(Laughs) There’s so many different ways I could screw it up. I think it’s just depending on the hour of the day. You know, on a personal level I really enjoy the writing process, and being able to do some voice acting - to forget everything else for thirty to sixty minutes while you’re performing that character and just be in this other world. That’s always fun from an escapist point of view, but I would say my number one thing that I really enjoyed about this season of gen:LOCK was interacting with the crew. Serving as Director and working alongside all of these talented Artists, Animators, and Sound Engineers. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to engage with them quite at that level. We used to be a much smaller team so it was easier to interact with everybody when we were kind of a garage band version of an animation studio. (Laughs) Over the last couple of years, serving as the Studio Head for Rooster Teeth I wasn’t as able to get my hands quite as dirty. I was able to work as the Co-Director of RWBY for a couple of volumes but that was a few years ago. So, being able to get back in the trenches and work side by side with my brothers and sisters in art was, I think, the most rewarding aspect of the whole thing.
Yeah, and it all depends on what mood you’re in. If you’re looking for some irreverent Sci-fi comedy, then you’ve got Red Vs Blue, if you’re looking for just rude comedy, then you’ve got Camp Camp. If it’s the overabundance of cuteness, well then it’s gonna be RWBY Chibi. That makes sense.
Now as far as gen:LOCK goes, it features mechas but in a different way. Instead of utilizing fighter pilots they have minds uploaded into Holons instead. What would you say gave you the idea to put such an interesting spin on a classic genre?
Yeah, that’s actually what I was going to go to next. I know you had mentioned that both of those shows inspired you when it came to creating this, but is there anything less popular that you would say maybe helped inform your vision that fans of gen:LOCK should also check out?
Well I was looking for something that would play with some of the ingredients of this genre but maybe put them together in a way that people hadn’t exactly seen before. I was craving some serious sci-fi action storytelling and craving mecha stories in particular. I’m also a huge fan of cyberpunk and at the time I was pitching the show there really wasn’t a ton of either coming out then, especially in the Western Hemisphere. I figured I had exactly one shot at this so if I was missing some serious Gundam style storytelling and Ghost In The Shell, then why not try to make sure to combine elements of both?
I can see that, especially in episode 8 when we see the mechs forming five into one, we see everyone having to work together essentially as one mind.
Yeah. (Laughs) I hope you have an hour because the list is really long. So, I think there’s been some confusion in the past in whenever I rattle off shows people think I’m talking about them from a mecha standpoint, and that’s not true. You know, the show also has a lot of it’s DNA in everything from everything from classic Star Trek to the Battlestar Gallactica Reboot, to the X-Men Comics. I call on X-Men in terms of the themes of being outsiders and chosen family which are very important to me. But beyond that I grew up on the very first two anime I ever watched as a kid - and this’ll definitely date me. (Laughs) But, here you go. Space Battleship Yamato or Starblazers and Gatchaman or Battle of the Planets. And, I don’t think too many people understand what an influence Gatchaman had on the show in terms of five people fighting as one the way that they have to coordinate at the end of any given episode in order to take on the big bad. I think that was both conscious and subconscious in terms of how it affected how gen:LOCK’s first season played out.
Yeah, I think it was a great way to go. Now, I had heard that the first few episodes that you guys animated were actually animated without the voices recorded, and that you had to step up and record all of the voice roles yourself. So what was that like?
Right, we want to be able to work in a lot of mecha show tropes that fans of the genre might expect but serve them up in slightly unexpected ways. So there are questions like ‘Will the mechs ever transform?’ ‘Will Chase ever get Major Kusanagi style mechanical body?’ ‘Will the mechs ever merge and kind of Voltron together?’” Well in the first season we wanted to do a more spiritual or psychological version of that instead of physically having them connect, and that’s why episode 8 turned out the way it did.
That’s really interesting. Speaking of the Voice Acting Crew. I know gen:LOCK is the first of Rooster Teeth’s animations to include members of the Screen Actor’s Guild. So what was it like working with Actors like Michael B. Jordan, Dakota Fanning, Maisie Williams, and David Tennant?
Yeah. (Laughs) Well, it depends on who you talk to. I think for the crew it was amusing at first and then ultimately probably got a little painful. I wanted to take this opportunity to apologize again to apologize to the crew and thank them for putting up with that for a couple of months. But yeah, we like to cast and record our voice talent substantially earlier than we did on gen:LOCK. And that allows us to put the real dialogue over our storyboards and put together what we call an animatic representing the energy of the piece overall and start to figure out the shots and editing cuts and where the camera is looking at any given moment. And when we started to realize how lucky we were getting on the casting side of things, we realized how flexible we had to suddenly become with the order of events on the production side. We did have to begin blocking the scenes and do a certain amount of character performance animation. In order to enable the teams to do that, I went ahead and recorded all the parts - I provided temp audio for every single character with how I heard the lines in my head and to demonstrate to the Animation team at least my general intent of how I would direct the tone later and sometimes I think that worked really well and it so happened that the interpretation that I had at the moment was very close to the interpretation that the performer had and there were other times where the voice talent brought such an energy and magic that we couldn’t deny we needed to go with those wildly different takes because of how special the moment became and that’s when we would wrap back around and the Animation team would fill in the missing animation differently than we originally planned.
Okay, and speaking of Jordan, I know that he helps produce gen:LOCK with his company Outlier Society Productions. Can you tell me a bit about how that came about?
(Sighs) I know I sound hyperbolic, but really all I can say is that it was a dream. These are amazingly talented and professional people who were very generous with squeezing into recording sessions whenever their various schedules would open up a bit. They were all incredibly enthusiastic about the project. They really liked some of the cool visuals that we had in mind and some of the themes that we wanted to play with. Some of them have a decent amount of previous Voice Acting experience, and others perhaps have done some voice acting but not an extensive amount and it was really fun to come up with a directing style that perhaps still spoke to them with more Live Action communication techniques in order to get all of the context across that they needed to play the scene just right. In some cases I would go ahead and perform opposite against them filling all of the other lines in the scene that were not there so at some point I actually found myself acting against Michael or Dakota or David or Maisie and those are memories I will treasure until the end of my day. Ultimately the recording process became more about me figuring out when to go ahead and get out of that actor’s way and just let them bring their magic to it.
Speaking of diversity, Dr Jha is Indian, Henry Wu is Chinese, Kazu is Japanese, Chase is African-American, Yaz is Iranian, Cammie is Scottish, Valentina is Russion, Miguel is Hispanic, and Weller is English. How do you feel the diversity in your show sets it apart from others like it?
I would say that the more interested that Michael became in the project it was quite clear that the spirit of some of his business efforts and what Rooster Teeth is up to are pretty well aligned and I think that both companies are interested in storytelling with heart but also with a mission to continue to promote diversity and representation and I think it was just a really good synergy between the two companies. So they came on board and were able to provide some additional logistics help. Rooster Teeth of course was the studio working on the show but if we needed connection on the music side or advice on how to navigate the Hollywood machinery then their counseling was invaluable on that front.
Now, in the last episode of season one, (SPOILERS) your character Leon August seems to go into a coma after risking his life uploading into a Holon. Even though your character was only in the action for one episode, was it fun to finally get some glory in the end?
Well I wanted to make sure that Rooster Teeth was making something that represented what I see in the world. The phrase that I’ve been using is “natural diversity”. I want it to be very natural and organic to the environment that we’ve showed in the story and not have it be a plot point. Again, growing back to having grown up on Star Trek and the X-Men and the representation that those IP were such pioneers of, I wanted to contribute on that front. Just to make sure there are more cool big idea stories out there for people who want that in their life.
Is there anything you can tell me about what might come for Season 2 or maybe that stinger after Episode 8?
Yeah, I think that a lot of fans had some fantastic theories on exactly how that was gonna play out. We hang a shotgun on the wall early in the season in the form of a Holon that’s not being currently used, it’s just sitting there collecting dust. The fans were right to begin wondering if the sixth Holon would ever come into play and if so who would pilot it and there were some fantastic theories. I think a couple people were guessing that separate from having the sixth Holon in play, Doc goes out of his way to call out the rules of gen:LOCK in one of the early training sequences. Doc makes the point that because gen:LOCK requires a tremendous amount of neuroplasticity in order to work that a more mature stabilized adult brain is no longer really flexible enough. It’s not young enough of a nervous system to endure the gen:LOCK downloading and uploading process and he calls out Leon as somebody who had the potential to be gen:LOCK compatible but now is just too old for the program. So I think some people were rewarded with probably putting those puzzle pieces together and seeing that Leon might be able to help out in some fashion but at no small cost because he’s going to have to break one of the gen:LOCK rules in order to help. But, getting to work on those action scenes and have another Holon come into play and helping out the new team as well as just being able to perform off of that cast in those scenes was an incredible amount of fun.
I definitely liked how Season 1 took it’s time explaining any questions you might have about these mechs through the new recruits. Will the future seasons be more action driven?
Oh yeah, let’s talk about the stinger. So we’ve got the character of Robert Sinclair, who’s a vanguard soldier and is identified as gen:LOCK compatible. And as we demonstrated in Episode 2, in that episode we never met the real Sinclair. The Union had grabbed the real Sinclair and replaced him with a spy made to look and sound like him. Of course once the Doc realizes this is the case, then perhaps the best way to neutralize this spy is to give him exactly what he wants, he tries to use gen:LOCK, he’s not compatible, and therefore he fries his nervous system because of it. Eagle eyed viewers were rewarded with glimpses of military police reports on the Colonels screen in that same episode saying that once security had begun to realize that the spy didn’t pass security scans, they realized that the real Sinclair had been abducted and it wasn’t entirely sure whether he had been killed or was M.I.A. And we wanted to attach a scene after the credits to serve as a promise to the audience about where we were going next. We reveal that the original Sinclair is indeed alive. He’s not looking too healthy, he’s looking bruised and battered which should raise some questions about what he’s gone through since he’s been abducted but apparently now he’s on the loose and running around behind enemy lines. So if we are fortunate enough to have a Season 2 then there’s a really good chance that we will begin to explore what’s going on on the Union side of things by following Sinclair and his adventures over there. Season 1, you know, we had to be very focused about how to spend our runtime and I decided I wanted to make the scale of storytelling in season 1 much more intimate and have it be much more character driven where we would say yes there’s a war going on but in order to understand these characters’ struggles we weren’t going to go into detail quite yet about how the politics of the world were working. It wasn’t exactly the point of the main message of the first season. Instead it was more about if you find yourself in a broader situation where it feels like half of the world is aligned against you for no good reason, what kind of qualities might you need in order to endure that and continue to put up with those sorts of struggles including continuing to stay open and find new friends and choose new family if you’ve been through loss and still be strong enough to make some change around you. I know some segment of the audience really appreciated that. Some other folks might need to understand global stakes in order to be able to lose themselves to certain aspects of the story so this is also kind of a promise of thank you for being patient, we’ll get there eventually.
I think that different seasons are going to operate on different scales. It’s all going to depend on where we can get certain ideas out and what story elements are calling to us in any given year in terms of what we want to explore next. I’ve got an overall outline of where the story could go but I think it all depends on audience reaction and how gen:LOCK is doing out there in the world and that’ll kind of tell us how big or small things wind up going. Our overall mission though is to have primarily character driven narrative just because if you aren’t charmed by them and don’t care about them and their inner emotional lives then it doesn’t matter if we start throwing armies at each other. The stakes aren’t going to be important if you are not as emotionally invested in the outcome of this handful of characters that you’ve been following the whole time. But I do want to have a good blend of some cool big action set pieces and intimate character driven emotional moments.
A mix of the two kind of reminds me of Attack on Titan actually.
That’s pretty much all I had. Is there anything else you would like me to include for the fans?
That’s a great comparison and a great way to put it actually. Attack on Titan’s been two and a half seasons to set up their Season 3.5 where now they’re spending every single episode in this huge battle sequence but you wouldn’t care about it if you didn’t live through those trials and tribulations beforehand.
I would just say we want to say thanks to the fans, the folks that watched us in the beginning of the year in particular on Rooster Teeth for helping introduce this series to the world. People should stay tuned for a couple of announcements about where else they’re going to be able to see gen:LOCK this year and we want to thank everybody for helping to get the word out there as more and more people start checking out the show.
What do you think of this exclusive interview with gen:LOCK
creator, Gray G. Haddock? Let us know below!
Season 1 of gen:LOCK is available on Rooster Teeth or VRV.