YouTube podcaster and video essayist Mike Mixtape recently interviewed Seth Kearsley on his life and career. Seth Kearsley is known to many for his work as director on Eight Crazy Nights and Mummies Alive! along with his work as a storyboard artist on projects like the 2016 films Sing and The Secret Life of Pets, but Kingdom Hearts fans know him as one of the few people who got the closest to making a Kingdom Hearts animated series.
In Mike Mixtape's interview with Kearsley, they briefly discuss the process of creating the Kingdom Hearts television pilot along with the difficult process of possibly releasing the pilot to the public. The Kingdom Hearts segment begins at 1:15:44, and we have also transcribed the Kingdom Hearts portion of the video for your reading pleasure below:
On the creation of the Kingdom Hearts TV pilot
Kingdom Hearts was really the first after Eight Crazy Nights where I was like “Wow, that is fucking cool! I want to do that! How awesome would that be?”
So I only played the game because of the project. My agent mentioned it because I was trying to get the concept of “American Anime” out into the lexicon I guess because after Eight Crazy Nights I was having all kinds of meetings all over the place. I didn’t have any projects of my own to pitch and I was meeting with a lot of places that didn’t really do animation and so I was trying to describe how any script could be done in animation and if we were Japanese, a lot of the stories that you—a movie executive here—do would be done in animation and the benefits of that are that it’s got much longer shelf life, bigger opportunity for merchandising, and I’d give them all of the business reasons why the movies that they make could also be made in animation.
So I was getting the "American Anime" thing out there and then my agent mentioned that Kingdom Hearts as the perfect "American Anime" project because it was mixing American animation and anime and so I played the game, which was pretty much all I was doing after Eight Crazy Nights was playing video games for awhile because I was in director prison for awhile. I finished the game in like a week or two, that was how much I was playing it.
Then I read the script they had for the pilot and the script read like the Kingdom Hearts episode of Aladdin and I was like “we need to rewrite the script” and I almost got fired off of it for saying to rewrite the script because the guy who was the head of Disney at the time, like that was like his idea—the script.
So I had to have a conversation with them where I said “Nothing against the idea or anything like that, it’s just that these characters are going to go to a bunch of worlds that Disney TV Animation has already done series for and so in order for it to have its own voice, we need to make sure these characters are leading the story.”
Right at that same time, Cowboy Bebop had just come onto Cartoon Network at midnight. And so the guy who had written the first script was then also going to write the second script with me and so I made him watch a bunch of Cowboy Bebop and I said “It should really be like this. Like in between when they are on the planets y’know in the game theres just Traverse Town, right? We should have them where they’re on a ship kind of like these guys in Cowboy Bebop waiting to figure out where the next place they need to go is. So that’s what we did.
On releasing the Kingdom Hearts pilot to the public
Everybody wants to see the pilot but it’s a big legal thing—it's property of Disney—so it's not like I can just throw that up on my YouTube page. I would like the views that it would generate but I don’t know if the AdSense revenue would counteract the lawsuit that’s gonna come.
I think everyone is going to be really disappointed when they finally see it because it's a colored animatic—it's not a full episode. And it’s a colored animatic pre-digital where we didn’t do a lot of poses. A lot of it was letting the dialogue cover it. A storyboard animatic today is more like what you would have called a layout animatic before because it's got all of the posing and all of the acting positions—a lot of the times you’ve got antics and overshoots on your boards. We are really at a point now with storyboarding where the storyboard artist is practically animating the thing.
This was 13 years ago I guess, right? Or more. 2003, so yeah, coming on 14 years.
It’s digitally composited—it’s digitally colored but all of the board panels are hand drawn and drawn really small and its pre HD so it's 640 x 480 resolution. And the only copy I that have has the dialogue and a few bits of effects but it doesn’t have the music and the copy that I have that is a full copy is the VHS that I took a picture of and put on Twitter and that's got crappy VHS sound and picture. It’s a VHS tape that’s lived in my sister’s garage for about 12 years and now it’s in my shed so it's not like it's been kept in an environmentally controlled vault.
I tried to use as much art from the game as possible, but there is very little original backgrounds that are done because I actually went into the Disney vault—the Disney library—and was able to get scans of the original Aladdin backgrounds from inside the Cave of Wonders and just used the backgrounds they had and reshot them for what I needed it to be.
It would have been really cool and it scored really well when they tested it, but I think it all came down to that the second game was in the works and the director had read that first script, and I think after that was kind of like "No, I’m not really interested in there being a game(?)." His pull kept Disney from doing it. I don’t really know.
I have talked to the guy who was the head on the production side and he has mentioned trying to get a hold of the guy was then and is still the legal head of the TV side to see if we can get permission. I’m really reluctant to just sort of throw it out there because I am still very active in this industry and this industry is very small, especially in animation, and that is one bridge I would really rather not burn.
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Thanks to Kaleb Korger for the tip via Twitter!