World Events Productions Office Visit and Interviews - PART III
Creative Director Jeremy Corray talks Voltron Force, comics, toys and more...
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Following my stories over the last few weeks and interviews with both WEP Vice President Robert Kopler and WEP Managing Director Tiffany Ilardi, today we conclude our three-part story with an in-depth interview with WEP Creative Director Jeremy Corray. As Creative Director, it’s Corray’s responsibility to distinguish between the good and bad ideas regarding WEP’s many properties and then design and develop the good ideas so fans find new and exciting ways to explore WEP’s properties. As you can imagine, Corray is busy with Voltron so we sat down to discuss with him the latest news on the fan-favorite combining robot and what it means to work for a “mom and pop robot shop.”
FIGURES.COM: Thank you for taking the time to meet with us and answer our questions.
CORRAY: You’re very welcome.
FIGURES.COM: We all know Voltron is a classic brand and for those of us who grew up in the early 1980s, a household name. How to you help appeal to the newer fans as well as stay true to the classic fans who grew up with the property.
CORRAY: That is a very good question and we could spend all day just on that. We try to offer different products to different people. We understand VOltron Force is for a younger newer fan, so we love to encourage the entire family to sit down and watch it together – that’s the best way to experience it. If your family is anything like mine and Voltron forms Blazing Sword and and your kids go wild; you – the parents – are suddenly 6 years old again too.
It’s a balance – and that’s a part of my role as “brand defender” – is to include things which the older generation would recognize and respect. That was the question when we conceived of Voltron Force – do we start with a reboot, do we do a whole new generation, (what do we do)? I had personally never seen something that had respected the old series and been a pseudo-sequel but also added new blood with the cadets – something that’s recognizable to the older fans and new and original as well. It’s a balance and it’s become an ensemble story, like X-Men. It’s hard to say who’s the main character in Voltron Force. Of course, it’s Voltron, sure; but some would say it’s Keith’s story or maybe, if you look at the classic story, it’s Princess Alora’s story. It’s a constant balance with Voltron Force and we try to offer a fan wishlist of collectibles.
Now, working with Mattel and MattyCollector, we essentially asked ourselves “What is the Voltron Force we wish we had as kids?” And now that we have the credit cards, now we can have them. That’s exactly what we’re now doing here; that’s why we signed on with Mattel. We saw the bang-up job they were doing with He-Man and the DC stuff and we saw this as an opportunity to make up for the sins of the Panache Place Voltron – or, I should say, realize the full potential of the Panache Place. Everyone was so excited to have a Voltron you could put the figures into and now you have the ultimate Voltron classic figures – down to Pidge’s helmet and eye glasses. The passion for the Voltron brand is seen.
We try to work with people who are fans and passionate about Voltron. The designers at Mattel knew exactly what they wanted to do; and they went above and beyond, including even the little things like offering the mouth blades and keys and even including the details like the sticker inside the cockpit. The cool thing about MattyCollector – and it’s kind of a double-edge sword – is they’re great toys too! My kid wants to play with them and, yeah, they are collectible and limited editions, but you can run with it and fly with it and play with it too. My son takes mine from me all the time. There should be a sticker on the box that says “Warning, Warning: your kids will want to play with this!”
FIGURES.COM: That leads to our next question. The classic Voltron toys available from MattyCollector are great for collectors and hardcore fans at a collector’s price point…
CORRAY: Or really cool parents! (laughing)
FIGURES.COM: Right, or really cool parents! Will we ever see the return of classic Voltron toys to the mass market?
CORRAY: That’s a really good question and we’d love to. The current line is doing really well and they sell out in a matter of hours. We as brand managers are having a hard time getting a hold of them ourselves. The price on eBay is incredible!
It might be tough to do a full line at mass market, but you never know. You see things like what Bandai did with Thundercats and the extension of the line at mass market, you never know. I know it’s something I’d love to see. At this time, we’ll say “to be continued” on that.
FIGURES.COM: To expand on that -- obviously with the resurgence of Voltron and the Voltron Force series, are there plans to expand the merchandising to include things like clothing, novelty items, and more?
CORRAY: Those plans are in my inbox as we speak actually. A lot of those things you’ve mentioned are happening. Like Voltron we’ve formed a great team to include everything from apparel and t-shirts to a Halloween costume from Rubies, which my kid can’t wait to get into. After all, who doesn’t want to have Lions for hands at the end of the day, right? So those are all coming as are key chains, patches, device skins and things like that. And of course there’s more comics from Viz and Dyanmite coming too.
FIGURES.COM: Fans have already seen prototypes of the Voltron Force figures at least year’s San Diego Comic Con. When can we expect to see those on toy shelves?
CORRAY: Not soon enough, right? I’m the biggest fan and I want to hold this and see these too! I want to see what else they can do. It really all comes down to the guys in the ties who are working out how these go into future episodes and coordinating all of that. All I know is fans are going to be very happy when they see how they combine and how the center configuration works. My kids wants these too and is always asking the same thing! The best thing I can tell fans is to follow the official Voltron Facebook page and on twitter and as soon as I know, you’ll know. I won’t rest until I’m holding a Voltron Force Black Lion and hear it roar!
FIGURES.COM: For a while we’ve been hearing rumors of a live-action Voltron film coming soon…
CORRAY: Live-action Voltron? That’s a great idea! (laughing). Yes, as we announced at last year’s Comic Con, we’re working with Relativity and Atlas, who have that small, silent film The Dark Knight Rises coming out in limited release later this summer (laughing). I think it’s limited release, so be sure to check your local theaters…
We’re in good hands there. The good thing is they’re going to take their time and do it right. There's been some big movement on it recently and they’re going to make sure it’s right on the page before it hits the stage. The writers - Thomas Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer – get it and things are happening on that front. Hopefully we’ll have more to announce at Comic Con.
FIGURES.COM: Everyone who originally grew up with Voltron 25 years ago is now in their 30s and, as you said, has the credit cards and makes the money decisions. How does that affect the brand as a whole?
CORRAY: That’s been our secret Nintendo Power code word. It makes a difference because everyone making the decisions now knows it. It’s led to some of our easiest meetings because we simply walk into a meeting and say “Hey, Voltron.” And they say “Voltron!?” And we say “Yes, let’s do Voltron!” and then they say “Great, let’s do lunch somewhere.” Everyone knows and gets it. We are Generation Voltron now and we’re in positions of decision makering - politicians, music stars, athletes, businessmen. We were in LAX and we saw will.i.am signing autographs and we knew he was a fan of Voltron. We said “We’re with Voltron” and he was like “VOLTRON!!” It literally changed the conversation.
Voltron is energy and we can’t control it, we simply harness it. Other brands would die for it and the street credibility that comes with it. Voltron has become a verb now too – we see people post online “Let’s Voltron tonight.” And how many times do you see people call themselves the "Voltron Crew"? Everyday there’s new references made and we love it and it’s crazy to see how it happens. Funny thing is we’re not a big corporation; we’re a mom and pop robot shop; a family-owned defender of the universe business. To see this stuff happen naturally is awesome.
FIGURES.COM: It’s also interesting to see how it’s now multi-generational with Mom and Dad watching the show, as you previously mentioned, with their kids who now have their own favorite Lions and characters.
CORRAY: For sure, we’ve tried to change it up on the new show with new powers like Flash Form Go and changing the center configuration. Plus we go to shows like C2E2 and St. Louis’ Project Comic Con and we see the younger generation who’ve also seen the original show and know all of the back story and older characters. We always ask them “How do you know this?” and they’re getting it from Netflix or Hulu. They sit down with Daddy and watch it. We see twitter feeds every weekend saying “Sitting down eating cereal and watching Voltron with my boy!”
There’s something magical about the original series. The combination of so many styles - you have this ancient yet advanced weapon of defense, you had this fairy tale castle – it’s like titanium up against ancient rock and it’s different than say Transformers.
FIGURES.COM: Voltron Force showed fans something never before seen: Voltron forming with different lions at the center. That’s a little controversial…
CORRAY: Yeah…a little controversial, a little evolutionary. I love it, though for something like a live-action movie I don’t see it happening as you’re already seeing them come together; but for the new show and a new generation, we liked it. We knew there would be a lot of comparisons to Power Rangers and we knew we were going to hear comparisons to Zords.
We used to think it was funny when people used to say about Power Rangers “Look, they’re coming together and ripping off Voltron!” and now we see kids posting on Twitter feeds “Look, this is ripping off Power Rangers!” And we have to go back and say “Whoa whoa whoa…”
That’s actually something that came out of a Mattel brainstorming session and we looked at it and our minds kind of exploded. But it works with the theme that we are going for, which is bringing out the personalities of the individual pilots as well as the actual individual designs of the Lions. We had initially these very industrial, Terminator-style designs we brought with us – designs which maybe would be in the (live-action) movie with gears and battle damage…and (Mattel) was looking at more streamlined, Iron Man-stylized look. We knew who we were trying to appeal to and it’s still incredible the type of empowerment you get when you find a design or a toy you connect with. Kids say "That’s MY Lion!" or "That's MY attack vehicle!" It’s something a little different than what’s out there...
And I love the new designs and how the different center designs show the character’s different looks, with or without wings, with chainsaws, with the Ninja mask – that’s very reminiscent of Optimus Prime. We’ve heard a number of kids who have said that’s their favorite Voltron. But no doubt, the changing to allow for all of the Lions to be able to be in the center was controversial and eventually it made sense. And once everyone got it, it was great, allowing us to ask “What new things can Voltron do?” and “What new stories can we tell?” It was a balance of honoring the traditional formula and shaking it up.
FIGURES.COM: So the Voltron Force show is officially entering a second season?
CORRAY: Nothing official yet; we’re working on it. I wish, I wish…it’s a matter of coordinating with all the suits and ties. We’re hard at work…
FIGURES.COM: So when can fans expect to see Voltron Force on home video DVD and blu-ray soon?
CORRAY: It’ll probably see Netflix first, because a lot of classic Voltron fans watch the originals there. I know I see all the time people say “What’s this? Voltron’s on Netflix? Bye bye productivity!” So we’ll probably be on Netflix first, followed by Xbox, PSN, Hulu and the home video will come along with the toys a bit later.
FIGURES.COM: Voltron Force made a bold move by replacing the older, original main characters with younger, new characters. Does that somehow affect the show’s legacy and how do you balance the new with the familiar?
CORRAY: Again, it was purposeful and we felt the team needed a next generation and we wanted to give kids the feeling they too could be members of the Voltron Force someday; it’s not a midichlorian thing. It was and still is a bit controversial and it's a balance; we’re still trying to work it out. We still have kids ask “Where’s Vince?” or “Where’s Daniel?” It’s done in a way that’s more fair to the audience so we’re not fully replacing the pilots with these cadets. When we see Larmina take up Blue Lion and we've been with her for all the episodes before that, I feel she’s earned it. And for those who don’t feel like she’s earned it, they can pick up the Voltron Force comics, which act as official “episodes” of the series. They can see the adventures in-between the show episodes she’s had.
Yeah, it was a risk and we wanted to honor the legacy of the original characters but we also felt like – just as we are mentors to our own kids now, we wanted the original characters to be that to a new generation.
FIGURES.COM: You mentioned the comics and besides the Viz Media Voltron Force comic which expands on the show, there’s also Dynamite’s Voltron: Year One, which expands on the original series. Can you tell us a little more about that?
CORRAY: Yeah, a lot of that comes from writer Brandon Thomas being such a classic fan himself. Our only directive was “We want comics for Generation Voltron” – which that was the working title of the comic. Brandon was really able to sit down and say “What would I do with a Voltron movie?” or, as I would say, a really good HBO series? It’s really become unbelievable. He approaches it from a very mature, edgy side. He comes from a space opera-mafia side; we really love some of his pitches. We push (the comic creators) to add their own signature and style. We don’t need to see the anime style all the time. It’s like “Sometimes we need a big shot of rum and vodka.” It’s very unique, with what they’re doing. Every time one of Thomas' scripts come into the office we just devour it and all think “Wow.” And we’ve got some great announcements coming up with new artists and more. We’re really going to shake things up...
FIGURES.COM: Are there any plans for Vehicle Voltron to make a return?
CORRAY: Ummm…I believe I saw a cameo of Vehicle Voltron in an upcoming comic. We always hear our Vehicle Voltron fans. In fact, I just recently digitized all the episodes. I remember seeing it as a kid and thinking “What happened to my Lions?” That’s the toys I had too, so I’ve come to have a new appreciation of Vehicle Voltron. In fact, some of this will play a role in future episodes of Voltron Force.
FIGURES.COM: This is sort of a silly question, but what do you guys think of Adult Swim’s Voltron parody Titan Maximum?
CORRAY: We’re actually buddies with Seth Green; good, geeky buddies and his wife, Clare Grant, is actually like a huge Voltron super-fan. In fact, I think she actually has a hall pass to cheat on Seth with Voltron. I don’t know for sure what that means (laughing), but she tweeted a picture of herself in the Voltron jersey so she’s a fan.
Before I worked for Voltron I was a fan and I used to make mash-up videos with Voltron and Lion-O and He-Man drinking beer and going to the bathroom and enter them in contests. One film contest winner was Matt Senreich so we’ve always kept in touch. So now it’s fun to see Titan Maximum and watch and see them busting Voltron’s Lion balls. I think it just proves a love of Voltron and the genre. In fact, when we visit, I sometimes pitch them and tell them, “You could have a Voltron cameo and you could have cats chasing him and shooting lasers at him – look, Laser Cats!” They’re like “What?”
The year they spoofed Voltron on Robot Chicken was probably the best thing that happened to us that year and we called them and we got it on the DVD of our press release. All of it celebrates the love of Voltron and if you can’t laugh about it and celebrate it too, what are you going to do? You can’t take it too seriously…
FIGURES.COM: It really looks back and laughs at the commercialized cartoons we grew up with 30 years ago…
CORRAY: Silverhawks man…
FIGURES.COM: Oh yeah, and Bravestarr, which you can now find on DVD at Dollar General for $1.00.
CORRAY: Really? Oh man…aren’t they on Netflix too?
FIGURES.COM: I believe so. (Editor’s note: Bravestarr is on Netflix!) So, considering there were so many of these cartoons which were commercialized and exploited and Voltran seemingly hasn’t been; it seems Voltron has had a very guarded and nurtured path and hasn’t been exploited…
CORRAY: Not for a lack of trying! (laughing)
FIGURES.COM: Are there many proposals you turned down to keep the integrity of the brand?
CORRAY: We’ve generally found when we’ve been approached it’s been by someone with a lot of passion, like George (Sohn) from Toynami, and others. So, yeah, there are things that come across that we say “We can do better on that” – like a Halloween costume first draft or something else. But generally, when we are approached by someone, because we are a mom and pop shop and we’re not sitting here in a board room, we aren’t thinking of ways to take all the juice out of it. It’s not like we have millions flowing in, this is niche stuff. It’s helped us that Voltron hasn’t been exploited and artists and people can reference it and it doesn’t seem like they’re talking about My Little Pony. There’s no real master design; we are a small band of Midwest Voltron Force space explorers.
We simply don’t just slap the the Voltron logo on anything – like a cooler. Cool ideas come about in different ways; like Dave’s Voltron Jersey from Dave’s Geeky Ideas (below) and we worked with them since there was a desire there and it’s now an official product. It’s really about finding out what the fans want and getting it made. I’m still working on the Voltron House Slippers. That’s one of those things that makes you think “Why hasn’t that been made?”
FIGURES.COM: Ok, final question. What’s next for Voltron and where do you see the brand in the next 5 years?
CORRAY: Obviously, the live-action movie is a big one on a lot of levels. It’s always going to be compared to Transformers. I remember hearing when the first (Transformers movie) came out people would say “Voltron’s next, Voltron’s next.” It’s also going to be a lot about delivering a wish list of products for classic fans. The love for the classic is so strong. This thing with the comics and MattyCollector and we’re coming up on the brand’s 30th anniversary and we’d love to do some big events for that.
It’s also about introducing Voltron to kids, the next generation, for the first time. It’s always about forming together with integrity and being authentic and sincere. We never want to get to the point where fans feel we’re exploiting Voltron…though I don’t think that’s possible considering who we are. It’s about making products for fans by fans and, in the end, that’s all we can do. And hopefully one day getting those Voltron house slippers and mittens made too…(laughing).
Be sure to check out images from our WEP OFFICE TOUR and watch for more amazing Voltron news in the near future as we covers Voltron and other fan-favorite brands later this week at San Diego Comic Con!
A special "thank you" to Jeremy Corray for taking the time to chat with us; we appreciate his flexibility, humor, and generosity!
- Interview and photos by Jess Horsley, questions by Scott Rubin
Re: World Events Productions Office Visit and Interviews - PART III
Great interview! Jeremy sounds like a really fun guy. I especially like his discussion of the different Voltron configurations in Voltron Force. When I saw that it totally blew me away and made me excited for all of the toy possibilities! :D