Mecha-Lions Unite! A Legendary Super-Robot is Reborn! – Animation Scoop

Mecha-Lions Unite! A Legendary Super-Robot is Reborn!

On Kerberos, a moon of Pluto, three astronauts make a startling discovery: that there is intelligent humanoid life beyond Earth. But these aliens are hostile, and they capture the astronauts. A year later, mission leader Shiro escapes and returns to Earth, his memory fogged. It turns out the one thing capable of defeating these evil aliens is Voltron, an enormous battle-droid composed of five robotic lions. Shiro forges a team of four misfit cadets to find the lions, pilot them, rescue his comrades and save the universe from the evil emperor Zarkon.

Thus begins DreamWorks Voltron Legendary Defender (without possessive apostrophe and colon). New adventures are streaming our way from Netflix, helmed by executive producers Joaquim Dos Santos (Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra) and Lauren Montgomery (The Legend of Korra).

“We were genuine fans of the original series,” Dos Santos points out. “We’ve done our best to pay homage to what came before and make sure the fans of the original series will recognize it but also spin the show in new and different directions and add to the mythology.”

Showrunners Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos

Showrunners Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos

The original property, Voltron: Defenders of the Universe, had been cobbled together from two unrelated Japanese series, Beast King Go-Lion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV, by American producer Peter Keefe. The show became popular during its syndicated release from 1984 to 1987, lasting 72 episodes. Classic Media acquired the property in 2010, which in turn was purchased by DreamWorks in August 2012.

“We heard the rumblings going on that DreamWorks acquired the Classic Media library and they were working with Netflix to make a number of shows, and we were wrapping up our previous job, The Legend of Korra,” Lauren Montgomery recalls, “So it really piqued our interest, and luckily the head of production who had previously been involved at Nickelodeon moved over to DreamWorks, and then he was kind of our ‘in.’ Joaquim had spoken with him, and Voltron came up. He pitched [himself] and I as show runners and the rest is history.”

The new series entered production in June 2014, though development was not quite complete.

“Once the TV schedule gets going, you’re continually in a game of catch up, because you try to keep up on that schedule and especially on a show like this that has so many different cultures and races and different planets that they go to,” Dos Santos says. “It’s a design-heavy show. But we were excited to have a little bit of a development period and figure out the look of the show before we started on it because that’s not always the case with the animation.”

voltron-characters

“We had a bit of development time but being that (a. this is a show that’s so beloved by fans and (b. it has so much potential in the consumer products arena, that there were a ton of cooks in the kitchen on this thing,” Montgomery says. “So, I’d like to think we had everything figured out before we went into production – we had it barely figured out. We spent a fair amount of growth time in the actual production, but ultimately we got it all out and we figured it all out before the show was fully animated and out to be seen by the world. There were a few things we had to make work but we made it through and we think the show is better for it.

“We had a lot of people weighing in on this show, some with differences of taste. One example is, they wanted to make Volton a little bit more detailed, but we had to stick to our guns and defend the show we wanted to make, not only because of it was aesthetically pleasing for us, but also on a production level, because animating something intuitively that has a lot of details on it on a TV schedule is just not something that we can pull off well. Any time you overtax the animator, the animation tends to suffer. We have to fall back on our knowledge of production and make it the things that we want and hopefully get our way,” Montgomery says.

Dos Santos adds, “It was especially evident in the development when they said, ‘There are a lot of different outlets that are going to be utilizing Voltron or selling Voltron products.’ They all have an opinion on what this i.p. [intellectual property] for DreamWorks is going to be. Sometimes fighting those battles early on was a little tough and you have to hunker down and say, ‘Hey, this is what we really believe in, in the creative leap of the show; this is our vision for it.’

Does Netflix, as an online venue, offer more creative freedom than on a traditional TV network?

“Somewhat,” Montgomery replies. “We have to stick within the realms of taste, obviously. We’re not beheading or gutting characters or being too violent just out of good taste. But it has a lot of doing what we usually wouldn’t do. Doing a serialized longer-arc type story is something that doesn’t play very well on a television network. That’s because it doesn’t rerun very well out of order. So on the Netflix format, it runs very well because there’s binge watching. It’s the stories we want to tell anyway, so it’s definitely a benefit to us.”

Dos Santos adds, “For us it feels like we’re in this newer era of entertainment delivery, so we’re excited because – like Lauren said – those serialized stories are those stories that will allow for character development over the course of a series. Those are things that are really really attractive to us, as creative types.”

voltron-scene

As for determining whether the content is suitable for their target audience, the producers largely police themselves.

“I think we’ve got an internal gut as people who have made programming for kids, just within those boundaries, pushing those boundaries as far as they can go,” Dos Santos says. “We sort of know where to push the boundaries. DreamWorks also has an internal checks and balances system here as well.”

Montgomery concurs. “We’ve got people within the studio that definitely say, ‘Hey, they don’t do this. This could be bad.’ But for the most part, I’m following what we know from having worked in animation. We kind of know the lines that we need to tread and we stick to that.”

Beginning June 10, Netflix will stream the series to its members in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the Nordics, Benelux, France and DACH. By making the show for a global market, are there any cultural taboos the producers must observe?

“Not that we’ve been informed of. But I guess we’ll find out the hard way,” Montgomery says, and Dos Santos laughs.

“One of the good things is our cast of characters comes from a varying range of nationalities,” he says. “But we really don’t focus so much on one specific race or nationality. I think we’ve created a show that’s fun to watch no matter where you come from.”

“One of the upsides of being a show that’s set in space is that we’re not bringing in any one country on Earth,” Montgomery says. “It’s just aliens in space, so anyone can watch that and appreciate it and not feel either too left in or too left out.”

“Yeah, and honestly, we don’t have too much time on Earth in the first few episodes, or in the body of the series in general,” Dos Santos adds. “But in the time we do spend there, we try to create this ‘one nation’ vibe and feel. We like to think at that time the world has come together.”

To meet the demands of the schedule, the producers split their production pipeline with Studio Mir of South Korea.

“The DNA of Studio Mir goes back to Avatar: The Last Airbender days,” Dos Santos explains. “So we’ve been working with largely the same crew in South Korea for ten-plus years, now. For us, it’s more a fact that this artistic relationship is so strong. We know the artists on an individual level. We just got a really good working relationship. We really believe they’re the only studio that could handle on doing a show on this scale.”

voltron-robots

Viewers will note the new series has taken a quantum leap over the original, with the use of CG providing fluid motion for the mecha, while blending seamlessly with the background and character levels.

“The CG and 2D blend – for a TV production purposes – is something that really becomes feasible for us in the type of animation that we do now,” Dos Santos says. “We’ve both worked on shows that have blended those things before. And it’s not till now that we felt that the two look really close to each other and blend really well with each other. Technology has sort of caught up in terms of our ability to make the CG look traditionally animated on this really aggressive TV schedule.”

Two weeks before the series premiere, Dos Santos notes, “We’re still making things happen right now. There’s still a bunch of posts to do on the first season, so, once the shows are drawn, everything needs to be mixed together. We need to do final picture locks. So yeah, we’re working right up to the last minute.”

Officially, the first season has 11 episodes – though it would be thirteen, if the hour-long pilot, “The Rise of Voltron,” were cut into three 23-minute episodes. The Korea Herald reported as many as 78 episodes are in the works, though Dos Santos says, “We cannot confirm nor deny those reports.”

Says Montgomery, “We’re working with a potential of more episodes; that’s always your hope and desire. We felt this story was large enough to go past thirteen so we didn’t want to shut everything down at the end of thirteen.”

“Given the opportunity we’d be writing this thing till our old age,” Dos Santos adds. “The story is definitely there.”

Bob Miller

Bob Miller

W.R. Miller - known informally as “Bob” - is a writer who has contributed to publications such as Starlog, Comics Scene, Animation Magazine and Animation World Magazine. Bob has been involved in animation for two decades, as a writer, character animator, special effects animator, and storyboard artist - For more information about Bob, check his website: http://wrmilleronline.com/
Bob Miller
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