News

5 Ways Primal Creator Genndy Tartakovsky Revolutionized Animated Action

As the Samurai Jack creator returns with Primal, we look at his greatest hits and how his new show honors that tradition.

by | October 4, 2019 | Comments

Genndy Tartakovski headshot (Adult Swim/2019)

(Photo by Adult Swim/2019)

From Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls to Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars, Genndy Tartakovsky has been a staple of Cartoon Network programming from the mid-’90s to the mid-’00s, introducing children and adults alike to a type of animation that is as full of action and comedy as it is emotional and character-driven.


Primal (Adult Swim/2019)

(Photo by Adult Swim/2019)

Now, the innovative animation creator is back with Primal, a bold new show for Adult Swim that feels both completely different from anything Tartakovsky’s done before and also like the culmination of an entire career. The show centers around a caveman who is forced to team up with a dinosaur in order to survive the savagery of the prehistoric world. It has absolutely no dialogue, and instead focuses on facial expressions and action for Tartakovsky’s latest experiment in visual storytelling.

Rotten Tomatoes recently spoke with Tartakovsky about the path that led him to his new show. The Primal creator reflected on how his previous series brought him to this latest artistic endeavor and revealed that Primal will have 10 episodes, with the remaining five airing some time next year.


1. TARTAKOVSKY KNEW HOW TO USE SILENCE TO TELL A STORY

Telling a story without dialogue or sound isn’t necessarily a new concept for animation, but the way Tartakovsky employed the device in this scene from Dexter’s Laboratory shows how he developed his technique for Primal. Whenever the newspaper boys are on screen, the show feels like a silent Japanese film, and the moment Dee Dee or as on frame, the show turns the volume up.

“It’s been around since old Warner Brothers or Tex Avery cartoons, so I don’t think I’m doing anything new,” Tartakovsky told Rotten Tomatoes. “There’s too much dialogue on animated shows nowadays, and I try to stand out by forcing you to pay attention through silence.”

It works — even the editing changes when the dialogue shuts off and we follow the newspaper ninjas, quickly going from the ninjas’ faces to their newspapers to the broken windows they leave behind. This use of silence follows Tartakovsky’s career, experimenting more and more with the lack of dialogue until we get a show that is completely silent.

Primal was a direct reaction to the audience,” he explained. “When we did the last season of Samurai Jack, people loved the silent sequences, so I thought of constructing a story out of silence and eventually that turned into this idea about a caveman riding a dinosaur.”


2. BUILDING ANTICIPATION

Tartakovsky not only uses silence to make a audiences pay attention to the action, but he makes them wait for it too. Look at the video above of the first appearance of General Grievous in Star Wars: Clone Wars. Back then we didn’t know anything about the villain, but it only took a few seconds for him to become a menace worth being afraid of. In an episode that lasts less than 10 minutes, we spend a minute and a half building anticipation and dread between the time Grievous first speaks to the hiding Jedi and the moment he kills the first one of them.

“It’s always important to breathe in a sequence. We kind of build the action like a music sequence, and then we speed up or slow down accordingly,” Tartakovsky said.

In that scene, the fight with the droids starts out lightning-fast before slowing down to build anticipation through sound and rumble, then goes back to an explosive and fast-paced fight that already sells the formidable villain. In Primal, Tartakovsky builds anticipation through the introduction of more enemies. Any time our protagonists face a new threat, they stand off in silence before new threats appear, quickly building dread before the carnage begins.


3. EVERYTHING HAS A RHYTHM

By combining silence and anticipation with a powerful and rhythmic score, Tartakovsky manages to create dynamic set pieces that result in practically musical fights. One of the most talked-about fight scenes in Star Wars: Clone Wars is Mace Windu’s lightsaber-less fight against an entire droid army. Most of the sequence is devoid of all sound except sound effects and two droids saying “Roger, Roger.”

“A good action sequence is really like a good music sequence. There are ups and downs and there’s a natural rhythm,” he said. “Even when it’s just sound effects and no music it’s still rhythm and pacing.”

Even in a scene with no dialogue, like the fight with the droids, the sound of metal crushing under Master Windu’s punches seems to be following a pattern. The choreography, the camera, and even the editing follow suit to result in a symphony of carnage. Windu force-pushes, crunches, and punches dozens of droids like he is following a beat. Is the action a bit over-the-top? Absolutely, but it’s the show’s decision to go along with it and Tartakovsky’s refusal to repeat any attack or make any two punches look the same that make this one of the most memorable fights in the galaxy far, far away.

Primal does this a bit differently by foregoing the percussion of the music in favor of emotional scenes that counterbalance the savagery of what we are seeing on screen, as well as letting things linger longer than any of Tartakovsky’s previous shows.

Said the creator, “I wanted you to really live in the moment and feel more.”


4. SIMPLICITY IS OFTEN THE BEST WAY

Though Tartakovsky often features elaborate and choreographed fight scenes, he also lets the simplicity of an action scene speak for itself. Characters are at times simple silhouettes highlighted against a single-color background, like in the fight between Jack and the Six Daughters during Samurai Jack’s revival. Most of the fight occurs in the snow against an entirely white background, with multi-panel animation that gives the foggy fight more depth as the simple drawing of Jack runs and fights against what are essentially just shadows with swords and spears. It doesn’t look like much, but it communicates everything you wan to know about the fighters, their motivations, and their style of fighting.

“I think simplicity and clarity are key. I place the camera where I can read the action the clearest,” Tartakovsky said. “Same with color — the characters are either light with a dark background or the other way around. It’s all about being clear in the action.”

Whether it’s a Jedi fighting a killer cyborg, a samurai fighting a monster, or even a caveman fighting a dinosaur, Tartakovsky’s action is always clear to read and follow, which lets the viewer focus on the story being told.


5. HEART AND ACTION GO HAND IN HAND

Having gradually increased the amount of silent sequences in his shows and experimenting with rhythmic action storytelling and building anticipation, Primal feels in many ways like a culmination of nearly 30 years working in animation. The clip above tells you everything you need to know about the show. It’s violent, it’s bloody, it’s beautifully animated, and surprisingly, it is very emotional.

Tartakovsky has made emotional stories before, especially when it comes to Jack’s loneliness and loss in Samurai Jack, but he hadn’t combined that with action. There is an episode in Primal where a brutal fight happens, and though you know it was born out of a necessity to survive in a cruel prehistoric world, it is hard not to look at the action and feel a deep sadness for the loser.

“At it’s core, the story is about loss, death, and survival,” Tartakovsky said. “One thing we did differently in the action sequences is that I asked the composers to do emotional music instead. No matter how big the action is, the music is tragic, so as to connect a feeling that this is a very sad scene, rather than playing the big action.”

Music certainly plays a big role, and in a savage and brutal show, you shouldn’t be surprised to find yourself on the verge of tears.


Primal premieres Monday, Oct. 7 at midnight on Adult Swim.


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

BBC scorecard NBA IFC Films Academy Awards Cannes Television Critics Association Photos political drama Writers Guild of America sports Fargo Chernobyl news video on demand boxing mcc Oscar 2015 TCA Awards romantic comedy japan space witnail 24 frames serial killer cults Avengers Ovation LGBTQ gangster Showtime Hallmark high school south america HBO Max Countdown biopic joker comic book movie singing competition sitcom Mystery movie unscripted politics james bond docudrama deadpool Baby Yoda documentary Best Picture indie MTV kaiju crime olympics BBC America Neflix new zealand ratings El Rey Film Festival international USA dogs green book criterion YouTube Premium true crime tv talk LGBT trophy fresh all-time Polls and Games Mary Poppins Returns Super Bowl Logo toronto rt labs dragons First Look sopranos women Holidays 2020 monster movies Pet Sematary PlayStation Syfy Fall TV New York Comic Con Western Thanksgiving talk show historical drama Paramount Martial Arts cancelled Pirates black comedy Summer television Anna Paquin festival streaming movies Apple TV Plus name the review Pop debate legend psycho Paramount Plus BAFTA USA Network directors PBS 2021 vs. cartoon supernatural Sony Pictures italian A&E Country Election strong female leads robots australia golden globes Disney Plus DirecTV independent Captain marvel FX technology game of thrones chucky SXSW Disney streaming service nfl Christmas leaderboard Shudder satire 94th Oscars award winner Peacock ABC Signature ITV wonder woman E! slasher Family Tubi a nightmare on elm street aapi Year in Review superman cancelled TV series cats TIFF Alien medical drama rt archives Disney DGA Tokyo Olympics doctor who The Academy 2018 Character Guide Fox Searchlight war laika Cartoon Network Comic Book The CW fast and furious HBO kids biography Exclusive Video OWN Emmy Nominations Black History Month Infographic Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt composers Premiere Dates TV One werewolf A24 twilight Stephen King Cosplay sag awards adaptation IFC superhero Marvel emmy awards scene in color Hear Us Out SundanceTV miniseries 2017 movies Superheroes Spectrum Originals Trophy Talk venice 2016 YA Universal Pictures Pop TV Watching Series game show spinoff TV rotten batman Apple TV+ dreamworks new star wars movies Pride Month Turner 73rd Emmy Awards ghosts Amazon Studios book The Walt Disney Company zero dark thirty jurassic park 72 Emmy Awards rom-coms Television Academy History Best and Worst basketball spanish art house The Purge anthology Food Network Best Actor Video Games TLC GLAAD CW Seed Comic-Con@Home 2021 Ellie Kemper hollywood Sundance TV telelvision BBC One new york Toys heist movie critic resources Mary poppins mockumentary Pixar Marvel Studios YouTube Red Lionsgate Classic Film DC Universe RT21 Kids & Family Amazon Prime Video mob 90s Opinion E3 Brie Larson CBS All Access sequels target TruTV pirates of the caribbean saw teaser CBS dark football stop motion OneApp Crackle razzies Rocky Tarantino zombie comic casting comedies Arrowverse Star Wars VOD comiccon Sneak Peek king kong documentaries dexter finale BET social media Fantasy DC streaming service Warner Bros. Horror posters VH1 WarnerMedia japanese Freeform Schedule Esquire action-comedy Legendary spy thriller Drama marvel cinematic universe Pacific Islander nbcuniversal Marathons Masterpiece Disney+ Disney Plus breaking bad best SXSW 2022 Best Director Musical ESPN remakes NBC Amazon live action Set visit spanish language Rom-Com prank Lucasfilm Vudu dceu critics mutant golden globe awards children's TV marvel comics President Awards universal monsters The Arrangement Certified Fresh hispanic heritage month revenge Mary Tyler Moore what to watch Hallmark Christmas movies worst movies quibi godzilla theme song Instagram Live Crunchyroll TCM Paramount Network Music halloween tv DC Comics GIFs foreign TV movies Turner Classic Movies Podcast renewed TV shows scary live event travel Endgame psychological thriller trailers Hollywood Foreign Press Association french black Epix Holiday Grammys WGN Nominations archives indiana jones Emmys CNN Winners royal family hispanic Travel Channel Extras parents series screenings versus ABC Ghostbusters 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Funimation cars dramedy comic books Lifetime Christmas movies toy story Rocketman First Reviews Amazon Prime Starz concert Netflix Christmas movies anime ABC Family stand-up comedy Wes Anderson Quiz period drama book adaptation Dark Horse Comics science fiction Spike christmas movies 20th Century Fox streaming based on movie crime drama binge TV renewals Best Actress Columbia Pictures Interview Action Mudbound obi wan reboot Biopics blockbuster comic book movies MCU asian-american halloween Shondaland canceled 21st Century Fox APB festivals hidden camera 93rd Oscars Trailer feel good 2019 Fox News 007 Tumblr rt labs critics edition San Diego Comic-Con reviews Sundance Now Valentine's Day Calendar transformers BET Awards Hulu cops Apple adventure PaleyFest die hard AMC Plus Song of Ice and Fire Tags: Comedy FOX Comedy Central Comedy VICE Prime Video video Trivia genre slashers X-Men The Witch free movies Women's History Month Adult Swim GoT latino Winter TV ID Broadway blockbusters Image Comics Musicals spider-verse richard e. Grant Box Office stoner Chilling Adventures of Sabrina obituary Animation zombies National Geographic films MSNBC Teen 1990s Reality Competition TBS TV Land popular 4/20 dc franchise FXX hist 45 police drama Reality Film worst romance Tomatazos TCA 2017 Creative Arts Emmys Marvel Television Disney Channel Britbox canceled TV shows TNT discovery jamie lee curtis Sci-Fi rotten movies we love justice league Spring TV HBO Go cooking CMT Oscars Lifetime Nickelodeon docuseries animated lord of the rings YouTube adenture Comics on TV SDCC Binge Guide See It Skip It Nat Geo cinemax comics Superheroe HFPA South by Southwest Film Festival Walt Disney Pictures crime thriller FX on Hulu Heroines TCA AMC harry potter streamig 99% king arthur Rock mission: impossible diversity natural history crossover vampires child's play Discovery Channel Bravo spider-man The Walking Dead Elton John Star Trek elevated horror disaster ViacomCBS thriller blaxploitation Sundance nature 79th Golden Globes Awards boxoffice kong classics Red Carpet suspense spain cancelled TV shows know your critic American Society of Cinematographers Mindy Kaling scary movies sequel aliens IMDb TV facebook cancelled television Awards Tour MGM Netflix Universal young adult NYCC Black Mirror screen actors guild TCA Winter 2020 RT History Acorn TV 71st Emmy Awards