The Big Picture
- Powerhouse Animation Studios challenges the misconception that animation is limited to children’s movies or crude comedies, producing diverse and high-quality animation comparable to Pixar or Sony Animation.
- Through their commercial work for clients such as Kevin Smith, Coca-Cola, and Nickelodeon, Powerhouse showcased their animation skills across a wide range of styles and genres, setting them apart from other studios with a distinctive “house style”.
- Powerhouse’s success extends beyond their commercial work, as their Netflix series like Castlevania, Seis Manos, and Blood of Zeus have revitalized franchises and delivered original stories with complex characters, pushing the boundaries of adult animation. Additionally, Powerhouse’s unionization sets an important precedent for the animation industry.
Animation has struggled, and still struggles, to gain respect in the Western film and television industry. Most people think that all you can do with animation is children’s movies, or that said children’s movies have to talk down to their audience. Others think that the only way you can do adult animation is with crude comedies like Family Guy or Rick & Morty. One animation studio has been challenging that mindset: Powerhouse Animation Studios. Thanks to a library of commercial work, as well as a robust first-look deal with Netflix, Powerhouse has turned out a dizzying variety of animation that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Pixar or Sony Animation.
Powerhouse’s Commercial Work Put It on the Map
Powerhouse first started off doing animation work for Kevin Smith, after the geek guru saw a parody video from the studio that drew influence from his debut film Clerks. Smith tapped Powerhouse to work on elements for his films including Dogma and Jersey Girl. Soon, this increased profile led to Powerhouse doing work for a number of big clients including Coca-Cola, GoDaddy.com, and Nickelodeon. The studio would also move on to video games, providing work for cutscenes in DC Universe Online and Mortal Kombat X.
This variety of jobs provided a wide array of animation styles, giving Powerhouse the chance to flex its animation skills. A good example is the difference between Clerks: The Lost Scene – a coda to Clerks: The Animated Series – and the opening sequence for DC Universe Online. Clerks: The Lost Scene is presented in a flat, cartoony 2D style that feels like a comic strip come to life. It’s the perfect fit for the acerbic slacker comedy that Smith perfected and adds even more humor to the situation (the titular clerks Dante & Randall happen to be attending a funeral.) In contrast, the opening to DC Universe Online feels apocalyptic in every sense of the word. Many of the DC heroes and villains in the cinematic are sporting new looks: Batman has a more armored costume, while Metallo is a hulking mass of Kryptonite-powered machinery. The action is just as brutal: one scene features Superman rocketing from orbit to slam Black Adam through several buildings, then letting loose the full force of his heat vision in the demigod’s face.
This range of styles helps Powerhouse stand out from the pack and shows that the studio can tackle nearly every project. Other animated studios will often have a “house style” that permeates everything, like at Disney or Illumination; while this can lead to some great films, it can also be restricting to have to color in a set of lines. By opening itself up to a number of styles as well as genres, Powerhouse is able to provide viewers with a variety of experiences. One of those experiences was the short film the studio released ahead of Sonic Frontiers, titled “Divergence”. Not only does “Divergence” look ripped from the Sonic the Hedgehog video games, but it also provides fans with a great intro to Sonic whether they’ve only seen the live-action films or have been playing the game since its inception in 1992.
Powerhouse’s Netflix Series Have Revitalized Franchises and Provided Great Original Stories
What really put Powerhouse on the map was its adaptation of the Castlevania video games from Konami. Special care was taken to make sure the animation style emulated the art from the games, leading to some bloody & innovative fight sequences. Castlevania also proved that not only could video game adaptations still work in this day and age, but adult animation had also entered a new frontier. Castlevania was never shy about the blood, gore, and sex that it put on the screen – but those elements were usually tempered by real human emotion. Dracula (Graham McTavish) isn’t your typical villain; he is lashing out at humanity for killing his wife Lisa. Both Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage) and Alucard (James Callis) are dealing with the weight of their family’s legacy, despite being polar opposites.
Powerhouse has also delivered great original series for Netflix, including the martial arts epic Seis Manos and the mythological fantasy Blood of Zeus. Both wore their influences on their sleeves; Seis Manos was a grindhouse kung film in animated form while Blood of Zeus could have been a sequel to Clash of the Titans. But they also managed to tackle some unique stories. Blood of Zeus dealt with the fallout from Zeus’ constant philandering on Earth, and how his wife Hera (Claudia Christian) sought to overthrow him. Once again, Powerhouse delivered a great character study, showcasing that both Zeus & Hera were complex people.
Powerhouse Is the First Animation Studio To Unionize — Blazing A New Trail
Powerhouse continues to make waves, as many of its artists & workers have now joined the IATSE. This is huge for a number of reasons: first and foremost, at a time when the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are continuing to strike for workers’ rights, a union actually making a deal seems historic. It’s also a big deal as animation studios aren’t in the same spot that other film/television productions are – meaning that this could set a precedent for other animation studios to try and unionize as well. Powerhouse is well aware of this, as higher-ups fully support the movement. “As a studio founded by animators who wanted to improve the industry, Powerhouse has always tried to put our incredible team of artists first,” Powerhouse’s CEO/Chief Creative Officer Brad Graeber told The Hollywood Reporter.
Powerhouse is showing no signs of slowing down, as it has Castlevania: Nocturne, Masters of the Universe: Revolution, and a Tomb Raider series in the works. From crafting engaging commercials to revitalizing franchises & setting an example for other animation studios when it comes to unionizing, Powerhouse is more than living up to its name. Hopefully, that effort is recognized not just by animation fans but by anyone who loves watching film and TV.