I love giant robots. You love giant robots. And more importantly, Matthew Senreich and Tom Root love giant robots, an adoration that has given birth to Adult Swim’s Titan Maximum, the first season of which debuts on DVD tomorrow. Done in a similar type of stop-motion animation as the popular Robot Chicken — which Senreich co-created with Seth Green — Titan Maximum is an absurd and hilarious take on the vehicles-that-combine-to-form-giant-robots theme that was all the rage in 1980s toy franchises. The futuristic guys, gals and monkey who pilot those vehicles (and probably shouldn’t be) — the egotistical Commander Palmer (voiced by Breckin Meyer), goody-two-shoes Jodi (Rachael Leigh Cook), sexpot Sasha (Eden Espinosa), nerdy Willie (Dan Milano) and simian janitor Leon — attempt to save the universe from a former member of the team, Gibbs (Green), while limiting their number of major intergalactic incidents. Now that Root, Senreich and their team have bounced back from catching the “nerd flu” at Comic-Con — “Part of the office went down for a while,” jokes Root, a writer, producer, director and voice actor for Robot Chicken — the pair are hard at work on the upcoming fifth season of Robot Chicken, working on the third Robot Chicken Star Wars special and developing a pilot for a Fox animated show. And that’s in addition to Senreich’s consulting work on a new Star Wars show with Green. Root and Senreich took time out to talk about the ins and outs of Titan Maximum, so read below for their thoughts.
Photos courtesy of Adult Swim
For each of you, what is the strongest appeal of a giant robot?
Senreich: They just look cool! We grew up as boys in the ‘80s with Voltron and Battle of the Planets and Macross and things like that. You name the toys and we got really excited about that sort of stuff. To be able to create our own version of that that’s a little bit twisted is kind of a dream for us. We’re geeks.
Root: As a child, the world is so much bigger than you are and then you can put on this giant suit in a way that lets you conquer the world. It’s like a power trip. I’m sure that’s what drew us into robots as children, and we just never got tired of them.
Senreich: And then the more we talked about the absurd aspect of it, we just found it fascinating that if there were these giant robots, they left them to these idiot teenagers to use. Imagine Paris Hilton being in charge of a giant robot for the United States government.
Root: Those early shows were always telling kids, “Wow, you can be a hero, too!” Our take is, man, we better not let kids run around with giant robots.
When younger fans watch this, do they get that it’s a spoof of things like Voltron and Robotech, or are those too obscure for them?
Senreich: They had Power Rangers.
Root: One of the things we in our 30s forget is that this Power Rangers thing ran – and is still running – from the early ‘90s onward. I can’t say that we drew upon Power Rangers because I think I’ve barely ever seen it, but Power Rangers was just a giant robot show. Not exactly a ripoff but emulating all of the same shows we grew up with. All of us, from our 40s and younger, we get robots pretty well.
How off the rails did you get with Titan Maximum in terms of sheer ridiculousness, or did you have to pull back in terms of that and the adult language?
Senreich: We were trying to write it a little more TV-14, but at the same time, we just kinda wrote it. We never really pulled back – we took who these characters were in our minds and just went crazy with them. Palmer and Sasha are over-the-top, Willie’s the shy nerd trying to fit in – we just latched on to who these characters were and let them speak. Whatever came out of their mouths came out of their mouths.
Root: And as soon as these characters seemed to take on their own voices, all we wanted to do all season long is drop things on their heads and see how they would react. We did have an overall plan, but episode by episode, whatever occurred to us that was funny is what we went for.
One of the coolest casting moves you made was bringing on Billy Dee Williams as one of the team’s authority figures. He has such a memorable voice, but I almost didn’t recognize it at first.
Root: That was so cool. We visualized Billy Dee doing it from the start and we were so excited when he said yes.
Senreich: It was so inspired because every time he comes in for the Robot Chicken Star Wars stuff, or even just Robot Chicken, he just has so much fun with us. He goofs around, he hangs out, and it just inspired us to say, “Why not shoot for him to be this character?”
Root: The reason you didn’t recognize it as Billy Dee Williams at the start is because he really came in and had a take on the character that was not the way you usually think of Billy Dee Williams as this suave cat. He loved that character and wanted to create something with it.
Tom, was Spud — the former member who meets with a tragic fate whilst drunk — always the guy you wanted to voice?
Root: [Laughs] How did I get cast as Spud when we’ve got hundreds of great actors to work with from Robot Chicken? I’m not exactly sure why.
Senreich: We were sitting in the writers’ room and it was Geoff Johns and Zeb Wells and we were all talking through this character. We were talking out a scene, and it was “Balcony party, y’all!” That one line sold it, and he said it in the room just acting it out for that scene for the fall, and that made the three of us laugh so much in that moment that it locked him into that part.
Root: I think I was just reading the dialogue out loud and not thinking about it, and I ended up getting cast.
For the animation, were you able to reuse things from Robot Chicken?
Senreich: Everything had to be rebuilt from scratch. We did it in a different scale. Most of Robot Chicken is done in 8-inch scale, and this is done in 12-inch scale, so we had to build all-new puppets, all-new set, costumes and so on and so forth. It was a daunting task.
Is there any word on a second season of Titan Maximum?
Root: I think there’s going to be a second season. It’s just a scheduling thing at this point because we’ve got so much else going on. We just got to the end of Robot Chicken Season 5, we just finished writing that, and all of a sudden, we’re like, “Uh oh!”
Senreich: For Robot Chicken, we’re still in production till December. It’s tricky trying to do two projects as once as we did with the first season of Titan, but it’s a passion project and we’d love to do it. It’s just finding time.
Do you have your voices set for the next Robot Chicken Star Wars special?
Senreich: We’re doing a more long-form kind of thing. It’s 44 minutes. I don’t think Tom and I did voices in the third special. We have people like Zac Efron doing voices.
You’re not better than Zac Efron?
Senreich: No, I’m not actually. [Laughs]
Do you have other ideas along the same lines as Titan you want to get to some day?
Senreich: Yeah, we’re always working on other shows and we have other concepts. For Tom and I, Titan is something we’ve been thinking about for way too many years. [Laughs] I would say Tom and I have been talking about this concept since ’98.
Root: If anything, we would take Leon the monkey and give him his own detective show.