An Interview with Gray Haddock of Rooster Teeth About New Show gen:Lock
Date: 2018 September 19 21:09
Posted by Lee
Gray Haddock is the Head of Animation at Rooster Teeth and is the writer and director of the highly anticipated new mecha anime series gen:LOCK due for release in January 2019. While at RTX London 2018 we were lucky enough to catch up with Gray for an exclusive interview and a chance to chat to him about the show!
Where did the original concept and Inspirations for gen:LOCK come from?
First and foremost I am a massive Sci-fi geek and I love mecha shows. I was dismayed that there are not that many that I can watch and I wanted to watch one and was really surprised that no one was making one. There's still a couple going on over in Japan but they still haven't caught on over here in the west and I'm also a huge fan of the cyberpunk genre and wanted to play with some of those ingredients.
At the time when we conceived gen:LOCK, which is now a little over two years ago, there was just not a tonne going on so Rooster Teeth was in the middle of what resulted in a 9 month process trying to understand what the next large animated project they wanted to produce was going to be. We went through a couple of different rounds of pitching and by the end of the process gen:LOCK got selected and I was thrilled as it meant that I could go ahead and do the show and a show like this would exist sometime soon.
What has been crazy is, for better or worse, in a way I feel vindicated but also slightly frustrated because in the two years since we conceived the show, now there's been this fantastic resurgence so I'm glad that Rooster Teeth will be able to be a part of that conversation in pop culture.
Why do you think that happened?
I have my theories about cycles and pop culture and how the collective mind works but I think it has just been laying fallow for some number of years and it's time for this stuff to have a resurgence again.
I would say for my inspiration it was a combination of any number of Mecha shows including Gundam, as well as shows like Ghost in the Shell and anything written by Urobuchi Gen, the Japanese writer who wrote Psycho Pass and Gargantia (which is a mech show). Of course he also writes things like Madoka Magica, but he is one of my favorite writers and I think he has heavily influenced me.
Would you say that the mech designs were also inspired by these shows?
There are multiple factions in the show and each faction has its own technology type and for some of the factions that we follow, their mecha and the look of their mecha will evolve over the course of the show. If we're lucky enough to have multiple seasons we will also see them again evolve season to season.
I think the keen observer will understand that "right now these designs are being influenced by this particular anime" and six episodes later they will go "Oh they have let go of that particular anime and now they are being influenced by this one" or "the bad guys are actually from this show" so it's an interesting mish mash of ingredients.
So are the lead cast going to switch between mechs or will you focus on the evolution of each mech?
It's more about the evolution. Their system allows for armor upgrades that you can design the look of differently and then if you also go so far as to re-design the inner frame then you can begin moving away from a more humanoid style of mecha, maybe become more animalistic or to other more creative designs. We have just enough time this season to begin to show the potential of that but future designs are still to come.
Does that mean we will see more suits introduced in future series in addition to the original lineup?
The first season is going to focus pretty heavily on one of the major themes of the show which is focusing on the differences between generations and learning from different generations as well as bonding within your own. The gen:LOCK team is embedded within the military who has been fighting with some older mecha for some time, which are the shorter less humanoid, heavily armored and slow walking tanks. The gen:LOCK technology comes along and that enables bigger, much more humanoid style of mecha.
It's about these two teams. The gen:LOCK team is embedded within the more traditional military so that they can learn from and respect what the older soldiers are trying to teach them as well as them understanding their technology. What makes for a good gen:LOCK pilot might not necessarily be what makes for a good old school mech pilot.
It's about them getting more confident in the fighting style that they should be using as well as the older soldiers finding out what they can learn from them and the fact that maybe the next generation of students they are trying to teach need something slightly different. So a little of that is shown and discussed over the course of the first season.
So did you personally have to do lots of military research for the show?
The copious years watching anime certainly came in handy. There was certainly some military design influence and a lot of studying of military technology trends as well.
With the introduction of mechs, are front line infantry now redundant in the world of gen:LOCK? Are there still humans fighting humans?
There are absolutely still humans involved. There's several dynamics at play that still demand it and in this particular story of 50 years on you might think that drone warfare would become very prevalent. However, we explain that the enemy has become very good at hacking drones and it's not a good idea to have a whole lot of autonomous armor out in the field because you are likely to lose control of it. The soldiers either need to accompany them or there are some situations where the human mind is still the number one weapon that you can deploy.
I think we try to demonstrate that as efficiently as possible in the show, but on top of that it's the dynamic of humans, the boots on the ground, working with a couple of different types of drones plus the next generation of things that are recognisable as tanks. Now that material sciences, graphene and carbine and all the new advances in energy have come along we also then finally have allowed for mecha to also get involved. You also have a variety of flying craft and some of the crazy crazy vehicles that will be in the show.
So you mentioned advances in energy, how do they power the suits?
Insert hand waving here about cold fusion and...yeah we go ahead and wink and nudge that a new type of power plant has been developed and there might be a bit of Star Trek style techno babble that hints at what technology type it is but we don't exactly drill down too deeply into that.
Do you have a favorite mech in the show that we should be particularly excited for?
I've become very fond of where the striders have gone which are the Vanguards more older generation mecha. These are the ones that again are not terribly humanoid, they have cannons where their arms should be they are not terribly well articulated but those definitely speak to the old Battle Tech and Mech Warrior playing kid that I was back in the day.
In terms of the really fun designs, they are the ones that will show up later in the season. The kids start with a more militaristic design, the armor sets that they have were built by engineers from the Vanguard military who consulted on what they thought should be applied to this technology and the kids kind of find it unwieldy, boxy and unbalanced. They maybe don't need to have all that armor.
The gen:LOCK tech are capable of much more humanistic movement style. They are much more elegant and agile if you allow them to be, so over the course of the season the kids begin personalising their mechs more and where each of them take their mechs over time is a lot of the fun in the show. I really do like all the mechs, but at the moment, and this really does change week by week, I am most fond of Cammie and Kazu. You will be able to see what those look like in a little bit.
Yeah I have to say that Cammie is definitely our favorite design so far at Otaku News!
I specifically wanted her design to be a way in for the folks who are used to a more moe character design. The character design of gen:LOCK's world is a lot more realistic in nature (things being relative), but I'm a big fan of character design in Japan, especially Murase-san. This is somebody who did Ergo Proxy back in the day, he did the most recent Blade Runner short that came out and we were lightly inspired by him, as well as a couple of other character designers.
The younger and more feminine a character is, then fans might recognise that as being more moe style in terms of more angular features and the larger eyes and so on, but as you grow up and the more masculine you go then the features start to chisel a bit more and the eyes get narrower and the eye nose mouth ratio starts to resemble something more recognisable as average human. As for Cammie though, she is one of the most Moe looking characters in the show, but she is sort of the anti-Ruby character because she is also the most foul mouthed of the whole team which is a pretty fun dynamic to interject.
As for the voice acting of the characters, interestingly, as much as we tried to be as culturally respectful in the casting process we somehow managed to cast a Brit as the Scot and the Scot as a Brit, but everyone everyone sounds delightful in their parts and everyone will be pretty happy and enamoured with these characters when they meet them for real. I do think that Cammie is going to be a breakout character and people are really going to be charmed by her. Maisie Williams is fantastic and her as well as all the other members of the cast, I can't say enough great things about them, they really are just as genuine and grounded and open supportive people in real life as you thought that they would be.
Was it difficult getting such a great cast together for the show?
It has required a good amount of patience as we got educated on the Hollywood casting process, but really it all worked out as we were foolish enough to ask. It's not like anyone just told us "no you shouldn't do that". During the design process, we had hired on our art director, Michael Pedro, in September of last year, and one of the very first assignments that I gave him when he came on board was I needed to finish locking down the design of Julian Chase, one of our lead pilots.
In conversations with him, I kept brain dumping on him all of the qualities I want this character's look to have and by the end of it he was saying "Well you keep referencing Michael B. Jordan a lot, or qualities like him" and I said "Yeah you're right that's a good observation" and then a couple of hours later he shot me his very first piece of artwork which was a combination of photoshop and digital painting combining the image of Michael with the other fighter pilot elements I had been describing and I was looking at this image and instantly knew that this was our lead character.
We kind of proceeded that way for a few months and in December of last year production told me it was time to figure out casting and asking who did I have in mind. No one told me not to suggest talent at this particular tier so we put together a package of material including scripts and art and sent that to Michael's team. A month later we heard back saying that Michael had seen the creative package and he would like to see more. The answer was not a no and the sheer fact that they had any interest at all and that they were having a conversation with us was incredibly encouraging.
I was getting paranoid about whether or not the show was going to work at all and with the sheer fact that we had some other people of that ilk that thought there was some potential in the show and were willing to at least talk to us about it was fantastic. The conversation kept going and kept going and by the end of February on a day where I had forced myself to be working from home as I was on deadline to deliver another script for the next day, in the middle of writing this phone call from the producers came saying that Michael B. Jordan wants to play our Julian Chase. So I hung up the phone and did not get any writing done for the rest of the day as I couldn't concentrate. That was an amazing moment that I would never forget and we have been graced with moment after moment just like that.
We were in conversation with several of the other talent already by that point so it's not the case that we signed Michael and then we started knocking on other doors. We did a little bit of that but that wasn't the primary way we went to get a cast. It did however accelerate the rest of the negotiation process with a lot of the other talent though, we would just say to them "We have been talking about this for quite a bit and Michael has joined on so...are you going to join us or not?" and that was able to let us accelerate that.
What was it like working with Japanese voice actors in addition to English speaking voice actors?
It was incredibly rewarding. We got a lot of assistance from our good friend Takaya Yamaguchi who has been a producer for RWBY in Japan and he helped point us in the right direction on how to navigate the industry over there which was incredibly helpful. We worked with a translation team to get the spirit of the lines just right in Japanese and then Yamadera-san was incredibly flexible in the recording process where we tried a variety of approaches to the lines and fell in love very quickly with the style of delivery that he came up with for Kazu.
It's been great and I hope that everyone enjoys his performance as much as we do. There's a gimmick in the show that allows for the fact the he will be speaking Japanese for 99% of the time and only very rarely will he bust out a phrase in English. The way the technology works in our show, everyone's constantly receiving translation and for non-Japanese speakers watching gen:LOCK, his will be one of the few performances that will be constantly subtitled, but everyone else can just happen to understand him.
Was it different working with the new cast of gen:LOCK compared to working with the Rooster Teeth Voice acting team?
It was neat. I love the familiarity of working with the Rooster Teeth voice acting family and think that getting started with them helped get my momentum going. The first couple of times of going into the process and directing some of the external talent, it was pretty nerve wracking. Dakota Fanning was the first person we recorded for the show and then Michael was right after her and after just the first time or two, again just having the good fortune to land such nice, supportive, flexible and creative people, it made it easy.
Some of my most favorite acting experiences of my whole life now would be things that no one else would ever hear because of the process that we used. I would perform the whole scene with them, because everyone's schedules are so crazy that we couldn't just get the whole ensemble together and record them as a team. We had to record all the parts separately, so I would read the other parts except for theirs so they could understand the energy and the intent and the rhythm of that particular scene and get all of the context out of it. I simply had to get out of their way and they would wrap back around and give more variance on each line based on how they wanted to take the performance. Somewhere a recording exists of a couple of different 4 hour sessions of me and Michael doing a scene.
This is the crazy thing that for some of these recording sessions they wouldn't have me on the other side of the glass window, sitting with the engineer and working with the actor through the microphone. They threw me into the recording space with the actor so I am as far away from Michael B. Jordan as we are right now and he's got his script and I've got my computer in front of me and this is just us acting for 4 hours straight every day and no one else will ever see or hear it but I've got those memories and I can die happy now!
What lessons did you learn from RWBY that you applied to gen:LOCK?
Wow that would be near infinite. I don't want to be specific but I would say absolutely I would not be able to do this if I hadn't been working on RWBY all this time. Everything from wrangling a production and getting to work with all the different teams that make up a production pipeline, from our concept artists and storyboard artists, all the way to the end of the pipe with our visual effects team and audio. It just feels like a very natural evolution.
Did we see any more technology improvements introduced for gen:LOCK?
Our tech environment allows for a lot of other aesthetic choices, but playing around with a lot of those choices wouldn't be appropriate for RWBY as we don't want to evolve it's aesthetic in a way which isn't appropriate for the show. With gen:LOCK we can go ahead and take those guidelines off and all the cool bells and whistles that we haven't been able to exercise for the last couple of years, that we didn't feel were proper for RWBY, we can go ahead and experiment with to see how we might be able to use those on a new show. It's been fantastic for the team to spread their wings in a new way and in turn lets them refresh before they go back to work on some RWBY related things.
Oddly enough RWBY's technology impacted gen:LOCK's and the upgrades we put together for gen:LOCK were going to be applied back to RWBY under the hood, however then we moved the shows around on the schedule a little bit. We were considering letting gen:LOCK run ahead of RWBY volume 6 and then late in the game we decided to put it out after that. Now the audience might not understand it but RWBY is actually going to be the first one showing off some of our new approaches. This includes integrating more matte paintings for the show, some new approaches to rigging and some other things that technical folk might recognise but hopefully the audience just thinks RWBY look just that much better this year.
You announced yesterday that RWBY will be exclusively shown on RoosterTeeth.com from now on, will gen:LOCK be shown exclusively on there too?
At launch I would expect so. I think the way to see gen:LOCK right when it comes out, if you want to be one of the first people in the world to see it and talk about it, then you are going to want to go to Rooster Teeth, and even better as a FIRST member!
Final question, do you have any messages for your fans and for fans of gen:LOCK?
I really hope you like the show! I hope you have as much fun watching it as we've had making it. I think the thing I love about the Rooster Teeth community is that they are very generous with checking out new things and with their feedback on what they like or not. I really hope that the Rooster Teeth audience finds this both a fresh story watching experience and also recognise some ingredients that they really like about other Rooster Teeth shows.
For all the new audience that might be finding Rooster Teeth for the first time through gen:LOCK, I'm sorry! I think it's really neat that each one of the cast members has their own fandom and that if gen:LOCK is a way of discovering Rooster Teeth then I hope they enjoy the show, but I also hope they look around and see what other cool things Rooster Teeth has to offer and hang out and become part of the conversation. I look forward to meeting them at RTX next year!
Otaku News would like to thank Gray Haddock and our friends at Rooster Teeth for inviting us to RTX London and giving us such an amazing interview. We would also like to thank Jeegar Shah (our resident Mecha Anime enthusiast) for giving his input into the questions. We look forward to watching gen:LOCK next year over at RoosterTeeth.com
and seeing how this anime evolves in the future!
Source: Otaku News