‘Pantheon’ proves animation belongs in live-action drama

Of i robot and bicentenary man at Transcendence and His, for decades, artificial intelligence has been luring film and television creators like bears to honey. But very few animations – except maybe ghost in the shell – celebrated the exploration of AI as the main plot. And even fewer are rooted in everyday domestic life, departing from the usual action-packed fantasy narrative that the AI ​​lends itself to for any storytelling, let alone animated.

But AMC Studios Pantheoncreated by The invisible Man and RoundCraig Silverstein not only takes the concept of artificial intelligence to the next level by exploring “user interface” or “downloaded intelligence”, but does so with a fast-paced, dialogue-centric story. At least, at first.

“In a very domestic and emotionally grounded way, he looks at this subject through the lens of family,” says Silverstein of Pantheon“I had never seen that before.”

Released with a two-part premiere on AMC+ this Thursday, September 1, Pantheon follows two separate but related stories of the characters Maddie and Caspian. The series will also premiere on AMC’s newly acquired anime streaming service, HIDIVE, with a new episode airing every Thursday on AMC+ and HIDIVE.

In the series, Maddie, a high school student and tech extraordinaire, lost her father two years ago and lives with her mother, who has only recently begun to emotionally recover from her husband’s death. Maddie, on the other hand, is far from recovered; she is also the victim of callous cyberbullying at school. When offered help from a mysterious stranger who contacts her on her computer via emojis, Maddie wonders if her father is really dead or if her former employers at chip company Logorhythms are holding her spirit hostage.

Maddie goes to a public chatroom to see if she can give credence to her theory, which is where she meets Caspian, a hacking prodigy and social underdog who appears to be a genius trapped in a foster home. abusive and unstable. But all is not as it seems. As Caspian and Maddie try to dig into Logorhythms’ business exploits, they discover they’re both at the center of a much larger conspiracy.

“When Craig came to see us in 2018, it was a surprise on all fronts,” says Juno Lee, vice president and supervising director of Titmouse, the animation studio behind Pantheon. “First of all, AMC isn’t really known for doing animation, but their content is really cool and they’re known for great drama. So when I saw the pitch for this show, I wondered. I was like, “This will never be picked up.” It was too good to be true. A topic like this is usually reserved for live action. No one really thinks about it for animation, at least not in the U.S. But we were hoping that one day we could work on something like this, and it happened.

Silverstein himself was even skeptical about whether or not the show would have the legs to stand on its own as such a different type of animation amid the vast, high-grossing live-action blockbusters it shared similar themes with.

“There was a cycle of short stories by Ken Liu, which is brilliant, and they were given to me in 2018 by AMC and I watched them and at first I thought it looked like science fiction lo-fi,” says Silverstein. “But, at the same time, I was specifically looking for something to work in adult animation and suddenly saw that it could be this bridge to something that starts out like it could have been live action and then grows and grows until we are well past the point where it could have been achieved other than through animation.

He adds, “But, when the script was submitted, there wasn’t a lot of adult entertainment here in Hollywood. And so, it was a process of going around and meeting different animation houses and trying to educate ourselves on how that world works. I didn’t know anything about that. I was just a fan. And then ended up in a conference room in Titmouse. I met Juno and we were off.

Although animation is a medium, many storytellers seek to bring great action-packed shows to life on a limited budget, Pantheon – though filled with plenty of stunning imagery as the series progresses – aims to prove that animation is just as powerful as a storytelling tool for slow-paced scenes and conversations between characters.

“We had to flex all these other muscles that we were never asked to flex; be more cinematic, take longer to tell the story, long shots of people talking,” says Lee of Titmouse Animation Production for Pantheon. “The pacing was much slower than what we’re usually allowed to do for a 22-minute episode. These are things you’re not supposed to do in TV animation. It was thrilling and scary at the same time. . »

Lee says one of the biggest challenges for Pantheon maintained visual interest in these slow-paced moments in the series. Whereas in live-action the still, still-talking characters show movement, whether in natural facial twitches or whipped hair, in 2D animation, where the stills are just that – again – l he team knew this was, as Craig puts it, “a bet we went into with our eyes open. Even using close-up shots, or ‘nowhere to run’ shots as Lee puts it, which minimize the distractions in the background, in the end, the team had to trust the story and believe that the audience would also trust the story.

“Because the show is going crazy,” Silverstein warns. “It’s getting surreal, it’s getting bigger. And when you’re there, there’s no turning back. And so, we wanted to start with a base of reality, and really establish that so that when he starts to take the leap, the audience goes with him. I expect people to ask the question, “Why is it animated?” and we were prepared for that for the first episode or two. The answer will come.

Lee adds, “We needed contrast and to juxtapose what’s going to happen later with where we started.”

But more than just wanting a non-traditional basis for their animated story – the visuals were inspired by the surreal but grounded Japanese films of Makoto Shinkai and Satoshi Kon – Silverstein also saw the show’s potential as a metaphor for the human condition. that every person faces every day.

“I think science fiction sometimes offers a complex or heightened solution to problems that we all face, that we all relate to, and this story is in that tradition,” he says. “Maddie has this problem of being bullied, but she has a much bigger problem, which is that she’s still dealing with the grief of losing her father. And this sci-fi solution comes along, but it’s a brand of “be careful what you wish for” solution. Caspian’s story is a bit more complicated. And it’s starting to unravel. But every teenager faces some form of something that weighs on him, and that can still seem very dramatic. And our leads are no different. It’s just that the forces on them are 10 times greater.

Silverstein and Lee’s main wish for Pantheon is that it’s leading the charge for more creators to blend Hollywood live-action dramatic writing with animated visuals, rather than concluding that the two should be kept separate. “The big hope is that it opens the door for more shows like this in different genres and different settings, just more animated 2D dramas for adults,” says Silverstein.

Lee adds, “My hope for the show is that there is a place for something like this and that it opens the floodgates to see adult animation not just as prime-time comedy, gratuitous violence or something like that. It’s another medium that we can use to tell all kinds of stories.

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Victoria Davis is a full-time freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She reported many stories ranging from activist news to entertainment. To learn more about his work, visit victoriadavisdepiction.com.