Weird Waters: An Interview with Series Creator Frank Sandor
The aquarium hobby is abuzz with news about the new streaming series Weird Waters, a CGI-animated fantasy series about three little fish friends who find themselves on the adventure of a lifetime.
What has many of us excited about Weird Waters is that, in a refreshing departure from ubiquitous marine-based series that have come before, the fish cartoon show’s characters are all freshwater fish commonly kept in community aquariums: BZ (a blue ram), I.M. Tiger (a tiger barb), and Jam (a neon tetra). The trio accidentally land in a magical pond where they are swept into a series of adventures full of hidden realms, crazy monsters, and ancient mysteries.
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What is the overall plot of the show, and what makes the world of Weird Waters special?
The fish cartoon show is distributed by 9 Story Media Group (Blue’s Clues, Garfield and Friends) and is available on a variety of streaming services. In anticipation of its upcoming premiere, Tropical Fish Hobbyist interviewed Frank Sandor, Creator and Executive producer of Weird Waters and longtime friend of TFH, who we came to know through his popular Blue Zoo radio show podcast.
Weird Waters is a crazy mix of action, adventure, magic, and mystery for the whole family. It’s about two fish from a pet store (BZ and I.M. Tiger) who accidentally fall into a magical pond and make friends with Jam, a spunky neon tetra, who thinks she knows everything about her world. We like to call them BFFFs—Best Fish Friends Forever. The three friends, known as the Sprats, get into all kinds of adventures together, and the grownups in the pond try their best to keep them out of trouble.
What makes the Weird Waters universe special is that it taps into everything that children wonder about the watery world beyond their view. They all want to know “What’s down there? What kind of adventures do they get into? What food do they eat? What sports do they play?”
Weird Waters dives deep into the imagination of all their favorite fishy friends and shows them a world of adventure just beyond the water’s edge. The show is about family, friendship, crazy monsters, and learning that growing up is the greatest adventure of all.
From Episode 106, “Zinker Stinker”: I.M. Tiger is surprised by a pot full of French flies in the Briney Brooke kitchen.
How did the Blue Zoo podcast lead into Weird Waters?
The Blue Zoo radio show really started before there were many aquatic talk shows, back in 2009. It was actually on terrestrial radio leading into iTunes right at first. As time went by the audience grew, podcasts became “a thing,” and I really started to think about next steps. How do we get kids involved in the hobby? I had these crazy ideas rattling around in my head about a tropical fish cartoon. Having ideas are great, but how do you create and translate those ideas for families to enjoy? That was the challenge.
How did you choose what fish species the characters would be?
I wanted to start out with some good community fish and a few others that weren’t too challenging to raise. I went back to my early fishkeeping days and what I had growing up. Tropical fish have amazing colors and patterns, too, so I wanted to pick a palette that would pop out of a tank for kids, especially ones that haven’t kept fish before.
How did you decide which fish would have which personality?
Oh, it was a process for sure. I first developed a draft of the ideas and characters. Basically, I placed them on a wall, like a rough storyboard along with their traits, mannerisms, and characteristics. I took a list of all the real fish I wanted kids to relate with and started mixing and matching the real fish to those on the wall.
After they were lined up, I started naming them based on their character. It wasn’t an overnight decision. These names and characters took time to work out.
From Episode 103, “The Marshy Maze”: Jam is taking BZ and I.M. Tiger on a tour of Blue Zoo when their boat suddenly comes to a stop.
Other than the three main characters, what other kinds of fish can we expect to see? What kind of villain species do our three heroes encounter in the first season?
We have fish species for everyone. If you like big or small, fast or slow we have them in Weird Waters.
From tetras and shrimp to cichlids, bettas, and cory cats, each season has new characters crossing paths with our Sprats. The villains in the first season include a black ghost knifefish, a green-lantern platy, a glass catfish, a frontosa, and a dragon blood cichlid.
I can’t give away all the characters coming, but there are going to be some great surprises. I hope it opens a new world for kids to see species they may have never known about.
How do you think this show is going to affect the aquarium hobby?
Two words: interest and participation. The goal is to get kids interested. If there’s interest, they will participate. Fishkeeping is one of the best hobbies in the world. You get to create and observe an ecosystem in your home or office. Setting up a fish tank allows you to be creative and have a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. I’d like to say someday, “It’s the Weird Waters effect.” Let’s keep the hobby growing.
Who came up with the concept of the series, and the world the characters inhabit?
I created the concept and characters based off life experiences and people I have met throughout the journey. I bet some people I know will look at these characters and see if they fit them best. What’s funny is it could have been a simple running into or just observing someone from afar, and it went into the memory banks to be resurrected for a kids’ cartoon. My brain works weird that way…then again, I’ve never checked, maybe everyone’s brain works that way.
I have been asked a lot how the name came about. We were bantering about ideas for a name and nothing was really clicking for any of us. Mother’s Day morning in 2019 I woke up at 3 a.m. with this name in my head: Weird Waters. I stumbled to my office, wrote it down, and went back to bed. A few days later I showed it to the team, and it clicked. I wish there was a more grandiose revealing moment, but that was it.
From Episode 103, “The Marshy Maze”: The Sprats are lost inside the Marshy Maze.
This is quite the involved project—who’s in charge of the day-to-day production of the episodes, developing the plotlines, writing dialog, etc.?
Weird Waters takes a mountain of people to execute. I get to be involved in everything, but I am also really lucky to be partnered with a great team of very talented people. I partnered with Meticulous Media to bring this epic tropical freshwater adventure to life. Meticulous oversees each season from start to finish, which includes story development, writing scripts, casting actors, voice recording actors, editing dialogue, and overseeing production, post-production, and delivery.
We also work in conjunction with Moondog Animation Studio, who handles fabrication of our series, which includes animatics, layouts, animation, visual effects, and renders. Each season takes around 10 months to complete, so we are stacking seasons on each other. We have nearly 90 people working on this series at any given time. Let’s just say we are very busy!
Christine Tseng is our Showrunner, I refer to her as the “architect” of the series. Josh Staman is our Head of Story, with Jean-Marc Khayat as Head of Production, and of course Angela Sandor, one of our Executive Producers, who’s also my wife and partner in tropical freshwater antics.
Are there any kids in particular who inspired you to create these characters and their adventures?
Oh yeah! I have five kids, all extremely active in sports growing up and all with outgoing personalities. They make me laugh all the time. Between their activities and their friends, I could write for years and still not scratch the surface.
The really cool thing in all of this now is that I can get them involved in the cartoon on so many levels. Writing, voice acting, social media, drawing—it’s a blast!
From episode 102, “Great Beast!”: I.M. Tiger is writing a message while his two best friends, Jam and BZ, wait in anticipation behind him.
Are there any plans for Weird Waters merchandise? Maybe aquarium decorations, or even aquarium kits?
Absolutely! Hikari has been a huge asset for Weird Waters. Their global footprint will be bringing awesome products to market. Along with Estes, Koller products, and Rolf C. Hagen, we’ve got everything kids will want to create the fantasy world of Weird Waters in their homes. Aquarium kits, food, substrates, and accessories will allow kids to bring the cartoon to life.
What’s your favorite fish to keep in your own aquariums?
At one time I had over 2,000 gallons (7,500 liters) of tropical fish tanks in my house. I have a lot of favorites, as you can imagine. Weird Waters is a great showcase for my favorites. I have at one time or another had every species that will pop up in the show. But if I had to give you three: redtail shark, neon tetra, and rainbows. (I may have given something away there…)
Weird Waters is a registered trademark of Wayletta Productions LLC. © Wayletta Productions 2022. All rights reserved. www.weirdwaters.com.