AUSTIN - As an Austin-based studio prepares to release the new season of its popular web series ‘RWBY,’ the animators behind it are getting ready to move into a new building.
“We’re basically all cramped into this stage right now and we need more space,” said Kerry Shawcross, writer and co-director on ‘RWBY Volume 4.’
Located at the Austin Studios, Rooster Teeth Productions and its animation department occupy more than one stage. The animation department alone is growing by leaps and bounds.
“At the time that animation moves into its new digs, it will be bigger than the company Rooster Teeth was as a whole when the company moved onto the Austin Film Studios lot just two years ago,” said Head of Rooster Teeth Animation Gray Haddock.
The team will move into the new space near Rooster Teeth’s current location before Volume 4 premieres Oct. 22, and will help the animators continue to produce shows like RWBY, Red vs. Blue and Camp Camp.
“We want to do more things and the things that we’re doing we want to do them even better. For that we need more people and more talented people,” Shawcross said.
‘RWBY’ - created by Monty Oum and premiered in 2013 - takes place in the fantasy world of Remnant and focuses on four girls, each representing a different color (Red, White, Black and Yellow).
“The World of Remnant is plagued by these creatures called the Grimm, and the culture has had no choice but to develop a system of training hunters and huntresses in order to keep these monsters at bay,” said Haddock about the series. “Season by season we follow these girls as they grow up and becoming better skilled at what they do, and life will always get more and more complicated.”
Fans of the series have followed Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna and Yang Xiao Long during their time at Beacon Academy. Before Volume 3 premiered in 2015, Oum died after suffering a severe allergic reaction during a medical procedure. Haddock reassured fans on the company's website that the show would still go on, and show runners have said that the story had been laid out during the early stages of development.
“Since the beginning, we had the rough ideas of what we would do. We could always change them, but we want to have something that we were building towards this whole time,” said Shawcross.
Volume 3, which premiered in October 2015 and ended in February 2016, saw a shift in the story's tone.
"The first couple years of the show do kind of have a slightly more light-hearted tone to it as the girls are also a little more innocent themselves," said Haddock. "The realities of the world and a war that’s been looming on the horizon, as those begin to come into play the girls have to grow up a little bit faster and the shows and its aesthetics have also been growing up year after year."
Both Haddock and Shawcross liken the show to the 'Harry Potter' franchise, in that the stories grew up with the audience and more mature themes each year. With RWBY going that route, the show runners took advantage of a lingering idea to keep some lightheartedness in the program.
"If you’re a big brother or sister, or that cool uncle or aunt, or a mom who has introduced a particularly young kid to the show, if the main RWBY show is perhaps getting a little too mature such that you’re kind of concerned about showing it to a younger audience member, then we also have a spinoff show called ‘RWBY Chibi’ which is specifically for younger audiences," Haddock said.
"It was a show we talked about in different forms over several years. There’s just a ton of jokes or instances that the crew had and we wanted a way to tell, but there’s no way we could fit them into the show," said Shawcross.
RWBY Chibi finished its first season Oct. 15, in time for RWBY Volume 4’s premiere. iDigitalTimes reported that fans who attended New York Comic Con on Oct 5-8 were treated to at a rough cut of the volume’s first episode.
“This is the first time since the very beginning of Volume 1 that we’re gonna see our main four girls not together,” said Shawcross. “They’re separated, they’re across the world from each other. So, in a lot of ways we’ll be seeing them in their element, how they are on their own which is something we haven’t seen a lot of in the show proper.”
Rooster Teeth has a social following measuring in the hundreds of thousands on Twitter and Facebook, and in the millions on YouTube. The company's annual convention, RTX, draws tens of thousands of fans to Austin each summer, and to Sydney for RTX Australia in the winter. RWBY’s popularity is so wide reaching that in 2014, Rooster Teeth announced the show would be imported to Japan.
"This is the first time any American-made anime has been marketed to Japan. It definitely usually works the other way around, and we're really pleased about that," Rooster Teeth CEO Matt Hullum told Adweek at the time.
Shawcross and Haddock both credit the fans with animation's growth over the years.
“Thanks to the support of all the fans and the success that the show has had, we’ve been able to continue to grow the department so that we can do bigger, cooler and more things,” said Shawcross.
“The fans are very generous with checking out what we go for year after year, and keeping an open mind, and just kind of understanding that – the analogy would be like a music band that wants to kind of evolve their sound album after album. We don’t want to make the exact same songs over and over and over. They’ve been very flexible about letting us play and evolve the look of the show, and they seem to be sticking around for the ride which is just great,” Haddock said.
ALWAYS AIMING HIGHER:
Like all filmmakers and creators, the team behind RWBY want to push themselves to the limit. Whether the improvements are from the technical side or aesthetically, better is the goal.
"We’ve never had a single year where we decided ‘You know what? Let’s just do that again. Let’s just do the exact same thing we did the previous volume. Have it look the same, have it feel the same,' it’s never been that. Across the board, I think the thing I love the most about this team is they always strive to take things to the next level," Shawcross said.
"Just looking at the evolution, again using RWBY as an example, to go back and look at RWBY Volume 1 and compare that to what we’re capable of now with RWBY Volume 4 and seeing that progression year after year I couldn’t be prouder of the team and everything that they’ve been accomplished," said Haddock.
Shawcross told KVUE that each stage of the show's production - from writing and recording to storyboarding and animating - takes at least two weeks.
“Some departments are already working on episodes 8 and 9. And there are some that are working on (episode) 1," said Shawcross.
As the show continues to aims higher and to evolve, the producers are excited for what the audience will see in the coming volume.
“Volumes 1-3 were definitely a contained arc, and now Volume 4 is the start of a new arc," said Shawcross. "A lot of people think that it’s going to be this big “doom and gloom” thing, and that’s not what it’s going to be. It’s still ‘RWBY,’ there’s still going to be jokes, there’s still going to be cool fights, but a big thing has happened in the world and there is also going to be a lot of people coming to terms with that and how they deal with that and move on.”
RT AND THE FILM SCENE:
As the city's film industry has grown over the years, multiple studios and filmmakers have chosen Central Texas for live-action productions. When it comes to animation projects, larger studios like DreamWorks, ILM, Pixar and Blue Sky Studios work near Los Angeles or New York.
“I always assumed that I was going to have to pick a coast and go, whether it was New York or L.A. or perhaps Atlanta for animation," said Haddock. "The fact that I get to stay here in the town that I love and the work is here. The fact that we’ve been able to attract some fantastic industry talent from a variety of disciplines, either technical or creative, to perhaps leave a coast and come here to Austin has been just great."
“Rooster Teeth is this kind of beacon in Austin of another film community," said Shawcross. "Austin has always been known for doing a ton with film and animation and games. I think that the cool thing about Rooster Teeth is that it is this all-encompassing thing where we’ve kind of come onto the scene now and said ‘Hey, we do this, too’ and hopefully offer the opportunity for more people and more jobs for people in Austin to come out and get involved in this career without having to move to L.A. or Atlanta or New York.”
"I’ve often told people that I think the fact that Rooster Teeth exists and is capable of doing what it’s doing is already a miracle, and the fact that it’s spawning an animation department inside of that is just a miracle within that miracle. To have an animation studio here in the middle of Central Texas that’s being able to employ so many artists and animators and technical folk and being able to work on original IP (intellectual property), it’s a dream," Haddock added.
The first three volumes of RWBY are available on Roosterteeth’s website, YouTube, Netflix and Crunchyroll. RWBY Chibi is available on their website and YouTube.
RWBY Volume 4 premieres Oct. 22 on RoosterTeeth.com for paid subscribers, site members one day later and for members of the general public on their site and YouTube the following Saturday.
(© 2016 KVUE)