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Toonzone Interviews "Voltron Force" Director John Delaney

...and I'll form the head!The last time we spoke with the multi-talented John Delaney, it was to discuss his work on 4Kids! then-new series Chaotic, based on the card game of the same name, and his work on Bongo Comics’ Futurama comics. His latest role is the series director for Voltron Force, the latest animated incarnation of the famed 1980′s anime series that premiered on June 16, 2011, on the Nicktoons Network. We were able to catch up with John Delaney via e-mail to discuss his new job and his vision for the famed five robot lions.

TOONZONE NEWS: How exactly did you become the series director for Voltron Force?

JOHN DELANEY: I had heard that they were going to do a new Voltron Series so I contacted Eh-Okay studios to see where they were on it. After speaking with the producers at Kickstart Entertainment and Eh-Okay Productions and telling them about my passion for the original Voltron- Defender of the Universe and the Beast King GoLion series they put me on a list with several other directors. Each of the directors had to have a phone meeting with World Event Productions (owners of Voltron), the head writer on the new show, and the producers at Kickstart Entertainment/Eh-Okay Productions and do a pitch as to where we would want to go the new series. I guess they liked mine.

TZN: I know you’re a big fan of the original Voltron, and some of those cast members will appear as mentors in this series. How are you balancing references and dependencies on the original series and this new one?

JOHN DELANEY: Very much so! I love the original series. The idea was that this series would be a bit of a sequel to the original but taking place several years later. We wanted to make sure the original pilots were allowed to grow up from their original depictions, but still retain a lot of the traits that made them so cool the first time around. While they will certainly be mentoring the three new cadets they are very much still active in both the stories as well as the lions for the most part.

TZN: Will you be introducing or pulling elements from the original Japanese GoLion series that were edited out when the show was imported as Voltron?

JOHN DELANEY: Paying homage to the original show while introducing these amazing characters to a new audience is what this show is all about. Since the original GoLion was quite violent and dealt with somewhat mature themes we have to go more the way of Voltron – The Defender of the Universe since we are making this show for a younger audience. Our demo may be 6 to 11 but we have respected the Voltron brand so that if you were a fan of the original shows there are lots of homage and “Easter Eggs” to the original series. We know that today’s audiences like compelling and intelligent writing so we didn’t shy away from that despite it being marketed to a younger audience. We want the old fans to dig it too…and they will! With regard to direct GoLion elements, we did bring back two of the more famous Robeasts from the original show in the first two episodes, and of course Lotor is back.

Voltron team, old schoolTZN: Is the aim of this series to be more of a continuous narrative over the span of the season, or are you doing more loosely coupled, stand-alone episodes?

JOHN DELANEY: Great question! We have created a series of 26 standalone episodes that all have a story thread running through them. If you watch them individually or out of order you will have no problem enjoying each story. However, if you follow them in order, there’s a continuing and escalating story arc you are going to become very aware of, and let me tell you its epic.

TZN: As a fan, was there anything where you said, “We have to do THAT from the original series” from the outset? On the flip side, was there anything where you said, “Let’s make sure we DON’T do that” from the original series?

JOHN DELANEY: There are certain things that both myself and producer Jeremy Corray as well as Todd Garrfield (the head writer) simply had to have and so we often had brain storming sessions together as to how to accomplish these needs and wants. When you see the series I think any of the original fans will notice what I’m referring to. One of the things we didn’t want to do was make Princess Allura anything less than a real strong modern woman who could handle herself in combat. She is a very well rounded character with years of diplomatic training and handles confrontation in a very experienced way. In the original GoLion series she sometimes came off as quite young and a bit impetuous so we wanted her age to reflect her growth as a character. Indeed this was important with all the returning characters.

TZN: Are there any other big shows, movies, or stories that are inspiring you in doing Voltron Force?

JOHN DELANEY: As filmmakers we are always inspired by things out there that we see. Certainly there is a bit of a moving camera feel we are incorporating to give the mix of 2D and 3D a more solidified feel, but in truth Voltron has such a rich history and is so beloved by fans our biggest goal is to just capture the magic of the original show while updating it for a modern audience. Josh our incredible editor on the show cuts it together like each episode is a mini feature.

TZN: How far in advance have you worked out stories and plots for this show?

JOHN DELANEY: We created 26 episodes but we have another full season plotted out should we get a second season and that season opens multiple possibilities for years of Voltron Force stories to come. As we were working on this season I would often come out of a meeting with Jeremy and Todd that would involve where we would take Voltron Force in season two and when I told my crew they would get very excited. This show has so many possibilities and we want to explore them all.

Voltron team, new school!TZN: How is directing this series working out differently from when you had a comparable role in Chaotic?

JOHN DELANEY: Well I was fortunate to be able to hire a lot of the people I worked on Chaotic with onto Voltron Force. Our assistant director Gord was from Chaotic, as was Damien our color director. Numerous storyboard artists that worked on Chaotic were brought back for Voltron Force.

However, Chaotic was based on a card game, so much of the design work and “look of picture” was already determined. Since I am a designer as well as a director, I like to have my hand in the design of the show I’m working on a bit more, which I got in spades with Voltron Force. I did design a couple of the human characters in Chaotic but we already had a great design team in place so that ball was already rolling as it were. The stories for Chaotic were already being written and were done through 4Kids in New York so beyond addressing small changes in the storyboard phase much of it was already completed so we were tasked with realizing the vision that 4Kids wanted. It was a great experience but there was a lot more give and take on Voltron Force. I had a fantastic design team on Voltron Force and we worked very closely together. We used the Hubble telescope images as a basis for the look of space so it wasn’t all just black with white stars. The architecture of each planet was discussed in full and was created to give a unique look to each environment. The color palettes were explored to their fullest so each thing had a specific reason for the colors chosen.

There was some initial concept work done on the series when I signed on but World Event Productions was very open to change and expansion on the ideas, so we ended up with something quite unique but still in keeping with where we wanted to go and where we had been before. It was so awesome when I got to redesign an older, battle-hardened Keith, since he was always my favorite character from the original series. When I designed the character Maahoxx, who is a new addition, Todd our writer ended up incorporating some of his design ideas into the stories which was a real thrill. Working with the Janis our Character Designer, John H our Layout/background designer and Damien our Color director was a special highlight of working on Voltron Force.

TZN: Do you ever find that being a fan of the original show makes your job as director of this new one harder?

JOHN DELANEY: Only in that as a fan of GoLion, I really liked the amped up violence and some of the darker aspects of the show. Since we were re-imagining it for a younger audience I certainly got behind the new direction and we definitely didn’t shy away from real peril, but we had to show it less graphically.

GoLion!TZN: What would you say to someone who didn’t like or doesn’t know anything about the original Voltron to convince them to watch this new show?

JOHN DELANEY: We created this show to act as both an introduction to this new take and a continuation of the original series. If you’ve never seen Voltron – The Defender of the Universe, you will have no problem getting into Voltron Force, but if you were a fan of the original you are going to love all the things we put in for fans as well. Many questions will be answered, many original mysteries solved and I believe you are going to love seeing your favorite original pilots back in action. A bit older, a bit more battle-hardened but still the super cool action heroes they always were.

TZN: What else are you working on now?

JOHN DELANEY: I’ve been doing quite a bit of design work for a couple of live-action properties, and I am still hard at work on comic books. I’m not teaching at this time because things are a bit too crazy busy but I do want to get back to it when I find the time. I’m just finishing another issue of Futurama for Bongo Comics and I’m talking with a couple of companies about two more animated projects that I really can’t comment on right now but are very awesome. Hopefully we’ll get a season 2 for Voltron Force and we can put the band back together!

Toonzone News would like to thank John Delaney for taking the time to speak with us, and to the folk at Nickelodeon PR that assisted in getting this interview arranged. Voltron Force will air on Thursdays at 8:30 PM (Eastern) on Nicktoons.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this interview incorrectly referred to the original Japanese anime series at one point as GoLion Beast King instead of Beast King GoLion.

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