Clone High Producer Discusses Season 2’s New Characters and Classic Tropes
According to executive producer Corey Campodonico, now that Clone High is back it wants to stick around for awhile.
After two decades of being frozen in time, or canceled for lack of a better word, the amusing genetic copies of Abe Lincoln, Joan of Arc, JFK, and Cleopatra are ready to defrost and enter a new era of high school drama. The long-awaited revival of the early 2000s adult animated cult classic, Clone High is about to rise from its MTV ashes and mosey on over to Max (formerly known as HBO Max). The Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Bill Lawrence-created series centers around idiosyncratic teenage clone versions of prolific historical figures dealing with interpersonal drama with each other while facing the trials and tribulations of high school. And all under the watchful eye of secret government employees, out to prepare the teens to become ruthless world leaders.
Since the cancellation of the series’ original run back in 2003 for Gandhi-related purposes, the landscape of animation has shifted. More animation studios have emerged to add variety to the medium – one studio being ShadowMachine which worked on countless of iconic animation projects Robot Chicken, BoJack Horseman, Little Demon, and film that just scored them their first Oscar: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.
When Clone High got revived, it was announced that ShadowMachine was to take the role as the show’s new animation studio home. As one can see from the trailer, ShadowMachine beautifully captured the visual spirit of the original series and takes chances to play with bright colors in ways the original didn’t do.
Den of Geek got on a zoom call with ShadowMachine co-founder and Clone High executive producer Corey Campodonico to chat about thawing out the Clone High clones for a new generation and animation studio.
Den of Geek: When it came to rebooting Clone High, who contacted whom first?
Corey Campodonico: It’s so funny. I mean Lord/Miller definitely reached out. We had known Grant Gish over at Viacom because MTV originally had done the show. Gish was at Marvel for a bit and that regime changed. And Karim Zreik went over to Lord/Miller. We met Phil and Chris and long story short, it all just came together very organically through past relationships. Obviously when they came to us, we quickly wanted to be involved. Not only because of Phil and Chris and just their prolific nature, but just rebooting something from a time 20 years ago is, it is a challenge. It’s also really exciting because there is a starting point to really sink your teeth into and improve upon.
How was it to help retool the entire series, not only from the ground up, but for a new audience from the TikTok crowd as well?
One of the things that I think was incredible about what the whole team did, particularly Chris, Phil, Erica Rivinoja, Bill Lawrence really was just, how do you take something that was so zeitgeisty then and still make it zeitgeisty now? And obviously the original premise is such an evergreen topic, right? High school, regardless of when you were born, everyone has gone through it one way or the other. And so, a lot of the familiarity that I think any viewer would have would be to that general conceit.
Those guys are so talented at bringing something that they were so passionate about at that time. And it is very similar to the original with tweaks that quickly get you into the Clone High world again. Without tripping on some of the time jump of 20 years I really feel like they did such an incredible job of writing that into the first couple episodes to just plant you firmly in the new world. It almost doesn’t matter when the original was created once you’re in the clone high universe, because it is so specific. The reference points and the jokes are obviously current, but it really doesn’t lose any of the original charm that it had when it initially aired.
Since ShadowMachines is just doing it all and you producing multiple projects, were you working on this and Pinocchio at the same time?
We’ve always been ambitious, but the timelines for animation are very long, right? You know, Pinocchio took 10 years, so basically almost half of the work that we’ve ever done happened during Pinocchio at one point or another. Same with each show – Clone High‘s been almost two years. So everything moves at a pace that is very compartmentalized and predictable to a certain extent. Obviously, production’s production, there are a lot of things that you never know what’s gonna come around the corner on any given day but because of the long lead times and how long the process is, you take a breath, you cross every bridge as it comes, and it comes in a very sequential order.
How was it to recapture that same animation style while also taking it to new lengths and art styles that you do in several episodes?
We don’t have a house style. We’re not committed to one look for a show. Every show’s different and it’s got its language to it. The trick is in doing something that doesn’t take away the charm. We’re not trying to reinvent the style because the reaction was so strong to the original style that was created for the show, which we didn’t do the original 20 years ago. So it’s about making incremental changes in process and refinement that has happened over the last 20 years, but never letting the animation get ahead of the writing and the vision of the original show. Chris and Phil knew what they were doing the first go around, and you really don’t want to change anything. That kind of takes you out of what the show is.
The tools have gotten better, the things you can do in animation have gone astronomically in the other direction, right? There’s so many things you can do. You’ve got Unreal Engine, you’ve got this photorealism, all these things that didn’t really exist. Back then, the temptation would be to push things in that direction. But I think it’s a testament to their vision really to keep it very, I don’t say nostalgic, but tied to the original look because it really is a good look. It is a Clone High world that you don’t want to disrupt in any way. We had worked here, we worked with Jam Filled in Canada, who’s been a partner of ours for a long time.
They do a tremendous job in helping us keep that look consistent. While still making improvements. Of course, audiences are so much more sophisticated nowadays than they were back then. I think the one staple that kind of stays the same is that the style backs up the writing. If people aren’t noticing the animation first, that’s a win. You wanna be recognizing the storytelling and the character development, first, and the animation sits right behind that.
What was it like to work with all these new writers?
The writing team was incredible. They were housed over at Lord Miller and remotely as well. Really it was seamless. The writing team was obviously very strong. That obviously starts before the animation and before everyone else is brought on. We did two seasons together, although we’re not talking about the second season at this point. But one of the best parts about that is that typically a writer’s room or a majority of the writer’s room can kind of fall away once you’re into production. Some people stay through the full run show. When you’re bringing the room back, people get to be involved consistently throughout the production. It is great to have the whole team around during that process and be able to, to continually iterate, which is a process that Chris, Phil, and Bill are really attuned to, that’s why their material works so well.
When it comes to voice acting, how is it to find the nice little bridge between old and new?
So much has changed. Christa Miller moved over to play Candide, instead of Cleo. Mitra (Jouhari) came in for Cleo, and obviously Will Forte is a staple from old to new. Him and Nicole Sullivan obviously as Joan of Arc.
Nicole’s voice has not aged a day!
She’s such a powerful voice, right? Like any show, particularly when you’re recreating a comedic sensibility that was established and successful early on. When you bring in new talent, they did a great job of just massaging those pieces in, you know, obviously Kelvin Yu, Neil Casey, Vicci Martinez, Ayo Edebiri, there’s a lot of new blood that the characters take over as well. The fabric of the show just got so much bigger once you have such a much larger cast. I think it’s really proving successful, at least in my eyes.
Was the voice recording process all remotely or did anybody get to record together? I remember seeing Miller doing his JFK voice making tongue kissing noises.
I mean, Chris and Phil are secretly like two of the best voice talents in the entire town. They would be very humble about that and maybe not admit that. I think the fans are just gonna love where they take, you know, the characters of Mr. B and Scudworth, and JFK. JFK is such a memorable character from the old days. Really the VO process, coming out of pandemic was always a little bit kind of a mix. There was a lot of home stuff, not on this show so much, but on other shows. I think by the time we started this, people were coming into the studio again and it was kind of getting back to normal.
The biggest challenge of group voice records is always schedules. Every show wants to do everyone in a room. But the truth is that in animation, the ability to listen back to what other people were doing and be able to play off of that is quite effective as well. So, while some shows really get everybody in the booth at the same time, schedules are just difficult to coordinate. The interactions, I think the chemistry between the characters is um evident partially because of the relationships that have gone back, you know, years and years. Also, just the prolific writing, I think on the show really enables new characters to assimilate into the show very seamlessly.
From the batch of new episodes from this season, what are some of your personal favorites?
I personally like “Spring Broken” a lot. I forget the titles, I remember the numbers, right? Cause you produce and you move things around and then you forget the air order and, but I like (that one) a lot. I mean, this is gonna sound so cheesy, but I really do like all of them. The progression is steady from the first episode to the finale. I just feel like there’s a really nice bill. I think the character arcs are very engaging, and the relationships have just gotten stronger and stronger throughout the season. I do like “Spring Broken.” and “Saved by the Grassy Knoll” a good one too. It’s hard to pick a favorite. I think that’s like choosing a favorite child, right?
But speaking of favorite children, which were some of your favorite clones?
Again, you’re putting me on the spot. It’s so hard. I mean, Harriet Tubman is phenomenal. Ayo Edibiri is such a star. Mitra does a great job with Cleo. I guess she’s from the past, even though Mitra is a new voice talent. I would say that the Frida Kahlo character is so cool. The idea of just how cool she is with being effortless is just such a great conceit. Her kind of calming of this wild crew is fun. I love her vibe. I forget which episode it is where Abe asks how are you just so chill? She just has this little rant about how being chill is just innate. And because of it, she’s more chill.
What do you hope audiences can take away from newcomers and nostalgic heads for this show?
I think like any good show that existed at one point or has a long history, the key thing in my mind is just how things merge quickly. As we talked about earlier, I just feel like that, you know, once you’re back into the world, it’s like you never left. I feel like that’s an important successful thing that we do in this show. But it stands for most shows where once you’re in the world, you’re kind of forgetting about what existed before and what’s new, and you’re just in the Clone High world.
That’s really what I hope audiences will take away and connect with. This is hopefully the first of many seasons. The fact that it’s still as relevant now as it was 20 years ago is, you know, an exciting place to be. Both as someone who works on it but also from an audience standpoint as a consumer. Because you just want to see more of these characters. I think that the best compliment a television show can get is that I just wanna spend more time with these characters regardless of the situations they get into. I think there’s just a wealth of material to come that I think is going to be hopefully exciting for audiences and again, irrelevant, what’s going on in the world without being heavy handed.
The first two episodes of Clone High season 2 are available to stream on Max now. Two new episodes premiere each Tuesday through June 22.