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Toonami Topper Sean Akins Talks to Toon Zone

As Sean Akins explains right off the bat, his responsibilities on Toonami, Cartoon Network’s long-running hit action block, encompass a lot of areas. Titles don’t really convey much. Fortunately, he was able to describe to Toon Zone what it is he does and how he and his talented crew get it done.

And no, that’s not Sean in the photo just below. But when the network hasn’t got a picture to give you, you have to improvise.

Toon Zone: So, Sean, what are your official job titles and responsibilities?

Image, you mean? We go there all the time. That’s how I check and make sure everyone’s doing the work I’ve assigned. I know if I don’t see it on the Arsenal, it hasn’t been on the TV. So that’s my little quality control, the Arsenal.

TZ: One of my favorite intros was the GI Joe one, where you guys took the old monologue and updated it.

SA: Yeah, that was a great one. That was one of those that we had an opportunity to do. Everyone was so familiar with the existing open because it had aired on domestic, so it didn’t seem so much like a loss. And it was only on at night, I think, so you get a little more latitude.

TZ: How do you decide which shows get strong promotion? Rave Master didn’t get advertised until the day it aired, and Gundam SEED‘s long promo has only aired a handful of times.

SA: I wish I knew the answer to that question (laughs). It’s several factors. Running a network is a super-complicated thing, and we’re just one spoke in the wheel. We try to get whatever promotion we can get, but if the network’s doing other stuff, then they have to promote that as well. Sometimes, a show that’s acquired takes a backseat to an original production. So if it’s a show we’re kind of getting for not much money and trying out, it’s always going to get bumped for a show that we’ve spent all this money to create.

Image for music. What are the limits of the use of their label, if any?

SA: Toonami actually struck that deal. That’s just “us.” So, we have access to much of the Ninja Tune library, excluding some artists who have co-producer credits on their stuff. If it’s artists that Ninja Tune owns outright, we pay Ninja Tune a kind of blanket license to use a lot of their CDs and a lot of different artists. It works out well for us: We get access to a lot of the music that we think is very, very good as well as a lot of different types of artists and styles, like DJ Food and Amon Tobin and a bunch of different guys. We still continue to work with other outside artists on an individual basis. Dangermouse still does a lot of our individual beats; we’re working with Mad Lib; we’re working with Animals on Wheels. There’s a bunch of different guys we’re working with, guys that we like. The Ninja Tune deal was a great way to get a lot of stuff that we didn’t have to compose ourselves, that we thought fit the brand, and that we could make cool spots out of.

TZ: Speaking of spots, how do the commercials and intros come about? Does the whole gang get together, watch a few episodes and decide how they go about?

SA: Usually it’s a tight-knit group that does the work. There’s not many of us-maybe four or five guys would spearhead a project like that. The shows will come in, and I’ll review them and figure out who’s best suited for which project. I usually try to assign producers to shows they like or projects they’ll have fun on. That because the emotion generally comes through in the work. If you have a guy or a girl who’s working on something he or she doesn’t like, I can usually feel that when the final product comes around. So I try to work around with the personalities inside the group, and there ‘ s kind of a lead producer who ‘ ll take on a project. But everyone kind of watches it, so it’s really a group thing.

We’re a family here at Toonami, so everybody is always up on everybody’s business. It’s fairly organic-there’s no hard-and-fast rules-but generally one person will write the script and send it around if it’s a promo. For the opens, it falls on the back of the editors. Those are straight editiorial set to music that builds to a logo reveal. You can’t really script that; you have to start cutting it. That’s their paticular contribution, their creativity. I’m truly blessed to have a lot of really talented people on the team, and that’s kind of how it goes down. We have some of the most talented editors in the area, I think, in my group at Williams Street.

TZ: That’s what sets you apart from the crowd.

SA: I hope so, but I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like it’s killing us, and at other times it seems like it separates us from everyone else.

TZ: So, when Miguzi was introduced at the upfronts, there was an elaborate backstory explaining how Erin, the host, came about this underwater spaceship. Will this story ever be revealed on air?

SA: We’re trying to, and we’re hoping to get the greenlight to make a lot of animation. We certainly want to tell those stories, but this environment is not really designed to do long form stuff, so it may not ever be possible. The quantity of that animation depends on the funding we can get. You know, just having her look at the camera and wave costs me several thousand dollars. But we’re trying to get to a place where we can do specials and stunts with that environment and cast of characters, like Toonami was doing them. It would have a whole different tone a creatively, but it would be sort of the same deal. We certainly want to try to build to something that could sustain some shorts or maybe a 22-minute special. All that stuff is on the drawing board right now, and we’re trying to write stories that we’ll find compelling and see if we can grow that into something of that nature.

TZ: When it was announced it would be an underwater spaceship, some of us thought that it might be the remains of the Absolution.

SA: We almost did that. Just the fact that they’re on a spaceship at all is sort of an homage to where we came from. And it was funny, we just tried to set up a yin and a yang with Toonami and Miguzi. Toonami’s outer space, Miguzi’s inner space; Toonami has few characters, Miguzi has a lot of characters; Toonami is darker and cooler, Miguzi is brighter and “funner.” So we had all of that to play off of. That’s another great thing to do when you’re running a group of creative people. You have to give them a variety of things to work on or else they get burned out. That’s kind of how the idea came about. Even though Miguzi’s certainly targeted toward different demo and age group.

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