A super-smart young woman opens a portal to another world where she gains a new friend in the form of a hungry dinosaur. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is a Disney animated series based on the Marvel comic brought to life by artists and producers Steve Loter and Rodney Clouden.
Lunella Lafayette (Diamond White) is a 13-year-old genius living on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Lunella loves to skate around and help at the roller rink her family runs. At school, she gets perfect grades, and at home, she tinkers in her secret laboratory built beneath the apartment building where she lives. Lunella makes things like jetpacks to nuclear-powered popcorn machines, and, for the most part, they work spectacularly well. However, when Lunella attempts to recreate an experiment conceived by her idol, things go awry. Lunella summons a red tyrannosaurus rex from the past. But the hulking creature and Lunella form a bond, and they fight crime as Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.
PopAxiom spoke with producers Steve Loter and Rodney Clouden as season one ends on Disney Channel on Saturday (May 6th, 2023). The series is also available on Disney+.
Rodney Clouden is a longtime storyboard artist who’s worked on projects like The Wild Thornberrys, American Dad, and won an Emmy for his work on Futurama. His desire to be a working artist started when he was young. “I like cartoons. I was always drawing. I would make comic books of the cartoons that I liked or music videos. I made Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” into a comic book.”
“Animation was something I gravitated to,” he continues, “but I didn’t know how it could be a career. But unfortunately, there were no resources to help with that. So at a certain point, I thought maybe I’d do comic books.”
After school, Rodney began life as a freelance illustrator. But that came with a frustrating reality. “I had to chase people down for a hundred dollars. It wasn’t worth it.” Ultimately, Rodney “met with someone looking for a character designer, and that revitalized my desire to get into animation.”
“I’ve been fortunate to be a working professional cartoonist right out of high school.” That’s how Steve Loter’s story begins. “I worked with Disney’s consumer products and at Jim Henson Productions, but the draw was animation. I love the art of moving drawings. I knew I had to do it, and I’ve been doing it for many years.” Steve’s career includes the Clerks animated series and all things Kim Possible. Plus, an Emmy award for producing The Penguins of Madagascar.
To this day, Steve’s amazed by animation’s connection with an audience. “It’s something you’ve drawn and brought to life through illustration to tell a story and create emotions and connections. To me, that’s absolutely magic.”
About Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
As the story goes, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur development began when Marvel Studios president Louis D’Esposito showed legendary actor, writer, and producer Laurence Fishburne the Marvel Comic Book. Steve explains, “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is an incredible Marvel comic book and loved by Laurence Fishburne. His company with Helen Sugland, Cinema Gypsy Productions, began the process.”
“They realized the potential of what an animated version of this could be,” Steve adds, propelling this dynamic duo to television. “Everyone knew this was a special comic book. Lunella Lafayette is an incredible character. Her story needed to be told in animation.”
Laurence was familiar with Steve’s work on Kim Possible. “We met and hit it off immediately. We had a shared vision of what this story could look like. We talked about our inspirations and all the things we had in common growing up in New York City.”
“Steve brought me in,” Rodney shares, noting it was a reasonably straightforward but exciting and unexpected project. Stave and Rodney worked together a decade prior on Duckman. “I got a text about a producer looking for an artist. I asked who the producer was, and it was Steve. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I haven’t heard that name in forever!”
Rodney and Steve met at the studio, where Rodney saw the artwork and learned about the process behind the vision. “I could just feel the passion in the pitch. This comic book about a young black girl who is a super genius sounded dope. I saw the animatic and the Gambino clip and was like, ‘Wow.’ It was also a show that my son can watch.”
The process for creating the visual spectacle that is Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur began with the script. Steve explains, “Even before pencil to paper, we started writing. I’m fortunate to have been in TV for a while and done features, then back to TV. What’s wonderful about that experience are the different working methodologies.”
“I was able to bring the best of TV into features and the best of features into TV,” he continues, detailing that “part of that is the time you spend in writing and developing the characters; who they are, what they need, and what they really need.”
Steve brought in feature writers Kate Kondell and Jeff Howard to help develop the show. “We started with nearly hour-long descriptions of these characters. We’d pitch that to Marvel to make sure we’re on the right track. We wanted to make sure we had a really strong foundation for the storytelling. We knew the style and feeling … but wanted to ensure it wasn’t style over substance.”
“After that, we brought in some incredible visual artists,” Steve adds, revealing the next step in bringing the show to life. “The writing allowed [artists] to blossom and for the artists to take ownership of these characters. Animation can sometimes feel assignment-driven. But we’re just going to provide [our artists] a bunch of inspiration and give you a whole room to breathe.”
Rodney is one of those artists. What’s his take on this process? “The inspiration and the ability for inspiration; the freedom to explore. The idea was to do something different visually. Something even different from what Disney typically produces. I saw the lean into the idea that this is a comic book and the graphic nature of it.”
“You’re looking at the overall vision. It’s a first-season show, so you’re finding the legs, look, and process.” Rodney says about the team’s journey to solidifying the exhilarating visual nature of the series. “It’s experimentation. You see what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a lot of shaping and molding to find the process and style of the show. The style has a certain look that we start with, but then it’s discovering the show’s proper style.”
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur have a recurring sequence within the series known as the mixtape, where things get even wilder. But it’s an opportunity, says Rodney. “You can go wild visually. You can take it and do whatever you want because it’s a separate narrative from what the show proper is. So, to play around with that, you can have a blast.”
As animation professionals with combined many decades of experience, Steve and Rodney still face creative dry spells. So what gets those creative rivers flowing? Steve turns to music. “I’m a huge music fan and collector. It’s music for me. I feel like music is a great mood equalizer. You can always find a song that gets you to the mood you want.”
“I must admit that our music executive producer Raphael Saadiq, I’ve been a fan of his music since Tony! Toni! Toné! to today,” he shares, saying about the longtime musician, “he’s one of those artists that can do that for me and feel something through his music. So I’m thrilled to be working with him because he’s given me a whole new set of songs to make me feel good.”
Rodney’s immediate answer sparks laughter. “Naps.” But he adds a second word that sort of makes everything more profound. “Dreams.” But Rodney’s a huge music fan too and draws inspiration from songs; I start to visualize how I would approach that [song] if it were a music video.”
“Comic books” joins his answers, naturally, since he’s loved them his entire life. “I get my pull from the shop.” Rodney also adds a modern source of creative magic. “Instagram. I follow many people and look at their art and what they’re doing, pushing the envelope of illustration and design.”
Fans of the series will be happy to know that Steve says, “We are working on season two of the show.”
“Season two is fantastic!” Rodney proclaims.
Steve finishes us off. “We left off season one in a precarious position, but we come back strong. Season two has more music, more humor, a lot more Marvel, and heart. I can’t wait for people to see what we’ve cooked up for season two!”
Is Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur on your watch list?
Thanks to Steve Loter, Rodney Clouden, and Metro PR
for making this interview possible.
Find more interviews from Ruben R. Diaz!