On April 18 at midnight Pacific standard time, the Critical Role Kickstarter campaign to fund an animated program came to an end. With an initial goal of raising $750,000 in 45 days to produce a 22-minute special, the crowdfunding campaign finished with more than $11.3 million from over 88,000 backers, transforming the one special into a 10-episode series. Along the way, it became the most funded film or television project on Kickstarter as well as one of the crowdfunding service’s top five most funded and one of the top five most backed of all-time.
Critical Role is a weekly livestream of animation voice actors playing Dungeons & Dragons. Comprising of game master Matthew Mercer and players Travis Willingham, Marisha Ray, Sam Riegel, Laura Bailey, Liam O’Brien, Ashley Johnson, and Taliesin Jaffe, they have experienced great success since they first started streaming through Geek & Sundry in 2015. Thanks to a passionate and dedicated fanbase, nicknamed Critters, that have provided artwork and content that the cast have found inspiring, Critical Role has expanded to other avenues such as a comic book published by Dark Horse, an art exhibition at Gallery Nucleus, a campaign settings book for Dungeons & Dragons, and live shows.
With their popularity growing, they started to seriously explore the idea of adapting their stories and characters into animation. But while they work in the medium as voice actors, that didn’t guarantee a path to getting a program produced. After pitching the concept to a number of studios with little to no results, it took a gag promoting one of their livestream sponsors D&D Beyond to finally achieve an animated Critical Role. As explained to Animated Views by cast member and executive producer Sam Riegel prior to the end of the Kickstarter campaign, a commercial was created based on a 1980s-inspired jingle he performed.
Animated Views: How did the idea of turning one of your D&D Beyond sponsorship gags into an actual animated commercial come to fruition?
Sam Riegel: We can thank the forward-thinking minds at D&D Beyond for that idea! After my silly song debuted, a lot of fans were remixing it, making a cappella versions, even turning it into sappy acoustic ballads. Our sponsors called us up a week or two later and pitched the idea of recording a professional version of the jingle, and producing a cartoon to accompany it. We jumped at the idea, not knowing at the time that it would be the first test-run at making our dream animated series come true.
from the first game campaign played on the Critical Role livestream
Seeing how much the fans shared their desire for an animated program to come to fruition, the Critical Role team decided to turn to crowdfunding to see if they could make it happen. But they decided to do so cautiously as they weren’t sure how much fans were willing to pay. Thus Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina was initially pitched as a 22-minute special.
AV: When it was decided to do crowdfunding for an animated project, was it always envisioned to develop a special, as was initially pitched, or was a full multi-episode series considered?
SR: Animation budgets are seriously massive, so no one at Critical Role expected the fans to fully finance a series. At best, we thought, the Critters might pitch in enough to pay for a 2-part… or possibly 3-part pilot. But the thought that we could get an entire 10-episode season out of this was so far-fetched we didn’t even discuss it. My, how naive we were…
is a gnome bard named Scanlan Shorthalt
With a month and a half still to go in the campaign, the Critical Role crew decided to take a chance and add more stretch goals with the final mark being to raise $8.8 million, which would be enough to fully fund a 10-episode animated series. This was achieved during a regular Critical Role livestream on April 4. From then on, additional funds raised would go towards improving the animation, which will be done by Chris Prynoski and his studio Titmouse, Inc. Riegel admitted that an appealing aspect to choosing Prynoski was that the latter was himself a Dungeons & Dragons fan, running a game that has been ongoing for years.
AV: Were other animation studios considered before settling on Titmouse or were they the only choice given Chris Prynoski’s love for Dungeons & Dragons?
SR: When the animated series idea was first hatched, we talked with a few different animation studios to gauge their interest. Titmouse was our first meeting, and right off the bat we clicked with their whole way of operating. Chris P’s passion for the genre, and the whole studio’s incredible visual creativity made for an easy decision.
Matthew Mercer, Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham
AV: Did you or have you offered suggestions to Titmouse on a particular style or visual look to the show?
SR: Of course! We’re intimately involved with shaping the look and style of the series. For Titmouse’s 1-minute animated intro (in the Kickstarter launch video), we worked with their character designers, directors and storyboard artists to hone each shot and character. And as we develop the visual look for the series, we’ll be spending much more time on visual development before we even begin proper production. Luckily, since our streaming show launched the fans have been sending us simply spectacular fan-art of every single character and key moment from Critical Role. So we have a pretty great sense of how we’d like it to look.
that takes place prior to the start of the Critical Role livestream
AV: Has any work started on the development of the show since the Kickstarter campaign began?
SR: Yes! We’re already hard at work developing story ideas, mapping out the (now fully funded!) Briarwood arc, interviewing writers, art directors, and other key crew members, and assembling the team that’s going to spend the next 18 months actually making The Legend of Vox Machina! As soon as the Kickstarter campaign is over, we are ready to dive right in to full-time animation production. It’s gonna be a wild ride.
the Briarwood story arc from episodes 24-38 of the Critical Role livestream