Annecy 2019: Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal Is A Primordial Epic Filled With Visceral Emotion

by Tito W. James

At the Annecy International Animation Festival a legion of animation students and myself lined up to see the first glimpse of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal. After entering the theater we were treated to the first full episode. The story of Primal follows a caveman and a dinosaur, referred to by the creators as Spear and Fang, trying to survive in a harsh primordial world. The show shifts tonally from action to survival horror with the pre-historic creatures portrayed as monstrous threats.

After witnessing episode 1 (which I won’t spoil) I was blown away. Fans of Samurai Jack and Tartakovsky’s previous work should rejoice! Primal embodies its title in everything from its rough linework to the barebones story. All of the action and violence is grounded in universal human emotion.

What impressed me the most is that the entire episode communicated the story without any dialogue. The plot and character and conveyed through music and incredible sound design. This approach only works because of Tartakovsky refining his directorial sensibilities over decades. The entire ten episode series will abstain from using dialogue.

After the episode concluded the creators came out on stage to discuss the process of making the show. Tartakovsky said that a long time ago it was originally going to be a kids’ show about a caveboy riding a dinosaur.

However, after the Samurai Jack’s more mature fifth season being well received Tartakovsky knew that he wanted to do another series for adults. Many fans praised Samurai Jack not only for the action but for the quiet scenes. So Tartakovsky thought, “What if I made a show that was just all quiet scenes? Hey a caveman doesn’t talk and neither do dinosaurs.”

For Primal Tartakovsky and Art Director Scott Wills pulled from multiple sources including Conan The Barbarian, Osamu Tezkua, Frank Frazetta, Moebius, Ralph Bakshi, and Heavy Metal Magazine. They wanted there to be a pulpy horror feel to the Primal series.

Primal is being animated by Studio La Cachette (Sucker of Souls) and thanks to digital innovations like TV Paint, Tartakovsky is able to have a hands-on approach to the animation feedback. The ability for the director to make changes and corrections to the animation process is something usually only seen in animated features. This will be the most authentic representation of Tartakovsky’s vision to date.

I asked what the creators what they would like to see from the next generation of artists and animators. For Tartakovsky it came down to “point of view.” Rather than chasing after the hot style of the day he recommended developing your own voice so that your story would stand out.

If this is your first exposure to Tartakovsky’s work I guarantee that Primal will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen before in animated television. It’s a vision with scope and quality of feature animation. Every other cartoon is a dinosaur; Primal is the future.

Primal will be a ten episode limited series airing on Adult Swim this fall.

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