Jorge Gutierrez Talks 'Maya and the Three' as Netflix Highlights Animation Strategy

Maya and the Three-Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Netflix

The Book of Life director Jorge Gutierrez showed concept art and test footage revealing a rich world for his upcoming Netflix animated limited series Maya and the Three on Tuesday during a press event at Netflix’s in-house animation facility in Hollywood.

The studio is bullish about becoming a force in animation, with its in-house facility now housing roughly 200 employees working on a dozen original animated projects, both features and series. (Netflix is additionally working with filmmakers at third-party facilities, and continues to acquire animated fare.)

Maya and the Three, which drops on Netflix in the summer of 2021, is a 4 ½-hour epic that will be released in 30-minute episodes, Gutierrez reported. Inspired by Mesoamerican mythology and its female heroes, it follows Maya, a Mesoamerican warrior princess who embarks on a journey to save the world of gods and man with three legendary fighters. "A Caribbean wizard, an albino archer and a giant barbarian from the mountains — and if you break this down, it's Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion," the director said.

In the test clip, Maya spars with the Caribbean wizard. "Visually we really wanted to take our audience from all over the world to a part of Latin America that we don't get to see in media a lot, which is the pre-conquest times," Gutierrez said.

Netflix also showed a clip from upcoming animated preschool series Trash Truck, which was introduced by creator and showrunner Max Keane. The 28-episode series (each episode is roughly 11 minutes) follows a 6-year-old named Hank whose best friend is a garbage truck. “The core of the show is the friendship,” said Keane of the emotive clip.

Keane's father, Disney Legend and Oscar winner Glen Keane, is a character designer and exec producer on the series, which drops on Netflix in 2020. Glen Keane is additionally directing an original animated feature for Netflix. Titled Over the Moon, it’s being produced through China’s Pearl Studio.

Other residents of the Netflix Animation building are Elizabeth Ito (Emmy winner for Adventure Time with Finn & Jake), who is developing an animated project featuring a CG ghost; and Rikke Asbjorn and Chris Garbutt, who are creating an interactive branching narrative. The latter will follow and cat and dog who wake up to find all humans have disappeared. The filmmakers explained that as the cat and dog search for their human friends, kids choose which character to follow.

On Tuesday, Netflix announced that it is working on an interactive animated kids series, titled Battle Kitty.

In features, Big Hero 6's Oscar winning helmer Chris Williams is directing his Jacob and the Sea Beast out of the Netflix Animation base.

All of this was presented in the context of a two-day Netflix Labs press event, which focused on the streaming giant's technology and creative strategy.

The presentations included an overview of Netflix's proprietary modular toolset developed for filmmakers, including Script and Scheduling, which will be available later this year. Reps didn't rule out releasing this software to the wider filmmaking community at a later date.