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June 21
2022

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

THE DAZZLING VISUAL DIVERSITY AND ARTISTRY OF ANIMATED SERIES LOVE, DEATH + ROBOTS VOL. 3

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Netflix.

“Bad Travelling” is the animation directorial debut of David Fincher.

“Bad Travelling” is the animation directorial debut of David Fincher.

“Bad Travelling” is the animation directorial debut of David Fincher.

There are sinister underpinnings to human nature which are mined narratively to create stories filled with destructive conflict and satirical humor for the Emmy-winning Netflix animated anthology Love, Death + Robots, executive produced by filmmakers David Fincher (The Social Network) and Tim Miller (Terminator: Dark Fate). The nine shorts curated for Love, Death + Robots Vol. 3 are examples of drastically different visual styles from the likes of Patrick Osborne, David Fincher, Emily Dean, Robert Bisi and Andy Lyon, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Tim Miller, Carlos Stevens, Jerome Chen and Alberto Mielgo, with animation provided by Pinkman.tv, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Axis Studios, Blur Studio, Titmouse, BUCK, Polygon Pictures and Blow Studio.

“In Vaulted Halls Entombed” is a military adventure that descends into Lovecraftian horror.

“In Vaulted Halls Entombed” is a military adventure that descends into Lovecraftian horror.

“When 3D animation came out, it allowed us to do certain things that we couldn’t do in 2D animation. The same with a lot of the game engines. You are able to express an entire world, adjust things in real-time and change the light if you want. It’s not baked into things like it is usually.”

—Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Supervising Director

“Jibaro” is the only episode that is not based on pre-existing material.

“Jibaro” is the only episode that is not based on pre-existing material.

Returning as the supervising director from her previous outing on Vol. 2 is Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2 & 3), who worked with a mixture of new and veteran collaborators as well as making her own contribution with the muscle-flexing action adventure “Kill Time Kill.” Notable first-time participants are David Fincher making his animation directorial debut with the monstrous seafaring tale “Bad Travelling and Patrick Osborne helms the macabre-funny, post-apocalyptic sequel “Three Robots: Exit Strategies.” Returnees include visual effects veteran Jerome Chen helming “In Vaulted Halls Entombed,” where a special forces team encounters an ancient evil, and Oscar-winner Alberto Mielgo envisioning a fatal romance between a deaf Renaissance knight and a lethal siren in “Jibaro.” Inventive animation styles are found in “Night of the Mini Dead,” which uses tilt-shift photography to make everything look tiny, Mobius and psychedelic-flavored “The Very Pulse of the Machine,” and in the painterly impressionism of “Jibaro.”

As to whether real-time technology and game engines are impacting the type of stories being told, Nelson does not believe this to be the case. “I don’t know if it’s types of stories that it has affected,” she explains. “It’s the look and how much you can deal with certain levels of complexity. When 3D animation came out, it allowed us to do certain things that we couldn’t do in 2D animation. The same with a lot of the game engines. You are able to express an entire world, adjust things in real-time  and change the light if you want. It’s not baked into things like it is usually.” The impact of game engines like Unreal and Unity cannot be ignored. “I’m so old that I was on the cusp of the desktop revolution, and it used to be when I started in the business you had to have a lot of money to be able to do 3D animation,” recalls Miller. “Then desktop technology and software came along and it democratized the process, which allowed us to start Blur borrowing $20,000. I thought that was amazing, but game engine technology is going to be a paradigm shift again. You don’t need heavy machines to render. Even lots of cheap PCs are still expensive and need some technical infrastructure. Now guys can do minutes-long shorts in their basements at home and you can see it on the web. You see a lot of interesting artists doing great things by themselves or with small teams. Game engine technology is super freaking exciting. I feel like that I’ve been waiting for it a while, but now it’s here.”

“Kill Team Kill” is a kindred spirit of Predator, Commando and Escape from New York.

“Kill Team Kill” is a kindred spirit of Predator, Commando and Escape from New York.

“Kill Team Kill” is a kindred spirit of Predator, Commando and Escape from New York.

“[G]ame engine technology is going to be a paradigm shift again. You don’t need heavy machines to render. Even lots of cheap PCs are still expensive and need some technical infrastructure. Now guys can do minutes-long shorts in their basements at home and you can see it on the web. You see a lot of interesting artists doing great things by themselves or with small teams. Game engine technology is super freaking exciting. I feel like that I’ve been waiting for it a while, but now it’s here.”

—Tim Miller, Director

“Mason's Rats” revolves around a Scottish farmer battling with weapon-wielding rats determined to steal his crops.

“Mason’s Rats” revolves around a Scottish farmer battling with weapon-wielding rats determined to steal his crops.

“Night of the Mini Dead” was created by using tilt-shift photography which makes everything look tiny.

“Night of the Mini Dead” was created by using tilt-shift photography which makes everything look tiny.

“Night of the Mini Dead” was created by using tilt-shift photography which makes everything look tiny.

When it comes to her own short, where a squad of soldiers in Afghanistan encounter a CIA experiment gone horribly wrong, Nelson decided to channel a fondness for a particular cinematic era that made action icons out of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Jean-Claude Van Damme. “For ‘Kill Team Kill,’” she  says, “my inspiration was cartoons from the 1990s and action movies from that time, like Predator, Commando, and G.I. Joe cartoons. They were good fun at the time, and the story by Justin Coates had that feel to it, so that’s where that came from.” Handling the animation was the studio responsible for The Boys Presents: Diabolical and The Legend of Vox Machina. “I got to work with Titmouse, and they’re an amazing studio with a wide variety of different styles. I got to work with Antonio Canobbio and Benjy Brooke who helped to find this look. It’s a 2D style, so it has to be animatable. The character designs themselves are covered with veins and packets of ammo which are hard to animate, but we got the benefits of amazing animators from all over the world, and you can see that level of expertise in it.”

“[For ‘Jibaro’] we used real scans of armor that you might see in museums. When you see the armor, it feels almost unbelievable that you can fit a person inside. The cool thing about this is we don’t actually need to fit a person inside because these aren’t real characters. You can just have their neck. We were using real Renaissance armor. We were redesigning it a little bit, but the cool thing is that we’re seeing something that is  historically accurate. I feel that is extremely new and fresh.”

—Albert Mielgo, Director

“Swarm” was adapted by Miller from a short story by Bruce Sterling, and revolves around human factions with conflicting views as to whether advancement should be achieved through genetic manipulation or cybernetic enhancement and technology. Adding further complications is the discovery of an insectoid race that may be of a higher intelligence than humanity. “We have a set of eight-sided dice and roll them!” laughs Miller when describing how he decides upon the animation style, character design and world-building. “It was interesting that we had this short which is almost entirely in zero-G, but we were still going to do some motion capture for that,” notes Miller. “Then the pandemic hit and motion capture was not an option anymore. I didn’t want to get caught in the uncanny valley either, so I decided to stylize the characters to a certain degree, which helps the story not be quite as horrible as it would be otherwise. I loved making the show. It was a challenge to think about the physics of how people move through zero-G, and anything with lots of creatures is a good time. I get a lot of vicarious enjoyment from knowing the animators and creature designers are going to enjoy the process of making this.”

Mocap was combined with CG keyframe animation to produce “Swarm.”

Mocap was combined with CG keyframe animation to produce “Swarm.”

Mocap was combined with CG keyframe animation to produce “Swarm.”

Mocap was combined with CG keyframe animation to produce “Swarm.”

“[For ‘Kill Team Kill’] it’s a 2D style, so it has to be animatable. The character designs themselves are covered with veins and packets of ammo which are hard to animate, but we got the benefits of amazing animators from all over the world, and you can see that level of expertise in it.”

—Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Supervising Director

“The Very Pulse of the Machine” is a love letter to French comics great Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

“The Very Pulse of the Machine” is a love letter to French comics great Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

“Three Robots: Exit Strategies” features the neurotic XBOT 4000, dimwitted and enthusiastic K-RVC, and the brilliant and deadpan 11-45-G examining the demise of humanity.

“Three Robots: Exit Strategies” features the neurotic XBOT 4000, dimwitted and enthusiastic K-RVC, and the brilliant and deadpan 11-45-G examining the demise of humanity.

“Three Robots: Exit Strategies” features the neurotic XBOT 4000, dimwitted and enthusiastic K-RVC, and the brilliant and deadpan 11-45-G examining the demise of humanity.

“Three Robots: Exit Strategies” features the neurotic XBOT 4000, dimwitted and enthusiastic K-RVC, and the brilliant and deadpan 11-45-G examining the demise of humanity.

Self-taught as an artist, Mielgo (The Windshield Wiper) utilizes the principles of painting, in particular lighting, when producing animated shorts such as “Jibaro.” “I create a simple image by removing what is not necessary for the eye to understand,” he says. Themes rather than the premise influence the animation style. “In terms of the girl, I wanted her to be a walking treasure, and in order to do that I was doing research on folklore jewelry from Northern Africa, China, India and Pakistan. In the case of the guys, I prefer the Renaissance rather than the Medieval in terms of design. We did something interesting, which is we used real scans of armor that you might see in museums. When you see the armor, it feels almost unbelievable that you can fit a person inside. The cool thing about this is we don’t actually need to fit a person inside because these aren’t real characters. You can just have their neck. We were using real Renaissance armor. We were redesigning it a little bit, but the cool thing is that we’re seeing something that is  historically accurate. I feel that is extremely new and fresh.”


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