ANNECY, France — Genndy Tartakovsky hosted a ferocious Work in Progress session at the Annecy Intl. Animation Festival on Wednesday for his upcoming Adult Swim series “Primal.”
Few figures impress more at a major international animation festival than Tartakovsky, the creator of “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Samurai Jack” and “Star Wars: Clone Wars.”
He’s a cult director, but can have commercial clout. Just last year he screened a very-nearly finished cut of his directorial feature “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” to an eager and satisfied crowd. It went on to gross $529 million worldwide, becoming Sony Pictures Animation’s highest-grossing title of all time.
On Wednesday Tartakovsky was joined onstage at the Salle Pierre Lamy, overlooking the Annecy canals, by Studio La Cachette executive producer Julien Chheng and animator, layout artists Camille Fourgeot De Knÿff, and Cartoon Network Studios art director Scott Wills.
“Primal” kicks off in a violent, primordial world ruled by survival of the fittest. In this unpredictable and unforgiving setting, a prehistoric man is left alone when he tragically losses his family at the same time a nearby T-Rex loses hers. Against their baser instincts the two forge and unlikely bond in the harsh and lonely world.
The series has no dialogue, and uses graphic imagery and fundamental themes such as disease or hunger to lay the foundation of its narratives. With no dialogue, species distinctions all but disappear and the series’ characters evoke empathy in more elemental ways. Although viewers should be wary of getting attached.
“You know how when you watch a nature show and you see a polar bear and a seal. The polar bear is cute and charming, and the seal is so cute, but for one to survive it’s gotta eat the other, and it’s horrific,” Tartakovsky said in a conversation with Variety ahead of the presentation. “We have an episode like that. We like all the characters in the show but they have to kill each other. It’s primal.”
According to Wills, nature shows were a major source of inspiration for the show.
“I sent Genndy clips from these shows all the time and said how incredible they are. I think that had a massive impact on ‘Primal,’” he remembered.
For Tartakovsky it will be the first time back on TV since the “Hotel Transylvania” series wrapped last year, and he’s enjoying being back where he cut his teeth.
“I’m super comfortable with TV, especially in my situation where I pretty much have 100% freedom,” he explained. “That’s the ideal, and I’ve been fortunate in TV to have pretty much everything I’ve done be at least somewhat successful. It feels like an old glove that fits perfectly. And I work with the same people I’ve always worked with.”
A key for the creator is not trying to fill a mold or meet an external expectation. He joked that in the past, some of his work has been accused of being “Not Genndy enough,” laughing off the notion.
“I try not to be in my head too much, I just try to do what feels right,” he simplified.
Long-time fans need not worry according to Wills, who says “Primal” will definitely be “Genndy enough.”
“I think ‘Primal’ will feel familiar to Genndy fans because there is a sensibility that runs through all of his stuff. At the same time it will feel quite different in its look and its more adult tone,” he clarified.
Another key, with “Primal” as much as any of Tartakovsky’s work, is letting the audience do some of the heavy lifting.
“Forget about the violence and stuff, there’s plenty of that to go around,” he explained. “It’s these serious themes. The biggest thing is that we trust the audience. It’s 10 episodes, no dialogue, and some of it’s pretty intense, so we are going to rely on you the audience to understand it and to pay attention.”
The crowd at Wednesday’s session was definitely paying attention as the first nearly-finished episode of the series was screened. Tickets for the event sold out almost immediately when they were made available online, and the diligent fans that made sure to get theirs were thrilled with the brutal imagery, sounds and narratives that slashed across the screen.
“Primal” will release on Adult Swim in the U.S. this fall.