The LeSean Thomas ThunderCats Project at WB (2006)

LeSeanIn August of 2006, news broke that a ThunderCats development project was underway at Warner Brother Animation Studios. A source reported that the concept featured  a team of teenagers with transformative powers who turn into ThunderCats., The report indicated  that the teens were rockers, and that their leader, Leon (Lion-O), was a “wannabe Rock Star”. Consequently, this iteration of Warner Brothers’ development came to be known as the “Rock Band” version.

Mumm-Ra2

Early draft of Mumm-Ra penciled by LeSean, inked & coloured for this article by Joe Spicer

We’ve since learned that industry professional LeSean Thomas (The Boondocks, Black Dynamite, The Legend of Korra) was Supervising Character Designer on the project, joining a creative team that included storyboard and background artist Sam Liu (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Godzilla: The Series)and production supervisor Bobbie Page (Young Justice, ThunderCats 2011). Brought on board to flesh out the cartoon concept, the team reported to Producer Brandon Vietti (Young Justice).

In a recent interview with ThunderCatsLair.org, LeSean explained that, by the time he was brought in, the studio had already landed  on the Rock Band concept: teenagers who transform into ThunderCats. As Supervising Character Designer, he was hired to develop the look of each of these characters. Each teen was to have their own weapon, for instance, and Snarf was to have a larger role as a mystic with  a “third eye”. [1]  The setting was to be Third Earth, but in a modernistic future when humans are still the prevailing race on the planet, and Mumm-Ra remains dormant.

Leon was to be the group’s de facto leader, and he and his friends discover the ancient and previously hidden Sword of Omens. LeSean has explained that “activating its power resulted in them all becoming spiritual successors of each cat.Leon would transform into Lion-O, Francine (Fran) into Cheetara, Jasper into Tygra, and Mookie into Panthro. Jaga was absent from the concept; the sage elder role was left to Snarf. The discovery of the Sword would also rouse Mumm-Ra from his ancient slumber, and his evil would again threaten Third Earth.

LeSean, Artist and ThunderCats Fan

leasean3As a child of the 80s, with an indelible love of the decade’s cartoon artwork, it’s only natural that LeSean would count ThunderCats among  his early artistic influences. He also continues to rate the ThunderCats as being among his all time favourite character designs. LeSean was born and raised in the housing projects of the South Bronx, New York City. When asked about his path to animation, LeSean explains, “I got into drawing from copying my older brother as a toddler to get the same attention he got as a first-born. I’m second oldest of five so I got overlooked pretty quickly. My brother grew out of drawing and I stuck with it because it kept me out of trouble. I got turned onto animation at a very early age like most artists in my field. Countless Saturday mornings were the culprits.” [2]

In LeSean’s South Bronx community, there was very little encouragement to become a professional artist; he didn’t pursue art school and is instead self-taught. He says that he was “kind of a knucklehead growing up in the hood, toying around in school and focusing more on chasing girls. You either were a rap battle MC, played basketball, did graffiti or sold drugs […] I was good at neither, so I stuck with drawing[…] I just learned from sketching from life, reading books, studying and sponging off of professionals I was lucky to meet during my path. I was pretty hungry for knowledge[…] I was lucky and am extremely grateful I don’t owe $50,000 to a college right now. Life throws you curveballs.” [2]

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Moving on from ThunderCats

Development on the “Rock Band” ThunderCats project ended when WB moved from the Sherman Oaks offices to The Ranch on Hollywood Way. LeSean explains that “My style was/is heavily influenced by Eastern comics and animation sensibilities and there was a shift to steer my work away from what you see now to a more streamlined, ‘WBAnimation House style,’ (sharp elbows, square shoulders, etc). You can see my various attempts at the style in my art book Midnight Marauder. Eventually they wanted to go in a different direction stylistically.”

From there, the project was handed off to Joaquim Dos Santos (Avatar: The Last Airbender,  Justice League), who served as the newcreative lead under Executive Producer Sam Register (Mad, Young Justice). The work done by these two was the formative concept that led to what aired in 2011. While Dos Santos moved on to head up Legend of Korra, Sam Register got the project the green light and assigned Dan Norton as Art Director. The rest is history.

LeSean, meanwhile, has been hitting a series of home runs in the world of animation since work on the “Rock Band” ThunderCats concept ended. He takes on a number of roles on most projects, including Character Designer, Character Supervisor, Storyboard Artist, Director, and Producer. You can enjoy his work in Black Dynamite, currently airing on Adult Swim, as well as in all four seasons of The Boondocks.

LeSean’s Cannon Busters Kickstarter

Never one to sit on his hands, LeSean has launched a Kickstarter for an absolutely gorgeous looking animated series pilot he is developing called Cannon Busters. He’s partnered with industry titans Joe Madureira, Thomas Romain, Tim Yoon, and Bahi JD in a creator owned effort to produce an anime inspired action adventure series. Check out the video below, and find more details on the Kickstarter page.

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[1] Aint it Cool News  http://www.aintitcool.com/node/24232
[2] The Character Design Blogspot http://lesean-thomas-interview.blogspot.ca/

Places to find LeSean on the net:

http://www.leseanthomas.com
https://www.youtube.com/user/leseant
http://leseanthomas.deviantart.com/