have you enjoyed working on Costume Quest, and what do you like most about the show?
Working on Costume Quest has been my favorite gig yet. I am really grateful to Will (McRobb), Kevin (Kolde), and Eric (Homan) for bringing me onboard. I’m super proud of how much the show grows across the first season. The scale, the emotional stakes, and the world building just get bigger and bigger with every episode. Beyond that, having the chance to lead a team has been incredibly rewarding. Our whole crew is so talented, and they are all so supportive of the show. It has really meant a lot to me to learn that these people, who I respect tremendously, are happy to come in to work every day and are proud to help tell this story. I can’t overstate how good it feels to know I have a creatively and professionally satisfied crew.
Do you have a favorite character on CQ?
I love all four of the main kids, but my favorite character really is Norm. I always say that he’s a cross between Fred Flintstone and Santa Clause. He’s such an emotionally vulnerable character, and he’s got some great reveals attached to his backstory. Fred Tatasciore also does some incredible voice acting as Norm, so if this show only gets one award ever, it should go to Fred’s performance.
Since developing Scout Wars, have you gone out pitching other original ideas?
I’ve pitched Scout Wars and a handful of other show ideas around to the big studios, but when Costume Quest came about, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to learn everything I needed to about the responsibilities of a show runner—without the added emotional pressure of having the show be about my childhood, or my relationship with my father, or whatever. I have a handful of ideas in my back pocket that I’m eager to start pitching again whenever Costume Quest comes to a close.
What are your favorite cartoons?
Not including the shows I’ve worked on: original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman the Animated Series, Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, Doug, Hey Arnold!, SpongeBob, Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Archer, Flintstones, the Peanuts specials, and the original Power Rangers gets a non-cartoon honorable mention because the the influence that show had on me and Costume Quest is pretty undeniable.
What is your advice to people who want to write and/or storyboard for animation?
Study the craft as hard as you can. It’s not about networking, or Internet likes, or whatever. If you get as good as you possibly can at the craft, you’ll be golden. Take any job that will hire you. Once you get any position anywhere, if you show everyone you work with just how dedicated you are, people will take notice, and they’ll want to help you.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I really love hosting backyard BBQ’s and parties at my place. My friends tease me that I’d rather they come to me than I go anywhere else pretty much 100% of the time. You can find me most Sunday mornings at any of the LA flea markets with my girlfriend, Madison, looking for more kick knacks to put up in our place. Also, I take my Renaissance Faire costuming pretty seriously. Yearly upgrades are planned months in advance. My mom always sewed my Halloween costumes growing up, so costumes somehow became a thing I really like to do. I guess it’s fitting that Costume Quest came my way.
Have anything to say to future fans of Costume Quest?
Watch it again! We did our best to set up, pay off, and foreshadow as much as possible in the season so it would be fun to rewatch. There are a lot of little easter eggs in there. I hope fans enjoy it. ☆
No doubt, they will.
Thank you for the interview Bryan, and for your fantastic work on Costume Quest!
Follow Bryan on Instagram.
– Cooper ☆