Love, Death & Robots: How Tim Miller’s Creative Jam Session Was Born

Innovative, and somewhat provocative, animation is at the forefront of Netflix's robot-themed anthology.

It’s the morning after Tim Miller’s latest project, the animated anthology series, Love, Death & Robots, debuted for a late-night Alamo Drafthouse crowd at SXSW, and the Deadpool director, despite having a big personality, admits he’s slightly bashful about doing interviews. He jokes that much of the press tour for Deadpool centered on Ryan Reynolds and his Merc with a Mouth, and he was happy to be relegated to the background. He is ostensibly the face of this project with no charismatic leads to defer to, but Miller seems more comfortable with pointing the spotlight at the medley of animators and storytellers he collaborated with to bring Robots to life. 

Really it’s impossible for one man to have enough stamina to take credit for what’s been hyped in press materials as a 185-minute genre orgy of stories. A true orgy is no a singular experience. Though Miller directs one episode, a mix of live action and visual effects, he relishes his role as a curator of animation talent. Finding those gifted animators for a Netflix project executive produced by Oscar nominee David Fincher and the director of one of the highest-grossing and subversive superhero movies of the decade was more of an ordinary process than one would imagine. Just like every nerd with high-speed wifi access and two thumbs, Miller scoures YouTube for cool stuff.

One animator who particularly jumped out at Miller was Russian talent Vitaliy Shushko, who had a PG-13 anime short on YouTube called “Studio X.” The 12-minute short has no dialogue and moves like a side-scrolling video game. “It was really beautiful,” says Miller, who asked Shushko to pitch stories for Love, Death & Robots. Shushko offered an original story called “Blind Spot,” which follows a motley gang of cyborg thieves who stage a high-speed heist of an armored convoy.

read more: Love, Death & Robots Review

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“My favorite part of doing the series is finding the stories and going ‘Okay, this is a cool fucking story,’” Miller tells Den of Geek.

As you’d expect from Miller and Fincher, Love, Death & Robots comprises 18 animated shorts that are offbeat, provocative, a little sexy, and in some ways, groundbreaking. A quick sample of robot fare: In a comedic-skewing episode, three robots go on a sightseeing tour of a post-apocalyptic city; in “Shape-Shifters,” two supernatural marines are threatened by internal and external forces; “The Witness” sees a woman flee a murder scene, which sets up a trippy, unexpected piece of art that is unlike anything streaming service has ever produced. In pushing Netflix to make the project in their vision, the show may close the gap between the digital world–YouTube and the like, where animation that is “undiscovered” in the traditional sense thrives–and the streaming television world, where the anthology format is in the midst of a creative resurgence (and yes, the show has already had plenty of comparisons to Netflix cousin Black Mirror). 

“It’s good for the media environment for people watching,” he says. “Netflix has a lot of people watching on mobile devices. You know, you don’t have to invest an hour, and you’ve got a 10 minute bus ride, well there’s stuff for you to watch.” 

The eclectic mix of animation styles of Love, Death & Robots borrows from the best of big screen animation and video games. Miller, who spent much of his career in animation and found Blur Studio in 1995, says the show is a “buffet” for animation fans. Much of the fun in being a curator for the project was matching story to animation style and studio. An episode called “Sucker of Souls,” which was animated by Studio La Cachette, is an example of pairing a script with an unusual visual sensibility. 

“The style is usually more younger-skewing, but you mix that younger-skewing style with extreme violence and it’s fucking weird in a really good way,” Miller says of the episode. “So I enjoy going, ‘Okay, well this is going to be interesting, lets see what happens here.’”

The episode Miller directed is the only one that utilizes both live action and visual effects. “This story just lent itself, and I thought it was a good thing to say not everything has to be animation. The one I did is very subtle, dry humor, and it just felt better with actors. It all took place in a kitchen which is not very exciting for animation,” he says. 

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He adds that freedom of choice was a major part of bringing the project to Netflix. Despite some mature themes and imagery, Miller claims Netflix never gave them notes and anything they decided to do it was out of self-censorship. 

“There is all kinds of extreme things that people like. Deadpool is a good example. You can make it more violent and there’s people that like that, but that is a very small component of the audience compared with very large component that you lose with ‘I don’t want to see this, I don’t want to have every punch sound like someone’s celery’s breaking, necks popping out, vertebrae are exposed.’ Most people don’t like that.”

What Netflix did allow for was a deeper pool of animators to work within a contained story. Love, Death & Robots was originally pitched as a feature film. After the studio system chewed it up and spit it back out, the project found a home on Netflix, where Fincher had established a rapport with the streamer from his work on House of Cards and Mindhunter. Fincher joined Miller on stage for a Q&A after the SXSW premiere, and expressed joy in being able to collaborate with a diverse set of filmmakers, writers, and animators. The next day, Miller echoed that sentiment when pressed about how the show will impact how people view his work. 

“I just want to keep telling those stories,” Miller says. “I want to find new partners, I want to work again with the people we really enjoyed working with because the whole idea was supposed to be this creative jam session between all these different artists. It really feels good to be able to give somebody a little present like, ‘You always wanted to do this. Well here, go and do this, have fun, make it great.’”

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Chris Longo is the deputy editor and print editor of Den of Geek. You can find him on Twitter @east_coastbias.