Long before the animated adaptation of Castlevania, brothers Sam and Adam Deats were huge fans of the video game series, playing the original titles on the Nintendo Entertainment System and following its evolution as it appeared on new consoles. As the duo became animators and filmmakers, they earned the nod to adapt the video game property into an animated series for Netflix through Powerhouse Animation Studios and have worked on all four seasons of the acclaimed television series.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Adam and Sam Deats share their origins as both fans and filmmakers of the long-running franchise, explain how they developed the designs of the protagonists Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades and Alucard for the series and reveal their personal favorite touches across the course of the show.
CBR: I was speaking with [executive producer] Kevin Kolde and he said you guys are both huge fans of the franchise. Do you remember what your gateway into Castlevania was?
Adam Deats: We had an NES, back in the day, that we fought over as kids. I think our first Castlevania game was probably Castlevania II and, after Simon's Quest, I got around to [the original game] and III after that -- in that awkward order -- as kids but I loosely followed them for a while. I was a big fan of Bloodlines on the Sega Genesis -- I love that game, that was great -- I loved Super Castlevania IV as well but I think the big one for us was Symphony of the Night; that was the big one for a lot of people.
Sam Deats: As the younger brother, the NES Age didn't stick quite as much as the SNES Age, but I always remembered the original Metroid really, really well. Even though it was shitty, 8-bit pixels, it actually kind of creeped me out as a little kid. I played Super Metroid and, when Symphony of the Night came out, I was like "Oh, this is like those games that I love!" It was like cramming together these two things that I loved in a way that spoke to my kid heart, I gravitated towards that a lot. I'm one of the unfortunate folks that ended up playing the SNES Dracula X before Rondo of Blood and I still ended up liking it, but it was too bad I played it before I got to Rondo of Blood.
Do you remember how you both got involved to adapt the story of Dracula's Curse and Curse of Darkness into an animated series?
Sam Deats: Yeah, what's funny is that right around the time that I started at Powerhouse fifteen years ago, we started seeing articles for what was going to be direct-to-DVD adaptations that Kevin was cooking up. James Jean was doing concept art for it and Adam and I got really excited. I remember refreshing the website for that project for a long time, hoping it would go somewhere.
Adam Deats: It was so weird and surreal. I was literally working in video game strategy guides at the time that news came out and I actually did a couple of books for the Castlevania series; I did the Order of Ecclesia and Portrait of Ruin guidebooks. We passed that news article around about that coming out thinking it would be cool to work on that: That was ten years ago!
Sam Deats: Even longer now since then and when we actually started Season 1.
Adam Deats: It's surreal and makes no sense on an everyday basis that we're now the ones making this thing.
Sam Deats: Yeah, a bunch of years later we saw the project was coming back to life just looking at news articles talking about it. I hit up [supervising producer Brad Graeber] saying it'd be cool to work on it and Brad happened to know some folks at Frederator [Studios] and he got us in. I did a bunch of drawings that somehow spoke to Kevin and we got picked to work on it.
With Alucard and the Belmonts being such fan-favorite characters, what did you want to retain from the games and what did you want to put your own stamp on for the animated series?
Adam Deats: I have to say, right off the bat, I said to Sam "It has to be Alucard from Symphony of the Night, it will be nobody else!" [Laughs] I fought very hard to make that happen and he did too, obviously, he was the designer.
Sam Deats: Yeah, it couldn't be the black, short-haired costume-shop Dracula version of Alucard [as seen in Dracula's Curse]. One big thing was we've seen a couple of different versions of Trevor: back on the original NES cartridge art, you have this Frank Frazetta-looking artwork of him where he looks like a barbarian man like Simon did. You have the Curse of Darkness version of him where he has long hair and looks suaver. Then you have the Castlevania Judgment version of him where they just went nuts. [Laughs] To a certain extent, I felt like I wanted to marry some of those things together into both an amalgamation and an original take that worked with the type of character he was.
I actually designed him before Richard Armitage was picked as the voice and I was really happy with how well Richard Armitage just fit that design to a tee -- the whole tone of the character and everything like that. I just felt like trying to craft that character to fit into the story that we were telling was a really cool and unique experience. Sypha didn't really have a whole lot from her 8-bit version, I think the Castlevania Judgment version was the only other one floating around. In a lot of ways, she was a much more original take, crafting her from the ground up.
Adam Deats: Yeah, I feel like the only marching orders when you talked with me about it that I gave you was "let's just keep the general color tone for the characters." Trevor is that tan brown in the [NES] game and Sypha is light blue.
They each also have their own distinct combat styles and you've topped yourselves again this season. How do you make that apparent in these progressively epic action set pieces?
Sam Deats: When the trio comes back together, one of the fun things that I remember going into storyboarding Episode 9 -- I storyboarded most of that episode and Sarah Stone helped out in a huge way -- it was such an action-heavy episode and that's sort of my expertise so I took on a lot of that. I remember going into that episode thinking Alucard is the tank, Trevor is the single target DPS and Sypha is AoE and support. [Laughs] That was sort of influenced a lot of our decisions in trying to craft their teamwork. It didn't end up playing out for everything but that's how I sort of had it in the back of my head as I was boarding it, somewhat distinct roles, and that was the simplest way I could boil it down. [Laughs]
Adam Deats: I did not realize Alucard ranked up to Paladin this season with the shield. [Laughs]
How about monster design? While you do have monsters straight from the games, you definitely have your own original creatures too.
Adam Deats: I feel like a lot of the time the creatures are picked for the setting and what they can add to it but -- Sam, correct me if I'm wrong -- we're always looking for a Castlevania creature to do that with. And if there isn't, we can fill the gap with a brand-new guy.
Sam Deats: Yeah, you see a little bit of that in Episodes 8 and 9 where we were looking at what was going on with Dragan. He doesn't have a Devil Forgemaster, so he can't control these things so it was about finding creatures that appeared either tamed or forced to work [for him]. That kind of brought to mind Gorgoth, with the big metal bands around its feet, and the golems from Lament of Innocence that had the big spikes stuck in them that made it look like they were chained up. That's how the story ended up influencing our decisions [on] which creatures we could pull from and a lot of them just ended up being new guys we came up with based on what would be a cool way to have a fight here and what would be a cool challenge for these guys and what do we need for this specific moment.
I love the sheer number of Easter eggs in this series. What is your favorite that you've been able to slip in across all four seasons?
Adam Deats: I'm biased, but my favorite is Legion in Season 3, Episode 9. I love Legion, I love that boss and thought he was always extremely creepy. And thematically, what is happening in that section just happened to work perfectly for Legion, so we did a pitch and got it approved and created this insane set piece to make it work. I'm just really happy and proud of that; that retrofit worked out just fine for that sequence.
Sam Deats: I'm always hoping, in the back of my head, that the Shield Rod ends up in Alucard's hands. [Laughs] That would be game over for everyone else.
Adam Deats: We have it in the background of the tower that belongs to the wizard Isaac fights in [Season 3,] Episode 9. If Alucard just happens to get there, he's going to be so buff. [Laughs]
Castlevania stars Richard Armitage as Trevor Belmont, Alejandra Reynoso as Sypha Belnades, James Callis as Alucard, Theo James as Hector, Adetokumboh M'Cormack as Isaac, Jaime Murray as Carmilla, Jessica Brown Findlay as Lenore, Bill Nighy as St. Germain, Jason Isaacs as The Judge and Rila Fukushima as Sumi. All four seasons are available to stream on Netflix.