Interview: RWBY Creative Team


Richard Whittaker: RWBY Volume I introduced characters, Volume II broadened the world, and Volume III is where the plot really fits together. The Twitter response when everything came together – and started falling apart for the characters – was basically ‘what the hell?’ Where you prepared for the response from the fanbase?

Kerry Shawcross: When we started off with this story, it was important to us to pull a Lost. We didn’t want to start in a cool place, not know where it was going, and then try to figure it out as we went. When we came up with this initial story, we tried to think years and years ahead. We knew the events of Volume III were going to happen before the show even started, so it’s really been a case of biting our tongues and not letting anything slip. We really wanted to hit the fans hard, in the same way that the characters were hit really hard with all this. We wanted them to share in these emotions.

Miles Luna: When it came to introducing the characters in volume I, the thing that we tried to do with them is that you think you know the archetype at face value. A great example is Yang: when the audience first meets her, she seems like that party hard kind of girl, the popular preppy girl, and that’s what you get the first time you see there, and then you learn she’s like a mother figure to Ruby, she has this very compassionate side, she has this history with her mother. We wanted to do the same thing with the tone of the show, whereby it’s introduced as a Hub anime, it’s this fun show where it takes place in a magic school, but then we wanted to do an about face and pull the rug out from under the audience as say, no, this is not what the show is about. It’s just as intrusive to the audience as it was to the characters, that suddenly, woah, everything that was going according to plan is suddenly out the window.

Gray Haddock: And Rooster Teeth has never put a parental advisory on its videos in the company’s history, and we didn’t want to start now, but halfway through this season was a good time to remind all the parent andf babysitters and uncle and aunts who would have been sharing the videos with the much younger end of the audience that, hey, we’ve been trying to make as much noise whenever possible in the behind-the-scenes supplements on the DVDs, or at panel appearances at conventions, that there was more to this story than what they had seen in the first couple of volumes, and the full story of RWBY is going to involve a lot of changes and emotions. So halfway through volume III was a good time to re-start the conversation with the audience, just to let them know, hey, no reason, but if you’re sharing the world of RWBY with the most extremely young members of the audience, maybe you want to start watching the episodes first and seeing whether it’s suitable for them.

RW: With Monty dying before production started, what did that mean to you guys, and what was the state of this volume, from a practical point of view?

KS: Because we’d been working on the story for so long, we all had been talking and had an idea or where we wanted to go, what we wanted volume II to be like, what looking forward we wanted the end of the season to be like, but we hadn’t even started writing scripts yet.

ML: The scripts hadn’t begun, but the roadmap had been laid out since before we’d started volume I. So we knew where we wanted it to go, just how crazy it was going to go, and where our ending was heading. There were lots of late nights were we were talking together, and I don’t think there was ever a worry about what we were going to go from a story perspective after Monty passed. As a family, it was quite devastating, but we always knew we were going to be able to persevere and stick to our guns with what we had set out to do all those years ago.

GH: It was more about making sure we had a conversation with the audience that what would happen in Volume III was always the plan, that Monty was aware of it, Monty helped conceive some of those moments, and that certain changes in certain characters was not of a result of our news from last year.

RW: Looking at the difference in the animation between Volume I and Volume III, I don’t think you could have done the tournament in Volume I and made it look as the same as it does now. What was the process of making the world fuller, but still feel cohesive?

KS: One of the biggest things about working at Rooster Teeth, and working with the crew that we do, is that we’re never happy to do the same thing again from season to season. The reason Volume II looked better than Volume I was because, in the course of Volume I we learned how to do it that way, now we can do that faster. It didn’t mean we did the season faster, it meant we could make the next season look better because we could do all the other stuff much faster. We wanted to continue that into Volume III as well. Between volumes I and II we figured out how to do crowds better, so we went, OK, we know how to do those, let’s do them even better now.

GH: For better or worse, we always challenge ourselves to raise the bar every year. Half the time it winds up biting us in ass in terms of how many hours you have to throw at it in order to maintain the new level of quality, but ultimately everyone’s so passionate about it. It’s always better for us to get through the pain of making the art and then be that much more satisfied looking backwards. On top of that, Rooster Teeth the company has been very kind in recognizing Rooster Teeth Animation’s work over the last couple of years, and as they help us out on the resource front. Then we take the lessons learned on the previous seasons and put them into new crew positions and new resources to throw at the show.

RW: Every time I visit Austin Studios, it seems like your animation farm has doubled in size.

GH: Rooster Teeth Animation is now the same size as the company as a whole when we moved onto the lot two years ago.

RW: That’s a big change from what has seemed to be the norm, when most American shows are sending their work out to overseas animation departments.

GH: We’re very, very fortunate that we get to do this, and again it’s what helps fuel you through the tougher parts of production. It’s a miracle that RT exists, and it’s a miracle within a miracle the RT Animation is getting to make all this original IP, to just tell the stories that we want to tell. There’s nothing else quite like Rooster Teeth Animation in the region.

KS: It’s always funny when a potential investor or someone walks by, and we say, OK, this is where we make all the animation, and they nod their head and go, ‘this is where you start it and you ship it out.’ No, this is where we do the animation. They look at us confused, and we say, we make it all here. It’s a concept they’re just not used to.

GH: I wouldn’t be surprised if, over time, we do have to begin considering outsourcing, but we do want to hang around on to the story that Rooster Teeth Animation does everything house. But if the opportunity is to do more cool stuff, bigger, faster, then the rule will still be ‘keep as much as possible in house.’

RW: You mentioned that every season, you try to set yourself a new challenge. With Volume III, what was the challenge?

KS: Volume II was always meant to be this huge turning point for the series as a whole, so some of the biggest challenges were the scale, and the number of people, but also how many stories had to interweave together, and how to fit that all into a 12-ish episode …

ML … That didn’t happen.

KS: Yeah, Gray’s hands are getting a little strangle-y. But one of the biggest things was that we wanted to have an event happen that had a global impact on this world, which is something very different from anything we’ve seen in the first two volume.

ML: The other thing in the production and the mission angle was how many fights we did. There’s only one chapter in the entire volume that didn’t have a fight. In volume one there were two major fights …

GH: Two major fights, and two medium ones, and then we added two more in volume two, and then we more than doubled it for volume III. Then behind the scenes, as we were growing the departments, we wanted to make the look and feel of the show improve as much as possible year to year. So last year, both RWBY III and Red Vs. Blue XIII, we were able to take use for the first time of our new camera and lay-out departments. We brought in new artists that they’re strictly working on moving the virtual camera like an actual live-action camera operator. They’re doing additional animation set-up tasks that we refer to as lay-outs, so we were able to take some of that work off the animators themselves, so they could focus strictly on the character performance. We’ve got people coming in that are focusing solely on lighting.

ML: And last year was the first year that we mo-capped every single shot of every single show, except for the crazy fight stuff. Every dialog scene in RWBY III was a bunch of animators or people in other departments in mo-cap suits, getting direction. Our previous pattern used to be be that we’d hand them a scene and say, here you go.

GH: At our biggest on season I, we had a crew of 25, but by the time we hit season III, each person could take a few hats off, hand them to other people, and let everyone focus and specialize on certain tasks, and make sure that any subject, be it technical or artistic, get the love that it deserved.

RWBY Volume IIIRW: One of the big changes this season is that you move the focus away from the core four characters of Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang, and move over to Pyra and Jaune and characters who were previously more supporting casts. What was it like writing that, knowing that there would be some fan response wondering where their favorites were?

KS: Obviously the show’s called RWBY, it’s about Ruby Rose, and it’s about Weiss and Blake and Yang who make up Team RWBY, but to us it was always much more of an ensemble cast. During Volume I, we were still figuring out the pacing, and we may have gone a little more on Team JNPR when we should have been more on RWBY sometimes. I think that’s something we learned, but I think the audience learned to love those characters as much so that seeing them sometimes over Ruby wasn’t that big of a deal. Some people really like on character, and maybe they don’t get them that week, but hopefully the rest of the season they get them enough that they don’t mind.

ML: It’s getting to the point now where it feels like we’re writing Game of Thrones or The Avengers. OK, we have a very large cast. We love them all equally. Fans have their favorites. How do we balance it out, how do we make it fair, how do we make it important and worthwhile for each character to be on-screen? It has to be justified constantly?

RW: You talk about loving all the characters, but are there any you have a particular soft spot for?

KS: It changes as we go along. It really depends on whatever scene you wrote last, which basically means no, we like them all the same. Someone like Nora’s really popular, but overall, nah.

M Very rarely do we go, aw, this scene has that character. The one time that happened was in a very early draft of season one. Doctor Ooblek was a very different character, and writing for him was not fun. He didn’t do a very good job of conveying information, so we thought, ah, instead of making him a boring teacher, let’s make him a hyperactive character. We acknowledged, this isn’t fun, and we changed it, and now Ooblek is one of my favorite characters. He’s just absurd.

RW: The show finally got a release in Japan, which is obviously a huge deal for a show with clear anime influences. What’s it like knowing that there is a Japanese dub, and there is this Japanese deluxe edition, and it’s broken into that market in a way that most American shows can never dream?

KS: It’s been pretty crazy. We’re all big anime fans, but I think Gray has the most interesting story about this.

GH: It’s all been a pretty crazy experience to be exported back into the country of origin that produced so much of the art that inspired us. We’ve been working with Warner Brothers Japan for about a year and a half now, and they’ve been such amazing partners to introduce RWBY into Japan. They have released Volume I on DVD and Blu-ray, and they’ve put it on the big screen in movie theaters for six weeks. We knew that they were going to treat RWBY well when they sent us the list of the Japanese voice actors they were proposing voice the parts. I scanned the list, and couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. I called Kerry over, and I started reading out the cast list, one by one, and we were kind of freaking out. More and more of our crew members gathered around to see why we were losing our minds.

KS: We kept scanning the email, going, wait, is this what they’re pitching to us, or is this pie-in-the-sky what they want, or is this people they’ve contacted already? Turns out, these were people they already had the books, and they were just going, ‘hey, are you fine with this person?’ Yes, of course, we’re fine with this person.

GH: They were just asking for final approval for a list of actors that were in our current favorite animes. The vast majority of the cast list was comprised of actors who were in shows that I had watched on Crunchy Roll the night before.

KS: They all the anime voice-actor A-list, almost every single one of them.

GH: The way they did they matched the voices from particular character archetypes in Japan to our character in RWBY really demonstrated they understood what was in Miles and Kerry’s minds while they were writing the story. My personal anecdote, and the thing that really let me know that they got it right, was the Japanese seyu or voice-over actor that they cast for the villain Roman Torchwick. I have voiced that actor’s characters in other shows before over the last several years. I had done his characters at least three times before, and this was the first time that he was going to perform a part that I had originated. Warner Brothers did not know that relation at the time when they cast that particular actor, so it was completely coincidental. They heard Torchwick, thought of the Japanese equivalent of that actor, and it turns out that it’s the same guy whose parts I’ve been voicing for the last 10 years.

RW: Have you met in person yet?

GH: Not yet, but we have winked at each other online. Hopefully the next time we go back over to Japan, we’ll get to say hello
I had the privilege of already going over there to visit Warner Brothers about the time that they were launching Volume I last year, and we were trying to educate them on the international aspect of the Rooster Teeth community, and what generous fans we tend to have. We were trying to get them to think about how they were going to take care of that fanbase in Japan. They were thinking about, well, we’ll start to reach out to them after the movie comes out and you’re in the stores, and we’ll see how it works out. We go, no, no, you don’t understand, they’re already here. We started tweeting to the fans in Japan, and in less than 24 hours we’d organized a fan meet up in which over 75 fans travelled from all over the country, including from Hokaido at the far north. They took the bullet train in, or they took the car for six hours, and we had a meet-up at a park outside the Warner Brothers office. People were showing off their cosplay or their custom action figures that they made, or their fan art. It really was a touching event, and it really got Warner Brothers to think about how cool the fans are, and how to take care of them.

RW: I remember that people turned up in RWBY cosplay at the RTX before the first episode aired.

ML: Before RTX proper events, other events that were going on, people were showing up in cosplay.

K: We saw the first episode of cosplay before the first episode aired, just based on the character trailers that ran before Volume I came out.

ML: At some random con somewhere, there’s someone walking around with a giant scythe, and everyone’s turning round and looking and going, what show is that from?

KS: It was reassurance for us, while we were still working on the show. RWBY Volume I was very much in production as the first episodes were coming out, and we had no idea how an audience was going to react, or if an audience was even there. To see that there were already fans being that generous with their creativity before the show had even come out, let us breathe a little bit easier.

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