Welcome back to part-two of my interview with Adi Shankar, creator, producer, writer, and director on The Guardians of Justice (which made its debut at Cannes this week and will release on Netflix next year). Though the show takes shape in the form of a superhero narrative, its scope goes beyond that of generic superhero storytelling. GoJ is everything from a murder mystery to that of a political satire, weaving together a plethora of wild and intriguing characters. If you happened to have missed part-one of the interview, you can read that here.
Enhancing the narrative is the show’s brilliant use of visual stylization, the show morphing overtime to display an acid-like frenzy of violence and animation. One sequence may start out in live action, only to change into 8-bit aesthetics, then shifting into Claymation, to then end in a first-person shooter like style – all of that and more taking place within just a couple minutes.
In the second part of my interview with Shankar, we discuss the visual direction behind GoJ; the decision in creating the show this way and including so many styles, as well as how that flow and editing reflect the creator’s own thought process. We also discuss what it has been like to see the show develop over time, where it fits among his Bootleg Universe, his work in animation, and what Shankar looks forward to in the future.
Michael Pementel: When writing the story, were you actively imagining scenes in a particular visual style?
Adi Shankar: I think sometimes, for my personal creative process, I’ll be thinking of four different things. I’ll be thinking of a visual style and a character; it’s literally four disparate things, four different projects. Then all of a sudden you wake up one day and realize that it is all the same project. Really early on, the story was originally designed to be told in a vlog format; it literally was going to be people sitting and talking into the camera. I knew the broad strokes of the story I wanted to tell. I thought a vlog series was the way to get this out really quickly, but obviously, the project expanded. […] I had a note of all these different art styles I was seeing on the internet. I knew I wanted to do something that cross pollinated mediums. Though, I am not one of those kinds of people who loses sight of the story to have “epic visuals.”
If you’re telling an epic story about a world in chaos, and you’re doing it in a classical filmmaking style, I think you’re missing a point. The audience should feel chaotic while their watching it. Not, “Oh wow this is a very pristine, eloquently told story about the world.” Many different artists from all over the world brought so much to this.
[How all these visual styles play out] is what it’s like to live inside my head.
MP: Can you speak a little more to that?
AS: People who know me well [and see this], would be like, “Wow this feels like I’m having a conversation with you.” In interviews sometimes, people will say, “Man you take these long pauses, you stop talking;” that’s not because I’m not thinking, it’s because there’s literally a thousand things that have happened in my head that I cannot verbalize. I’m more in control of [that thought process now], so it isn’t as crazy and chaotic, but that’s how it used to me. So [when it comes to the array of visuals and editing style within GoJ], that isn’t a choice I made, I just don’t understand why every other product isn’t made this way.
Movies and TV shows – and I understand I’m not in the norm here – but they move too slow for me. When I watch things, I feel like not enough things happen. That’s why the pacing of the show is what it is; it isn’t normal pacing. The [pacing is reflective] of how I consume information.
MP: What was it like seeing this show evolve overtime and creating the next entry in your Bootleg Universe?
AS: There was a Sam, Ken, and Graham – obviously I didn’t do this all myself, there was a team – they would say that I would just sort of stare at the screen and just keep going, “That’s so crazy.” I didn’t understand what I was doing before, and I think maybe now I have more clarity, in terms of initially creating the Bootleg Universe and GoJ. In my head, all I thought I was doing was figuring out how to make things cheaply. It only clicked for me pretty recently that’s not at all what I was trying to do. I just never believed that a corporate entity would ever give me the resources necessary to execute a vision on a big scale. I was constantly approaching things in a way like, “How do we make it now? How do we make it cheap?”
With GoJ, I think you can draw a direct line to this from the Bootleg Universe fan films; it was really like, “Hey how do I do one of these things bigger, longer, and just do it.” So, it was the same kind of path for me emotionally as those films.
MP: What’s it like reflecting on your work with the Bootleg Universe now?
AS: It’s interesting because if someone had gone back in time now and talked to me back in 2012, and been like, “Dude what you’re actually doing is coming up with really interesting ways to do stuff and interesting stories around a known IP,” had someone explained that to me, I’d probably had done a hell of a lot more of that. I had a notebook full of ideas; I had a Green Lantern one, a Captain Planet, an Alf idea. I would write them out and think, how do you make this? I didn’t know how to make them then. If someone had had that conversation with me, they would have said, “Dude you’re making these art projects.”
MP: Given all the work you’ve done, what draws you to a project?
AS: […] I’m just trying to generate my own content. Not in a control freak kind of way. I think it’s clear when you see the show, see the body of work that came before it, that there’s a guy with a point of view. What’s great about the point of view is that it can be imprinted onto anything. Literally anything. You can put it in a 1950s gumshoe story, you can put it into heroes. I need creative latitude to imprint my work with a point of view, because I’m not really interested – nor have the skillset – to make vapid content that just entertains but doesn’t say anything. I don’t know how to do that well. So it has to say something and I gotta be in control of what I’m saying.
There have been so many years of struggling with – what is my voice? What am I trying to say? Why am I trying to say this? You eventually figure it out; life is a continual process of figuring that out. I don’t think things draw me to a project, I think projects just start happening. That’s the best way to describe it.
MP: A lot of your prominent work as of recently – and what you have in the pipeline – is animation based. Is that intentional? Is animation something you want to solely stick with moving forward? How has your experience with GoJ changed your approach to craft?
AS: I’m getting back into live action, but more importantly – live action is now starting to emulate animation. At least in the way it’s made. […] In terms of narrative scope, with animation, you are only limited by your imagination. Versus live action which, until pretty recently, you were restricted/limited by your budget. Big movies look a certain way, small movies look a different way. Animation is just a medium to tell a story, and while the art quality, style, and shots may vary depending on budget, the scale of the story can be the same.
I just feel like, given where I was at in my life over the last few years, animation was the right medium for me. Five years from now, I see myself existing in live action, animation, and video games simultaneously.
I knew how to direct, but I didn’t direct before [GoJ]. [Through this project], it wasn’t as simple as [directing] actors on a stage; I was learning how to direct in live action, CGI, Claymation, 2D animation. So I walked away from the project with a baseline skillset that has now gave me the tools to create stuff that is mixed media or exists within a couple of those mediums, or one.
MP: After all your work on GoJ, how are you feeling now that its release is near?
AS: Well, it took over six years to make it, so that’s a huge weight off my shoulders. Part of this project came about because I was incredibly clinically depressed. This show kind of helped me get healthy; it was like a transmutative process. I didn’t start the show as the guy who finished the show. […] It’s not like I went through this experience, got healthy and then made this as a result of that – I had this experience and started making the show during it. Making this was like the worst experience of my life, but it also involved some of my best memories. When I look back on it in 10 years, I’m going to be happy that I went through it.
I would like to thank Adi Shankar for his time regarding these interviews. Keep a look out for updates on The Guardians of Justice as they arrive!