The solar system, specifically the moon Titan, is being threatened by one humongous space ship, one bearing an uncanny resemblance to a beloved anime series of the 1980s.
As the galaxy-spanning floating fortress starts warming up its cannons to turn Titan into a pile of cinders, five different colored star fighters come from the backside of the earthlike planetoid. Seeing that their individual ships are seriously outgunned, there is only one option. In true anime fashion, there’s a transformation sequence and the five combine to become…
No, not Voltron. That was 25 years ago, chump. That’s right. A full quarter-of-a-century. You can now collect that series in those absolutely incredible tins at your local Best Buy. Yes, they are worth it.
So is Titan Maximum, the new series from those properly psychotic masters of stop motion, Matt Senreich and Tom Root. You might remember them. Senreich and Seth Green formed Shadowmachine Films and Stoopid Monkey, just so they could make films of their action figure collection. We call that Adult Swim hit “Robot Chicken.” Root works on that show as one of its lead writers and co-producer.
Now Senreich and Root have focused their attention on another one of their great loves, anime.
“We grew up in a time when giant robots were just cool,” says Senreich.
“There was a time in the post-‘Star Wars’ movies where as kids we were looking for something that was going to hit the same pleasure centers in our brain,” Root adds while editing another episode of Titan. “Shows like ‘Transformers,’ ‘Voltron’ and ‘Battle of the Planets,’ — anything with robots, lasers, space ships and young kids piloting them — that was what we were into.”
This dynamic stop-motion duo has added their own patented, contemporary twist to the formula.
“Yeah,” Senreich concurs, laughing a tad cynically. “I just loved that they trusted these moronic teenagers to save the universe. We just wanted to do our take on what that really means. I like to think that they are very intelligent people for their age”
They don’t come more moronic than the teenagers who pilot Titan Maximum. They were originally captained by the incredibly slick Palmer (Breckin Meyer), who can handle two women and six shots of something quite intoxicating with ease. His second-in-command was Gibbs (Seth Green…you think he’d be far away?), a master strategist and generally the most cynical of the bunch. Rounding out the team is the goody goody Jodi (Rachel Leigh Cook), whose fighting prowess is only matched by her incredible bad choice in love interests; Sasha (Eden Espinosa), who makes Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears look like wannabes, her only terrestrial talent being grabbing headlines; and Spud (Root), the good-natured lug who kept the team together.
Then the horrific happens. The Titan project is shut down due to budgetary concerns. Worse, Spud dies from an equally horrendous death.
As seen in the series debut last Sunday, it’s the perfect opportunity for Gibbs to launch his own dastardly scheme to take over not only Titan, but the whole darn universe. Now Palmer and the survivors have to put together a new team, if only to save their self-respect. That will be difficult considering the team’s replacements are Palmer’s nerdy little brother, Willie, and a monkey (that’s right, a monkey) named Leon.
This was something Senreich and Root didn’t have to worry about when pitching the show to Adult Swim.
“I think we’re working with a pretty good shorthand at this point,” says Root. “They were well-familiar with our tastes and tendencies. They knew the humor we wanted to do. It was just sort of telling them what we thought was a neat concept, and they thought it was neat, too.”
“It was a really fun situation,” adds Senreich. “[Adult Swim exec] Keith Crofford came here a number of times. Every time we did we would talk to him about how we wanted to do something like it. So one day, Keith came by and we gave him a little taste of it. We showed him these awesome concept drawings we had. Then he got a lot more intrigued. Next thing we knew, we found ourselves really pitching the show and they ended up liking it.”
What’s more intriguing is the look of the show. Unlike “Chicken,” this new show has a sharper, slicker looking set with brighter backdrops. The puppets also look a lot different from their first series.
“A little bit,” Senreich concurs. “With ‘Robot Chicken’ we purposely wanted to make the puppets look like action figures. So there’s that cheap aesthetic to it. That gives ‘Robot Chicken’ its charm. With this show, we really wanted to do a stop-motion animated, serialized story. So we needed puppets that would maintain and look really cool. We actually took the time to character design. We hired some really good comic book artists. Jeff Matsuda and Todd Nauck helped design all the characters.”
If anything, the crowning achievement of the puppets is Leon. A primate of very few words, his deadpan expressiveness says more than any of the other team members combined.
“We knew we wanted a monkey,” says Root. “The original drawing was on a dry erase board in the writer’s room. So I first drew a monkey. Then Seth, who’s a much better artist than I am, came in and started playing around. The first monkey he drew had this awesome expression on his face, just sort of this uncommitted non-expression. It made us all laugh. That drawing went right off of our dry erase board right into puppet form.”
Casting took a little work. Not that Senreich and Root didn’t know who they wanted, but where exactly to place said cast.
“Breckin Meyer happens to be here a lot more than you think,” says Root. “He was always sort of hanging out. He does voices on ‘Robot Chicken.’ He’s also done entire writing cycles for ‘Robot Chicken.’ He’s become sort of an extended member of the family. So I don’t think there was ever any question he would have been part of Titan Maximum.”
“When it came to the voice casting, we knew we wanted to use Seth, Dan Milano and Breckin,” continues Senreich. “We just didn’t know which characters they were going to play. Originally we thought Dan Milano was going to be Palmer, Seth was going to do Willie and Breckin was going to do our bad guy, Gibbs. When we tried them all out, it changed around a bunch.”
Yet probably the most interesting choice is Billy Dee Williams as the team’s sometime ally/sometimes adversary General Bitchface.
“Billy Dee is awesome!” Senreich exclaims. “It was one of those pie-in-the-sky, joking kind of things of us in the room wondering if we could get him. The thing is Billy Dee worked with us on ‘Robot Chicken: Star Wars’ and ‘Robot Chicken’ in general. So we asked him if he would come on in. We got along with him so great. He was so excited when we called him up and offered it to him. It just made working with him all the more fun. He’s joining us for the premier party.”
More difficult was putting together the obligatory transformation scene. After all, this couldn’t be a tribute to ‘Voltron’ without a sequence where the teams’ star fighters combine into the giant robot.
“When we wrote it in the script, we weren’t too sure what it was going to look like,” says Root. “Even when we did storyboards and the animatic, we still weren’t sure what it was going to look like. It just turned into one of those things that, given the resources that we had, which are extremely limited, how we were going to put this giant robot together. It took a good amount of shots to make sense.”
“We work on the $5.00 Adult Swim budget,” says Senreich. “We always manage to make the most out of it. It is the one thing Adult Swim encourages us to do. In the end, it helps spark creativity. Then again, they have very limited resources. They work with us to really push for creative solutions. In the end, it’s why the results come out as well as they do.”
You’ll see these results now for the next nine weeks. Advanced announcements call for the introduction of a number of new enemies besides Gibbs. These nemeses include the cutest girl in the Solar System who has it out for Jodi, a multi-gaziillionaire as spoiled as Sasha with his own evil intentions for her, another nerd named Dark Willie and even someone who has it out for Leon.