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Ten Minutes With: “Gravity Falls” creator Alex Hirsh

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

Alex Hirsh wasn’t prepared for the viewers’ responses to the initial launch of his animated Disney show, “Gravity Falls.” Attending a panel at Comic Con after only four episodes had aired, Hirsh expected a handful of inquisitive attendees interested in hearing him speak. Instead, he walked into a packed hall filled with fans dissecting the mysteries the main characters explore.

“It was a transformative experience. Animation takes so long to make; your spending so much time with your coworkers completing the episode and finessing the finer points,” said Hirsh. “People were picking up on secrets. They were fully engaged. It was a fantastic thing, I’ll never forget that first Comic Con.”

Now preparing for its second season, “Gravity Falls” follows the adventures of 12 year-old twins Dipper and Mabel who, during summer vacation, live with their great uncle Stan, affectionately nicknamed “Gruncle Stan,” in Gravity Falls, Oregon. After finding a mysterious diary, Dipper realizes the town is full of paranormal secrets that he and Mabel are determined to unravel. With the help of a supporting cast including “Soos,” a child-like handyman and Wendy, the object of Dipper’s affections (and many other characters that pass in and out of their lives). Hirsh, who cut his teeth as a writer and storyboard artist on “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack” and “Fish Hooks,” wanted to create a show based on what inspired him as a boy.

“I’d listen to songs backwards and look for messages. I got into things like the moon landing and the conspiracy around JFK’s murder,” said Hirsh. “I saw what confused adults and I’d look for clues to those mysterious elements.”

In addition to mysteries and the paranormal, Hirsh also had an early love for “The Simpsons.” He began watching the show as a third grader and continues watching the series to this day. “That’s a show that has everything,” said Hirsh. “The humor is high-brow and low-brow; it has something for everyone.” With the premise of the show inspired by this approach to humor, Hirsh also wanted each episode to awaken the imaginations of young viewers, and infuse them with the same sense of curiosity he experienced as a young boy.

“I knew it couldn’t be 100% comedy, there needed to be the value of surprise. I want to give them a reason to pay attention,” said Hirsh. “If they’re seeing jokes they don’t get, I want them to feel inspired to learn. It provides a full comedy meal.”

The look of the show was just as important to Hirsh as the content. he wanted the characters to be simple and charming. The characters are not loaded down with details, and their shapes are all unique and distinctive, allowing an audience member to easily distinguish them from a distance. The simplicity of the characters is contrasted by lush, atmospheric backgrounds filled with detailed lighting and textures. Hirsh hired a number of young artist he went to art school with to work on the show, and his former roommate acts as the show’ art director. The team works on six episodes at a time, with Hirsh overseeing all aspects of creativity.

“In a typical day I’m working in the office on a concept and script, I review the notes on storyboards for upcoming shows, and I’m reviewing the music,” said Hirsh. “It’s overwhelming but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I care about the characters of this show as if they were alive.”

Hirsh loosely based the characters on people he’s known, and had some specific ideas as to how they should sound when he was casting the voices. He found this aspect of the show’s creation the most stressful, for he realized that he had to find a balance between his ideas for the character and what each actor could contribute through their performance. He was excited to bring actress Kristin Schaal on board as Mabel, a casting choice he calls “crucial.” Jason Ritter voices Dipper, and Hirsh voices Grunkle Stan and Soos, a character he’s extremely found of playing.

“He’s uncynical, and open and hopeful to magic and mystery,” said Hirsh. “I started doing voices in ‘Fish Hooks’ and I feel very fortunate to do voices. I do understand these characters.”

Hirsh hopes that “Gravity Falls” will be around for at least three seasons (the show was renewed for a second season this summer.) He feels three seasons is the perfect cap for the “three months of summer.” With the experience of creating his own children’s series now firmly under his belt he’d like to move onto comedy for “people my own age.” He feels excited by the lessons he’s learned and the opportunity he was granted by Disney who took a chance on “Gravity Falls,” and he looks forward to what lies ahead.

“I’m young and new to the business and people told me I needed experience. I feel if trying something is making people nervous, you have to start trusting your gut,” said Hirsh. “If I hadn’t listed to my gut, I would have regretted my choices. The second greatest lesson I learned is work with people who are inspired, who are hungry and filled with passion. They inspire you, and everyone shines.”

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Also check out these shorts appearing on the Disney Channel: “Dipper’s Guide to the Unexplained” new shorts premiere each night the week of October 14- 18 at 7:25 p.m.

• Monday, October 14
The new short-form series kicks-off the week with two back-to-back episodes, “Candy Monster” (7:25 p.m.) and “Stan’s Tattoo” (7:55 p.m.). In “Candy Monster,” Dipper and Mable must go into full on battle mode against a mysterious creature when it leaps out of the rafters and steals their ‘Summerween’ candy. “Stan’s Tattoo” follows Dipper as he devises a plan to unravel the enigma that is Stan’s Tattoo.

• Tuesday, October 15
“Mailbox” – Dipper and Soos stumble upon a mailbox in the middle of the forest and make it their mission to discover who (or what) picks up the mail left inside.

• Wednesday, October 16
“Lefty” – Dipper sets out to discover why a certain Gravity Falls resident always faces left.

• Thursday, October 17
“Tooth” – Dipper and Mabel find a gigantic tooth on the shores of the lake, and set out in a rowboat to find out where it came from.

• Friday, October 18
“The Hide Behind” – In hearing of a local lumberjack legend, Dipper investigates a mysterious creature that has been heard, but never seen.