Interview: ‘Voltron: Legendary Defender’ Showrunners Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery on Updating a Classic
Posted on Friday, June 10th, 2016 by Fred Topel
Voltron is back. Dreamworks Animation has produced the series Voltron: Legendary Defender for Netflix. In the brand new high definition series, five pilots once again obtain individual lion robots that can combine to form Voltron.
We got to speak with Voltron: Legendary Defender producers Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Mongomery at the Dreamworks Offices. Both self-professed Voltron fans, this series was a dream project for them.
The mouths move more like dialogue but the animation is still not too smooth. I’m sure it’s much more sophisticated than the animation of the ’80s, but was it important to keep some of that look while improving things like the mouths?
Dos Santos: Yeah, we’ve sort of been saying this all along but the shows that were made in Japan that we watched growing up, they’re just part of our artistic DNA now. It’s not a decision: hey, we’re going to set out to make something that is not as animated as we could make it. It’s just part of the way we do things. It was developed through the ’70s and ’80s as cost-cutting efforts, but as our generation watched those programs, staging for that sort of stuff and the way those things are animated just became the way we see things.
Is there going to be a Japanese version of Voltron: Legendary Defender?
Montgomery: I have no idea.
Dos Santos: I don’t know that it’ll be localized for Japan at this point. I think that all goes through Netflix.
Is the humor and banter between the guys more sophisticated now?
Dos Santos: For sure.
Montgomery: One of the greatest things I think about our writing team is that they have a very natural way of doing humor. There’s a lot of humor in a lot of action-adventure shows that Joaquim and I will kind of cringe at. There’ll be a lot of punny things but not necessarily good puns. One of the awesome things that I feel was very present in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Korra which benefited from also having Tim [Hedrick] and Josh [Hamilton]’s presence was that there was just a really kind of fun natural sense of humor. It would go over the top at times but it could get very serious and intense when it needed to.
Dos Santos: Subtle and fun.
Montgomery: But the humor comes from the characters and it’s not necessarily jokes that are forced into situations.
Dos Santos: We’ve got sort of a blanket line that we use to describe what we see as sort of generic humor in an everyday kind of cartoon. We say if the guy’s fighting a big skeleton guy and says, “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.” It’s like, hmm, really? If you made fun of the fact that you just said that, then you’ve got something.
Montgomery: Yeah, we just try to make the comedy feel natural. I think it’s just where comedy has evolved to over time. Even live-action comedies now, you’ll see the comedies that are really succeeding are the ones that just have people kind of improv-ing versus people just saying jokes that were written for them.
Do you get to further their personalities a little more? Like Lance is a smartass, Hunk gets sick a lot.
Montgomery: For sure. We wanted to give very deep personality to the characters, make them stand on their own. We didn’t want to just stick any one person in a corner like this is your job, you make this joke and that’s really all you do. Even though you may have seen one side of them in the first three episodes, they will evolve and they will become different. The things they do will have an effect on them. Ultimately, we still want to just start them in a much more deep figured out place.
Dos Santos: And the actors bring a ton to it too. So the actors can read a line as it reads straight off the page, or they can bring their own thing to it. They do that a lot of the time which I think lends an authenticity to what they’re saying.
Did you have to decide on the scale? Like how much bigger is a lion to the pilot, and then how much bigger is Voltron?
Dos Santos: Mm-hmm. That was all part of our initial development pitches when we were meeting with the execs and stuff. We had a pilot compared to the paw of one of the lions, one of the paws of the lions compared to Voltron. We put in where Optimus Prime stands up to Voltron. He could step on Optimus Prime if he wanted to. All that good stuff to try to sell how big and awesome and massive Voltron is.
Are you going to reuse the animation of the formation, or do a new formation each time?
Dos Santos: Yeah, right now we were so stoked with the way that turned out that that’s pretty much our standardized formation sequence. We’ve got different edits of it and stuff, but to ask for renders of that repeatedly becomes a bit of a nightmare, production-wise.
Did the lions have distinct attributes in the original? Like the Red is more volatile.
Montgomery: Maybe on a lesser level but they definitely had certain qualities. I remember even in the original GoLion intro, it kind of explained each lion was the spirit animal of a certain thing. They maybe didn’t really have personalities as much because they were really much more like cars. You got the key and you could drive it. What we’ve tried to do with our lions is give them a very small amount of sentience where they can bond and choose their pilot. That requires that they have some sort of personality, which just differentiates them and makes them unique, allows kids to pick a favorite lion when it’s more than just the favorite color that’s gone into it.
Dos Santos: And it makes it special when our characters are able to interact with it. It’s sort of like the lion chose them as well.