Longtime Gizmodo readers may have noticed our love for animated Argentinian web series La Frecuencia Kirlian, or Ghost Radio. All five episodes are now on Netflix, which is cause for excitement – as well as an excellent reason to chat to creators Cristian Ponce and Hernán Bengoa.
The Kirlian Frequency, as it’s now titled, is set in a small town that’s isolated itself for very good reason – it’s a hotbed of menacing supernatural activity, which could mean witches, vampires, ghosts and werewolves, or even ancient tentacle monsters. The most dangerous time to be roaming around Kirlian is at night, which is also when the local talk-radio DJ keeps watch and takes calls, offering advice and warnings to his freaked-out listeners.
Each episode of The Kirlian Frequency runs just under 10 minutes, so you can burn through the entire series in under an hour – which you totally should, especially if you’re a fan of The X-Files, Coast to Coast AM, The Twilight Zone, the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and quirky indie animation.
Gizmodo: How did the show go from web series to streaming on a huge platform like Netflix?
Cristian Ponce (writer, director, and animator): Ever since we premiered the show on Vimeo in 2017, it slowly started gaining more views and followers, mostly thanks to word of mouth. Given that it’s an independent production we had no access to any kind of advertising to spread it. Luckily, in time some interviews and reviews started showing up online, and by mid-2018 two broadcasters from a national radio show Sensacional Éxito knew the show thanks to Gizmodo and interviewed us.
Hernán Bengoa (writer and illustrator): That interview was listened to by Alejandro De Grazia, who is an Argentinian film distributor and a Netflix aggregator (a kind of curator who selects material that the platform might find interesting). He did some research, contacted us, and about six months after that we were streaming the show on the new platform.
Gizmodo: The only difference I noticed was that there’s some English dubbing (along with subtitles when needed). Did anything else change for Netflix?
Ponce: Everything that appeared in Spanish on screen had to be translated to other languages.
Bengoa: Besides the dubbing and subtitles in English and Portuguese (which were handled by Netflix), we had to alter all of the written information on screen, not only the embedded subtitles but also every graphic like signs, posters, etc.
Gizmodo: How did the idea for the series first come about, and what made you want to frame it as a late-night radio show? Was there a specific inspiration there?
Ponce: I worked for several years at my brother’s radio station in my hometown, and for some time I even hosted a late night show called Hearts in Atlantis in which I would read Stephen King’s stories on air. I always had a thing for the radio, and I thought those kinds of radio shows like Gary Cole’s in Midnight Caller or Eric Bogosian’s in Talk Radio were ideal as a nexus for a horror anthology show.
The main trigger was the episode 'Dead Air' from the show Night Visions, in which Lou Diamond Phillips played a radio DJ/host harassed by strange calls in an after midnight show. There’s something about the idea of a character lost in the night, bonded with so many people through his voice but at the same time completely alone in an empty building which I find eerie. Other references for this idea of a radio host caught in the midst of a supernatural situation are The Fog, Pontypool and Eight Legged Freaks. There’s even a direct reference to the episode 'The Devil’s Advocate' from Tales from the Darkside in the first episode.
The mysterious DJ.
Gizmodo: The host of the show is kind of a mysterious figure. Is he a good guy, a bad guy or something in between, in your opinion?
Ponce: I think he’s someone with his own agenda, and he’s very committed to it. I believe he’s convinced that what he does, and the way he does it, is for Kirlian’s greater good.
Bengoa: He thinks he’s one of the good guys. Others may have their own opinion of him.
Gizmodo: Speaking of inspirations, there are definitely certain ones that surface throughout the series – The Twilight Zone, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, etc. How much did you plan out the larger mythology of Kirlian before you began, or was it a more organic process with those influences cropping up along the way?
Ponce: To me it’s an organic process, much like a giant sandbox. On the first season, we set out to use only one classic monster as a trigger for each episode, and give it a twist. Besides that, there was complete freedom. Eventually, some issues about the town and the radio’s background started piling up and we had to arrange them so that they made sense, that way the mythology started growing. On the second season, the idea is to play a bit more with those elements, but not in a traditional way.
Bengoa: Cristian prefers the anthology take of the show, and I’m more into tying loose up ends. We complement each other in that way. As the episodes went by, I started adding stuff in the background which were my own interpretation of what was going on in the town. Generally, I have much of the mythology in mind even though we haven’t written it down. But with every new idea, what we know of Kirlian changes.
Just another night in Kirlian.
Gizmodo: What interests you most about telling stories in the horror genre? What do you hope viewers take away from watching the show?
Ponce: I think the biggest real reference, from a narrative point of view, has always been The Twilight Zone, because since the start the idea was to talk about what interested me, mediated by fantastic as a conductor and catalyst. I believe the genre is a good way of helping us swallow some stories or subjects that in another way would be too depressing to reach a larger audience. It’s not essential to me for the audience to identify those subjects, but they’re there. On the other hand, I love horror aesthetically and it’s the genre I consume the most.
Bengoa: What I find most captivating is the mystery component, the puzzle to be solved. Mystery and horror become very personal when you seek to tell stories that are intertwined with what scares or troubles you.
Gizmodo: What was the animation process like and did you vary your process/technique from episode to episode? What sorts of visuals did you look to for inspiration?
Ponce: Once the script is done, the director separates the story in shots and draws a version of that shot with all the layers it will need to be animated (during the first season I was both director and animator, so this was an easy job because I already knew what I would need). Then, those shots were illustrated by Hernán and as he would finish them, I would start the animation.
Bengoa: Each drawing is illustrated respecting the margins and limits defined by the director, but as for the aesthetic, there was total freedom (we trust in the fact of us having similar criteria). This was one of the perks of working on a totally independent way.
Ponce: The first thing we decided was working with silhouettes, something that I brought in from an earlier version I had thought of, in which the show would be a mix of live action silhouettes and some animation, like the Queens of the Stone Age video for 'Go With the Flow'. Once we settled on animation, the treatment for the silhouettes and the colour was based mainly on games such as De-Animator, Kentucky Route Zero and Limbo.
Bengoa: Videogames were very useful as reference because the animation method we use is closer to them than traditional animation, with pre-designed figures that we can manipulate to generate action. It ended up being some kind of digital cut out, but with more freedom and the occasional use of other methods. Another aesthetic reference we had from the beginning was the cover of issue #2 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Mike Mignola’s chiaroscuro in Hellboy.
Ponce: We learned along the way how to work better and faster with the experience we were gaining. It took us almost two years to complete the first episode, while the last one only took us two months.
Don’t piss off the witches in Kirlian. Just...don’t do it.
Gizmodo: I might be wrong, but I don’t think a lot of pop culture from Argentina makes it to the English-speaking world – especially not spooky animation! Is there anything that viewers might miss, references and so forth, that you could point out for us?
Ponce: As direct references to something entirely local, I think there’s only two. First, there’s the appearance of the magazine El Péndulo ('The Pendulum') in episode four, which is a classic magazine much like Galaxy, Amazing and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and it’s on the episode because it contains the first serious article about Stephen King’s career in Spanish. Also in that article, there’s a description of an unpublished project by King about a haunted radio station! Then, there’s the appearance of Más allá de la Media Noche ('Beyond Midnight'), an Uruguayan horror comics magazine which only had two issues and obsessed me as a kid.
Bengoa: As an illustrator, I consulted many times the way Alberto Breccia handles chiaroscuro. In particular, his illustrated version of The Myths of Cthulhu, a book that is an inspiration for the show by itself.
Ponce: Beyond that, I think the way the stories develop is purely Argentinian. The way the characters communicate with each other, the decisions they make and the way they face the world. It’s probably a somewhat universal approach, but to me, it feels closer than a North American movie.
Gizmodo: It seems like Kirlian still has so many stories to tell. You mentioned a second season above – what’s the status of that, and would it also be on Netflix if it happens? Would you ever want to expand the world into something like a graphic novel or comic book?
Ponce: Right now we’re starting to work on the second season. We have five new episodes written, and ideally, they will be acquired by Netflix once produced. We love the idea of a graphic novel, and we’ve been asked that many times on social media. In that way, we picture a volume composed [of] shorter stories or maybe stories that complete the episodes and characters we’ve already seen on screen. If there’s any readers interested, we’ll probably do it someday.
Bengoa: The core of the production, what we call the Kirlian Archive and Radiophonic Institute, is completed by Hernán Biasotti (sound design) and Marcelo Cataldo (original score). Marcelo is working at the moment on an album with extended versions of the songs that appear in the episodes, and we thought of the possibility of including new recordings by the host telling new short stories.
Seeing is believing in Kirlian.
The Kirlian Frequency is now available on Netflix.