Want to know more about Urbance, an upcoming animated series from Montreal animation studio, Steambot? Well lucky for you, Helene Rousse from TotalCasting.ca and I had the chance to sit down and talk with the new series’ creators. This was a great day for us here at Bad Words Lab. We love looking at animated series that promise to change the way people think. And this was certainly exceptional.

Picture: Helene Rousse from Total Casting firsts meets Joel from Steamboat Animation Studios after he speaks with business associate, Denis, at the Cartoon Connection conference in Quebec City a few days prior to this article.

Helene Rousse from Bad Words Lab’s sister company, Total Casting, firsts meets Joel from Steamboat Animation Studios after he speaks with business associate, Denis, at the Cartoon Connection conference in Quebec City a few days prior to this article.

 

With less than 48 hours to go on their Kickstarter campaign, Helene Rousse and I sit down with Joel and Sébastien from Steambot Animation Studios to discuss their “just now”-funded campaign for Urbance. My excitement to learn more about their upcoming creation is compounded by the excitement supercharged in their office. Commenting on the timeliness of our interview, Joel notes that it is “symbolic” in a tone that continues throughout the meeting. These gentlemen are as humble about what they do as animators and demonstrably passionate about the animated series they are creating.

With 10 years of partnership behind them, these 2 of 3 founding partners sit poised to open a new chapter for their studio and one that will see them create content and stories beyond that which they do daily for client projects like Godzilla or Warner Brothers’ Games’, Batman: Arkham Origins. Steambot’s newly funded concept is a good one and I’m not the only one to think so. As I write now, nearly 3500 have demonstrated their support by financially backing the creation of a pilot episode with almost $215,000, shattering their $189,000 dollar goal milestone.

(Update: 2 days later – The Kickstarter campaign has closed with a resounding $229,300 raised. If you still want to support, you can help these guys at here via PayPal. Read on to find out why.)

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Inspirations Behind the Animated Series

Urbance, a clever play on words combining “urban” and “dance,” tells the futuristic, post-modern story that pays homage and steals inspirational cues from cultural, timeless and animated classics. Among them, West Side Story prompts components of a love-fuelled plot-line rebellion driven by our protagonists who defy a Dictator’s rule that separates them from intimate play and reproduction. Gangs and factions of people drive story-lines (like the 1977 classic, The Warriors) of sexually-transmitted, deadly viruses, and contemporary, ‘artistic’ rebellions. Animated games and manga-animé classics like Sega’s Jet Set Radio and manga hit Tekkonkinkreet help inspire plot lines, concepts and artistic direction. They’ve also secured the genre-intimate music group, Plaid. Urbance is set to break visual boundaries, re-create archetypes, tell original stories and hook audiences with beats that carry them from punchline to cliff-hanger.

And the direction sounds amazing. “We want to create something similar to a live-action series,” says Joel, “something like UK television’s Utopia or Black Mirror, but completely through animation.” His partner, Sébastien, continues: “It is something futuristic but is not science fiction. The colours, the graphics, the ideas… we need to create a feeling of anticipation or impending reality.” In Urbance, the entire population is forbidden from having sex or sexual relations – for fear of contracting a deadly sexual virus – and so people experience daily activities with no sexual release and so much sexual tension. “Without ever experiencing sex,” says Sébastien, “imagine what kind of connected draw you would have with another human being just because you are dancing, or your eyes meet.” Imagine, indeed.

 

Montreal, Worldly Influences – Naturally and Without a Political Charge

These two Montrealers, originally from France, work right in the heart of the international Plateau district of the city. And they are bringing what they see on the street daily, and in their global backyard, to their animated series. Joel remarks, “Montreal, the world, they are so multi-ethnic and entirely multicultural. A person can accept it or not. In Urbance, we are re-creating that aspect as part of reality. When you watch an episode, you will see all races, hear different languages, see different sexualities – and it will all be just a part of the story.” Their plan sounds simple: tell a story with as much openness and tolerance to differences as they feel should exist in the real world. It’s the ultimate in non-political, political statements… let people just ‘be’ in order to demonstrate acceptance. “In Urbance,” Joel says, “they are passing social commentary as a social vision of the world today.” What it all amounts to is creating a world where these guys can challenge stereotypes and change the ‘face’ of what a hero looks like or how a protagonist is defined. If that sounds ambitious, it is. From our perspective – stemming from our voice casting experience, the way you look at filling a role would require deep thought into how an actor’s voice and character influence affects the telling of the story in ways that aren’t traditional or stereotypical.

Concretizing the Urbance Society Through Language

Throughout the conversation, Joel and Sébastien remain passionate about how the telling of the story will come to light and how depicting society in Urbance will be realized. “We are creating an Urbance language too, a whole dialogue of slang,” Seb enthusiastically announces. “We are working with a linguist and journalist and coming up with expressions that aren’t necessary relevant to 2014 but more likely to be ‘cool’ in 2018… or 2070.”  Joel continues, “Just like outside our doors we hear a mix of local speech, local diction and international references, the Urbance world will carry references to what is futuristically likely to happen in the real world. We see it as a convergence of new words mixed with Hindu and Romanian, English with French.” For translators and localization professionals like Helene and I, we can’t help but become enthralled by the concept. To even translate or adapt the Urbance story into different languages and for different markets, one has to become intimately involved with the backstory being told and the evolution of the plot.

Drafting the Believable Conversations and Characters

With the the first 3 episodes ready to create, the treatment of the first season complete, and a planned out vision for the second season, they have a clear idea of where they want to go. Sebastien noted that general visual and musical themes found in Urbance touch on modern day themes of electric hip hop, fashion, dance and urban culture in general. Coming up with characters was a bit of a process, however, and they haven’t even thought about casting the voice actors yet. “Before figuring out who should voice our characters, we have had to come up with the plot and the character interactions. To write dialogue and to create meaningful characters, we actually put ourselves into the roles we are creating. We write in English though we are French first – a bit of linguistic gymnastics any way. And we aren’t actors but we act out what we are writing as we go.”  Sébastien ads more about character development, “When animating characters, we select colours that defy stereotypes or sometimes even accentuate them, punctuating reality with a flare for the futuristic and the overall theme of ‘laissez-faire’ or it-is-what-it-is.”

Want to help Urbance Go Further?

Picture: From right to left, Joel and Denis decompress after a panel discussion at Cartoon Connection the Friday before this interview.

From right to left, Joel and Denis decompress after a panel discussion at Cartoon Connection the Friday before this interview.

With the Kickstarter campaign winding down and with its impending official success, these gentlemen are ready to get to work on the pilot episode of Urbance. With a little luck, they will pick up a distribution partner shortly, helping them to close the financing for the first 2 seasons of the series. If you’d like to get in touch with them, reach out to us and we’ll help facilitate the introduction.

Don’t forget! If you want to support Urbance financially, there are still Kickstarter rewards available and you can get them via PayPal donations you make at here.

Let us Know

In what languages would you like to see Urbance available? Your responses can help persuade distributors and content channels to help Steambot or make Urbance available in more markets.