Toonzone Interviews Andrew Robinson and David Colman on "Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters"
David Colman is a character designer, development artist, and story artist, with an Emmy Award to his name for his work on Cartoon Network’s Class of 3000. He has earned credits on shows as varied as Adult Swim’s The Boondocks and Fox’s The Cleveland Show, and has also worked for Disney, Sony, and the Jim Henson Company. He has also taught classes on character design for the Computer Graphics Master Academy (CGMA), and currently serves as the art director for Hasbro Studios’ Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, based on the popular Wizards of the Coast trading card game.
Andrew Robinson has been writing for animation for over 10 years, with credits ranging from Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles, Jackie Chan Adventures, W.I.T.C.H., The Spectacular Spider-Man, Transformers: Animated, and Young Justice. He has been a regular contributor to many hit shows on the Hub, including G.I. Joe Renegades and Transformers Prime, and now serves as story editor for Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters.
The first season of Kaijudo wrapped up on the Hub Network last year, and season 2 is currently scheduled to premiere this summer. On the eve of the release of the Kaijudo: Dragonstrike DVD, Toonzone News got to chat on the phone with Andrew Robinson and David Colman about their work on the show.
TOONZONE NEWS: How did you guys get attached to Kaijudo initially?
ANDREW ROBINSON: I had written on Spectacular Spider-Man for Sony and Marvel several years back, and Michael Vogel was the Sony executive on that. He came over to Hasbro and asked me if I would be interested in developing with him, and when an executive says, “Would you like to develop with me?” the correct answer is, “Yes” (laughs). This was the property that he suggested.
DAVID COLMAN: I ran into Michael randomly at a restaurant and he knew I was looking to do something different. I was actually over at Fox on the first season of The Cleveland Show. Having a very well-known background with animal design, he knew I’d be perfect for something like this. So he set up a meeting and that’s when I first met Andrew, over in Beverly Hills, and it just went on from there. Over about a year’s time, Andrew and I would meet at diners in the Valley–and specifically around Studio City–to come up with the mythology of the show, taking Hasbro Studio’s notes into account.
ANDREW ROBINSON: I want to interject, by the way, that Henry Gilroy was a member of our little trio. He co-developed the show with us, and was our partner in crime throughout season 1.
DAVID COLMAN: Yeah, for sure. He was a big part of it.
ANDREW ROBINSON: Also, we’re blessed to work with some of the most amazing people and I want to include Gary Hartle, the producer and supervising director.
DAVID COLMAN: He’s a wizard.
ANDREW ROBINSON: He is the animation whisperer (laughs).
TOONZONE NEWS: Is it the cowboy hat? It’s his cowboy hat, isn’t it?
ANDREW ROBINSON: It is.
DAVID COLMAN: Yeah! Sure. (laughter)
ANDREW ROBINSON: It’s been just such a treat to work with him.
TOONZONE NEWS: Do I understand correctly that you pretty much had monsters on cards and they said, “Make a show based on this.”
DAVID COLMAN: It was definitely a difficult task at first, but I was definitely up for the challenge. It was already an existing property, and actually had been an anime show overseas. Originally, I think they were thinking of re-appropriating it for television, but when they read Andrew’s take along with Henry’s input and my subtle input on storylines, they really wanted to make this its own original series. The difficulty for me was to not lose that audience, and bring justice to the existing brand while still making it–this is my made-up word–”animate-able.” Because if you’ve ever seen the cards, they’re very detailed and heavy illustrations…
ANDREW ROBINSON: Very painterly.
DAVID COLMAN: Yeah, and style-wise that would not be able to be animated very easily, especially in a 2-D medium. So for me, it was a matter of homing in on the overall big shapes that exist in the illustrations, and kind of transferring them to a shape that I had created for the show. Early on, when I was developing the show, it was just a matter of taking some of their cards and bringing my take on it using the shape language I created specifically for Kaijudo, and being able to put up the cards next to my animation character designs and definitely seeing the relationship between the two. That way, kids watching the show are going, “Oh, Midnight Crawler! I have that card! It looks just like him!” And there’s not so much of a difference, understanding that there’s definitely a stylistic choice because it’s necessary to facilitate it in an animated medium.
ANDREW ROBINSON: From a storytelling standpoint, we decided to treat it as an entirely new entity, not that we wouldn’t ever acknowledge the existence of any other property. You have these incredible fantastical creatures with all kinds of different races and sizes and they’re separated into five civilizations. To take the storytelling notion of, “What does civilization imply?” and to create a brand-new mythology based on that, and then bring in the human characters who will be our eyes and ears into that world. That was the task that Henry and I had. We really wanted to put our heads down to give something as fresh as possible, particularly given that it is a card game. We didn’t want to do something that felt like a card game show, if that makes sense.
TOONZONE NEWS: Yeah, actually, that’s one of my favorite things about Kaijudo, that it doesn’t feel like a card game show. In fact, if you didn’t tell me that it was based on a card game, I’m not sure I would have guessed that on my own.
DAVID COLMAN: That’s definitely a strength of the show.
ANDREW ROBINSON: I think it allows it to live under its own merits, while still honoring the property.The wonderful thing of what David was saying, at least in my head, is despite the fact that there’s still a clear distinction between the animated creatures and the cards, they are still very recognizable. There is also an homage to the card game within the notion that the kids are able to summon the creatures that are represented there.
DAVID COLMAN: Without having cards in the show.
ANDREW ROBINSON: Right, without holding up a card and saying, “Here’s the card that this is.”
TOONZONE NEWS: I also wanted to add that “Tatsurion the Unchained” is one of the coolest character names I’ve heard in a long time. I like telling people about Kaijudo just so I can say, “Tatsurion the Unchained.”
DAVID COLMAN: The funniest thing is that I think at one of our first pitch meetings, they asked what his name was, and Andrew just said, “I don’t know…Bob?” (laughs)
ANDREW ROBINSON: So we decided to call him Bob. And I will say that there was a blank look from all of the executives (laughs). That was a fun one to walk them through.
DAVID COLMAN: For sure.
ANDREW ROBINSON: “His name is Tatsurion the Unchained, but we call him Bob.” They were like, “….uuuuhhhhh…what?” (laughter)
TOONZONE NEWS: One thing I was really curious to know about was about the diversity in the human cast, and especially the fact that you chose to make Ray bi-racial, and how that ties into the plot in surprising ways. Was that something that was mandated? How did that diversity in the cast come about?
ANDREW ROBINSON: I think that was day one. We all agreed that…not to be touchy-feely about it, but there are a lot of kids who don’t normally see themselves represented in television, and we didn’t feel like it would harm us creatively. In fact, it would enable us to tell more interesting stories if you had a bi-racial character, because there are more complexities in their lives. They have to deal with slightly different issues than the tow-headed white kids. Nothing against tow-headed white kids, but it’s just it tends to be a different look at life.
TOONZONE NEWS: I was very pleasantly surprised to see how well-integrated it was into the show, because bullying is a big running theme through season 1, and Ray being bi-racial made him a target. It resonated with me personally, but it also seemed to be a great way to make it important that he was bi-racial.
ANDREW ROBINSON: Yeah, you know, Henry and I and David discussed this at great length as we were developing. I might be wrong about it more recently, but historically, when you see a bully in a schoolyard, it’s a fairly generic situation in a lot of kids action shows and kids shows, particularly in animation. It’s like, “You’re a loser, give me your lunch money.” But the reality is that kids are bullied for very specific reasons. Bullies understand your buttons. They know what to push. They know what hurts the most. I was bullied as a kid, Henry was bullied as a kid. I don’t know about David…
DAVID COLMAN: I was, at some point.
ANDREW ROBINSON: It’s not just us nerds who were bullied (laughs). I think it’s something that every kid can relate to.
DAVID COLMAN: I was an athlete and I was still bullied (laughs).
ANDREW ROBINSON: I was small and I had a lisp as a kid, and I just got hammered on that. Kids are bullied for very specific reasons, and we made a decision early on that we wanted to approach that in as realistic a manner as we could. So, throughout season 1, we see a lot of different reasons that kids get bullied.
DAVID COLMAN: I’m very proud of the entire product, because for me, I got to create a whole world. Essentially, this show was my sandbox. Granted, there were a lot of existing creatures from the card game–a very established, popular card game–which I was happy to do because there are some great, great creatures with a lot of fantastical elements. For me, I also got to create the worlds from the ground up because they are not represented in the cards.
ANDREW ROBINSON: You did a great job with those. Oh my God.
DAVID COLMAN: Thank you very much! There’s a certain color palette, but I got to create a shape language for the entire show, and a specific shape language across the board for each of the five civilizations. Fortunately, it saved me work because the color palettes were already established. To be given this task of taking a property that’s already very popular and having to create a tangible world that our characters and heroes can interact within was very challenging, but something I welcomed with open arms and I’m very proud at how it came out. It’s nice to receive compliments from my peers, but also those from the public eye. I have to say that I’ve worked in animation for 10 years and this is one of the projects that I’m definitely most proud of and passionate about by far.
ANDREW ROBINSON: I would echo that. I want to have the coffee table book, The Art of Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters because it would be magnificent. I’m just so pleased and proud that I got to be involved with the creation of an entirely new mythology, and to play in that sandbox with the people I got to play with, from Henry and David, to our executives, to our writers that we used, and some of the most incredible voice actors who gave life to these characters. I’m also really happy with the slightly complex storytelling that we got to tell. I didn’t quite expect to be allowed to do what I was allowed to do, and that was incredibly gratifying.
DAVID COLMAN: I think the writing on the show has been amazing. With Andrew and Henry steering the helm, it’s so rich and the character arcs are fantastic, and everyone has their own storyline without getting too complex. It’s really just a fantastic show and it’s very funny. It’s almost what I say is the “Indiana Jones” model: it has tons of action and tons of humor, with a very heartwarming story at the core of each episode.
TOONZONE NEWS: This question is aimed at David: I’ve seen a pretty eclectic list of influences for this show in particular, and that you mention in your classes about design in general. Are there any specific characters or designs in the show that you think either embody one of your design principles or that you feel you can say, “Oh, this was influenced by this artist.”
DAVID COLMAN: It’s kind of a collaboration of several together, because I don’t like to riff exactly off something else. I’m influenced by many. I did riff off something specifically by a French comic illustrator named Claire Wendling, the way she designs her anatomy. The anatomical design of these creatures that are very elaborate and echo very believable, realistic animal anatomy, yet are designed in such a way to be more appealing and not overly done. With the character and caricature in the faces of all the creatures and all the humans, especially, there’s definitely a bit of Disney influence for sure. I’m very influenced by Norman Rockwell and moreso J.C. Leyendecker. And Jamie Hewlett, who designed Gorillaz and Tank Girl. Having costumes that are original and very timeless and aren’t your generic jeans and tennis shoes and a T-shirt with a long-sleeved T-shirt underneath. That look is definitely something from his kind of world. Even if you look at the shape language of the hands, there’s definitely some feeling of Jamie’s work as well as Jack Davis, a very famous MAD magazine illustrator.
I can’t say if there’s one character in the show that specifically riffs off a direct influence. In my mind, that would not be original enough, and I can’t help but inject my own style into things into the design language and the elements of the show. Unless I honestly tried not to do that on something that was not my creation, like a property like The Boondocks. I worked on that show, that was a specific style. For something like this, I was able to create my own shape language based on several of these influences. This was my first time on an action show, and one element I wanted to bring in was a sense of personality into the characters. There are so many other action shows that don’t take advantage of that. Especially with Allison — she’s great, and you have to be able to create designs and certain spatial elements in the face that allow them to emote, and communicate these humorous moments. There’s personality in the design itself without any expression to begin with, so you can look at the character and get a feeling of who they are just by looking at them. Because I design who they are — who they are on the inside — not what they are. Also by giving personality to the creatures. Maybe taken from a different designer’s standpoint, they would just be these over-the-top fantastical mythological beasts, whereas I opened up a lot of space in their eyes and gave them a lot of elements that allowed them to express more than just act. They can react and not just act, and communicate as opposed to just fight in battle.
TOONZONE NEWS: My other question is going to be to Andrew: how far in advance did you guys write out the season? How far did you plan ahead when you were developing the show?
ANDREW ROBINSON: I would say that pretty early on, we had a generalized idea of where we had to begin and where we would end up on season 1. I don’t think that we had plotted out every episode before the season began, but we certainly had general arcs about where we wanted to go at what time, and the building blocks of the arcs that needed to be put in place and when they needed to be put in place. We had the Choten build to the point that he builds to pretty early on.
TOONZONE NEWS: Did you guys lay any groundwork for anything beyond season 1?
ANDREW ROBINSON: Towards the end of season 1, we created a design document for season 2, and again, it wasn’t really in infinitesimal detail, but enough to give the studio and the network a good idea of where we wanted to go. And I think it worked (laughs).
ANDREW ROBINSON: I’m not sure how early on we had conceived of Sasha. I’m not sure how perfect my memory is, but Henry and I kind of had an idea of what we wanted to do with Sasha, but it was not at the beginning of the season. To me, she became a really unexpectedly amazing character and one that I personally grew to love.
TOONZONE NEWS: I’m presuming you’re both working on season 2 of the show now?
DAVID COLMAN: I am, yes.
ANDREW ROBINSON: The writing is done for season 2.
TOONZONE NEWS: Can you talk at all about what we can expect to see in season 2?
DAVID COLMAN: It’s going to be amazing. That’s all I can say. Andrew, I don’t know what we’re cleared to say.
ANDREW ROBINSON: Yeah, I haven’t really cleared what I’m allowed to say. Without getting into any kind of specifics, the kids kind of come into their own a little bit more. I think the operative words are, “More Incredibly Awesome Stuff” (laughter).
Toonzone News would like to thank David Colman and Andrew Robinson for taking the time to speak with us, and to Tyler Gagnon and Brigid D’Arcy of Click Communications for arranging the interview time. Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters – Dragonstrike is available now on DVD; check out Toonzone’s review of the DVD here, and Kaijudo airs on the Hub Network (check schedule for air times).