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Joe Pearson Talks “War Of The Worlds: Goliath”

Joe Pearson Talks "War Of The Worlds: Goliath"

Joe Pearson’s War of the Worlds: Goliath begins at the tail end of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, then flashes forward fifteen years to the Martians’ inevitable return. The film is a gripping, grandiose, alien invasion extravaganza, beautifully realized via a surprisingly seamless blend of CG and hand-drawn animation. Yes, HAND-DRAWN ANIMATION. Lots of it!
With War of the Worlds: Goliath set to premier March 7 on iTunes, Dish TV, Direct TV cable VODand in select theaters in LA and NYC, I thought it would be the perfect time to tie writer-director Joe Pearson down with my endless barrage of two-part questions. I’m glad I did. Pearson not only shared a bit of the back-story for War of the Worlds: Goliath, he also detailed his long and illustrious career in the animation industry, as well as his path for breaking into the biz.
Fans of science-fiction and anime will want to stick around ’til the end, cuz that’s where Pearson lets loose with a nice, long list of his picks for Must-See SF Cartoons. It’s a great checklist for those of us who have been watching cartoons for years, and the perfect primer for folks just getting started.

Ju-osh M.: I was scrolling through your IMDB page today, and was blown away by the number of great cartoons that you’ve worked on: DuckTalesTiny ToonsRocko’s Modern Life, Phineas and Ferb — and that’s not even half of ’em! Would you tell me how you first got interested in animation, and how you went about breaking into the industry?

Joe Pearson: Thanks for the kind words about my earlier work. I would also mention two series that I produced at my studio Epoch Ink Animation — Captain Simian and the Space Monkees andRoswell Conspiracies and the Do the Evolution video for Pearl Jam. I’m very proud of all of them.

How did I get started in animation? Like most people in the industry, I grew up as a compulsive “drawer.” In the middle of my college years I decided to pursue a career as an artist and set my sights and training on being an illustrator. 

After University, I worked for 5 years as a freelance illustrator. During that time I had a number of good friends and fellow artists that were breaking into the L.A. animation industry. They were getting paid well and steadily and learning a lot on the job so I thought that all looked pretty good.  

I was heavily influenced by two “cartoony” artists at a young age, the late great Vaughn Bode and Tim Kirk (who became a personal friend and mentor) so making the move into animation felt natural.

I took a number of classes in animation layout at a local art school, Brandes, and at the Animation Union Hall, retooled my portfolio as a background/layout artist and went job hunting. After about a year I got my first serious animation job as a background artist at D.I.C. A few months after that I was the background layout supervisor for a whole series.

Ju-osh: Having worked your way up through the ranks of animation, you’ve now reached the ultimate cartoon career — the hyphenated writer-director. For your first feature film, you chose to make a sequel to H.G. Wells classic novel, The War of the Worlds. Would you please tell us (1.) a bit about War of the Worlds: Goliath, and (2.) what inspired the initial idea?

Pearson: War of the Worlds: Goliath is unique piece. It’s an animated SF steampunk war movie set in a 1914, fifteen years after the failed first Martian Invasion. Man has rebuilt and re-engineered his world using the left behind Martian mecha and technology. Teddy Roosevelt has set-up an international rapid reaction army, A.R.E.S., and is training them up for the inevitable return of the Martians. 

At the same time the tensions in Europe that lead to WW1 in our timeline are still at work and the young warriors of  A.R.E.S. have to make a decision to return home to their countries to fight each other or stick together to keep a united front against the Martian return.

Of course, the Martians do return and it’s on.

The idea was inspired by questions that the original book left hanging. Mainly, what would happen next? You know that they will invade again so what would you do? You’d pick yourself up and rebuild and re-arm and wait. And watch the skies.

Ju-osh: While the machinery and SFX in War of the Worlds: Goliath were created in CG, all of the humans (and many of the backgrounds) were done via hand-drawn animation. Personally, I prefer hand-drawn animation, but I thought that the blending of the two styles served as a nice parallel to the film’s mixture of Martian and turn of the century technology. Would you describe why you chose to use both hand-drawn and CG?

Pearson: I like your analogy. A lot of the choice to do a hybrid of CG and 2D was simply due to budget. I’m not a fan of super realistic mo-capped CG characters (and the zombie-like ‘uncanny valley’ effect) and our very modest budget couldn’t sustain a fully animated CG character style like they used on the TMNT movie so we opted to go with 2D characters and use the CG for the mecha. Also, I’m a big fan of 2D animation and want to keep it alive whenever I have the opportunity.

Ju-osh: Science fiction is a pretty popular genre in Indian, Asian and European animation, yet there is relatively little being made in the US. With film franchises like The MatrixAvatar andStar Wars making billions of dollars here in America, why do you think the studios aren’t making more sci-fi cartoons?

Pearson: It doesn’t fit into their model of proven successful releases. It’s really that simple. The studios know that they can produce, release and sell a romantic comedy, a teen comedy, a thriller, a horror movie or a big budget comic book movie or action movie.

But SF animation oriented toward teens and adults (like War of the Worlds: Goliath) has not proven to be a wide money maker. At least that’s the studio’s perception. 

Actually, I would say that there are plenty of examples of the genre that has done quite well — The Animatrix movie, the Heavy Metal movie, and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, to name a few. But the studios generally don’t want to take a risk.

Ju-osh:  Steampunk, alternate history, alien invaders…you’re clearly a serious fan of science fiction. After watching WAR OF THE WORLDS: GOLIATH, what other SF cartoons would you recommend to animation fans exploring the genre?

Pearson: There’s a lot. It’s not surprising, but most of them are anime.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Miyazaki, 1984) — The best by the best. Along with Blade Runner, my personal SF favorite in any medium.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Miyazaki, 1986) — The Master strikes again.
Akira (Otomo, 1988) — Seminal.

Animatrix (various, 2003) — Fantastic anthology.

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (1987) — Visionary.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Watanabe, 2001) — Spike and the gang on the big screen.
Tekkonkinkreet (Matsumoto, 2006) — Stunning and emotional.
Aachi & Ssipak (Beom-jin, 2009) — Amazing energy and direction. The ultimate “underground” animated feature.
Ghost in the Shell (Oshii, 1985) — !
Fantastic Planet (Laloux, 1973) — Euro-trippy
Treasure Planet (Musker & Clements, 2002) — Flawed, but gorgeous.

Crusher Joe (Yoshikazu, 1983) — Great pulp SF futuro action.
Venus Wars (Yoshikazu, 1989) — Same director as above.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (Chung, 2004) — Peter Chung!
Lensman: Secret of The Lens (Kawajiri, 1984) — Kawajiri!
9 (Acker, 2009) — Story was not too strong, but a beautifully dark world.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Timm, Radomski, 1993) — Bruce Timm and the gang.
Heavy Metal (Potterton, 1981) — Spotty, but still a classic.
Dead Space: Downfall (Patton, 2008) — Chuck Patton, Joe Goyette and JM Animation worked a miracle on an insanely tight deadline and budget.
Wonderful Days (Moon-saeng, 2003) — Poor script, but stunning animation.

These are more of an SF/Fantasy blend:

Rock & Rule (Smith, 1983) — Not perfect, but ambitious and interesting.
Wizards (Bakshi, 1977) — Same as above.

Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (Kawajiri, 2007) Kawajiri with a script by David Abramowitz. Kevin Eastman and myself were producers on this movie.
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Kawajiri, 2000) — Kawajiri, again.

And then there’s these three outstanding anime anthologies:

Robot Carnival (various, 1987)
Mani Mani (various, 1987) — Released by Streamline as Neo Tokyo)
Memories (various, 1995)
Finally, there’s my favorite OVA series — Giant Robo (Imagawa, 1992-1998) — The best of classic pulp adventure and design.


War of the Worlds: Goliath premieres March 7 on iTunes, Dish TV, Direct TV, cable VOD and in select theaters in New York City and Los Angeles. The DVD, BluRay and digital VOD releases arrive April 1.

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