Infinity Train’s Creator On Why Trains Sound Scary And Where He Wants The Show To Go Next

Infinity Train’s Creator On Why Trains Sound Scary And Where He Wants The Show To Go Next
Image: Cartoon Network

Infinity Train is a beautiful show that surprised us every episode with its barrage of unique train cars. But it’s not always about how a show looks—what’s also important is how it sounds. We’ve got an exclusive peek behind the scenes at the sound design of Infinity Train, and we also talked with the man behind the series about the show’s roots, what themes he wants to explore in the future, and the evils of Twinkies cereal.

Cartoon Network is getting ready for the DVD release of Infinity Train: Book One, which followed Tulip aboard the neverending therapy train where people go when they’re in need of answers. Over the course of the season, Tulip discovered that there was something desperately wrong with the train, and being the problem solver that she is, she tried to help everyone else…while also helping herself in the process. The second season focused on the story of Tulip’s mirror world self, looking at identity and what it means to be a person.

We’ve got an exclusive behind the scenes clip from the Infinity Train: Book One home release, which shows creator Owen Dennis and supervising director Madeline Queripel sound designing some of the show’s most impactful scenes (like Tulip’s final confrontation with the person behind the train’s issues). We also sat down with Dennis to chat about where Infinity Train has been and where the therapy train is hopefully going in the future.

io9: Hello from the quarantine! I saw the “skullwalker” animation you posted on Twitter, and the “Fuck It” one. What kind of work are you doing right now to keep busy?

Owen Dennis: Uh, just that [laughs]. I mostly sit in my studio, working on stuff I can’t talk about, but also eating a lot of different kinds of cereal. Have you ever had Twinkies cereal?

io9: There’s a Twinkies cereal?

Dennis: Yeah, it’s fucked up.

io9: OK, can you just describe to me what that tastes like.

Dennis: So, first off, one of weird things about Twinkies cereal is that you pour it into the bowl and add milk, then the Twinkie cereal never gets soft. It stays hard. And then the milk turns into the flavour of the inside of a Twinkie.

io9: I don’t even know how to process that. OK, so the first book of Infinity Train is getting released. Looking back, what are you most proud of with the show since coming up with the idea a decade ago?

Dennis: What am I most proud of? I guess I’m the most proud that it connected emotionally with people. That’s like the top thing I always care about the most. Whether it’s something that I make, or we make, [it] actually has some emotional resonance for other people, so it’s not just making something and casting it out there, and then nothing.

io9: The clip we featured (above) focuses on the sound design of Infinity Train, something audiences tend not to know too much about. Can you tell me what that part of the process is like in production?

Dennis: Yeah, something people tend to forget, in general, is sound design. But people forget about it even more when it comes to animation, because in film you actually get sound for free from wherever you are. So there’s still sound design as it happens. If you shoot something and you have a microphone, you can get the audio of what’s happening around it and there it is.

But in animation has to be created entirely, so every single sound that you ever hear in animation has to be created from scratch. Because there’s no sound, it’s just a bunch of drawings. I think sometimes people take for granted the fact that like, oh, you can hear room tone in the back of this particular room, or the lower echo in this character’s voice. That happens because someone had to sit there and figure out: How big is this room? How much echo should it have? What does this room sounds like when nothing’s happening in it, and it’s just the sound of silence?

Sound design, I feel like it was really important on this show, because it’s always going to be important on sci-fi or fantasy things. Because not only are you making up sounds from scratch, but you’re also making up entire ideas and concepts from scratch. You’re not recording something just like pointing a camera at it and there’s the sound. It’s like, “What’s the sound of static overcoming your body? Like, what does that sound like?” And that’s kind of a fun thing to think about with sound design.

io9: The show centres around a train that looks and sounds pretty damn scary. How do you make a train sound scary?

Dennis: Well, trains are kind of scary in their concept. Trains are like giant iron things that move forward and keep moving until they either hit something or they take a super long time to brake. And they’re made with all these industrial parts and everything, and they’ve got rust on them and they’re covered in oil and sludge. They’re dirty. Like, these are trains, not Thomas the Tank Engine.

I think trains inherently have so much power. I think that’s one of the reasons that little kids sometimes get really into trains, dinosaurs, and things like that is because there’s this big power to it…So all you really need to do is just think of the feeling of an industrial power and what does that sound like and feel like? It’d be like a low mechanical tone, a little bit of high, high, high-frequency sound. And then you’re there. But it mostly be a low clicking sort of sounds, something that doesn’t feel like—it doesn’t feel natural. It doesn’t feel created by nature in any way.

io9: The second book of Infinity Train took a surprising turn by focusing on Lake (formerly Mirror Tulip). Why change protagonists like this?

Dennis: Whenever we come up with a new season, we try to think of, like, where’s the topics that we felt like we didn’t get to go fully into in the previous season? And so, in the first season, we talked a lot about change and overcoming—changing how you’re sort of going to deal with [life’s problems] going into the future. But episode seven (“Mirror Car”)… that sort of side stepped a little bit into identity. And we felt that [Mirror Tulip] was strong enough at the time. She was a very cool character, like we enjoyed writing her, we enjoyed seeing her. So we were like, “Let’s bring her back and go into this topic a little more deeply.”

io9: Identity and the definition of personhood are heavy subjects in science fiction, especially for kids. You’ve talked before about how it’s ok to make cartoons that scare kids, but this is on another level. What dive into such a weighty subject?

Dennis: I think it’s what interests me. It’s what interests me and it’s what interested me when I was, you know, 12, 13, 14. I’ve been interested in that stuff for, you know, a really long time. So I don’t know why it wouldn’t be interesting to some other kid that’s also in that age range. I was into it, I could see anyone else being into it. It’s just something that I feel is important to us as a people.

If you’re not thinking about your identity and who you are and who you are in a world, what are you thinking about? I don’t know what else there is to think about. I feel like it’s kind of one of the most important topics you can have. You can think about [your daily routine], you know, you can think about, “What am I going to eat for lunch today?” But in the end, the biggest thing you can accomplish in your life, in most cases, is being like, “Who am I?” I understand myself, and becoming ok with it and what your life is going to be. It’s empowering.

io9: Is having another new protagonist something we can expect in the future, should we get another season? Will we always have a new person’s story to tell?

Dennis: Well, if there was another season, then yes. That’s what I would think. One of the reasons that the show exists the way it does is because I get kind of bored, easily. I need new characters. I need new situations. So, like trains, it’s always a different train car, or oh it’s always a different main character. I need that to stay focused. I feel like if you stay with one character too long, it can start to get sort of stale. That’s sort of what interested me about the anthology format.

io9: Obviously, you can’t tell me whether we’re getting a third season—although I wish you could. You’ve already explored connection, growth, and healing from trauma. You’ve gone into identity and what it means to be a person. What themes do you have in store, where else do you want to explore?

Dennis: Something I’ve been feeling a lot lately, I think a lot of people [are] probably feeling a lot lately—there seems to be a bit of a lack of empathy in the world. I think getting a bit more into that. Understanding why do you view someone as “other”? Why do you view someone as not “other”?

That’s a subject I’d be interested in getting into.

You can catch Infinity Train: Book One on Stan in Australia.