A transcript of the Form Podcast episode covering VLD season 4 episode 6 “A New Defender” with Nora Lewis-Borbely, Alex Eby, Lauren Guerard, and Lika Leung interviewing with Kyle Anderson.
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[Intro music – VLD opening theme]
Shiro’s voice: Paladins, welcome to Form Podcast.
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KA: Hello, everybody, welcome to another episode of Form Podcast, the official Voltron commentary podcast. My name is Kyle Anderson, thank you again for joining us. We are here at the end of season 4, everybody. It’s “A New Defender”, season 4 episode 6, and I’m here with four people who help make Voltron happen. And they’re going to go around the room and introduce themselves. They are:
NLB: Hi, I’m Nora Lewis-Borbely, I’m the production manager on Voltron.
LG: I’m Lauren Guerard, I’m one of the production coordinators on Voltron.
AE: I’m Alex Eby, I’m a production assistant on Voltron.
LL: I’m Lika Leung and I’m also a production coordinator on Voltron.
KA: Alright, we will talk about what that means once we get started on the episode. So everybody at home, get your, uh, Netflix episodes all queued up to 0:00, and we will hit ‘play’ in 3, 2, 1, play. [pause] And we’re off and running, everybody. Thanks for joining us. [laughter] So what do you–yeah, what does–what does that mean, “p-production coordinator”, w-what does, for people who don’t know, uh, the ins and outs of animation and television-making? What does that mean?
NLB: So, uh, in short as a production manager, basically I work with a line producer to oversee the crew, to oversee the budget, and then to oversee the overarcing schedule from pre-production all the way to post-production and delivery. And then our production team are really the kind of the unsung heroes of our show because they do a lot of–they’re kind of the core of our team and they do a lot of facilitating.
LG: So basically, when you’re looking at these shots, sort of everything that you’re seeing of the screen is an individual design. So a lot of our jobs are tracking those designs. Um, I think right now in our database there’s something like 13,000 total designs? Um, so, it’s a lot to keep track of. Enough to–enough to warrant a job.
AE: Uh, and then as the assistant, I just help all the coordinators in any way that they need it, and then I also have a little bit of coordinating things, as well. Um, just… yeah. [laughter]
KA: Sounds like you got a lot to, uh, l-lot on your plate at any given moment.
NLB: Yeah. The tasks are coming from a lot of different directions because, like, we work with Studio Mir in Korea, so, like, it’s a lot of back and forth with them, like, trading designs back and forth, making sure they’re approved or if they’re noted, like, um, that they know what needs to be addressed. Uh, and then we also do CG designs in-house, so, like, and with a different studio, so going back and forth with that, like it’s a completely different group of people who are working on the CG-specific designs. Um… Yeah, it’s a lot.
LG: Yeah, and then I think the other thing to kind of note is that every single stage of production basically has to be tracked and make sure we’re on schedule, and everything’s on time. As you move through different drafts of a script, or, uh, different variations of a storyboard. All of that information needs to be tracked. And that is a lot of what our production team does. It’s really helping the artists make sure that they have everything they need to be able to create this amazing show.
KA: Mm. Is everything s–very, uh, detailed and color-coordinated?
KA: It has to be.
LG: Yeah, I mean, like each lighting environment, that’s the thing, there are, like, hundreds and hundreds of variations of our main characters because it’s every single different lighting situation that they’re in. Um, each time a character changes costume, that’s considered a brand-new design, so that’s why we get to a number like 13,000. [laughter]
KA: Is that high? I mean, I don’t know, have you worked on programs that are much lower than that?
NLB: It’s very high.
LG: Uh, yeah, it’s a very high number.
KA: It sounds super high.
LG: Yeah, it is.
NLB: It is a high number. Um, there’s a lot of detail that goes into a show like Voltron that is kind of unique to a show like this. Um, as Lauren briefly hit upon, every single character is colored to that environment and it’s something that’s a really, really special touch that our artists do because what that does is it makes the character feel like they’re actually in that environment. Opposed to if they just have the same color scheme in any location, uh, they don’t blend into the world quite as well. But, that means that every single character that goes to every single location, not only do you need a design for that location and that character, then you also need a color design of that character in that location.
LG: And then, also a thing I think that’s–I have, like, I’ve worked on shows where I haven’t seen this level of detail where I’ve worked on another show where, like, you’d make a design and it’d be for a chair. And that’s the chair you have in that show. Every time you see a chair.
KA: [laughter] That’s the chair.
LG: That’s the chair. And in this show, it’s like, “Well this is an Altean chair and you really need to think about how the Alteans would, like, go about designing a chair.” And so it’s, like, different from the Galra chair. It’s–
LG: –a lot. [laughter]
AE: But you know, it’s that level of detail that really makes the show special.
AE: It’s something that Joaquim and Lauren and Ryu and Christine and [Beyond? I know that’s wrong but the name isn’t familiar and sounds like that so I’m going with that for now], uh, as well as Kristy Sang and Anthony Wu. Um, all of those producers and design supervisors care a lot about all of those little minute details. And that’s what really makes the environments as, uh, I mean, as immersive and encompassing as they are.
KA: Yeah. And as we’re seeing here, the Galra–every-everything in each of the, uh, different species even has their own specific set of colors and designs, too, which… yeah. Which, I guess, y’know, viewers can almost take that for granted because it is such an immersive show, but that’s, you know, that’s why–it’s good you guys are here to tell me all this stuff because I’m just like, “Aw, fun! Spaceships!”
LL: I think the other fun tidbit about our show is how unique compared to other 2D shows is the technology on the screens. There’s a lot of–oh! There’s a screen right there, actually. Yeah, that screen has its own design. Every screen, every UI that shows up in their cockpits, that has–oh, there’s one, too–has its own design attached to it. And it’s a unique design. And every single one of these screens, not only do we have to call it out, which means we make note of when it appears in that scene, we also have to design it.
LG: Yes, that’s a pretty interesting thing that I think Lika has to deal with in particular is, uh, so she does the initial phase of looking at the storyboard animatic, which is just when they put all the storyboards together to make basically a rough version of the episode. She watches that and calls out every single object and character that is in each in–like each individual shot, and then particularly with the screens it’s just, “Okay here’s this screen and here’s the specific thing happening on the screen.” Sh-she does it all the time. [laughter]
KA: She’s nodding.
NLB: She’s nodding.
KA: She agrees.
NLB: She’s nodding.
KA: So do you get–did you get a chance to–like, do you still watch it and-and as a “fan”, quote-unquote? Because everybody who’s come in here so far has been like, they love working on the show but they also enjoy watching the show. But do you–do you just sit there and go, “Well there’s this element, and this element, and this element”, like, ‘cuz you’re the one who knows, like, all that stuff. You’re like the-the keymaster of all that.
NLB: I think for me in particular it’s super fun when we do the, um, crew screenings together. Like that’s the first time we’ll watch it all put together. So, like, we’ll see all these individual designs and then, like, it’s its own unique fun thing to get to see it all animated. Like, we don’t get to see that until much later in the process.
LL: Yeah, I think a little-known fact is, uh, when we’re dealing with production or pre-production is actually what our stage is, we’re doing all of these design call-outs off of that animatic. So we’re dealing with a black-and-white or very rudi-rudimentary colored, um, animatic, and while our animatics are beautiful ‘cuz our artists put a lot of effort into them, they’re not–they don’t look like the final show. So, when you are dealing with day-in and day-out with that black-and-white animatic and then you actually get to see those designs appear in the show and everything animated for the first time, it’s–it’s really amazing because I know our team, like I said, we deal with the black-and-white animatic and then we see the designs come in and out. So that design of Naxzela we just saw, we got to see the planet getting designed, the actual design for the planet, but we’ve never seen it animated until the actual show came out.
AE: I personally get very excited to hear the sound effects and the music because that’s not something we get to experience until the very end.
AE: So yeah. Not watching silence is pretty cool. [laughter]
KA: And it’s such a–like a–I got to host the panel at Comic-Con this year. We watched the first episode of season 3 in a huge room with like big, booming bass and everything like that I’m like, “Yeah, that’s how you want to watch a Voltron episode, I think.” Um…
AE: I do miss the scratch, though.
LG: So, uh, to those who don’t know, when we have to do our storyboards, our actors record all of their lines. They record all the lines in the script. And sometimes if a line gets changed, or if, um, an actor was unable to come in and record at that point, we do what’s called a scratch record, where somebody on our team is assigned to voice that character for temporarily just so that we have the lines for rough timing. And some of our crew are particularl–particularly talented at scratch. And, uh, they’re always really fun lines, so that–we always get to deal with those in the animatics. They’re not in the final episode, though.
KA: But do you keep those? [stammering, others laugh] Also, could you then go back and, like, re– “I’m gonna put the scratch track over the finished episode.”
LG: Oh, totally.
KA: That… yeah. [laughter]
LG: That would be amazing.
AE: I should do that.
LG: You should do that.
LL: It would be wonderful and awful.
AE: Gonna do it.
KA: Uh, have there been episodes–because you deal with so many elements in each episode, uh, I don’t know–do you know offhand the episode that had the most amount of individual–or what number that might’ve been?
LL: I always feel like I take special note of the ones that have less because I’m so excited about it.
KA: Because you’re like, “Look at that!”
LL: I know those episodes. [laughter]
KA: What if there was an episode where it was just like, “Eh, there’s a bunch of people in a room talking, no lights on or anything.”
LG: Oh, wow.
AE: That would be… whoo.
NLB: Sorry, I just got really excited because that’s a really nice low design-count episode. Um, no, I would say the episodes that have the highest design count are gonna be the ones where you go to a new location for the first time.
NLB: Because all of that is new, so all of that needs to be designed. Uh, episodes where you’re seeing lots of people, new people, those also need to get designed.
NLB: So those are going to be really high episode countsa–er, high design counts, sorry. The–these finale episodes, uh, interestingly enough, tend to be low design counts because, for example, in this episode, uh, a lot of these locations we’ve already been to in the previous episode. And there’s a lot of fighting in space and it’s very exciting to watch it, but a lot of those designs we’ve seen in other episodes, so it’s actually lower new design count, but there’s still plenty of designs being used in that episode.
KA: Sure. Yeah, it’s not like there’s four.
LG: The mermaid episode has already come out, right?
LG: Okay. Because that was a high count ‘cuz that was like a new environment, lots of new characters, they all had food.
AE: All underwater.
LG: All underwater.
KA: Yeah. Then there would’ve had to been designs for Hunk and Lance.
KA: Things that I’m sure if they’re–if they’re done properly people don’t notice these new changes and things like that, but maybe people don’t know that that’s what goes into it.
LL: Yeah, I–before I actually joined this industry, I had no idea how much work went into these.
LL: And I didn’t realize that every single one of these scenes you see, there is somebody who has to call out every single design that’s in that scene, and then every single one of those designs has to be drawn and created.
LL: And you kind of don’t think about that as a viewer sometimes.
KA: No. And that’s good, that is a good thing.
LL: [laughter] That’s the goal right?
KA: That is the goal. If you wanna be invisible, it’s like sound effects, too. You don’t want to notice the sound effects, unless it’s, like, the silly stuff.
KA: Allura’s hand magic, that’s a different element. Now all I’m gonna do when I watch the show is count all the different things.
AE: Yeah. Would that be a comp element?
NLB: I know, that was the one thing I was thinking, like, “I think that was comp.” So, like, there are certain things that we’ll call out, like, that we just, like, say, “Hey, animator, we trust you, like, go for it.” Most of it we don’t because that’s just way too much responsibility, like, then you’d get so far into the process and be like, “We have to redo this entire sequence.” It’s ridiculous, so–that’s sort of the thing is like, you’re–you’re calling these things out and you’re designing these in advance so, like, they have that to start animation. And animation is such an involved process, like if you’re waiting ‘til after it’s already animated to realize you didn’t like the color for that, then it’s way too late.
KA: And since you guys–most of what [stammering] you said what your job does at the beginning of the process of an episode, how long is it from what you’ve done your job to when you get to see even a mostly-finished episode?
LL: Lauren’s doing calculations.
LG: I am doing calculations. Um…
KA: We’ll add a sound effect for that.
LG: It’s a lot of months.
LG: Um, I mean–I mean I can, yeah, I don’t know how much detail I can truly kinda go into for the schedule for that, um, but it’s–we’re talking several months between the time that we send that design, um, set overseas for them to actually start–for Studio Mir to start animating the product, ‘til we actually see the final product come back here. So, a lot of months.
KA: A lot of months. And i-in the interim time you’re working on an episode, you know, several more episodes, do you ever find yourself being like, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that” when you–
All: Oh yeah, all the time.
NLB: I mean, you’ll definitely go, like–especially when you’re dealing with an episode that’s in storyboards versus all, like, sort of, like, at the point of color designs, even though that’s all pre-production, that’s all pre-animation, those are so far apart in the process that they can be, I mean, [laughter] you’re like, you go from one meeting to the next and you’re like, “What’s this episode?”
NLB: Like, what is this?
AE: Yeah, it’s even–it’s really fun, kind of, seeing the fan response for things and actually kind of watching the episode when the fans get to see it. But sometimes it gets confusing because uh– our story, events happen and things change. And someone will talk about something, and then you’re just like, “wait a second.” Uh- as an example when uh- when seasons one and two came out where Keith was piloting the Red Lion, and then the uh change happens where Keith gets into the Black Lion. There was a period of time where we had associated Keith with the Black Lion, and fans had only seen Keith in the Red Lion.
AE: So it kinda– Sometimes you get confused.
KA: Yeah, yeah. [Laughing] As it would. Because you’re so far ahead and the fan [laughing] reac– yeah it means you’re having to remember what people are talking about online like “what is this?”
NLB: I think that there are things that fans assume were put in the show because they’re like “aww they saw we responded to this in Season 1.” And we’re like, dude, no. [laughing]
KA: You have no idea.
NLB: It’s been there.
KA: You predicted it.
AE: Our fans are really great at predictions. [Laughing] Um yeah after season 1 came out there were some great predictions and then season 2 came out. I mean, they were true, they came to fruition and it was–it was fun to, kind of, see some of the fandom predictions sometimes.
LG: Yeah. We read them all.
KA: You do?
LG: Oh yeah. [laughter] I hound for fanart and, like, reactions when it comes out on Netflix I’m just on the internet reading all the Voltron tags to see what people are saying.
AE: And then she’ll post it onto our group chat so the whole crew gets to see
LG: I do. And there’s a whole board dedicated to fanart that I have picked out that we just hang up so everyone can see it. So we do see the things that fans post a lot.
KA: But it in no way impacts how the show is made, everybody.
LG: It’s true.
KA: Way too far in advance.
LG: We do enjoy it, though. We absolutely love to see fanart, and it, um–and i-it’s just so great that the show is appreciated and the show is loved, and it makes us feel really great to see that, so, we–yeah–we look for it, we seek it out, we see it, and we-we love it.
KA: Do you–do you all have favorite characters?
LG: Uh, mine’s Pidge. I always try to voice her in scratch recordings.
NLB: Of the main… I think probably Hunk. Yeah, Hunk is pretty solid.
AE: Ooh, that’s hard. I really like Allura. I mean she is just such a powerful female character and I love that about her, but Lance is also a ton of fun. So… [laughter]
KA: Whoever’s piloting that Blue Lion, that’s all you really care about.
AE: Yeah, I mean, really, I’m just attached to the Blue Lion.
LL: Oh yeah, I just, you know, go for the comic relief, so Coran is definitely my favorite.
KA: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
NLB: I know, can we shoutout, like, Bii-boh-bi?
LL: Oh, Bii-boh-bi’s so good. Definitely.
KA: Bii-boh-bi is the noise of anyone who if anybody does swear–
NLB: That’s what we–oh, fabulous.
KA: This is a particularly beautiful episode, I think, visually because, I mean, it’s a culmination of so many things, but it is so… it has such a unique style, I think, to it.
LG: Yeah, I really love seeing these fight sequences with the ship and I think–I think it’s because I really… So, Voltron is a CG design, and I think it’s… you know, that decision was made for a multitude of reasons, but I love the fact that our team at Studio Mir is so talented that they can take the CG design and, uh, basically integrate it flawlessly into a 2D show where if I hadn’t been told that Voltron was CG, I probably wouldn’t have assumed it. So, seeing these fight sequences involve a lot of these CG elements mixed with our 2D elements, and I think that’s–it’s–from a production standpoint it’s really special to watch that happen.
KA: Mm-hm. Well it’s very singular in terms of, uh, animated programming to have that kind of integration. But yeah, I remember the first time y-you see the new design or updated design of Voltron it’s like, “Oh my god it’s so cool”.
NLB: And then you’re just like, “And I’m working with those people every day, so… the people who made that. That’s neat.” [laughter]
KA: Now we’re just watching the episode. This is what happens sometimes.
NLB: Yeah. It’s definitely like watching that shot and knowing like, “Is that Haggar’s phase 1 or 2 in the background?” Like–
NLB: That’s Keith with his helmet off.
LL: Yeah! Oh, that’s right, so every time a character has a helmet on or helmet off, that’s a new design.
KA: Helmet on, but with–er, helmet off, but with suit on is diff–
LG: Yup, 100% different for sure.
LG: Yeah, I mean we have sheets and part of our job is we have these sheets that we’ll say, “Okay, this is scene, you know, 100”, and every single design that’s in that scene from background to character to prop to all the different color variations, they all get called out just for that scene. So pretty much we go through these episodes with a fine-tooth comb, decide, writing down every single design and color design that happens in that–in each individual scene.
LL: So it’s like, if you like Excel, or databases, a career in production might be for you.
AE: We’re all organizational nerds. [laughter]
KA: Which isn’t what I–yes. That’s a fun–it’s a fun thing to be. I don’t have the patience to be one of those, but I always want to be. I was–I was in college I was always like, “God, if I could just have, like, the perfect spreadsheet.”
AE: Lots of folders. So many.
LL: It’s true.
LG: I don’t know. I think it’s fun and satisfying. [laughter] But that’s a true sign that I’m an organizational nerd, so…
NLB: It is, like, probably one of the favorite parts of my job because I keep a lot of, like, physical paper from, like, the Excel spreadsheets that we print out and stuff, and when I get to, like, move one to my “done” folder, like, physically take a piece of paper from one folder to the next folder. It’s like, “We finished all the designs,” and it’s the best.
KA: Do you–what do you do with all the, like, the finished ones? Do they eventually go into an even bigger drawer?
NLB: I just keep them forever. I just keep them, and I look at them, I’m like, “I don’t have to think about that anymore.”
NLB: Like, “Look at that paper. That’s obsolete now.”
KA: Do you all still have all your old school papers, too?
LL: I do.
LL: Yeah, they’re in the closet.
NLB: That’s impressive. How many boxes?
LL: It’s like two boxes, I kept it from my favorite classes, but I was like, “We paid for this.”
NLB: That’s true.
LG: That’s very true.
LL: This is what I have left of college.
KA: An old en–old textbooks that are way out of date now.
LL: Yeah. Exactly.
KA: So we’ve reached the end of the episode, and I feel like we barely scratched the surface of you guys’ jobs.
KA: So, we’ll have to have you guys come back, uh, later on, if you would like once we get into season five, which as we record this does not exist yet. As far as we know.
KA: You guys are on, like, season 28 probably. But anyway, um, thank you guys for joining us on the podcast. If you have social media you would like to plug, feel free to do so now. If you want people to follow you on Twitter or Instagram or anything.
AE: Do I. [laughter]
NLB: I know, it’s like, well that’s the thing, is I’m like, well I have artist friends that I know. I mean I could plug their stuff. I’m not… [laughter]
KA: Alright. Well that’s okay. You can follow me on Twitter, everybody, if you want to, because I’m, ya know, a dumb [Bii-boh-bi] who talks a lot at @funcitonalnerd, um, and thanks for watching and listening along with us, uh, and we will see you once season 5’s around here on Form Podcast. Thanks, everybody.
LL: Thank you.
AE: Thank you.
[outro music, the rest of the VLD theme]
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