Netflix releases Centaurworld on July 30, 2021! The series follows a hardened war horse who’s transported away from battle and finds herself in a land that’s inhabited by silly, singing centaurs of all shapes and sizes. VORTEX’s Executive Editor, Muniyra Douglas caught up with Centaurworld’s creator, Megan Nicole Dong.
From Marine Biologist to Art Director, how did the journey begin?
I was never actually a marine biologist though I wanted to be one for many years! I consider myself to be a marine biology geek more than anything. I drew a lot growing up. I loved to study and draw animals and people in particular, and my younger brother and I used to draw silly comics together (and read them to one another, performing the voices, making the sound effects, etc.). Years later, I found out that storyboarding was an actual job and I was blown away.
What’s the first cartoon you remember watching?
When I was four or so, I remember watching and re-watching Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ over and over again, and this must have informed a lot of my interests, because I became passionate about musical theater, animation, and marine biology. I also remember watching a lot of Dragonball Z, Looney Tunes, Miyazaki films, and plenty of Saturday morning cartoons that all influenced me as I grew up.
How did you discover your style, your art spirit?
As someone with a storyboarding background rather than a design background, style has always come secondary to storytelling. Or rather, my style has evolved to best service my jokes, voice, and stories the most. Surely a lot of the things that I enjoy come out in the way that I draw, but I don’t put too much conscious thought into it. For me, I think my style is a bit fluid. I care less about the technical way a drawing I’ve done looks and more about whether or not it makes me feel something. If I do a drawing and it makes me laugh, I’m happy.
What was your first project as a professional in Animation / Art?
My first jobs were at Titmouse Inc. I think the first thing I ever did was a bit of color/clean up on David Vandervoort’s amazing short “Pinched,” and then I went on to work on Metalocalypse, and a number of projects. In 2011 I began my storyboarding career as a trainee at DreamWorks.
How do you balance personal and work life?
Self-care is so important! I think going into ‘Centaurworld’ I knew I had to keep work-life-balance in mind because it was going to be an ambitious venture. I had to go into it with more of a marathon-mentality to avoid burnout. I think it’s so important to make the time to replenish oneself creatively and mentally. I don’t believe you have to sacrifice your own health or happiness in the name of art. If you had a good time making something, I think that joy will be reflected in the end product, so I think it’s important to prioritize breaks, good habits, etc. For the most part, I always tried to leave the office by 6pm. Simple organization goes a long way into making this possible. If things are getting out of hand, put EVERYTHING on your calendar so you can budget your time accordingly.
What is a key thing you learned from your time at DREAMWORKS to becoming the creator you are today?
I learned from every place I’ve been. At DreamWorks I had the opportunity to learn a lot about story structure and cinematic filmmaking. Some of the most brilliant artists and filmmakers are at that studio (and many of them have absolutely no social media presence). I learned so much just from being around so many top-tier artists, animators, and creatives. Working in feature also taught me to be less precious about my work. The process involves so much trial and error, and the majority of what everyone does winds up on the cutting room floor. When I left DreamWorks, I went to Nickelodeon to work on the series ‘Pinky Malinky,’ and I learned so much there as well. At the start of the second season, I was promoted to Supervising Director, and I learned so much from the creators, Rikke Asbjoern and Chris Garbutt, as well as Louis Cuck, who came onto ‘Centaurworld’ as our producer. Learning how a series works, learning about the production pipeline and the schedule was so valuable to me as I went on to create my own shoow.
Where did the idea of CENTAUR world come to you and how did you get it through on NETFLIX?
Centaurworld was inspired by my time in high school. I was always creative but the environment I grew up in was pretty competitive academically. I thought that I had to really focus on my studies and get into a good
university and went into school with this attitude. A schedule mix-up led me to end up in a show choir class, which was a jarring experience. I was a shy, studious kid who suddenly had to sing and dance in front of others. Despite the initial shock, I ended up loving the experience, and I realized that I had to pursue a career in the arts. And so, I wanted to tell the story of a character from one more serious world thrown into a wacky, musical environment and being changed by that place.
I was incredibly lucky when it came to bringing the project to Netflix, and it really was ideal timing for me. I came to the studio with a log line and some drawings, and was given the opportunity to develop it because Netflix was just starting their own original animation studio. Because I was coming in with a body of personal work (online comics) and a decent amount of experience (I had worked for 10+ years and had become a supervising director at the time), I felt ready to create my own series.
What’s your story philosophy (What inspires the kind of stories you want to tell)?
I am a naturally curious person, and I love and am inspired by all sorts of things. I recommend seeking inspiration outside of our ‘bubble’ (animation). I’m a huge fan of theatre, of stand up, I love nature. I find inspiration from books, video games, hobbies, and human interactions. I particularly love pieces of media that are genre-bending or difficult to define!
Megan Nicole Dong is a marine biology enthusiast, comic artist, and animation professional based in Southern California. Best known for her Sketchshark comics, Megan has also worked as an animator for DreamWorks Animation and Nickelodeon Studios. She was named one of Variety magazine’s Ten Animators to Watch in 2017. Follow on Twitter/Instagram @sketchshark