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With names like Daniel Dae Kim, Katie Chang, Paul Dano, Aaron Eckhart, Rosemarie DeWitt, Taylor Schilling and William Hurt in his final role, AMC’s new show, Pantheon, promises stellar voice acting in a twisting sci-fi tale based on award-winning author Ken Liu’s collection of short stories. The creative team reaches across the globe to come together to create the various worlds within the show. We got a chance to sit down with the writer, creator, and showrunner of Pantheon, Craig Silverstein, to get some insights into the story about to unfold.
What drew you to this story?
“I was actively looking to do something in animation, adult animated drama, and I was looking for a story or a piece of material that could suit the type of tone I was after, something that started grounded and exploded in scale as it went on…”
How did the story evolve from story to screen?
“The pilot pretty much stayed the same all the way through, and the story when we were in the middle of breaking the first season, which was supposed to be ten episodes, there was a point at which I called AMC and I said, ‘This is eight episodes.’ I don’t know how much it changed. The first draft of the series bible, where we said ‘this is where the story might go’, we pretty much stuck to it. Although so much stuff changed, it wasn’t so written in stone. And we knew that. It was much more of a promise than anything else. But the other thing is that it was so long ago, I submitted that in Spring of 2018, I don’t even remember what I said would be happening near the end. Everything goes crazy. And it does, we still go nuts at the end.”
What is your favourite part of the world within the story?
“The story moves through so many different tones and worlds. I think that my favourite part is when we’re actually in a place where we’re cutting between those worlds within a sequence. That’s when I feel the show most coming alive. When we’re in a bedroom in Sacramento, California, and then all of a sudden we’re in some fantasy landscape because it’s this virtual thing, and then we’re halfway around the globe in a high-tech facility spying on both of those places. That’s where I get the buzz of feeling all of these different worlds working in sync with each other. The fourth episode of the season, there are sections of it that really do that for me, and that’s where I feel that the show is really in its best gear.”
What are you most excited for with the show?
“The thing I’m most excited for is to contribute to this, what I hope is, just a first wave of adult animated hour-long dramas. There’s only a handful. I’m excited to see if it reaches audiences, and if they say, ‘We want this kind of thing more.’ I just hope we’re able to open a door for more of these types of shows. We have plenty of great adult animated comedies, and very few adult animated dramas. We have to catch up to Japan and France and some countries that have a lot more and for a long time.”
How is creating an animated show different from creating live action?
“I’ll start with the ways it’s the same. Writing the scripts was virtually identical. With the animation directors, it didn’t occur to me to write any differently. Then the process is much longer in animation, much, much longer. And it is a very iterative process. As opposed to shooting on the day and then assembling a cut out of dailies (a compilation of everything shot on a day of filming) and seeing what we got on that day, we’re actually able to change the shots later in the animatic process. That was new for me. That was exciting.
“On this project, it was my first time working in animation. It is also my first time doing completely virtual, completely remote, production. So there’s some things that I don’t know: what’s the difference between live action and animation, and what’s the difference between filming something completely virtual, completely remote.”
What has been your biggest takeaway from working on the show?
“A couple of things: working with other writers in a virtual, zoom experience is really difficult. It was super hard for me. The other is how incredibly talented all these artists from all over the world are, that contribute their art and animation.
“As animation tastes have changed, people are more into 3D animated stuff. There are fewer and fewer people who specialise in hand-drawn, 2D animation. And those specialists live everywhere. Titmouse, the animation company, accesses them everywhere. Seeing all that art be pulled into the centre of gravity and created, I thought that was just amazing, and it made me excited and hopeful for someone, me or anybody else, doing one of these shows. They might take a long time, but they are very cost-effective to make. So I would just encourage everyone to do it, and I would love to do more of it.”
Do you know how many different countries were involved?
“I don’t have a list of the number, but I know there are a lot. There are people all over the [United States], Australia. One of our lead animatic editors was in Australia, Chris. We had some key animators in Spain and the Netherlands. Obviously, the bulk of the animation is produced in Korea from two different animation houses. The 3D animation that’s used for vehicles and stuff like that is a house out of Nepal. There are people in France, which has a great animation community. Probably even more places than I know.
“Doing something remote like this, I have not met so many of the people I’ve worked with in person. I find out months in, talking to some art coordinator that they were in St. Louis or Portland, or something like that. And I just didn’t know. I thought they were just down the street in Hollywood or something. I’d love to figure that out, how many countries were ultimately touched in the production. It’s a lot.”
Do you foresee more animated shows going forward with more virtual collaboration?
“I think so. They got it down to a real science. I think that because animation can be produced so efficiently virtually, I bet they’ll begin to do it like that. I think a lot of the production staff on this show, and artists maybe prefer it. I know that when there were certain opportunities to get back to the office, of which Titmouse has several, I think people didn’t want to come back. They wanted to stay. I personally did want to be back, but even so I’m off starting on some new shows as well, and those are still virtual. It could keep going.
“For animation, we recorded these actors all over the world. Paul Dano was living in one place; he was shooting Batman in London, recording from there. [When] there were people recording, there were several time-zone issues we had. Daniel Dae Kim was in Hawaii for a bit. That was a big boon for the actors. They could record from home. I think it will, maybe, revolutionise that industry.”
What’s next for you?
“Right now, just finishing the second season of Pantheon. Then I’ve started to work on a couple new shows, new to me. I’ve joined a very talented writer/producer, Jon Steinberg, on a show on FX called The Old Man, which is going through its second season on Hulu. Also, a show that is shooting now, Percy Jackson and the Olympians for Disney+. So back into live action, but I would definitely go back to animation if they would have me. But these are really exciting shows, and I’m psyched to be back on set.”
Silverstein urges viewers to not judge the show based on appearances. “You may ask yourself, when you watch the show, ‘Why is this animated?’, watching the first couple episodes. Hang on, because it starts getting crazy and it doesn’t stop getting crazier. I hope audiences will be glad that it started at the deliberate pace it begins. It really enriches the characters and allows us to be with them when we go to all these nutty places.”
“So, get ready for the crazy twists and turns of the show. Technology really stretches the limits of what humanity can accomplish. Whether it’s the in-story idea of uploaded intelligence in cloud storage, or the real-world collaboration of dozens of creatives from across the world coming together to create the show, we’re all connected.”
‘Pantheon’ premiers on AMC+ on September 1