EXCLUSIVE: Interview With URBANCE Creator Joel Dos Reis Viegas

A few weeks ago Steambot released a trailer for their new gang war tale titled URBANCE.  It quickly went viral on social bookmarking sites (breaking a few thousand on Reddit), and a horde of eager fanboys are anxiously awaiting the animation’s release.  Well, we were actually given the opportunity to speak with creator Joel Dos Reis Viegas about his neon lighted beauty.  Check out what he had to say about the future of URBANCE, his inspirations, and when we can expect it to release.

Joel Dos Reis Viegas calling the shots

UTF: Hi Joel, Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. When I first saw the short trailer for ‘Urbance’ online (became quite a hit on Reddit), I was floored by the animation. It seems really unique, what would you say you’re inspiration was when collaborating with Florent Auguy. Did you guys share art duties 50/50?

Hi! Thank you for having me. When Florent joined the project, I had already started a large number of concepts and model sheets for the main characters. I spent a year designing and writing the story. It was far from being perfect, but the foundation was solid. For a long time, I’ve watched Florent’s work on the internet; his style matched perfectly with the universe of Urbance. When I contacted him to see if he was interested in collaborating, he jumped on board right away. He immediately understood my expectations and blew me away with a kickass design for the character BOSS. So I decided to give him more character designs in order for me to focus more on the trailer and configure the workflow together. Because of the fact that I haven’t done any animation since Les Gobelins in 2000, doing the animation for the trailer was quite a challenge at first. Florent was a great help on the backgrounds too. Without him, I probably wouldn’t achieve this level of quality.

UTF: After watching the trailer a few times, and reading the synopsis, I immediately thought Urbance was a mix of “Tron” and “West Side Story”. If you could use two (or three or four or however many) properties in existence to explain Urbance, which would you choose?

Romeo and Juliet is undoubtedly the main reference, as I had this in mind from the beginning. You’re right; Fluorescent and neon colors do remind us of Tron. My team has worked on the film, so it probably influenced me indirectly. For the graphic style, Jet Set Radio was obvious to me; I love the videogame and its colors. I’m a big fan of Japanese animation for a long time now, especially Tekkonkinkreet which was also a springboard for me. I can also mention Takeshi Koike and Robert Valley, because of their style that I like a lot. Story wise, I can compare Urbance to Children of Men, or the world of Edena by Moebius… Worlds where the notion of survival and identity end up being transformed.

UTF: You haven’t put too much info online, and so far we only know that this story is about a “gender gang war” with women and men on opposite sides. How’d you create this idea?

Well, the idea of writing a story came from my buddies at Steambot. They were looking at some urban illustrations I made and thought it would be nice to make a story. Then I started thinking about what kind of story I can tell. The first thought that came to my mind was the mafia and the settling of scores, but it didn’t end up working. I wanted to tell a story that’s more personal, inspired from different situations I witness every day. One evening, I was watching a documentary on female gangs on TV, and thought how horrible it must be to endure initiations. Then the story idea finally came to me.

In North America, the relationship between guys and girls is very different compared to Europe. I find that Canadian women are more independent and often intimidate men. So I thought it might be cool to project into the future and create a dysfunctional world.

In North America, the relationship between guys and girls are very different from what happens in Europe. Since I live in Canada, I find that women are more independent and often intimidate men. It is increasingly difficult to find someone in our time, it’s a fact.So I found it interesting to push this context further and imagine a dysfunctional world.

UTF: Most of the characters, including the protagonist, are racially diverse, which is a stark contrast to most other  animations. Was this a deliberate way of diversifying the genre, or was it more organic and born in the early stages of the story?

The reason is simple: If you look around you, you will see a lot different skin colors. So it seems quite normal to bring this reality into the cartoon. In addition, the story takes place in a near future, where the skin color does not matter anymore. But another kind of discrimination appears, depending on whether you are a man or a woman… and all of this makes sense when reading the story. I thought this was an interesting idea because of the fact that humans never fully resolve their problems. They hide their problems by creating new ones. It is a kind of narrative anticipation, as well as science fiction, where we can imagine a devastated or colonized Earth.

UTF: More than anyone else, this is your baby, how difficult is it to collaborate with other people? Or are you a bit strict about the storyline and aesthetics.

At Steambot, we absolutely have no problem in collaborating with other people; Teamwork is the backbone of our company. We trust each other, and hence I let artists express themselves artistically as they wish. I like to take the time to communicate my ideas, and I often do paintovers. For the moment, we are only a very few artists working on Urbance. I must say I’m very picky when it comes to choosing my team members, but we are still only at the beginning of the project. I truly hope it will progress, and we will continue to surround ourselves with amazing talent.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my Steambot crew, Damien Hurgon, Eric Los and Busy P for their participation in the trailer.

UTF: When can we expect ‘Urbance’ to officially debut. Will it be a web based serial, or a feature length film?

It is still too early to tell! The trailer is only visible for one month. So far, the response has been impressive, thanks to our fans that follow us very closely on Facebook and tumblr 

We will begin fundraising the efforts. Most of the remains still have to be done but we believe we can!!!

Joel was kind enough to give us a look at some exclusive artwork and animation. Give in to your inner voyeur below.