Why Netflix's Castlevania Adaptation Works, According To Its Directors
Lots of experience and a deep love of Berserk helped make Netflix's Castlevania a rare beloved video game adaptation.
The crew behind the scenes of Netflix's Castlevania, Season 4 of which just premiered, vary widely in experience. Executive producer Kevin Kolde shepherded the series for years, having licensed it via his production company Project 51 originally in the early 2000s. Brother directors Sam and Adam Deats, meanwhile, came from a background in video game cutscenes to direct what is generally considered one of the best video game adaptations to date. GameSpot spoke with all three to look back at the show and get a better understanding of how they managed to put together something that has captured such a devoted audience.
Kolde has been in animation production for over 30 years. Working on series like Ren & Stimpy, Adventure Time, and Bravest Warriors put Kolde on both sides of creating animation--creative and production. "I kind of did it all for Castlevania," he told GameSpot.
For directors Sam and Adam Deats, on the other hand, Castlevania is just the start. "This is our very first series-based show," said Adam. "Primarily what I was doing right before this was actually video game cutscenes and trailers. Cutscenes for, I think it was Mortal Kombat 9. Maybe it was 10; I don't even remember at this point. Battle Chasers, Banner Saga, stuff like that."
"To be frank about it, [making Castlevania] was daunting," Adam continued. "The first season was an extremely difficult task for us because we didn't know quite how to make that beast move. So we had to learn how to do that and kind of structure giant schedules and teams to allow for that to happen, and so it was a very new thing."
Castlevania picks and chooses from the series' extensive lore, starting with the NES game Castlevania III for Trevor Belmont, Sypha, and Alucard Tepes. Saint Germain, though, comes from the PlayStation 2 title Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, which acts as a sequel to Castlevania III. The creators had to balance respecting the lore with making an interesting story.
"When it came to applying that to the visuals, it was really about choosing an aesthetic that would speak to the tone of the show as well as the expected style and feel that you would have as a fan. So, kind of bringing those Ayami Kojima character designs to life and giving it that dark fantasy tone," Sam continued. "We just really enjoy anime like Berserk, other anime shows that we love, video games--just kind of cramming those various influences that, I think, resonate with people."
Berserk is one of the longest running manga in Japan and has influenced the look and feel of dark fantasy both in and out of Japan. You can see echoes of it throughout the Castlevania TV series, such as with Striga's Day Armor in Season 4.
"That was definitely intentional, sort of a love letter, more than anything, and a ton of fun to put together," Sam said. "Those three recent [Berserk] Golden Age movies, I watched those every now and again because even though it's sometimes clumsy with the 3D characters, the directing, storyboarding, and pacing, all that kind of stuff are handled really phenomenally. I think things like [Berserk's] character designs have either a direct or indirect influence [on us], whether it be because we're being influenced by something that was also influenced by Berserk, because everything dark fantasy has been influenced by [it] for the last 30 years."
With the Deats's very first show becoming a fan favorite and a streaming success for Netflix, pressure mounted throughout the series.
"The big thing [with Castlevania Season 4] is that we're closing a lot of characters' storylines," Adam said. "There's inherently a lot of messiness and difficulties in doing that precisely, because if you screw that up, it feels like you can fail across the board. And so [story]boarding that stuff right, making sure we're like, looking over our shoulders in previous episodes and later episodes, making sure everything kind of feels tied together was pretty difficult."
"It's the hardest season of the show to date from so many perspectives," Sam said. "You obviously have all of these important character arcs that have to close really well. We couldn't let any of those big dramatic moments slip from a visual perspective or directing perspective. Typically we would lean on our biggest character animators doing just action, action, action, because that's the stuff that moves the most. But this season it was like--no. Some of these folks got to focus on making sure these big character moments ran."
"With each new season, we've tried new things and innovated on our process, kind of creating something that's a bit different from a lot of other studios in the US in how we collaborate on all parts of the process all the way through animation," Sam added. "Instead of kind of just creating the pre-production package and then shipping it overseas--which is partially our process--we're very involved with animation and post-production all the way through."
Despite their very different levels of experience, both Kolde and the two directors went in with similar sentiments: story comes first.
"The way we always tried to approach Castlevania is not to make a video game adaptation that was, like, just for Castlevania fans or just for video game fans," Kolde said. "The idea was to take stories, the characters, the war, the feelings, the environments and what have you, adapt that into media, in this case, an animated series that would appeal to, well, beyond the game; you wouldn't have to play the game to watch the show, to understand the show, appreciate the show. I think… that starts with great characters and great story."
"The storytelling is not trying to go out of its way to scream at you that this is a video game adaptation," Sam said. "It's taking the bones of what's there, and what happens to be within that part of Castlevania had good bones to work with."
Castlevania's fourth and final season is out now on Netflix.