On Tuesday afternoon, the Annecy International Animation Film Festival streamed a candid, hour-long conversation between four of the key minds behind Netflix’s second season of “Love, Death & Robots.” Creator and executive producer Tim Miller (“Deadpool,” “Terminator: Dark Fate”), executive producer David Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Fight Club”), supervising director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (“Kung Fu Panda” 2 and 3) and visual effects supervisor Jerome Denjean from France’s Blur Studio engaged in an unmoderated conversation about the adult animation series, from its origins to its upcoming third season.
“The way I felt is that there was not a lot of adult animation in the west, and particularly not in America, and particularly not at the budget levels that allowed for really high-end CG like what was going on at Pixar and DreamWorks for kids,” Miller recalled. “And we felt it was time to do that for adults.”
“[The series] was born from a desire to want to play in a sandbox where the animation didn’t have to be singing furry animals,” added Fincher. “They could kill each other once in a while.”
Netflix, at the time that ‘Love, Death & Robots’ was commissioned, was all about data and numbers, according to Miller. Meaning that a pitch as unique and unprecedented as his had them a bit stumped. “There was really nothing like this, if there was anthology it was live action, and more often than not it didn’t work. Certainly, there was no anthology adult animation. Luckily for us they were like, ‘Alright we’ll take a risk on this.’”
And the risk paid off. Not only for Netflix, which has found a massive fanbase for the series, or for Miller and the animators involved, but it paid off for the American animation industry as a whole as a proof of concept.
“It proved what everyone wanted to do was possible,” said Yuh Nelson. “When films like ‘Ghost in the Shell’ and ‘Akira’ were coming out, people would say ‘Why can’t we do that here?’
She explained that “The barrier to making this stuff was the worry that people weren’t actually gonna watch. And the fact that people did watch made the whole gamble pay off.”
One major contributing factor to the series’ success, according to Denjean, was that “What really made it different was the idea of a collective. Suddenly we were giving a voice to smaller and medium sized studios that don’t have the bandwidth to do something like this by themselves.”
“There aren’t a lot of venues where you can bring people who are in competition with one another and put them in the same sandbox and play together,” added Fincher.
According to Yuh Nelson, the nature of the series’ format was the ideal way to build that communal sandbox. “With anthology you can let each director come in with their specialty, the thing they do beautifully, and try to match a story with them.”
Amongst several anecdotes shared on the day, Miller recalled an early email about a stop motion pitch to Fincher which was foundational in the establishment of their collaboration. “I said I don’t know if you like this kind of stuff, and you said, ‘I love it more than life.’”
Fincher smiled, remembering the incident and confirmed, “I live for it.”
Using the episode “Automated Customer Service” as an example, Miller went on to make the point that the bar for entry into animation is lower today than it’s ever been, and completely different from his own experiences decades ago.
“Animators used to say things like ‘If only I could get into a big studio,’ or ‘If only I could get my hands on the right software.’ How far has the industry come in the last 20 years that they’re doing all of this on Blender?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s all free software, the machines cost… not $40,000 like when I started out. Anyone can do this, and the tools are there to do something quite sophisticated.”
Of course, no festival panel in 2021 would be complete without addressing the COVID-19 situation.
Yuh Nelson recalled that the day before Paris went into its strictest lockdown, “Automated Customer Service” producer Meat Dept. was going to great lengths to prepare its animators to work from home when the city’s streets went into gridlock. Unable to move their cars, employees were forced to walk the sidewalks of Paris with computers and equipment, knowing that anything they didn’t get home that day they’d be forced to do without.
Looking ahead to a post-COVID world, Miller explained that he worries about the industry moving too far towards a more isolated, WFH model.
“Maybe everybody won’t come back [to the studios], but I believe it’s good for us to learn from one another, especially if you’re new in the industry. You’ve got to be around one another, present, to absorb that energy. I fear the younger generation won’t get that opportunity to be around people that will teach them things.”
Just before the presentation wrapped, Miller looked forward to the future of “Love, Death & Robots,” teasing an upcoming art book featuring behind-the-scenes stills and concept art from the series’ first seasons, joining an already published book of short stories from season one.
“We’ve got Volume 3 [of the series] coming out soon and I could not be more excited,” he added. “We’ve got some big stories for people, one of which you already know which is another instalment of those three crazy robots with a story by [regular writer] John Skalzy.”