“Nothing like this has ever been done at Netflix”: the puzzle-piece process behind the interactive series Battle Kitty

We speak to Matt and Paul Layzell about the mammoth mission of creating a huge map for the animated show and “breaking” Netflix’s interactive tools in the process.

Date
3 May 2022

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While, to some, interactive media might bring back memories of the 80s, 90s and Choose Your Own Adventure books (or if you were a Goosebumps fan, “choose your own scare”) interactive content has been having a renaissance on Netflix. Since Bandersnatch hit screens in 2018, shows like this year’s Cat Burglar, 2019’s You vs. Wild, and even Headscape’s Unwind Your Mind have engaged viewers using interactive formats. But nowhere does interactivity feel more fitting, and the process more complex, than in animated projects like Netflix’s newly released Battle Kitty, created and developed by Matt and Paul Layzell. Aiming to create a show that feels like a video game that you’d “play with your friends on summer holidays”, says Paul, the project features a highly unique process with a specific set of challenges for the Layzells and their animation team.

“Editing was a trip on Battle Kitty”, Matt tells It’s Nice That. “Our lead editor, Matthew Winslow had to keep track of hundreds of puzzle-piece-like segments for the map to work.” The premise for Battle Kitty is fairly simple; it’s a show about a super-powered kitten who loves to fight monsters on an island. But rather than selecting episodes from a list, viewers experience the show through an interactive world map, similar to those found in video games. For the show’s editors: “It really was a mathematical exercise to plan and keep track of everything and we had some amazing animation scientists on our team who made it all possible”, says Matt. Watching particular Battle Kitty episodes allows you to progress through the show-game, while others will unlock news paths to hidden episodes. Creating this map was entirely uncharted ground for both the Layzells, and Netflix.

Paul Layzell / Matt Layzell: Battle Kitty (Copyright © Netflix, 2022)

“Nothing like this has ever been done at Netflix”, says Paul. “We were designing, building and producing the interactive map in tandem with the episodic content, which was really fun, as we were getting to make a show AND a video game at the same time, but it was obviously a lot of work.” Summarising up the experience, Paul says that: “We, alongside our UX Designer Joe Canose and the Netflix interactive team were really laying the tracks as we were driving the train.” By far the trickiest element of the process was making the map work within the confines of the interactive tools Netflix already had. A lot of the platform’s interactive tools were intended for shows like Bandersnatch, which had branching narrative formats. Paul continues: “We were kind of ‘breaking’ the technology to make the maps format, so a lot of concessions had to be made, but also a lot of new things were successfully pulled off, which we’re really proud of!”

While other parts of the Battle Kitty process were less painstakingly complex, they were no less interesting. The show actually began as a sketch series Matt made for fun and posted on Instagram before becoming a full-blown Netflix release. When it came to realising the final work, the Layzells took a lot of inspiration from video games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and cartoons like Looney Tunes when designing characters. Interestingly, the team chose to pair off-the-wall character designs with very natural, considered acting moments. Matt explains: “I always think it looks great to have fantastical, crazy looking creatures that move in a very understated, human way, there’s something so mesmerising about that.” A quick trip to the director’s Instagram reveals the countless – quite incredible – acting references Matt sent to animation studio Plastic Wax during the creation of Battle Kitty, who translated them into character acting.

On the possibilities of the animated interactive space progressing, the creators hope Battle Kitty can inspire further experimentation. Paul states: “I think we’re in a time where you’re seeing a lot of video games starting to feel like movies and TV and a lot of TV/ movie people getting into games. Interactivity is a sliding scale and I think technology is allowing a lot of artists to experiment with how far you can push something on that scale.” Matt adds: “At the end of the day though, it’s still all about communicating an idea, telling a story, so the interactive element is just another tool in the artist’s toolbox for helping them create the experience they want.”

GalleryPaul Layzell / Matt Layzell: Battle Kitty (Copyright © Netflix, 2022)

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Paul Layzell / Matt Layzell: Battle Kitty (Copyright © Netflix, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.

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