Jennifer Yuh Nelson serves as the supervising director and Tim Miller serves as the creator and executive producer of Netflix’s Love Death + Robots. Every moment during their conversation with Awards Daily shows their passion and creativity for this critically acclaimed project. They also share how the future is still open with several different ideas for stories and animations style still out there. Additionally, they are celebrating Love Death + Robots recently winning a juried Emmy Award in the Individual Achievement in Animation category this year!
Awards Daily: You both directed individual episodes for this year. Tim, you did “Swarm,” and, Jennifer, you did “Kill Team Kill.” What made you want to take on that along with your overall work with the series?
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: It is basically a mixture of things. You want to do things you haven’t done before and thought would be new and interesting. In the case of Kill Team Kill, I just wanted to do something that’s over the top, toxic masculinity, 90s action movie Predator parody/satire. So it was just an opportunity to have some fun. That is mainly the reason I did it.
Tim Miller: I would just say, first of all, the whole series is a joy to produce, but the cherry on the sundae is that we get to direct and we get the first pick of the stories. The reason for the directing is because you get first dibs. With Swarm, I read Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix novel in college and he has been one of my favorite authors ever since. Swarm has almost made it in every season but now just seemed like the right time. I love the story. I wish I could have put more of the philosophical natural laws of the universe in place. But it is a great action piece as well.
Awards Daily: How are stories chosen between new stories and adapted short stories?
Tim Miller: They are almost all adapted short stories. Alberto (Mielgo)’s Jibaro is the only completely original story although Night of the Mini Dead was an idea Jeff Fowler and I had and we adapted it. But for the most part we rely on the great work of authors that have already been done.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: In the case of Jibaro, Alberto came up with this very visual storytelling idea, there is no real dialogue in it at all, there are vocalizations but no actual words. So it is a visual experience.
Awards Daily: How do you decide which shorts to do?
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Most of it we just have a gigantic database of stories that Tim has read over the years. So it’s a very organic process to figure out which ones fit together, which ones work tonally, which ones are different enough from each other so we have variety. Because variety really is the key. We want to make sure there are all these different colors and flavors and they really dictate which of the favorites will survive. And which will match well with the directors and their individual styles and tastes.
Awards Daily: How do you go about finding the directors for each short?
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Well, we meet a lot of them. [Laughs]
Tim Miller: Sometimes you see people’s work and you admire it. For instance, I was on my way to the airport from Siggraph at the Electronic Theater last night where they showed the best work in the CG animation industry. I saw two short films that I thought were…
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Don’t say their names. Don’t say their names yet. [Laughs]
Tim Miller: I am not saying any names. I sent them to Jennifer saying, ‘Hey, check these out.’ At this point we have quite a lot of people that we worked with and like and we tend to seek these people out. It is not that large of an industry and word gets around who is good to work with. You see a lot of repeat customers with us like Robert Valley and Alberto, and it’s because we like working with these folks.
Awards Daily: Jennifer, as a director and the supervising director, what is the difference in how you pursue your work between those two different roles?
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Well, the director is definitely the one trying to figure out how to tell the story in the best possible way that really reflects their own inner broken brain. But as the supervising director, I am there as a safety net for all these other directors. Because we are working with many different backgrounds, different strengths, and things people may have done or not done before. And I am there trying to figure out what each individual director needs. We are basically bespoke body armor for these directors, trying to give them the best chance of doing something really risky and experimental and succeed at a higher level of quality. So basically, I play therapist as it were.
Awards Daily: You guys have touched on so many different story ideas through all these different shorts. Is there a story or type of idea that you haven’t gotten to do yet that you are anxious to get to?
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: There is a lot.
Tim Miller: Yeah, there so many different types of stories to tell for sure but if you want to talk technique, it is a little buzzy to say so Jen and I have been watching the development of AI generated art like Midjourney and Disco Diffusion, and some these new tools that literally weren’t there six months ago. You think, Ah, s***, how can I work with these processes? Are there any stories that fit this particular style that these techniques have right now? It gets you thinking though, it may not ultimately be feasible for a variety of reasons, but I am interested and terrified at the same time.
Awards Daily: Going off on that, how is the animation style decided for each short? Is it more you guys’ choice or the individual directors?
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: There have been times when we actually have multiple directors trying to do one story and they come in with completely different styles, and then we have to make the very hard choice to decide which one to go with. Because invariably they are always great, but sometimes we just go with one that is different. If we have three shorts that look similar we are going to go with something we haven’t seen before. I think that is the important thing, people look at who we are as a showcase for things they haven’t seen before. It’s experimental, so we need to find something that may be new and interesting.
Tim Miller: I would say that all of what Jen said is true although there is a thirty thousand foot choice that we tend to make in that the story suggests the format to some degree. Like, this is going to be more photo realistic CG, this one is going to be stylized CG, this one is going to be stop motion. Those kinds of things are not quite the wide open frontier, but how you express the style, there is a ton of room inside that. Mason’s Rats for instance, we knew was going to be key frame but we didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like. There is such a big range there and that’s where the director comes in and pitches us.
Awards Daily: Over the last decade, animation has been moving into more adult content quite successfully. Why do you think all of a sudden that is becoming a major part of animation?
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: I don’t think it’s been all of a sudden. I think it’s a matter of what was allowed. I think all the people making animation have been trying to do this for a very long time. It was always a case of people saying the audience isn’t there. And finally when something shows that the audience is there that’s when you see the floodgates opening. Everyone has been waiting to try and do this and they just wanted to make sure it was possible
Tim Miller: I also think the proliferation of video games that are more often than not adult in content, and they are essentially adult animation, right? They are all animated. People running around shooting people is fairly adult. And I think that lends to a greater acceptance of the medium and has certainly expanded the industry as well. I think that helps us a little bit.
Awards Daily: Final thoughts?
Tim Miller: I will say doing the show is truly a labor of love for both Jennifer and I. It’s a real privilege to bring this not just to the public but to the industry as well. Again, I am up here at Siggraph surrounded by people who do this for a living, and the amount of love we get from the animation industry and animators in general who just love the show and appreciate that we are pushing the envelope. It really makes me feel good, and the fact that the man and woman on the street like it is the most important thing. And I feel very grateful to make it and that Netflix has been so supportive of us doing that.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson: I totally agree with that, and also that it is a labor of love from all of the directors and studios too. This is a chance to show what they can do in a way that is completely free and they do not have to tow a gigantic uber universe or anything, these beautiful little bon-bons of weird stories that they can throw all their weight into. And the more people watch it, the more support they get for it, there are more chances for people to make it. You want to see this level of variety and artistry. I think it is a matter of showing the world there is an audience for it.
Love, Death + Robots | Inside the Animation: Jibaro | Netflix