Report by NewsroomPlus.com – At the recent AnimfxNZ conference in Wellington, Newsroom_Plus had the opportunity to sit down with Rob Hoegee, head writer and executive producer of animation series Thunderbirds are Go.
Newsroom_Plus: Hi Rob, really great to meet you, and thanks for taking the time to speak with us. So, first up, how has animation changed over the time that you’ve been involved?
Rob Hoegee: When I started in animation – which really wasn’t that long ago – using CG for a half-hour, Saturday morning kids show was almost unheard of. And technology has changed so fast, to the level now that we’re able to get feature quality animation, for budgets that normally would be a reasonable budget for a typically 2D, hand-drawn cell animated show. So that’s one thing, but I think there has also been trade-offs because in – with sort of the prevalence of the digital transition from animation – it also gives you the ability to change things up until the very last minute. I mean, some shows that I do that are CG shows, we’re making changes until the day we deliver the programme. I mean, it used to not be that way. You would write your script, you would record it, you’d draw storyboards, you’d put together your design pack, it would go off to Korea, they would animate it, you’d get back your footage, you’d make a few edits – sometimes call retakes – mix it, put in music – there’s your show. And so, it’s sort of ‘what you see is what you get’, and that just kind of doesn’t exist anymore, because the ability to sort of, you know – kinda tinker around until the very last minute is one of the biggest changes. And I think that’s… great because that striving for perfection is always going to be there as creative people, that’s sort of what we always want, but on the other hand, you know, things are never finished.
That reminds of what Picasso said about his paintings. When a dealer would come to his house to buy his paintings, they’d point to a painting and ask ‘is that one finished?’ and Picasso would say ‘No.’ So he’d point to another and ask ‘is that one finished?’ and Picasso would say ‘No. None of them are finished – I’ve just stopped painting them.’
Ha ha, yeah it’s kind of true, you sort of need to know when to say when and ah, that’s sort of a big challenge.
So for animation from this point on – there have been some questions to the speakers so far (in this event) and it’s an impossible question to answer fully – but where would you like to see animation go in the future? What do you find exciting about what could happen?
We’ve sort of reached a point where, you know, (sound of ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ in the background) Oh yeah, there’s our presentation! I think the most interesting, the most exciting new frontier is going to be finding new and innovative ways to tell stories. From a technical perspective we’ve gotten pretty good about getting things looking nice on screen but there are so many different – so many new platforms now that, you know, the age of sitting down in front of your television on a Saturday morning to watch the two hour block of cartoons that’s on the one network – those days are long gone, and so you really stuck with – so you’re really faced with lots of new challenges because there’s, you know, most kids are watching cartoons now on their parents i-phones, and that’s a completely different way to experience storytelling. And so, a 30 minute Scoopy Do just doesn’t play the same way, so I think the next step is finding ways to embrace new formats and create engaging content that suits those (formats).
What’s been the best bit for you about creating ‘Thunderbirds are Go’?
I’ve been absolutely astounded by the level of quality that we’ve been able to put into a half hour kids show. It is… superlative in every single way. I mean, every little aspect is crewed by individuals who love what they do, and they love Thunderbirds, and we all from the very beginning knew that this was something special. And you can really see the extra work. From the very first animation test I saw, my comment was ‘This is a show that you can play with’. It had this super, kind of – hyper-real feel to it and I think that comes across. I mean, it is absolutely mesmerising to look at, I think.
It’s so cool for me – as a fan of the original – I grew up with the Thunderbirds. It’s great to see the translation of it into this format. It’s amazing.
We really did try to honour the spirit of the original show, I mean, there was never any willingness to try to remake it in the same image. We weren’t trying redo Thunderbirds. We were making our Thunderbirds – and it should stand alone.
It’s got a good flow to it – it’s easy to get submerged in.
There was a sense – most of our backgrounds are live action miniatures – there’s sort of two ways to go. Do you make your animation, that goes on top, look real or do you make your miniatures look fake. You know, it had to be real so even the techniques that we were using in the CG animation… we’re painting surfaces that they then scan in. So even when you’re looking at the CG you’re looking at real painted objects. So it does really have this – it really does grab you, visually speaking. And from a storytelling perspective too, it’s been a lot of fun exploring that world and finding ways that we can tell this story in our own way.
Do you have a favourite character?
Gosh, I love Brains, and amazingly I love Grandma Tracy. There are a lot of characters in our series that were very much underserved in the original series. Two of the main ones being Kayo (formally Tin-Tin) and Grandma Tracy. You know, Grandma in the original was more of an afterthought and Tin-Tin I thought was just sort of, you know, served a purpose for that series but we had a really great opportunity with this of making her into a fantastic character so I really enjoy writing for her a lot. And like I said, I think Grandma’s a lot of fun.
It really feels like now that animation has taken such a huge step from the weekend cartoons – for one the storytelling is amazing. It’s a bit like – I know these are very different but – for me there’s a parallel with how graphic novels reinvented the comic strip and brought deep storytelling to a medium that was perhaps, previously less explored – from a storytelling point of view. I love that transition. I feel that way about animation and your project as well, it’s a huge step forward.
It’s interesting too – that’s a good analogy – those sorts of transition happen in animation too. You have these sort of Hanna-Barbera, churn them out types of shows, you know, Dynomutt… Scooby Do is a good version of that. But then you start getting into shows like Batman: The Animated Series where, you know, storytelling has taken a turn, and these types of shows now… it’s no longer a cartoon. Animation is simply the medium through which the programme is produced.
What I love about it is that this kind of animation is a virtual world – it has its own universe. The effort you guys have put into it really shows in the quality of the story.
Rob, thank you so much for your time, and I’ll look forward to hearing your presentation.
It’s a pleasure – anytime.
You can see our in-depth article on the conference here.