I’ve recently found myself obsessed with the animated web series Helluva Boss, which is an incredibly edgy and goofy show about a Hell-based assassin organisation. Something I really love about it is that it stands out from a lot of animated TV shows out at the moment. The same could be said about The Art Of Murder.
The Art Of Murder is an animated murder-mystery musical that plays on the character tropes of modern western animation, Disney animation, anime, and video games. It’s an ode to pop culture created by Choc Chip Animation Studios, a Melbourne-based indie studio founded by sisters Nirali and Anokhi Somaia, with a soundtrack composed by Sonya Belousova and Gionna Ostinelli, who previously worked on Netflix’s The Witcher series. The voice acting cast also consists of hard-hitters such as Megan Lee (Make It Pop), Joey Bizinger aka The Anime Man (Pop Team Epic), Lauren Lopez and Joey Richter (Team Starkid), and Lizzie Freeman (Genshin Impact, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure).
I had a chat with Nirali, Anokhi, and Sonya earlier this week to learn more about their upcoming web series, which just had its first trailer drop today.
What is The Art of Murder all about?
Nirali: The Art of Murder is like a pop-culture parody murder-mystery musical, and it follows the story of this 13-year-old girl Pip, who’s an aspiring artist. She draws all her favourite characters from her favourite franchises in her sketchbook. From this, we wanted to pay homage to all these different pop culture genres, so she draws a princess style character. Then she draws a shonen-style anime ninja, then a western-style animated character in the vein of Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, those kinds of shows. And then a video game character. And basically, all these characters come to life at night, but she doesn’t know, Toy Story style. The only way they can continue to come to life is if Pip continues to draw them as her favourite characters.
The story starts when one day she draws an original character that comes to life, which is not based on any franchise, but just her own original character. At first, they’re all really excited, but then they realise that with this new original character, there’s the fear of Pip not drawing them anymore so they’ll no longer come to life. The next day, when they go to inspect the original character’s page in Pip’s sketchbook, they find it’s been torn out, which means one of them has murdered him because if his page is not in the sketch anymore, he can’t come to life. From that point, it’s a revelation of all of their lies and their secrets to find out which one of them committed the murder of the original character and whose fears got the better of them. The series takes off from there, turning into a murder mystery of which one of them murdered the original character.
What inspired the creation of the series?
Anokhi: We had always wanted to do a murder mystery musical, so that was always the base that we wanted to go off. But then within that genre, we wanted to find a really interesting take and a twist on the style. We were just exploring what is it that we really love and that is what we want to see. Nirali and I love pop culture, all the different genres from pop culture, things that we love now in pop culture, things that we loved growing up. That’s how the second layer came on top of that is adding that pop culture parody aspect. It’s a celebration of pop culture, and it just puts an interesting twist onto that murder mystery aspect of it. That’s how the inspiration for drawing from all these different genres came into it because it’s just all things that we love and we really wanted it to be a celebration of all of that.
How’s the creative process of making it been over time?
Nirali: I’d say the biggest part of the creative process was merging together all these different styles and characters in a way where they look and sound natural together, with both the art and music. But also doing this in a way that doesn’t detract from what makes their genres unique. Like our anime character only speaks in Japanese, our western animation character has very exaggerated animation and things like that. And all these things needed to mesh together in every part of the production. So Sonya and Gionna merged all these character personalities together in the most incredible way in all the songs, and then the voice actors really brought them all to life perfectly highlighting the quirks of each genre. And now working with our amazing team of artists in bringing these elements together in every stage of the production pipeline for the final episode.
Anohki: We’ve just been so lucky and it’s just been the biggest honour that we’ve been able to work with all these amazing people and collaborate with them on the creative process the whole time. Sonya has done the most incredible music that we could ever imagine, and the voice actors just brought the characters to life so perfectly and so have all the artists. The whole creative process has been really collaborative and I think we’ve just been really lucky to work with amazing people. I just wanted to shout out to all the people who have helped us throughout the creative process as well.
How did Choc Chip animations come to be?
Nirali: The starting story of that is actually really funny. It’s always been our dream to start a studio together, but that dream first came about in high school, which was, ages ago, more than 10 years ago now or something. But we were actually just laughing about it the other day because the idea first came about when… It was always my dream to be a 2D animator at Disney, growing up. That’s what I was always working toward. And then I remember one day, maybe when I was in year 11 or 12 or something like that, Disney shut down their 2D animation department. And that’s when it was they decided they were not going to make 2D films anymore. And I came home crying. I was really upset that day because I was like, ‘Oh, I can never be a 2D animator at Disney. That dream is over.’ Anokhi, she was 13 or 14 at this time, said to me, ‘Don’t be sad, I’ll make a studio for you and you can be a 2D animator at our studio’. We were just kids at this point, but over time we decided to start doing it. We made it our real goal. At some point, we started working towards it seriously and here we are.
The name Choc Chip is actually named after our two dogs, Choc and Chip, which is why the logo is two dogs. They actually passed away of cancer. Choc passed away just last year and Chip passed away in 2016. They were both brothers from the same litter, so Chip was 12 when he passed away and Choc was 15. But we wanted to name the studio in memory of them and in their honour because they always were our inspiration. That’s how the name came about and actually how the studio came about as well.
Sonya, what made you want to compose for an animated musical?
Sonya: Well, when Nirali sent me an email, I was immediately like “Hell yeah, I’m in. This project is a murder mystery? Hell yeah, I’m in. This project is a musical? I’m in right now, 100%”. When she sent me an email, it was so exciting. Nirali sent me the script, I read the script immediately. By that point I had just finished The Witcher and then the second season of Sacred Lies so it was just the perfect timing. I read the script and fell in love immediately with the writing, with the characters and that’s how we started.
Coming off the back of projects like The Witcher, what’s it been like composing music for The Art of Murder?
Sonya: The process is actually very similar because we’re talking about writing songs. For The Witcher, we had to write a lot of songs, and the process has also been similar in a sense that it’s all about producing artists. With The Witcher we had to work a lot with our own main character, with our bard who sings the songs in the show. Same story over here. The process, it’s all been done remotely. First, we put together the songs, we massaged the songs at the demo stage. I recorded all the vocals. If you want to hear those songs with a little bit of a Russian accent, those versions exist. We worked on the songs, we massaged the lyrics, massaged the melodies, made sure that everything is working in the context and fulfilling the vision that Nirali and Anokhi are having for the series and for the music.
Once we settled on the right approach and the right tone, we moved on to voice recordings and that’s where I got a chance to work with our amazing actors and produce those sessions. And obviously, it’s all been done remotely, which is interesting because normally when I’m producing artists, I’m a very hands-on producer and normally it’s something that I love doing at my studio. Unfortunately, given COVID and given circumstances that was not the case, but it didn’t stop us at all. In fact, I think it added an extra layer of challenge, which was very welcome because it was fun. It was really fun. It was fun doing those sessions. And I think I had a blast, I think the actors had a blast. It was a very smooth process, smooth in terms of the performances, not so smooth in terms of technology but hey, it’s technology. We’re very proud of the result because I think it’s great.
What’s been your favourite aspect of composing this soundtrack?
Sonya: To me, it’s not just this soundtrack, but every soundtrack. It’s all about collaboration. It’s all about the team of people that you get to work with because when you work with such inspiring creators like Nirali and Anokhi, it’s always something very special. It’s all about that collaboration. It’s all about sharing the creative energy and sharing the creative vibes. And when you find those amazing collaborators like Nirali and Anokhi, that always means that the end product will be really, really awesome and really cool. The whole process has really been a labour of love, from Nirali and Anokhi to the actors and it just cannot be any other way. It’s always about the people that you work with.
Have we got a rough release date for the series?
Nirali: At the moment, we’re aiming for early to mid next year around May/June but we haven’t set it in stone yet. We’re still working some stuff out, but that’s when we’re hoping for. It might change in a couple of months. If we finish early a little earlier, if we are running a little behind schedule a little later, but in that rough time zone is when we’d be looking to release the pilot.
Anokhi: After the release of the trailer, we’ll be posting lots of sneak peeks and behind the scenes things as well on our social media and YouTube and stuff to lead up to the full pilot release next year because we want the project, as we said before, it’s a celebration of pop culture. We really want to show everyone and the audiences and the behind the scenes process of how these characters are developed and come to life and really give a look into the whole creative process. We’re excited to share lots of development and behind the scenes things as we’re leading up to the pilot next year.
Nirali: Because we’re bringing together so many genres and we wanted it to be a celebration of those genres, we also want this project to be a celebration of the communities behind those genres. All these different franchises, because we’re paying homage to so many different genres and franchises and stuff, it was also to bring together all the communities from all of these different genres as well. Throughout the process, we really wanted to show a behind the scenes look of how it all comes together, which Anokhi said, we’ll be doing going forward from now on.