EXCLUSIVE: ‘ThunderCats’ Producer On Redesigning The Cast, Absent Characters, Tygra’s Whip, More…

It’s official: The ThunderCats are on the move. Yes, the ThunderCats are loose.

This week’s reveal of the first official image from the new “ThunderCats” animated series has quickly made Warner Bros. Animation’s upcoming reboot of the late-’80s cartoon one of the week’s biggest topics here on Splash Page. The new image debuted just a day after a blurry photo of a “ThunderCats” promotional poster found its way online, and gave us the first good look at how Lion-O, Panthro, Cheetara, and Tygra will appear in the series.

Given the volume of questions the new image has prompted around the ’net, we’re excited to bring you an exclusive interview with “ThunderCats” producer Ethan Spaulding, who gave us the inside scoop on the redesign and what it means for the much-anticipated animated series.

MTV NEWS: First off, tell me about the general idea going into the redesign process. How did you approach the task of changing the characters’ appearance for a new generation while staying true to the original series’ fans?

ETHAN SPAULDING: We decided that it would be best to keep the core character traits of all the characters — specifically their colors — so at first glance you can tell who each one of them is. We really kept that core spirit of all the characters and just updated them with a little more realistic armor, and some of the ’80s aspects — like Lion-O’s exposed midriff. The original designs are great, but the world we have going on in this story, we had to fit our designs to that story, so that was our overall impetus.

MTV: Everyone’s asking about the anime vibe in the image. Will the series have an anime feel to it? Does the anime vibe extend beyond the character designs?

SPAULDING: [It will extend to] the visual storytelling as well. The original show was done in Japan, and many people probably don’t know that. A lot of the artists went on to be in Studio Ghibli, and worked on [Hayao] Miyazaki’s first film. So “ThunderCats” does have a footprint in Japanese animation. We’re kind of going back and honoring that in the new series. I was always a huge fan of the original show and I love the Japanese animation and what they can do, so we’re really going back to the roots.

MTV: Were there any elements of the original series that you felt strongly about improving in the new series? Was there anything you felt like there was an opportunity to change for the better in this redesign?

SPAULDING: Not so much. We just had to update it and give it a new spin. Looking at what they were wearing back then, it was more of a superhero show. You can see that in the old lineup, and they looked like they were more of a superhero team. With our back story, we couldn’t go in that direction.

MTV: Lots of people are asking about Tygra…

SPAULDING: [Laughs] Everyone wants to know about Tygra, but that’s sort of story-specific. I can’t reveal too much. Basically, we wanted to make him cooler than he was. The consensus was that he was the boring guy of the old show, so we wanted to make him more interesting and gave him another dimension. But don’t worry — he still has the whip. People were wondering where the whip was at one point, but it’s on his belt.

MTV: I noticed that even Panthro’s nunchuks with the claws made it through the redesign…

SPAULDING: We liked all of the aspects of the old stuff. That’s the iconic aspect of these characters — you have to have the nunchuks with the claws at the end. That was the challenge, though: How do you update it? Our art director has done a great job. He actually did the first pass on all the characters, updating them, and then we sent it all to Japan. The character designers there take a pass over the designs, put the final spin on them, and then we give notes. It’s like a co-production thing going on here.

MTV: Another thing everyone’s asking about is the characters we don’t see in the new image. What’s up with Snarf, or WilyKit and WilyKat? Will we see them soon?

SPAULDING: Yeah, you’ll see them. We’re going to slowly reveal that stuff. Rest assured, they’re in there, and they look great. They’re redesigned in a little different way, though, and you’ll see what I mean when it comes time to reveal them.

MTV: When I spoke to your co-producer, Michael Jelenic, about the series, he talked about how one of the redesign strategies was to mute the bright colors of the original a little, and give it a darker tone. How do you describe the overall redesign theme?

SPAULDING: It’s more realistic, more real-world palette. The Japanese animations are great. The colors are keyed a lot different than the American animation, and there’s a little bit more variety going on. We’re fans of that style. You get a little more attention paid to the lighting in this show, the sense of atmosphere, and the scope of the project. We’re going for a movie feel, and hopefully we’re achieving that.

MTV: It also looks like Lion-O is a little younger in this iteration of the series…

SPAULDING: Yes, that’s part of the story, too.

MTV: And Panthro’s looking a little more grizzled with that scar on his eye and such…

SPAULDING: Yeah, we’re making him the older veteran. He’s been out there on Third Earth exploring. He’s the elder of the group, once they get together.

MTV: Are you surprised by the massive reaction to the series and everything that’s been released so far?

SPAULDING: A little surprised, yeah — but when I think about it, I understand it. “ThunderCats” has been in pop culture since 1985, so it’s had time to marinate.

MTV: What attracted you to this project in the first place? Were you a big fan of the original series?

SPAULDING: I was a big fan when I was young. Everyone talks about the opening animation for “ThunderCats,” and it’s still to this day one of the greatest openings of any animated series. I appreciated the fantasy and science-fiction elements, and gravitated toward the character designs. I drew when I was a kid, so I always responded to the way everything looked in that show.

Hopefully we’re doing justice to the characters. They’re icons now, and we’re trying to do justice to the old show and its spirit, and flesh out the characters more so than the original series.

“ThunderCats” is scheduled to premiere later this year on Cartoon Network. Keep it locked to Splash Page for more “ThunderCats” news as it develops!

Let us know what you think of the interview in the comment section or on Twitter! You can also follow me, Splash Page editor Rick Marshall, on Twitter!

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