Don’t let the name fool you, Joel Dos Reis Viegas is très French, as evidenced by the way hip hop as “eep op” and agency as “ahjensee.” And he’s the brains behind the new animation concept, Urbance.
It hasn’t graced your screens yet, but there are already blogs dedicated to the cartoon and the Facebook fan page has more than 6,000 fans. The bright colors and interesting concept of men versus women have captured the attention of many animation lovers online.
How would you describe Urbance?
How could I explain Urbance? I would like to say that Urbance is a young adult animation series that I’m trying to realize and produce based on what I’ve realized in the past seven years watching men and women evolving together in society. Something cool for young and trendy people.
How did you come up with the idea of an urban gender war storyline?
Um, the idea of gender war came probably four years ago. I was working at ADOS Montreal, which is a video game company. And I was just chatting with my friend and partner at SteamBot studios—my company—Sebastian Larroudé ; we were just chatting about trying to creating a cool concept to start with based on the hip hop characters I was painting at the time.
I’m white, I’m a white guy, but I’m really influenced by black, Chinese, Indian, cultures. I really wanted to create something cool, like having a strong concept.
I was chatting with Sebastian, he just told me one sentence; try to figure out what’s the most important thing you experience now days.
And I said wow, I’m here, I’m in Canada, and one of the most difficult things that I, not difficult, but most impacting things that I can see now is the difference of, I would like to say, independence between guys and girls. So I thought about, “Wow, it could be nice to have guys on one side and girls on the other side.”
The idea came up like that, by working and chatting with my friend.
There’s a lot of different things. Of course I would like to make it fit around this concept. I’m still focusing on the division between guys and girls. How to make it credible, how to explain and make it believable in terms of possibility in the future. To make something accurate.
Also there’s the question of homosexuality, and this is probably the biggest topic and the most risky for now.
I try to balance everything How to balance guys and girls dancing, communication fighting, happiness, a pretty tough subject and homosexuality.
I’m certainly intrigued by that, how homosexuality is perceived by people besides me.
All these questions are really important for me, so now I’m trying to see what direction I should take. So this trailer is a perfect occasion for me to gauge what’s going on in the minds of people, guys or girls, young or old.
How has the online community and posting your progress on the Internet contributed to the support for Urbance?
I was pretty surprised when I started to put the trailer online. I had a lot of positive comments. Probably 80 percent of people really appreciated it, and about 10 percent people were really concerned about the question of homosexuality.
At first I was a bit disturbed, but now I see that people were just really concerned.
I think overall it’s really positive. People are expecting a great animation, and appreciate the originality of the concept, even if it’s a bit tricky, risky, whatever.
How long have you been working on Urbance?
I would like to say four years. On the trailer, for about two years. It was only a work I did at night or on the weekend, so it’s still not my fulltime job.
But I’m not alone… (in reference to working with his partners at SteamBot)
What made you want to go with a very flashy animation style for this story?
About the colors, first I thought that in the opposite of, I would like to say, a heavy subject, I thought that it was nice and smart to have bright colors and a positive mood in this world.
We could imagine that we’re following the lives of young people, trying to live their last years of life ‘cause there’s no hope, there’s no sexuality. So they go far in things, do party hard, they do live pretty intensely.
What I wanted to do with the colors was apply soft colors to the guys’ gangs. For example, if you look at Kenzell, the main character, he has purple eyes, purple lips a lot of soft colors on him.
In the opposite; the girls have pretty intense and saturated colors. Lesya, she’s the girl who’s falling in love, she has like…fire pants and she’s dressed in green. She has red and orange colors everywhere.
I like this contrast. Having “metrosexual” colors for the guys and intense, masculine colors for the girls. I thought that was a good match. Even if people don’t necessarily pay attention to that, they can feel that.
Do you have an expected date for it to air on TV?
This is the biggest question. Urbance is a totally independent project. Even if it’s under the good vibes of SteamBot Studios. We’re trying to get it on TV. So now we have two producers working on that. One is based in the U.S. and the other one in Europe. Now I’m trying to find the perfect distributor to get the deal. It’s shaping up nicely. It should be a couple of months to see the production starting. Fingers crossed.
Even if the project is not in production yet, we try as much as possible to show the trailer as much as possible. The trailer will be participating in the Toronto Animation Festival in July, and animation festival in France too. And we’re thinking about the Korean one.
What other projects have you worked on?
Basically, I’ve done a lot of work for video games. I worked on James Cameron’s Avatar, the video game, and Naruto Rise of the Ninja game. I did work in animation too, for example SkyLand, a 3D animation series produced by a French company.
My company did work on Tron: Legacy and Prometheus.
I’m working for different commercials, TV series and video game productions. Video games is what I’ve done for the last 15 years.
What inspired you to create Steambot Studios?
It’s officially been a studio, for seven years. First time I came to Montreal, for real, I met my friends, who are now my partners now. We were working at Ubisoft-everyone was working at Ubisoft back in the days. We just decided to start a company because we felt we had a good fitting, a good vibe working together. So SteamBot Studios, seven years ago, at first it was an association of artists.
Then it became more serious. We created an artbook, Exodessy. And we started to have some clients. We just decided to do some science fiction and try to unify our visual styles to create something bold. And now we have clients. And I’m a fulltime employee of SteamBot Studios.
So yeah the adventure started seven years ago.
What is the working environment like at SteamBot?
It’s brand new. For example we have new offices. Basically working at steamboat, for me is a bit different for me than my partners. I try to save enough time to work on Urbance. So basically I’m doing like, half-time contract, making money for myself. And saving time, equal time, it’s extremely important, to work on Urbance. So for now, it’s a really friendly and happy place in Montreal where I can work with my three other partners, all concept artists. And we have fun working together on contracts.
We have two partners in Austin, also in Los Angeles and Montreal. So we can count eight people total in this agency. It’s still a small visual agency.
What’s kept you in the business for so long?
For me, animation is something coming from long ago. I finished my animation degree in 2000.
Finished, started to work in 3D animation. Back in the days, it was the only thing that was rewarding that you could get paid for. Then I decided to switch and do something totally different; concept art. And now I’m coming back to animation
For me, Urbance it’s a challenge. Before Urbance, I didn’t animate since 2000. So it’s like a test for me.
But I love animation, I grew up on it and I’m a fan of U.S. , animation and Russian, Japanese and French too.
For the trailer, I did animate everything by myself. I was a bit scared at first, ‘cause I wanted to hire a team of people stronger than me to do it. But no one was available, and as usual you do things by yourself. But now I can say I’m pretty proud of the quality of the animation. But it took me months and months to do it.
Why do you like animation as an art form?
I think animation, it’s probably, right after comic books, it’s most interactive and direct way to, I would like to say, provide reactions, emotions. Despite music, despite, I would like to say, all the fireworks you can have in movies.
I think it’s not related to the technique either. Just with a pencil and just with a paper, you’re able to create emotions for the people watching it.
You can do a lot. That’s why I love animation.
Urbance hasn’t aired yet, and people are already creating fan sites and fan art and are cosplaying the characters. Why do you think fans are so excited for the show?
I have to say that I was impressed to see people to cosplay or make fan art for Urbance.
I think what makes it possible is when you create unique and recognizable features. When you’re able to analyze and synthesize the whole character or a whole costume with just a few strokes and lines, it’s pretty easy for people to reproduce them.
I was always thinking about that. I think that’s one of the successes of Urbance.
Why do you think people are so interested in Urbance? What about the story do you think resonates with them?
Basically, it’s about a guy and a girl falling in love together, but unfortunately, they’re not allowed to live their love like they should. It’s a modern day Romeo and Juliet.
Basically it’s about accepting others, accepting differences and fighting society’s codes and prejudice.
It will be a mix of adventure. I can’t give you too much of a hint, but guys and girls, a divided society…I can’t reveal too much.
What is something you have learned about the creative process in general that you want to share with people?
What I learned about creating this trailer is how to handle a tricky subject and turn it into a nice trailer. What was difficult—and I learned a lot—was how to make it consistent; how to bring colors, all these crazy animations, all these visual codes and make it bold and homogenous. It was how to consolidate crazy ideas coming from everywhere and make it believable. And sell it.
And now, the new challenge is how to make it consistent for the future. And I’m still learning. But I have a team for that now, so that’s good.