6 Animation Studios That Are Pushing the Boundaries of the Industry
During last week’s RTX 2017, Rooster Teeth’s 7th annual expo that brings movie, TV, video game, and Internet fandoms under one roof, the 2nd annual Rooster Teeth Animation Festival ran right alongside the main programming. This incredible display of both veteran and rising talent from the world of animation gave fans of the medium unprecedented access to some of the biggest names and most creative artists in the industry. It’s a must-attend for fans of animation and a great opportunity for those of you who are looking to get a foot in the door of the business.
I had the chance to not only attend the panels of a number of animation studios at RTX but also to interview their creative visionaries one on one. You can read my full chat with legendary producer Fred Seibert here, but there are some additional tidbits included below that pertain to Frederator’s latest effort, Castlevania I also talked with the series’ director Sam Deats from Powerhouse Animation. Another interview you’ll find below features Myles Langlois, creator of Adult Swim’s Apollo Gauntlet, along with the show’s director Greg Franklin. Finally, look for my chat with the team behind the Austin-based animation studio, Mighty Coconut, who count Kings of Atlantis among their productions.
Here’s a brief look at the animation studios in our spotlight:
- Frederator Studios
- Castlevania, Costume Quest, GO! Cartoons, Bee and Puppycat, Bravest Warriors
- Powerhouse Animation
- Castlevania, 6 Manos, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes
- Adult Swim
- Apollo Gauntlet, Squidbillies, Tigtone, Lazor Wulf
- Rooster Teeth
- RWBY, gen:LOCK, Camp Camp, Red vs Blue, RT Animated Adventures
- Mondo Media
- Happy Tree Friends, Deep Space 69, Lastman
- Mighty Coconut
- Kings of Atlantis, The OceanMaker, Pigeon: Impossible, Koalaroo, The Mighty Coconuts
Feel free to check out your favorite studios or shows below, but don’t be afraid to venture into the unknown and explore some up-and-coming animation talent. You might just find your next favorite obsession!
If there’s one producer who consistently reinvents the way in which animated shows make their way to audiences, it’s Fred Seibert. From a studio system, to an incubator model, to pioneering animation on the internet, Seibert’s seen it all over Frederator’s 20 years. One key to the studio’s success has been trusting in the talent of their personnel through every step of the process. He succinctly summed up his approach, using Frederator’s production of Castlevania as an example:
Kevin [Kolde]’s vision, Warren [Ellis’] script, Powerhouse’s animation. In every case that we do, we work with creative teams who can execute a vision that we believe in.
Here’s how Castlevania came to be at Frederator:
Seibert: Kevin Kolde, who runs production for Frederator, actually came to Frederator with the property in his hand. He had been John Kricfalusi’s partner in Spümcø, the Ren and Stimpy studio, and in his heart he’s a gamer. He saw all of the adaptations of games that were, at that point, primarily movies, and like every other gamer was deeply disappointed. He felt like these were exploitative moves. He became determined to find material that had rich story elements, the potential of great characters, and prove to the world that this was a possibility.
He spent years negotiating with Konami to get these rights and they were very limited rights. Konami had actually already given out feature film rights for a live-action feature film, which clearly has never come to pass, and we had very, very limited rights for what we were going to do, which was at that point a direct-to-home video film. He came into the shop and I said, “Look this is obviously outside the Frederator wheelhouse. We’re primarily a comedy shop, but we are dedicated to original voices. You have an original vision for this thing. Let’s go!”What I care about is people who have passion, vision, craft, talent, and Kevin is one of those people. Literally for the last 10 or 12 years, we have been putting one foot in front of another trying to make Castlevania go.
So the first big step was that Kevin identified Warren Ellis as the perfect person, partly because of his background on Transmetropolitan but also because of the idea that the video game gives you a story, “Dracula’s Curse” gives you story elements, but it can’t give you character elements. He understood that Warren was the kind of guy who could illuminate characters better than anybody. I don’t know that it was Warren’s first screenplay, but I know that it was written as a 90-minute film. Warren did exactly what Kevin had hoped, which is he really brought these characters to life within the trajectory of the story that the game laid out and he did it beautifully. And then we went around everywhere and got the cold shoulder because there really wasn’t a forum for animation that wasn’t kid-oriented or even the so-called adult animation, which was all just punch lines. Finally, Netflix came to be.
We had been in discussion with Netflix for a number of other things. We had gone a number of other different routes trying to do it. Sometimes the magic happens, and that’s what happened with Castlevania.
How the expanded episode order for Season 2 changes their plans:
Seibert: I think what it really does is it allows you to go deeper into the story and character. What happens when you’re telling a filmic story is you’re always making decisions of what not to include in the story because of the logical time restrictions that all of us as viewers have. You know when you’re watching a series if you’re looking at your watch, like, “Is this going to be over soon?” So we’re always making those choices. What this allows us to do is keep more of the story in that we wish we were able to do.
Seibert: We just announced our first project with another streamer, Amazon, also based on a video game. It’s called Costume Quest from our friends at Double Fine in San Francisco, Tim Schafer’s team. We’re thrilled about that. We think that video games are a rich source of IP that has no direct analog in animation, but it has a lot of rich source material that can be put into stories and characters that are only hinted at within the game.
Frederator’s team-up with Sony Pictures Animation forms this 6th incubator of animated shorts for the studio. During the RTX panel, Seibert showed off “The Summoning”, a short from Australian cartoonist, tattoo artist, and taxidermist Elyse Castro; the storyboards were done by none other than Natasha Allegri of Bee and Puppycat fame. The darkly comic toon centers on a Goth cat witch who attempts to summon an entity known as the Scaroar, but her fellow cat friend Edgar and a so-cute-it-hurts bunny named Fluff-Top keep getting in the way.
Bee and Puppycat
There’s no official announcement on a Season 2 order for the beloved animated series with a unique lead (a 20-something woman), but Frederator is trying to secure TV money for production. (Fun fact: Talks with Netflix about Bee and Puppycat opened the door for the Castlevania opportunity.) A storyboard for an untitled episode was shown during the RTX panel; it told the story of Puppycat attempting to nap when he’s woken up by Bee’s restless feet. Bee herself is woken up soon thereafter by a gentleman caller.
Interestingly, the previous Korean animation studio that worked on earlier episodes did not quite satisfy creator Allegri’s vision, so Japanese studio OLM was brought in to hopefully animated Season 2.
All three seasons of Pendleton Ward‘s creation are available exclusively on the VRV platform. Frederator is bringing 26 new half-hour episodes of Season 4, currently in production along with Nelvana. Expect to see them on Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover Select as early as late 2017. In a brief animatic sequence shown during the RTX panel, Chris appears to be “dimension-tripping” due to chowing down on some suspicious hot sauce.
Frederator Studios may have helped bring Castlevania to Netflix and to audiences around the world, but if it wasn’t for Powerhouse Animation, there wouldn’t be any show at all. Animator and series director Sam Deats took some time out of his RTX schedule to chat with me about how the project came to be, how Powerhouse got involved with the production, and just what sort of Easter eggs he hid away within the frames.
First up, Deats laid out the division of labor between Powerhouse Animation and another supporting studio, Mua Film:
Sam Deats: Animation production is done by Powerhouse. Basically, when the script gets sent over to us, we start designing everything, we do all the character designs, environment designs, the paintings, start storyboarding, and putting together animatics. We also did a portion of the key animation and we did important scenes, fight scenes, all that kind of stuff. Then, we worked with Mua Film to do the bulk work when it comes to a lot of the animation. They’re a South Korean studio who’s worked on a bunch of stuff including a lot of anime productions.
After we got Mua’s work back, we did a lot of work on post-production: We reanimated a lot of scenes, we reanimated a lot of effects, did a lot of post-production effects and compositing on light effects and particles and stuff. A lot of the effects work in particular was something we animated in a lot of cases. We did model fixes and touch-ups and stuff like that. We’re an animation studio at our core so we have the staff and the means to go through and animate things ourselves and make adjustments and fixes where necessary. It was definitely a collaborative effort.
Collaboration, of course, includes the cast. The casting process was traditional, but an interesting one that ended with a major get for the part of Trevor Belmont.
Graham McTavish did audition for Dracula and Alejandra Reynoso auditioned for Sypha, but James Callis originally auditioned for Trevor before being asked to reaudition for Alucard. Richard Armitage was the last piece of the puzzle and was actually Ellis’ call. Matt Frewer, who plays The Bishop is described by Kolde as “delightfully creepy” but hilarious between takes.
Deats is clearly a big fan of animation having namedropped super-popular and influential titles like Batman: The Animated Series and Robotech, but also revealing that his first Hayao Miyazaki film was 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro, a Lupin the 3rd movie. His fandom with Castlevania goes back to the days that he and his brother Adam would buy the Japanese version of the game to get it as soon as possible, so it’s understandable how excited he was to sign on as the series director:
Deats: It’s actually kind of funny. It started with [producer] Adi Shankar posting about it online. I had seen stories about it over 10 years ago when they were first getting started. I’ve been a huge Castlevania fan since I was a kid. I saw that it was getting brought back and I poked Brad Graeber, our CEO at Powerhouse, like, “Hey, we should work on that.” Mostly joking. I wasn’t sure. Brad has worked his magic before, but I didn’t really expect much. He went out and made some calls, made some connections, and got our foot in the door. We put together some drawings, sent them over, and got the ball rolling. It didn’t really sink in [that I was directing it] until Brad finally walked in with a signed contract, honestly.
This is the first full series for Powerhouse in their 16-year existence. Deats joined 10 years ago when there were only about eight employees; now they have about 60 in their Austin office alone, with 20-something more at their Burbank location. They’re working on a Henry Danger series coming out for Nickelodeon.
In translating the video game to the screen, Deats mentioned that Ayami Kojima’s art for “Symphony of the Night” was a big influence on the style. When it comes to the story, one of the things from Warren’s script that pleased Deats was not just that it hewed close to the game’s story, but its “solid message with something to say”, instead of just a bland action series. It was also charming, had humor, and featured fun character moments.
Castlevania, as promised, is an R-rated adaptation that does not skimp on the violence or gore. Deats revealed that Netflix gave them free rein in this regard:
Deats: The gore is designed for storytelling purposes and not just gore for gore’s sake. It’s a turning point for the audience. You sympathize with Dracula but then you see this other side of him. There are a few different sides to that story.
Fans will get to enjoy more of that story in Season 2, which has already been ordered and will feature 8 episodes instead of 4. No release date has been announced just yet, but Deats and Kolde mentioned that Netflix has been very supportive throughout the process and were the only ones willing to even bring Castlevania to TV in the first place.
As for what the Season 2 story might entail, you can expect Ellis to explore more themes that he’s interested in. Since his first script was originally intended to be the first of three films, he went back to retool it for Netflix’s seasonal structure; no scripts were written for the second and third films, so this will be a fresh approach.
“There’s no rush to finish this story,” says Kolde, commenting on the fact that numerous people have asked them which games they were going to be adapting. Instead, the plan is to live in this world and not just rush into the castle, defeat the bad guy, and call it a day.
There are, however, specific nods to the video game (that you could call Easter eggs) hidden throughout the series:
Deats: One of my favorites is … the axe armor is in the Cyclops fight at the end. It’s turned to stone by the Cyclops and when it reverts back to normal when you see the blue color. Off to the side, there’s an axe that’s hanging down. Just kinda slipped that in.
Alucard has one of his iconic moves that he uses during one of his fights. Little things like that that we slipped in and tried our best with. There are lots of little things hidden away in backgrounds. I think there’s a blood fountain that was from “Symphony of the Night” in the first episode. It’s funny, the blood fountain is something that the board artists did and didn’t realize, and I was like, “No, we should design that after this one!”
Deats also mentioned the extending sword, the boomerang cross, and the Crissaegrim among his favorite weapons, so we might just see them showing up in future episodes. Keep your eyes peeled!
As for future projects coming up for Powerhouse, they’ll be busy for a while with both Castlevania and Henry Danger. Their animation service work, the bread and butter of their operation, will continue as usual. They’ve also completed work on a segment for the new, upcoming Cartoon Network series, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes. Perhaps the most exciting thing to come out of Powerhouse, however, is their original series, one of which hails from CEO Brad Graeber.
6 Manos (Seis Manos)
Seis Manos, the original series is stylized as “Mexicanime” or “Latino Kung Fu”, really plays on Powerhouse’s strengths as a studio known for their animated fight sequences. Developed in collaboration with Álvaro Rodríguez (Machete), Seis Manos follows three orphaned martial-arts warriors who join forces with a DEA agent and a Mexican Federale to battle for justice after their beloved mentor is slaughtered on the streets of their tiny border town. The production also includes input from work from musician Carl Thiel and sound designer Brad Engleking, along with the expert martial arts skills of Sifu Thomas Leverett. If you’re a fan of the Shaw Brothers’ films or The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, two sources of inspiration listed by Graeber, you’re gonna want to check this one out.
Check out the synopsis below:
Mexico, late 70’s. A swell of cartel violence rips through the border town of San Simon, where a Chinese immigrant long on the run from his past, Chiu Lee Man, has carved out a quiet existence for himself.
Years ago, he took in three children orphaned by the violence and began tutoring them in the martial arts. When he is murdered in a spree of cartel brutality, the now-grown warriors-in-training must hunt down their mentor’s killers and battle for justice, even if it means facing the drug lords head-on and discovering that Chiu’s assassins may have ties to the infamous White Lotus clan back in his native China.
The three fighters, Silencio, Isabela, and Jesus – each trained in a unique form of martial arts, must form an uneasy alliance with Brister, a no-nonsense Houston DEA agent, and Garcia, a seasoned Mexican Federale, in order to track down and destroy the cartels that killed their mentor and father figure and has torn their home into drug-infested, bullet-ridden shreds.
I cheated a little bit here. Adult Swim is a programming block that features some completely insane animation from some twisted and talented folks. There’s a new kid on the block by the name of Apollo Gauntlet that stands apart from the competition for two reasons: First, its very unique voice that comes courtesy of creator/animator Myles Langlois, who brings a “Canadian pace” to the show instead of trying to match the kinetic frenzy of other action-oriented cartoons in the block. Second, it has a strong nostalgia feel, harkening back to shows like Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power. (Fun fact: Langlois’ Saturday morning cartoon ritual as a kid included drinking lots and lots of coffee.) I had a chance to sit down with Langlois and series director Greg Franklin to see what makes Apollo Gauntlet so special.
Originally, this show began as a web series created by Langlois before ultimately making its way to Cartoon Network’s more mature programming block:
Myles Langlois: I made an hour and a half of episodes on YouTube. It passed through a bunch of people. It was just kind of a lucky thing that it passed through the right people at Adult Swim. It was through the art world, too. I used to do art shows in my 20s and then I crossed over into animation, and it eventually reached these guys.
Gregg Franklin: We spent a good amount of time tracking Myles down.
Langlois: It’s funny because I wasn’t avoiding being found. I was like, “Please find me. I want to do a TV show.” It sounds like an FBI investigation.
To be clear, Adult Swim doesn’t do the animation for Apollo Gauntlet; that falls to Los Angeles-based studio and Mondo Media partner, 6 Point Harness:
Franklin: 6 Point Harness does the animation and we definitely agonized over those choices. The original is so singular and such a unique voice, and that voice had to be maintained at all costs. We definitely didn’t want to make it too slick, but we also didn’t want to undershoot it; we were trying to strike a balance. In our early discussions about how we were going to produce this, I had asked Miles, “What would you like to look better? Where do we put our budget for animation?” Myles said, “The backgrounds.”
Langlois: That was my weakest… We found some great background artist.
Franklin: Our art director Angelo Vilar got to express his inner Filmation to make these beautiful digital oil paintings. It’s exciting to see. It’s a good contrast that feels right for the show and it ups the production value in a subtle way.
Langlois makes a ton of obscure references in his series, ones that might have you scouring Wikipedia in a race to understand the joke before the next one lands. If I mentioned Belka and Strelka or Mean Gene Okerlund, there’s a chance you might get the references; if so, you’ll enjoy Apollo Gauntlet.
Langlois: I’m always trying to push as many bad references in as possible, historical or entertainment-wise. It was all scripted stuff.
The series follows an Earth-bound cop named Paul Cassidy who gets transported to a world of swords and sorcery, only to discover the mythical armored gloves that transform him into Apollo Gauntlet. Unfazed, Paul brings his pro-wrestling fandom to bear when battling foes in the fantasy realm. Who’s his favorite wrestling superstar, you ask?
Langlois: Randy “Macho Man” Savage, maybe. Macho Man Savage always pops into my mind as my favorite.
Franklin: He does look a little bit like Rick Rude.
One bizarre character who steals the scenes is Paul’s literal right hand man, his right gauntlet that has a cartoonish face and possesses a psychic link to its bearer. This makes for some ridiculous and hilarious conversations.
Langlois: People talk about Señor Wences, or someone did.
Franklin: Señor Wences was a ventriloquist from the 1960s who painted eyes on his fist and talked with his hand. That’s the vibe I got right away.
Langlois: To me, it was like your subconscious mind speaking, so I just put it into a character who was talking to him. The gauntlets are supposed to be a psychic link to the character from Earth. He gets Paul’s jokes, but he still doesn’t care about them; he’s making fun of them. It’s like a good friend who keeps you in perspective by teasing you.
Franklin: Myles provides the voice of the gauntlets, too, so he kind of a comedy team with himself.
There’s no word on a Season 2 just yet, but the creative team has a lot of story in mind should Apollo Gauntlet get the go-ahead for more episodes. Langlois originally pitched 12 episodes and had written about 20 synopses; they were all whittled down to the final 6. He does, however, have a plan going forward:
Langlois: In my mind, in the way I look at it, Apollo would get darker and darker. He would get jaded by that world, and he’s gonna get scarier and weirder. He starts off naïve like, “Hey, here’s this new world,” but I always think if he just gets completely jaded by that world, it would be horrific, almost. In a funny way, he just loses his mind in that world. This is like the beginning of him losing his mind.
Franklin: It was a fairly short first season. If we’re lucky enough to get a second season, he’s in a different place at the beginning of Season 2. There’s a whole new set of circumstances he would have to contend with.
Langlois: There’s an arc to the series that ends with a kind of a “To be continued…” kind of thing.
Franklin: Definitely. That overarching story is going to be huge.
A very cool aspect that should please early adopters of Apollo Gauntlet is the tease of more powers to be discovered.
Langlois: Something I pitched originally is that the gauntlets are part of a suit of armor, so there would be a helmet … every piece of this armor has powers. So these gauntlets are just one piece of this giant suit of armor called the Dartos. That was something we may or may not do, depending on what happens. I did write pitches for episodes with the helmet having mind powers and the legs would run really fast, maybe that’ll happen. He’ll keep his name though.
What’s next for Apollo Gauntlet? Action figures? Cereal boxes?
Langlois: I want to see a video game; that would be the greatest. Something like “Grand Theft Auto” where he’s just running around in this world. That would be the ultimate thing.
What about a potential spin-off featuring one of the other characters, a la She-Ra: Princess of Power?
Franklin: Yes. I think that the best spin-off would be if Rubis had her own series. It’s been mentioned.
Langlois: I love She-Ra, but that’s the one who keeps coming up. She gets a lot of laughs.
Here’s a look at some of their completely crazy content that was screened during a special presentation:
The sneak peek at a new adventure for this zany, Southern-fried, fan-favorite show featured Early Cuyler and Sheriff going undercover … deep undercover … to infiltrate a secret society led by none other than Dan Halen. DH appears to be in possession of a powerful, prophetic, and blatantly racist drinking vessel that grants him powers and control over his eager minions. However, not everything is at it seems…
If you’ve been watching Squidbillies since 2005, you know exactly what you’re in for here. It’s as ridiculous as it ever was and all the more enjoyable for it.
This quarter-hour animated pilot follows a wolf who carries a laser on his back and believes that love has no limit, that wearing do-rags gives you power and that Gawd is a lie. It was created by Henry Bonsu and written/executive-produced by Bonsu and Daniel Weidenfeld (China, IL).
During this screening, I had multiple people come up to me, laugh, and ask, “WTF is this?” I had no words to explain it to them. Basically a wolf with a laser mounted on his back (who happens to have a power-lifting brother who has a canon mounted on his back) hangs out with his pals: a well-meaning horse and a Jamaican rapper. Oh and God (DMX) makes quite a few appearances and stirs things up by introducing an unholy weather abomination that’s a cross between a tornado and a hurricane … whom Lazor Wulf falls in love with. So, yeah. Adult Swim!
I have next to no info on this short, but it appears to be a series pilot based on the 2014 short The Begun of Tigtone by Andrew Koehler and Babyhemyth. That story followed the title character, a hero obsessed with embarking on epic adventures, like delivering seeds to a blacksmith on behalf of a Ghost Wizard. While the parody of fantasy games is certainly fun, it’s the style of animation that’ll first grab your attention. It looks like it’s done with either FaceRig software or something similar, and the effect is completely insane and hilarious. Characters are somewhat realistically rendered but their facial features often stretch to ridiculous proportions and extreme expressions, all the better to react when slaying a mythical beast or rescuing a damsel in distress. This one’s just bonkers enough to seek out.
In addition to hosting the 2nd annual Animation Festival alongside the main RTX 2017 attractions, Rooster Teeth had a solid showing of its own animated series on display. I’ve already written up the news of RWBY Volume 5 along with interviews from the cast and crew, but there’s much more coming from the animated wing of Rooster Teeth in the coming months.
The RT execs announced this brand new animated series, but it’s io9 who had the inside scoop on the show’s official synopsis:
“On the losing side of a global culture war, an Experimental Science Unit is pushed to identify a team of young pilots who can control a variety of prototype, next-generation mecha—giant, robotic, weaponized bodies. The recruits will find, however, that their newfound abilities come at no small cost.”
Gray G. Haddock, who heads up the company’s animation wing, said that Gen:Lock is intended to be “slightly more mature in [its] storytelling and could appeal to the RWBY fans as they continue to grow up.” They’re also aiming to satisfy fans of big sci-fi ideas and their flagship show, Red vs. Blue. Haddock couldn’t go into details for the new series, but he cited Ghost in the Shell, Gundam, Aldnoah Zero, Gargantua, and the writing of Gen Urobuchi, and Kiznaiver as sources of inspiration.
As far as the animation style, fans can expect a bit more detailed character and mech designs to go along with the slightly more mature storytelling. In a very cool move, Rooster Teeth reached out to RWBY fan and super-talented artist Bach Do (a.k.a. dishwasher1910). The art student not only had his concept artwork used to announce the new series, he also became an official remote contract employee of Rooster Teeth just for this series.
It’s also worth noting that Rooster Teeth’s shows are available first, and occasionally exclusively, to FIRST members. Check out some of their series below:
Season 2 of the summer camp series is currently airing and can be streamed here.
Camp Camp tells the story of Max, a jaded ten year old, who finds himself stuck at a dysfunctional summer camp run by a shady business mogul who is looking to turn a profit any way he can. The cynical Max will have to survive annoyingly cheerful counselor David, the weird cast of campers, and bizarre surprises at every turn before he can escape for home.
Red vs. Blue
Currently in its 15th season, the machinima series that started it all is available to watch here.
In the distant future, two groups of soldiers battle for control of the least desirable piece of real estate in the known universe: a box canyon in the middle of nowhere.
RT Animated Adventures
And the latest animated adaptations of RT’s podcast can be found here.
The animated shenanigans of the Rooster Teeth staff. Audio taken from the Rooster Teeth Podcast.
MONDO MEDIA–not to be confused with the Austin, TX-based poster company–is the Los Angeles-based, leading multi-platform producer and distributor of animation for 18- to 34-year-old audiences. MONDO has more than 4 billion video views across its various networks, including MONDO Premium, a subscription channel on the VRV platform and home to a growing library of the world’s best animation for millennials. MONDO’s production studio, Six Point Harness, creates original TV series and movies, including the upcoming Apollo Gauntlet for Adult Swim; Happy Tree Friends Reimagined with Lionsgate; Like, Share, Die for Fusion; and Night Sweats for Adult Swim Canada.
Mondo Media came to RTX’s Animation Festival with some killer content and some earnest admissions. They were quite frank about the effects that YouTube’s Adpocalypse has had on their channel, which is why no new Dick Figures or Happy Tree Friends series have been produced. Brendan Burch, chief creative officer of MONDO and president of the company’s animation partner Six Point Harness, said, “YouTube is no longer a good way to monetize.” So they’re doing what many other animation studios are doing: Using the VRV platform in order to showcase their productions alongside other top-tier animated series.
Mondo Media already has shows like Cat Agent and Axe Cop available on VRV, along with Six Point Harness’ Apollo Gauntlet, but later this summer (or early this fall), they’ll be announcing more content on the way, content like the English dub of the French animated series Lastman, 11-minute episodes of Deep Space 69, show creator documentaries (or in some cases mockumentaries), and a focus that includes non-comedy genre animation, which there is far too little of. While it’s possible that these new shows will be released weekly on VRV, Mondo’s entire back catalog is expected to be available as well. They’re also exploring licensing for other acquisitions. Here’s the latest update on Mondo Media titles:
Happy Tree Friends
The series will continue but, according to Burch, the channel needs an injection of new shows. “It’s difficult to adapt as a long-form series.” The current plan is to reimagine Happy Tree Friends as a world in which the title characters are avatars in a human world. They’ll be taking some inspiration from both fan art and The CW series Riverdale, though no further details were announced.
Deep Space 69
Imagine distilling down all of Captain Kirk’s amorous adventures aboard the Starship Enterprise and adding in a dash of Futurama‘s Zapp Brannigan; now you have a good idea of what this raunchy sci-fi series is all about. Daniel Katz‘s creation follows Jay, the horniest starship pilot in the galaxy, and his koala pal Hamilton. During the panel, a full 11-minute episode from the upcoming fourth season was screened. It showcased one of Jay’s sexual exploits that results in a brood of 100 monstrous creatures alongside Hamilton’s opportunity to mate with a fellow koala … who turns out to be quite different from what she appears.
A new addition to the cast, the robot P3-NI5, is a delightful Evangelist, voiced by Kevin MacDonald. The show’s animation aesthetic was inspired by “Memphis Modern” and Moebius comics, similar to the look of Rocko’s Modern Life. It’s Flash animated and features a computer-generated ship. You can get caught up with Deep Space 69 on VRV now, but keep an eye out for news on Season 4 later this year.
This French anime-inspired series acts as a prequel to the comic written by Bastien Vivès and Balak and drawn by Vivès and Michaël Sanlaville. The animated adaptation aired in France in 2016, but Mondo Media is bringing the English dub to the VRV platform. 26 15-minute episodes tell the serialized story of Richard Aldana, a talented fight but a bit of a slacker, and his mentor Dave. The first dubbed episode was screened during the panel and I can’t say enough good things about it. The art style is fantastic and the fight sequences are thrilling; TVPaint Animation was used to bring the show to life. The mythology is really something else but only enough was shown to act as a solid teaser for the rest of the series.
The episodic show will feature some major celebrity voice work that Mondo Media couldn’t announce just yet. If you’re a fan of shows like Cowboy Bebop, definitely mark Lastman down as a must-watch series.
All of the animation studios I got a chance to speak with or whose work I got to experience left me feeling inspired, optimistic, and excited to see what they did next. Mighty Coconut was no exception, but they also felt like the freshest studio of the bunch, the underdog, the scrappy upstart with big ambitions and a pipeline of projects that are poised to shine the spotlight on the Austin, TX studio. I had the opportunity to speak with director/executive producer Lucas Martell, director/executive producer Tim Cunningham, head of original content/producer Carrye Glazar, and studio manager/producer Christina Martell about their current and upcoming projects.
Kings of Atlantis
On the reception to the YouTube Red Original Series, an adaptation of TheAtlanticCraft characters:
Tim Cunningham: As far as we can tell, people like it. It’s been good. The biggest complaint we’ve heard from fans of the original were that the weapons were switched. But, for the most part, the reception’s been great. We’re super proud of it and it’s a lot of fun. I think folks have been enjoying it when they watch it.
Christina Martell: It’s also 6-year-olds to 12-year-olds are having this debate, so we kinda have to keep it in context. [laughs]
Cunningham: If Batman or Superman can change their canon, so can we. It’s inspired by the TheAtlanticCraft, but it’s a new thing with new characters, new situations, and a bigger, more developed story.
Carrye Glazar: We’re waiting for Kings of Atlantis Season 2 to, hopefully, move forward. We’re all very excited about it considering that the first season ends on a cliffhanger. We’re still waiting. The OceanMaker is another project, which we have in development, along with a graphic novel.
In 2014, writer/director Lucas Martell spearheaded a gorgeous 11-minute epic adventure tale that saw a young pilot attempting to seed a cloud, only to end up engaging in an aerial dogfight with bandits attempting to steal the resulting rainwater. Martell describes it as, “If [Hayao] Miyazaki went to Pixar and directed a 3D Mad Max movie.” Since Mighty Coconut was formed around this project–on a Caribbean island, no less–it’s little surprise that they’re planning to do a feature film version of it.
The short’s visual storytelling was amazing, a necessity since The OceanMaker had no dialogue. Martell talked about whether that would continue in the feature:
Lucas Martell: I think that there’s definitely going to be more dialogue, just because it’s necessary to tell the larger story. With where that’s going, without giving too much away, the great thing about that world is that it is so vast and we actually want to do several things: We’re working on a graphic novel, a comic series, of it right now. The first issue parallels the first film but basically tells the events from the perspective of the little girl, so it fits hand in hand with the short, and just adding more dialogue to that, you understand a different angle to what’s happening. It’s really cool how it weaves together.
That’s the first issue. Then, it essentially follows the little girl in the lighthouse and basically cuts to 15 years later when she’s kind of picked up the torch and is trying to recreate what Katrina–who is the heroine pilot in the film—she’s trying to recreate what that was. We see the red plane is actually one of a fleet of a warlord named Stratus who basically owns all the water on Earth. Basically, they realize that, in order to make rain and bring back the oceans, which becomes the eventual goal, it takes quite a while to get there. Part of that is that you have to take down the warlord who has thousands of these gigantic red planes spanning the globe. There’s a lot of action.
As for the story, it can be argued that the original short has a pro-environmental message. However, the filmmakers prefer a looser interpretation that allows for more interesting conversations:
Lucas Martell: I have some personal thoughts on that, but I also intentionally wanted to do it in a way that the environmental angle, which is important to me, wasn’t beating people over the head with it. I didn’t want it to read like that. If it starts a discussion, that’s great. First and foremost, it’s meant to be entertainment and fun and dramatic and interesting.
Christina Martell: We actually partnered with Earth Day when we released it online, which was wonderful, but it really was more of that, “What do you think happened?” That created this dialogue. We partnered with schools and kids, and sure we talked about climate change, but it became a point way down the line because the story drove the curiosity.
Another of Martell’s shorts that helped to launch Mighty Coconut is Pigeon: Impossible. It’s also the seed for a feature-length adaptation, though this time around Fox and Blue Sky Animation will be bringing it to life.
Lucas Martell: I can’t actually say too much about that one. It’s one of those things that Fox, through Chernin Entertainment, they bought that quite a while ago. I finished that in 2009, so it’ll have been a 10-year process. Especially animation takes a very long time. I’m not super involved with that, which is normal. Once it goes into their system, they have their own team and stuff.
Glazar: It’s really exciting for us to actually see something that started as an idea go through the entire Hollywood system and actually get made and come out. It’s amazing.
As for original features that Mighty Coconut has in mind, we have to talk about the family-friendly adventure film, Koalaroo. It’s pitched as a hybrid of live-action and animation, but not in the way you might expect.
Lucas Martell: Usually when people say “hybrid” it means that it is something like The Jungle Book where there’s usually a live-action human and they’re also adding in animals or other fantastic characters. What we’re doing with that one is going out and shooting real locations. We actually shot at Enchanted Rock, which looks very similar to Uluru, Australia. The plan is to go to Australia and shoot live-action backgrounds. We don’t actually have any live-action actors in it.
Cunningham: It’s sort of a departure from other hybrids; there’s no human anchor, like what Disney’s going to be doing with The Lion King. It’s definitely aimed at younger audiences but it’s four quadrant. It’s Lion King in the Outback.
Glazar: When you watch the proof of concept, you see just how visceral and insane the Outback is with this little, cute, furry character trying to navigate it. It adds this edge and heft. It not only looks beautiful, it feels like something that a younger audience could go and watch and enjoy, but also parents and grandparents and young adults.
Lucas Martell: It ups the stakes because the main antagonist in the film is Mother Nature. It’s about this koala trying to survive, so if the world doesn’t feel threatening and is too cartoony, you’re going to lose all of that.
Christina Martell: That’s all paired with the main character who is so endearing and you immediately have connections with him, you want him to survive, and you want to go on this journey with him. It is going to connect with younger kids who are going to be like, “I’m different, too, and I want to do all these cool things.” And then he gets all these friends along his journey who are really fun. It’s a good balance between “Mother Nature’s gonna take you out,” and fun and adventure and, “You’re gonna be okay.”
The Mighty Coconuts is another fun project for the studio which gets some of their ideas animated between projects and has some fun with their mascots in the process:
Lucas Martell: It’s a very different style for us. Most of the things that we do are sort of hyper-realistic and very three-dimensional, so we wanted to figure out this kind of Tex Avery, old-school style thing. We came up with this idea of The Mighty Coconuts where there’s this Viking and Roman coconut who are just doing battle.
Glazar: And it can just go on and on and on, episodic. It’s a completely different style and we’re expanding our repertoire.
Lucas Martell: We’re going to do more of those as we have time to do them. We actually have six ideas that we want to do and another one that’s boarded, we’re just waiting for the cracks to get it done.
Christina Martell: And the characters are just going to keep upping the ante. It’s going to get more and more ridiculous as the story goes.
There’s bound to be something for everyone on this list, so if one particular project has your attention, be sure to let us know in the comments!