Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) face off in a dramatic explosion.
The Art Of

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski adapt the cult classic into an animated series, this time from the perspective of Ramona.

Additional reporting by Keely Flaherty
17 April 20247 min read

When Bryan Lee O’Malley was invited to revisit his career-defining graphic novel Scott Pilgrim for a new animated series, he hesitated, feeling at first that the story had already been told plenty. Originally published in 2004, the oddball tale follows a Toronto slacker who falls for his dream girl, Ramona Flowers, but to win her heart, he must vanquish her seven evil exes in a series of over-the-top battles. Director Edgar Wright had adapted the cult favorite tale as a live-action film in 2010, with a video game released that same year. “I didn’t see any avenues to surprise myself with Scott Pilgrim’s story because I was just so used to it,” O’Malley says.

Then, over dinner with longtime friend BenDavid Grabinski (Happily), the pair hit upon an angle that proved revolutionary: Shift the narrative focus to Ramona. “It felt like a lightning-in-a-bottle idea that would allow us to expand everybody else’s stories,” says Grabinski. “Who doesn’t want to spend all that time with Ramona? That was our feeling.”

The result is Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, a visually dazzling anime series brought to life by the artists of Japanese animation studio Science SARU (Devilman Crybaby). Co-creators O’Malley and Grabinski penned each episode of the series, which follows Scott as loses his face-off against the first evil ex and seemingly dies, leaving Ramona to confront her past romantic entanglements, seeking both clues and closure along the way. “Centering Ramona in those conflicts felt like a great [way] to use a mystery structure and to ultimately have her learn more about herself,” Grabinski says.

With Wright signing on to executive-produce, every member of his live-action film’s original cast agreed to reprise their roles, including Michael Cera as Scott and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona. “The joy of the show is that it opens up the universe in a delightful and thought-provoking way,” Wright says. “Hearing the actors play their parts again was emotional, heartwarming, and hilarious.”

With the story and cast in place, the animation team stepped in to send the characters on their wild new adventure.

Perfecting the Look

For Science SARU’s head of digital animation, Abel Góngora — who directs every episode of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off — conceptualizing an aesthetic that felt true to both O’Malley’s comic book and Wright’s film was important, but so too was crafting visuals that were original and dazzling. “Photographs of Toronto back [in 2010] were the main references,” says Góngora of his myriad inspirations, “but we also had tons of other references like [the band] Gorillaz’s illustrations and video clips, the Street Fighter 2D video games, older anime like Dragon Ball, plus, some older punk rock fanzines, and even pop music video clips.”

Anime veteran Shuhei Handa oversaw the main character design. Says Góngora: “I didn’t give him many directions . . . Handa studied the original comics and Bryan’s drawing style. He really got the essence of it but made it possible to animate and add some cool details like the highlights in the characters’ hair, [plus] some of his own style.”

A still from Scott Pilgrim Takes Off: ninja paparazzi.

A still from Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

Let's Fight

“Fights are super important in the show — those are the key moments when Scott Pilgrim becoming an anime makes sense and the style of character design can be pushed to the limits,” explains Góngora. “The original comic novel was always a reference, but we tried to add lots of dynamism and snappy timing, and push the coolness up. We hope that fans watching the amazing action scenes will get the feeling that Scott Pilgrim was made to be animated.”

Every episode features different styles of fights, but one of the most memorable takes place in the series’ fourth installment, “Whatever,” with ex Lucas Lee (Chris Evans) battling thousands of ninja paparazzi. “Bryan and BenDavid showed us so much respect and gave us freedom in our creative process,” Góngora says. “We sometimes had some back-and-forth exchanges, which usually ended up creating unexpected and cool ideas — like the ninja paparazzi.”

Super Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a fiery hologram against a starry sky.

Super Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)

Ramona Gets Her Flowers

By series’ end, Ramona becomes the hero of her own story, embracing the wisdom of her future self — it’s complicated — and transforming into a character that the show’s creators dubbed “Super Ramona.” “I wanted something fluid and ethereal that floats in the air, like she’s in water,” Góngora says of the character design. “We can see the sky through her, like she is fused with the environment. Just one of our animators was in charge of the animation, which was extremely laborious and detailed. The compositing team did a great job in making her look so special, shining, and golden, like the script required.”