RollBots Recap: 106 "Inside Outside Upside Down"

MCMSaturday, March 21, 2009

Every week, I’m going to try and give you some inside information about episodes of RollBots, so you can see the things that went into producing each story. You should probably watch the episode first (probably won’t have a choice, since these posts won’t go live until after the episode airs).

106 is one of those episodes that makes me smile. We wanted to create a new character that had a history with Manx, and make him totally different than the other characters in the series so far. We knew it'd have something to do with something hidden in Pengi Park, but we weren't sure how it would all fall into place. The writer of the episode, Mark Leiren-Young (whose excellent moving The Green Chain is playing in Victoria this weekend) wrote to me in January 2007 for some insights into the character. Just to give you an idea of how much things have evolved, here is part of my reply...

Not really any thoughts specifically. Phaze was actually thrown in very late in the game. The original ORIGINAL idea for this ep involved a new recruit who could screw around with reality. So keeping in mind that we have another character later who has multiple personalities, go wild with Phaze and make him as crazy as you can.

So as you can see, if you give a good writer enough freedom, they can turn a vague idea into a mohawk-sporting, claw-clomping psychopath with an empty hole in his head for storing deadly magnets. That's a good thing, see.

I know I say this a lot, but Pengi Park was one of those things I came up with early in the conceptual process that I desperately wanted to see in action. What you see in this episode is actually half the park. In my head when I started this, it seemed like a city built in the sky with trax connecting platforms wouldn't have a linear park. They'd have multiple levels with dropchutes and other cool features. It took a few tries before we got it right, but the final version looks really good. But in this ep, we stick to the one level, because the lower one would be hard to integrate into the story (logistically).

One thing I've been meaning to cover is the notion of acting roles. Each episode has its own budget for actors, and we have to make sure we keep within the bounds of what we can afford. So you obviously have Spin in each episode, plus Penny and Tinny and Pounder and the henchbots. Sometimes you can double up actors, so they do one major character, and then take on a minor secondary role for free. But each time you add a character that speaks more than a certain number of words, you're paying them a chunk of your allowance. It can get tricky very easily.

In this episode, Penny is reduced to an also-ran, because the addition of Phaze and Bunto (the losery Kei'zatsu in the park) were pushing us over-budget. Lance is only in there because Scott McNeill plays Phaze as well (FYI: Scott is also in The Green Chain. wink wink, nudge nudge). By the time you finish your script, you have to go back and make sure it's affordable. Sometimes that requires some nasty surgery. Sometimes it's just a question of cutting certain characters back until they meet a certain standard. Either way, it's hard work.

One last thing about Phaze: if you look at his legs, he's got funky joints going on. One of Andy King's favourite things to do on the show was coming up with crazy new features for bots, and Phaze had those legs. There was a lot of debate as to how feasible they were going to be in action, but I'm happy to see the animators figured it out, because it's really worthwhile (IMHO).

Programming note: for those of you in Toronto, if you go and see Monsters vs Aliens in a large-ish theatre this Friday, you should see our theatrical RollBots trailer, which I painstakingly cut together a few weeks ago. It's also playing at Gloucester 5 in Ottawa. I won't get to see it on the big screen myself, so everyone please tell me how it looks :)

Next week is another Koto episode, and it has the first of the Major Story Arc Elements in it. Be prepared!

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