NYCC 2018: Interview with ‘gen:LOCK’ Creator Gray Haddock
I’m home trying to write when i get the phone call from the shows producer saying that ‘hey we just heard back from Michael’s team and Michael B Jordan would like to be Julian Chase.’
If you haven’t heard by now, Rooster Teeth’s newest animation property gen:LOCK will feature an A-list ensemble including Michael B. Jordan as the lead character Julian Chase. gen:LOCK is set 50 years in the future during a global war where Earth’s last free society recruits a diverse team of young pilots to control the next-generation of mecha — giant, weaponized robot bodies.
This year at New York Comic Con, I had the pleasure to sit down with Head of RT Animation, Gray Haddock, to talk about what we can expect from the show and what the creative process was like from development to casting, and production. Prior to that, I got a chance to see the first few minutes of gen:LOCK at the RT mega panel!
Check out the interview below:
Based on what I’ve been reading with you talking about the show, you’ve been talking about wanting to bring in more diversity and things, and based on the synopsis you talk about culture wars that are going on in the world. So how deep are we getting into that? Are we getting into racial identities, orientation, cultural identities?
Gray Haddock [GH]: It was one of my top goals for this show to have, on the protagonist side of the story that we follow in season 1, just a tremendous amount of what I refer to as casual diversity. I grew up on Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek series and I know what sort of impact it had on me in terms of just presenting so much diversity in that show, but not actually having to kind of wear it on its sleeve. Just the fact that this is this world and this is how this culture operates. I wanna have a lot of representation whether you’re talking about ethnicity, or gender identity or sexuality, but it’s not exactly the story driver. It’s just part of this particular society that we follow.
It’s been a really challenging balancing act developing this show for the last 2.5 years. You have to understand that was before the end of the most recent American presidential campaign, followed by the actual election, followed by the couple of years since then, and a lot of ideas in the show went from being speculative fiction to world history. So, we thought maybe let’s back off on certain ideas and details. I still wanted to get some of the themes into the first season, but it still has to be a show that you want to see every week. Having learned from a lot of shows that I love dearly but thought might’ve swung too far the other way with the relentless sense of dread and taking so long in between trying to find another sense of hope, I wanted to make sure to do something this first year that the audience would want to come back to. But I also needed it to be a show that our production crew would want to keep working on. So, I think that we decided to save some details for a second season should we be lucky enough to get it. But hopefully, everyone still likes what made it on screen.
So you’re playing the long game with the storyline essentially?
GH: Yeah, that’s what I decided to do. I think too many people will check out if we get too ham-fisted about some of the ideas in it. So, instead we’re gonna show but don’t tell a lot of things this first year.
There will be a lot of ideas introduced this season where we’ll show how it influences that character and their behavior, and how they react to the world. Then hopefully down the road, we’ll actually get to do even more exploration of those subjects in the story itself. The show is eight episodes long by 22+ minutes per episode. You would think that that’s a lot of time, but when you’re dealing with such a huge cast with all these interesting backstories and influences, you’ll start to figure out how eight episodes is not nearly enough to tell every little idea that you might have on the way. There’s a whole bunch of character backstory and also a whole bunch of technology R&D that we did that I also want to begin to show off in the world of gen:LOCK, but we’re gonna need more time to get there.
That kind of answered my next question about what led to the culture wars and the state of the world as we’re coming into season 1.
GH: Yeah that kind of covers a lot of it. The show is also centered a lot about some guesses about where technology is headed in the coming decades. As much as communications, medicinal sciences, materials, and energy all might make these amazing advances in the next couple of decades, I think humanity and its tendencies pretty much remain the same as much as we might want them to evolve faster than they do. So the show, I think long term anyway, will also be commenting a lot on that
What was the inspiration or influence that made you want to bring gen:LOCK to life?
GH: I love anime in general and where anime trends in Japan have gone. Speaking of diversity, I’ve been hoping that in Japan they might start to bring back some other types of character design. Everything in Japan has gone so moe in the last decade, that I think there’s about to be another evolution in Japan. There’s a couple of shows now that are starting to do, to them I’m sure, is a real retro look. With gen:LOCK, I wanted to also show that RT animation is capable of putting out other anime styles. We’re definitely more influenced by some of the older anime design aesthetics, but there’s more detail in the designs. The body proportions and facial features are a little more real world. I also just kind of thought that how the world of gen:LOCK operates, the sort of slightly more serious storytelling, that what we want to do kind of just demanded a slightly more detailed and realistic approach to the design.
At the time that I pitched the show to Rooster Teeth, there wasn’t anything like gen:LOCK. I was craving more mecha shows. There were still a couple running in Japan, but nothing going on here in the west, not even Voltron. I’m also a big cyberpunk fan as well. I’m like ‘I think pop culture is kinda craving that, but no one is doing it’. From idea to execution and then premiering the show, we’ve had this amazing explosion now, and there’s more mecha stories being done in the west. Cyberpunk is beginning to enter vogue – it’s a great time for Rooster Teeth to put the show out. There’s a whole bunch of ideas in there that I hope people still find the way that we put them together to be fresh and interesting.
Was Michael B. Jordan in the plan from the beginning of developing the show or how did that come about?
GH: Plan is a strong word (*big laugh*). He had an influence ever since the beginning. When I brought my art director on board, which would’ve been [the] end of summer last year (2017), it was time for us to finalize the design of Julian. I had already begun working with additional artists doing some passes on the main cast including Julian, but I wanted to lock down the look of Julian as soon as we found our final art director for the show, and then any other alterations we wanted to do with the rest of the cast will kind of fall out from that. After several conversations talking about what the design oughta be like, he observed that we’re mentioning a lot of the qualities of Michael B. Jordan and I’m like, “oh yeah you’re right”. So, he went off and a couple of hours later I get back this digital photoshop plus painting where he had used imagery of Michael and then put him in a flight suit and put him in our hanger in front of one of the jets and everything. It was one of the first images of like ‘do you think this looks like Julian’ and I’m like, “that is absolutely Julian. Lock all that in. Lets go!” We’ll have to get permission someday to show it, but there is that very initial piece of imagery from before we ever started the casting phase just saying that, yeah Julian could very much be a young Michael B. Jordan.
A few months later when production asked me who do you have in mind for the cast, no one told me not to start pitching certain names for certain parts. So, we aimed high at the very start. We put together this package of material all about the world, its look, and the character of Julian with the pilot script and kinda just put this message in a bottle out in the Hollywood ocean and assumed that we were not gonna hear anything back. About a month later we heard back from his agent saying that the material had made it in front of Michael. We’re like okay fine- and we were told it’s not a no. Which in and of itself was just stunning. They asked to see some more material and more of the scripts, and then about another five to six weeks of conversation and showing off more about the show, and negotiations started to take place.
Then it was right at the very end of February on a day that I had actually taken off because I was on deadline to deliver the draft of the next episode’s script. I’m home trying to write when I get the phone call from the show’s producer saying that, ‘Hey we just heard back from Michael’s team and Michael B. Jordan would like to be Julian Chase.’ And then I was expected to finish writing the script that day which absolutely did not happen. But I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life.
We were already in conversation with the majority of the rest of the cast at that point and I think some people were also in the progress of signing on, but I would say that because Michael was the very first person to finish the process and just fully attach himself to the project, that enabled us to wrap up some of the other conversations that we were having. A lot of the people that we wound up with were already being very supportive of the show and were very interested. The excitement just kept getting bigger once we were telling everybody who else we were in talks with.
Are we expecting any more character reveals throughout the rest of the year before the premiere in January?
GH: The main cast is now assembled and the audience has met the main gen:LOCK team. We’ll probably still announce a couple more supporting parts before the year is over; both people from within the Rooster Teeth family of talent, as well as a couple of people from outside.
Rooster Teeth closed out NYCC with a bang with their mega panel featuring RWBY & gen:LOCK. Gray casually dropped an announcement that RWBY and gen:LOCK will be the first in a slate of titles as part of a deal with DC Comics that is currently still being finalized.
The audience in the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden were treated to a sizzle reel of scenes as well as a look at the first few minutes of episode one of gen:LOCK. The first minutes introduced us to Julian with his family and friends, and showed us some normality of Earth 50 years in the future before we start the deep dive into the action of the series.
Finally, the premiere date of gen:LOCK was announced: January 26, 2019, on roosterteeth.com
As you can see from talking with Gray, gen:LOCK is yet another labor of love from Rooster Teeth and you can feel that even from those first few minutes of episode 1. There are some exciting things on the horizon and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the story and action progress in this series.
What do you guys think of what’s been shown so far; looking forward to anything in particular? Drop your thoughts in the comments section!