Exclusive: David Colman - Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters

Exclusive Interview with Art Director David Colman
Interview by Jamie Ruby
Written by Jamie Ruby

Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel MastersOne of The Hub's newest series, Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, premiered this weekend. The new original animated series is a re-imagination of the Wizards of the Coast trading card game, Duel Masters.

The series follows the adventures of Ray, voiced by Scott Wolf, a fourteen year-old with the ability to tame and duel alongside fantastical creatures that come from a parallel universe. He is helped by his friends Allie (Kari Wahlgren) and Gabe (Phil LaMarr) to stop the evil forces, the Choten, that seek to capture and enslave the creatures, as well as to maintain the crumbling veil between the worlds and keep the creatures from Earth. To do so they must master the art of Kaijudo.

The new series also features multi-platform entertainment for the whole family, including an online game and a trading card game.

Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel MastersEmmy winning character designer David Colman serves as art director on the new series. Working in the animation industry for ten years, he has worked for clients such as Disney Feature Animation, Disney TV, Sony Pictures Animation, Cartoon Network, and 20th Century Fox, to name just a few.

The artist is also known for his animal character work, which includes four publications on animal character design.

In a recent exclusive interview, David Colman talked to Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision about his work on Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters.

Colman started working on Kaijudo when he was first approached two years ago. "I was called in about two years ago, along with the story editor Andrew Robinson, to develop it for American television. The card game has such a big following; it's a huge brand with Wizards of the Coast. I think that they just wanted to create a series out of something that is such a wonderful property, that has such a rich deep mythology."

There were difficulties in developing the series at the beginning. "The real difficulty was, "how are we going make it an animated series?" Especially because the cards are more from an illustrative approach, and for animation things have to be very streamlined and simplified for the sake of production efficiency, budget, animation, and so on and so forth."

As the art director, Colman oversees the overall look of the series. "As art director, there're many facets to that position, but with this show particularly, I didn't provide all the original main characters, but I created the overall look of the animated series. So everything from color keys and color theory to apply to the show, to the environments, backgrounds, all the different creature realms, the characters, the show style, that comes down in terms of the actual shape design. The shape vocabulary I set up that is consistant throughout the series in terms of characters, backgrounds, and even the color approach."

Colman designed the look of most of the characters. ""[There] are these three kids who are our hero characters. There are these monks that train them - it's a way of a character being grouped with their own creature to do what's called "duelling," to basically save mankind, because there's a parallel universe of the creature realm and a human realm, and the villain is trying to tear down the Veil that stands inbetween them so he can of course take over the world. And then also our hero kids who are being trained by these monks to help protect mankind, save the world and keep that veil up, and they do so with little battles called "[duels]."

"The monks, the order of these five civilizations, and our three hero kids, they're all new characters, along with the villain, and a few other of his I could say henchmen or sidekicks, and then the kids have their own creatures that they're paired up with, and as well as the monks...those are all original designs.

"With the monks what we did is we tried to reuse a lot of the more popular creatures that are from the Duel Master's playing card game, because we all wanted to bring justice to the brand, and not lose the built in market that you have with that brand already.

"So we've used a lot of creatures and even creatures in different episodes from the existing card game. That way, we bridge the gap, and there's definitely a consistancy between the brand and the show and we don't lose that relationship."

Even with maintaining the brand, as the series is based on a card game, some things had to by necessity be changed, but there were some things that they kept. "What we did with this show is that we actually took the rules of the card game and omitted the actual card from the show, and worked it into the actual mythos of the show. So all the rules and guidelines that come with the cards are actually written into the story lines of the show, so it's a seamless transition, but it's not like we're watching kids just playing the card game."

Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel MastersColman has a variety of roles to fill in the production, but loves it, and has learned a lot from it. "The one thing I have to say is that I haven't really been as passionate about a project in a long time. I've been working in animation entertainment for 10 years and I'm very proud of what I've done. I believe in this wholeheartedly and I really care about this project.

"I've learned that I've gotten pretty good at juggling many plates in the air once. I have to juggle quite a few different things because I'm managing the production team in Korea. So I've had supervisor roles before, but managing an entire team has been kind of a challenge, but I think my experience with teaching has definitely helped in this medium and in this position."

The artist has also learned that he cannot always be as picky as he would like. "I've also learned that I have to let some things go, you know, step back and look at the forest and not focus on a single tree. What I mean by that, is that I'm very picky and meticulous about things, and because I'm creating the whole look of the show, sometimes things don't work out the way you want them to, whether in the translation for a different culture that's helping produce and make the show, or just in terms of, due to efficiency and budget and so on and so forth, things get lost metaphorically in translation. And when I see it on screen, or things comes back, I might have gotten a little upset. And I've learned that, you know what, that ship has sailed, and chances are no one else is going to notice it.

"So I think with me I've learned to really step back and take a little more of a global approach with things instead of being so meticulous and picky."

One of the things that were important to Colman early on was that the look of the series was unique. "I've been an illustrator for quite some time and I've worked on many projects, but it was a matter of trying to find something that was original. I didn't want to make an anime style show, and I didn't want to make an action show that I felt looked like all other action shows. I really pushed for some original artistic direction, drawing on my influence of...French comics.

"I'm a big fan of Jamie Hewlett first of all, who you know if you're familiar [with the] Gorillaz and Tank Girl. [There are also a] few other French comics artists, specifically Claire Wendling; I'm inspired by her greatly. I really like a lot of those styles of art in terms of character; [they] have a lot of character or characture and personality in the face. I feel that will allow for a little bit more acting and a little bit more interesting play between our characters, even with the creatures, making their face a vehicle to portray a lot more acting and emotion giving them a bit more personality.

"There are a lot of other action shows in the past that we feel can be a little bit limited, I should say. Beautifully designed, but limited in terms of where we can come across with some really nice animation, and really get to understand the personality and the personal narrative of the character.

"So with the actual character design, that was something that I went for. In the actual look of the worlds it was just a matter of creating something that was artistically different, using things like a lot of lost and found edges that you get with a lot more older artistic principles and designers like Hans Bacher, who did a lot of design for films of the great animation kings of Disney as well. And to create a different shape language for each creature realm, I really drew upon a lot of different techniques, and things that I've been inspired by before, even the paintings of someone like John Singer-Sargeant, or the fantasy art of Frank Frazetta."

Besides the great artwork and action, the series also deals with some important issues, such as bullying. "I think the underlying reason is we want to address social issues that are current - we don't want to do things are very dated and almost antique thinking - and also things that relate, that we can kind of educate our younger audience about, but at the same time deal with important social issues that will grip an older audience.

"Our demographic is obviously the younger [audience], 6 to 14, but we're also saying 35 and above, because the story lines in there are just fantastic, and the visuals might bring the people to the show, but the story lines are what're going to keep people there.

Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters"And by addressing such serious issues like bullying and a lot of other things like animal cruelty, things like that like what's wrong with that in our society. We really kind of make the show a little bit more than just an animated series."

Colman looks forward to people seing the originality of the look of the series, and he also hopes that it will spark kids' imaginations. "Originality...that's the quest for any artist, so I don't just want to create something new for this company, a brand that can go on and be enjoyed by generations on, but specifically also I feel I've created a lot of worlds that take place in natural environments, and one thing I've done, is I've created these creatures that are part of a living environment basically, that all of a sudden you look in the background and something moves, and you're like, "That mountain just moved." Well it's not a mountain it's a giant dragon, because I feel that today kids are focused too much inside, and although I want them to watch our show and play our games, I feel that their imagination is being stifled by just sitting in front of a television or the video games. I want them to get outside and explore their surroundings a little bit more, like if an earthquake happens, they might say, "Oh wow, I wonder if that's a duel going on in the creature realm, I wonder if Bob, who's one of our big characters, is battling one of the Choten's imprisoned creatures."

"...I really want to stimulate the audience's imagination and kind of inspire them to educate themselves a little bit more of their surroundings and the natural environment that we all grow up in. We don't have to just be; we aren't just entertained by man-made products anymore."

The artist is happy with the creation. "I'm very proud of this show; it's really very different than any other action show or fantasy show on TV."

You can catch Kaijudo Saturday evenings at 8pm ET/PT on The Hub.

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