Exclusive Q&A: Building “Robot Brothers Super Giants” with Reel FX
Earlier this week, we were thrilled to offer a preview of the new Netflix animated series. Super Giant Robot Brothers, a colorful action-comedy about two misfit mecha siblings — childish and bubbly Shiny and Steel Thunder — who help their prodigal inventor Alex Rose save the planet from space monster attacks (when they stop bickering). Created and produced by Love, Death + Robots former Victor Maldonado and Alfredo Torres and directed by Oscar winner Mark Andrews (Brave), the 10 x 27′ Kids & Family series is now available to stream after launching on Thursday, August 4.
On the eve of the premiere, we heard from the series’ executive producer Mace JaredHead of Reel FX Originals, and Steve O’BrienCEO of Reel FX (reelfx.com), which has established itself as a strong animation player with outposts in Hollywood and Montreal since establishing its Dallas headquarters in 1995 with eight employees. Having used his CG skills to bring the Oscar-nominated feature the book of life as good as free birds, Rumble, Back to the Outback and Scoob! to screens, the studio tested the newly charted waters of real-time virtual production to Super giant robot brothers.
Here’s what Steve and Jared taught us about the secrets of building relatable robot siblings:
Animation Magazine: When did you and the Reel FX team get involved in Super Giant Robot Brothers?
Steve O’Brien: We were working on a movie project with Victor and Alfredo in 2016, and that project was put on hold, so we asked them to pitch us some ideas to keep our development slate going for some time. One such idea was “Brobots” which we immediately fell in love with and which later became Super Giant Robot Brothers.
What were the main aesthetic inspirations/goals for the design and animation?
Jared’s Mace: Mark Andrews and Tommy Blacha took inspiration from old kaiju movies from the 60s and 70s and worked with our production designer Katy Wu to create a show that would live alongside other shows in the genre like Johnny Socko and his flying robot and Ultraman. Because we knew we were going to visualize and do the show in the Unreal Engine and Mark is a big fan of harder lines and angles, we worked to augment some of the references with more video game aesthetics.
In a nutshell, what was the real-time process like for this project? How did it vary from other “standard” CG productions?
Steve: First, the front-end is entirely different. Storyboards are optional – we used comic book style story panels as a shooting guide. Unlike traditional animation, you’re on stage creating shot option bins for the editorial to pull out just like you would for live action shooting. You build elements in advance for stage use, then come off stage with a rough layout, which is an alternative or complement to the storyboard stage.
Second, many aspects of the digital production are transformed, from surfacing to character rigs to lighting setups. So yes, almost everything is morphed or impacted in some way from the “standard” CG productions.
Were there any major learning curves in creating a real-time series?
Steve: We basically built a whole new pipeline and we produced a new show at the same time – kind of like laying tracks a few meters in front of the train. Definitely a major learning curve, but having a highly tested scalable pipeline for shows like this is the breakthrough that came out of the process. We have several more shows planned as we speak.
Since the show was done in real time alongside mo-cap actors and a whole crew, was this a new experience for the crew?
Steve: Even though our director Mark Andrews is from Pixar, he’s completely comfortable working this way and actually prefers it, and our producers and the crew who handled the shoot are very experienced in virtual production. Many animators don’t like the idea of using mo-cap, but for this show and our process, mo-cap was not a replacement for keyframe animation. On the contrary, the mo-cap data served more as a framework for the layout and an incredible reference as a starting point for our animation team. Once the animation team got into it, they loved the process.
What was it like working among people again after years of isolated pandemic?
Steve: It was fun! Of course, we shot the show between the waves of COVID, which caused delays, and we had the healthcare company there to do daily testing and so on. This part was strenuous, but if you take a look at the BTS video circulating, you’ll understand how much fun it was for the whole team to be together.
The Robo Bros have a lot of personality for two giant machines – how did the artists and animators create such engaging performances?
Jared: Shiny and Thunder were designed to reflect the personality of Alex Rose at the age she invented them. At two years old, the artists thought the genius Alex would be more into the simple shapes and so created Shiny with a bulbous body, intense curiosity and a childlike mind. At 12, Alex is taking life and his job more seriously and so would have designed Thunder to be more pragmatic and centered.
The animators were able to get the best benchmark ever from the data given to them, captured using motion capture performance, and then they augmented that data to improve character performance. It was a big win for the engaging character creation process.
What creators, films or TV shows have inspired you the most in your career as an animator?
Steve: I grew up watching Saturday morning shows – some I remember the most are Japanese shows like Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion and Ultraman …one of the original robot vs. kaiju shows. We’ve been lucky enough to work with so many inspiring creators and filmmakers, and I try to absorb something new from each experience. Mark has been a great partner and collaborator on this series, not to mention his energy levels are off the charts, so it’s been a fun ride working together.
Jared: I am inspired by storytellers; animation or live action doesn’t matter as much to me. Brad Bird, Pete Docter, Tim Burton, Alexander Payne. movies like Gremlins, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Goonies, Up. Shows like Beavis and Butthead, South Park and old Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
If you could, would you rather be a kaiju or a giant robot?
Jared: Definitely a robot – probably a Transformer, because who wouldn’t want to save the world and transform from a robot into a cool car and gnarly beast?
Steve: If only robots could have feelings, I would definitely be a giant robot like Shiny or Thunder. Wait, can robots actually have feelings? You’ll have to watch ALL of Season 1 to find out.
What kind of reactions have you heard Super Giant Robot Brothers so far? What is you hope Netflix audiences get out of this monster action-comedy?
Steve: We were in Annecy, and participated in several events with Epic where we started the Super Giant Robot Brothers trailer and gave a behind-the-scenes look at the making. The audience seemed really interested and we had a lot of fun talking to the animation community about it.
Our child-genius main character, Rose, invents one robot as a toddler and another as a teen/teen girl and infuses her worldview at that age into each, which you can imagine is quite different as you go. as it grows and matures. Having raised three children who are now all adults, this resonated with me a lot and I think it will resonate with others as well, regardless of age. Other than that, audiences will love watching giant robots and kaijus battle against each other, great characters and lots of fun and funny moments in every episode.
Jared: The kids we’ve shown it to so far have all loved it. It has something for boys and girls, and parents feel a sense of nostalgia watching it because it’s reminiscent of the cartoons we used to watch growing up. I hope audiences enjoy watching Shiny and Thunder’s sibling rivalry unfold on the biggest stage in the world with everything at stake. It’s high stakes and very funny and our heroine is an awesome young girl who invented giant robots to save the planet. Hope it inspires the kids to get out there and do something cool.
Super Giant Robot Brothers is now streaming on Netflix. look at this here! The first episode is also available to watch in full on Youtube.
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