That’s right, for eight years, Tartakovsky, the incredibly talented and renowned filmmaker, was sitting on his most visually striking and touching storyline to date, but after the unexpected success of the Samurai Jack reboot in 2017, he was inspired to bring that idea to life, in the form of Primal.
The intense, emotional and ultimately gripping 10-episode series — which premieres next week — highlights a truly brutal and unforgiving tale, by encapsulating what it is to live in he late-Mesozoic era.
Tartakovsky, 49, however, takes a unique fantasy fiction approach to the prehistoric time period, where before the dawn of man, one caveman exists. His name is Spear, and he’s about to meet a dinosaur on the brink of extinction: Fang.
Bonded by tragedy and fear, the unlikely duo partners up in a desperate attempt to survive the violent and primordial world that is seemingly out to get them.
Ahead of Primal‘s highly anticipated premiere next Monday, Global News sat down with Tartakovsky to chat about the show.
Global News: Primal debuts this week on Adult Swim. That’s a pretty huge deal. How are you feeling about everything right now, Genndy?
Genndy Tartakovsky: [Laughs] I feel good. Television is funny because you work, work, work, the premiere date looms, it slowly starts to come and then suddenly people are watching the show. So far it’s been great though. The reactions have been really strong. Now I’m just very excited. As much as I’ve done this before, it still feels very new to me. I always feel like my career is just starting. [Laughs]
Do the nerves still hit hard when it comes to the premiere date then?
GT: Yeah! In a way, it’s nerves, but it’s also a bit of anxiousness at the same time. We work for so long on all of this stuff, and after a while, you get really anxious to show people the product and get their reaction. There’s definitely excitement in that mix too. It’s really all of those things. We’re very proud of what we’ve done, and I think we’re just ready for it to be out for the world to hopefully enjoy.
Can you tell us more about Primal? More specifically though, how exactly a dinosaur befriends a caveman?
GT: Primal is a story of friendship and survival. Along the way, our two characters — who technically aren’t named in the show (we call them Spear and Fang) — share this insane, yet incredible experience together, where they find a mutual like among themselves. We tried not to treat them like just a man and a pet, we wanted to treat them as equals. So it’s this new take on a relationship of two equals, where one is barely man and one is a literal beast. Primal follows exactly how they survive this horrific and primordial world together.
Obviously having a man set in this Mesozoic-type time period isn’t historically accurate, but it’s fictional, right? So that’s OK, but what was it exactly that made you want to make a show that specifically takes place among prehistoric creatures?
GT: [Laughs] The show is definitely set in a fantasy prehistoric setting, because yeah, dinosaurs and man were never together in history. But this time period is always something that I’ve loved. As is fantasy. In all of my work, there’s always a hint of this almost Conan the Barbarian-type world. As an animator, I always want to set myself up to do the thing that’ll be most fun. If I want to do a crazy monkey man or something, then I want to do it. I don’t want to have any rules that might hold me back. So I always try to create a world that can facilitate my imagination, as well as something that would be super interesting for the audience at home. It’s something that really appeals to me.
It’s hard whenever you’re making something creative, because you never want to go, “Oh right! Cowboys are really popular right now, so let me just make a cowboy show.” You always want to be sincere, and the world of Primal is one that I’ve always been drawn to. It’s something brutal. There’s dinosaurs and crazy horrific creatures, but there’s also this super interesting and extremely unique relationship development.
In terms of blood and violence, Primal almost matches, if not beats, Samurai Jack. Despite being an Adult Swim show, did you have to tone anything down at all?
GT: As soon as you’re making something for Adult Swim, you know it’s going to be adult. So the blood and violence aspect came even without being said. It was almost expected. [Laughs] When we pitched the show, all we said, simply put, was there’s a dinosaur and a man who are bonded together by tragedy, and they have to survive this violent world together, and sometimes that means they have to find a way to get along and cooperate, but most of the time that means there’s something from in this world that’s trying to kill them or eat them. It’s all part of the nature of Primal. I wanted it that way so that it would be related to the title of the show. We wanted everything to be brutal, simplistic and raw. While the violence is a big part of the show, I think people will come to realize, when they watch it, that it’s only one aspect of the show. We didn’t do violence just for the sake of having violence. It just fits into the whole idea of what we’re trying to do and what Primal encapsulates.
You told this entire story using no dialogue whatsoever, right? Which obviously you’ve done before with Samurai Jack, among other things, but this is next level.
GT: Well, there’s yelling and grunting. [Laughs] But yes, there’s absolutely no words.
Did you find that to be a daunting task at all?
GT: It’s funny because it actually wasn’t the most daunting or challenging part, it felt like it was almost second nature for us. Probably because it’s a muscle that we’ve used so much before, like you said for example, in [Samurai] Jack. But whenever we were trying to develop a storyline that wasn’t just pure violence, it did beg the question, “How do we translate this across to the audience?” Because it can’t all just be action, action, action. [Laughs] So that became a really interesting concept for us, and made it so much more exciting to do all of those sequences.
Throughout this process, we always had the thought of, “How could we challenge ourselves to tell more complex stories?” And as the stories in Primal progress, they start to get pretty complicated — especially towards the end. We were amazed that the more we avoided dialogue, the more the characters came alive. It wasn’t a hurdle at all, it was actually something that was helping us. It really helped guide the stories along and exactly what kind of stories we want to tell. Thinking about the storytelling from a visual point of view is really natural. [Laughs] And that should be natural in all filmmaking. It truly helped guide us.
When you came back to Adult Swim in 2017 with the Samurai Jack reboot, the reception was astounding. Did that positive reaction inspire you to create Primal, or has this been a long time coming? I ask because the two shows seem very similar — most notably in terms of art style, the swift storytelling and the action sequences.
GT: Well it’s funny you say that, because I’ve had this show idea in different iterations for about eight years, but nothing ever clicked. After we did Samurai Jack, the amazing feedback mostly rooted from the visual sequences, whether it was the fights, the long-distance walking, or the dark scenes and action-packed clips — that’s where we got the strongest reaction. So it slowly started to hit me after that. I started thinking, “Theoretically, I can take all of the best visual elements from Samurai Jack and put them together in a series. [Laughs] So that was the biggest overall inspiration of how we were going to do it.
Then I remembered I already had the idea of a caveman who doesn’t talk and his dinosaur friend. It was a eureka moment. It just sounded really exciting, so I pitched it to Mike Lazzo — who was my boss on [Samurai] Jack and even went as far back as Dexter[‘s Laboratory] — and he loved it. I did a storyboard for the first episode exactly how it would be, because I wasn’t even sure if I could do it, but when I did it and showed it to him, he was like, “This is great, let’s just do it.” But yeah, you’re exactly right, Primal was totally inspired from the success of the last season of Samurai Jack.
Would you like to think that Primal will have a second season?
GT: As far as a second season goes, it’s all going to be based off of how things go. Getting good ratings, the show succeeding, the characters coming to life, and just being popular overall. [Laughs] So of course we’ll have to wait and see, but I will say that I know the network is super happy about it. They’ve been so incredibly supportive of us this whole time.
What can viewers expect from Spear and Fang in Primal‘s debut season next Monday?
GT: People should expect a crazy amount of brutality, [Laughs] and changes… there’s lots of progression. Through these 10 episodes, we’re going to see Spear and Fang grow together as best friends… and ultimately as a family. Sometimes one has to save the other to survive, but sometimes they have to work together too, and sometimes they even have to make sacrifices. Season 1 is really going to focus on their arc and evolution as characters among everything else that happens. I can’t say too much, but it does get really insane, really intense, and we’re even going to learn a little bit about their history before they met.
We’ve packed a lot into 10 episodes, and the beauty of it is that each one is completely different from the next. We don’t even have two episodes that are remotely similar. They’re all so unique in their own way. It really helps with the story we’ve been trying to tell. It’s honestly one of the most exciting things that I’ve ever worked on, and I cannot wait for people to see it, because where it goes in the end, I believe, will be very unexpected.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
Primal premiered on Oct. 4 at 12:01 a.m. on the official Adult Swim website.
You can also catch the live TV premiere on Oct. 7, at 12:01 a.m. ET on Adult Swim.
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