Q & A with Van Alan and Doug Jones, Director and Star of Automata

Doug Jones recording the voice of Automata’s robot detective Carl Swangee

Fans can’t get enough of Automata, the sci-fi noir series now playing exclusively on DUST. We sat down with director Van Alan and Doug Jones, voice of the show’s leading robot detective, to learn more about the making of the series.


Find out what they had to say below and watch the first episode here.







Automata: The Series – Interview with Doug Jones & Van Alan


Doug, what drew you to the project (Automata) and playing the character of Carl?

Doug: I was drawn to Automata and playing Carl because of my love of robotic droid characters and my love of noir detective stories.  I have played a number of androids before, including Jon Lovitz’s robot butler in The Benchwarmers, but never in this kind of stylized setting. And even more specifically, ever since a friend of mine introduced me to the Penny Arcade AUTOMATA web comic, I have romanticized the idea of playing Carl in a live action version of this intriguing story.


How would you describe Sam and Carl’s dynamic? What is your take on their friendship?

Doug: Even though one is human and one is machine, Sam and Carl share a brotherhood comradery that includes everything from slightly annoying each other, to being willing to take a bullet for the other.  A deeply respectful friendship laced with witty humor.


How do you convey Carl’s personality through voice-acting? Especially when his physical appearance is very mechanical. Did you draw on anything for inspiration? 

Doug: When reading the web comic, I heard Carl’s voice being intelligent, matter-of-fact, and analytical, but also melodic and good-humored, with an ever-growing heart. Carl has some of the same qualities to me that my oldest brother Bobby does. He is a PhD in molecular biology with a delightful sense of dad humor.  I’m also grateful to Dylan Smith for his on-camera physical styling of Carl that was in sync with the vision I imagined for him.


Can you describe what the voice-recording process was like?

Doug: Unlike the on-set filming experience where actors live, breathe, and react of one another, voicing Carl was more isolated, completing his dialogue for all five episodes in one day with just me voicing over the fully edited story that was already on film.  While I missed the chance to interact with the talented and charming Basil Harris (Sam), I did have the luxury to record one line at a time to find the right tune for each moment.


Van, how did you get the legendary Doug Jones for Automata?

Van: I’ve been a huge fan of Doug and had been following his work for a long time. When I first set out to adapt Automata into a live-action series, there wasn’t a question in my mind that Doug was the character of Carl Swangee. It just felt like a perfect casting scenario where nothing would be lost in translation, like Patrick Stewart as Professor X. It just felt like a role he had to inhabit, and I was counting on the universe to make it happen!

Lucky for me, Doug was already aware of the comic and wanted to be part of the project. We maintained a dialogue throughout the years and even though he was unavailable during production (he’s a busy man!), we recorded with him after the shoot. It was such a joy to work with him. Such a giving person, and a brilliant actor.


What was the most difficult part of bringing the noir aesthetic to the screen in a sci-fi way?

Van: Shooting a period piece is already hard on a limited budget, so we decided to complicate it further by adding CGI robots! Honestly, we really wanted Automata to feel true to the time period and just have the automatons seamlessly blend into the environments, which was accomplished by our amazing visual effects team. Noir is such a rich genre in itself, we just played it straight and let the nuances of the sci-fi concept add to the flavor to the show.


Are you already planning a season 2? If so, will it be longer (longer episodes)?

Van: We definitely have a series bible of where the show goes, with a full season of hour-long episodes plotted out. But a lot of it just depends on how we can fund our show. We decided to put the Automata pilot out there to the masses and see how people responded to our show. The feedback has been overwhelming positive, so hopefully we can continue to do more!


There’s been a huge outpouring of love from the DUST audience for Automata. Do you two have a message we can relay to them?

Doug: Yes!!  Thank you for loving Automata as much as we do!  Art isn’t art until someone actually sees it, and when it is appreciated with the love you’ve shown, that gives us all such encouragement.  Without you, I don’t have a job, so thank you!

Van: It’s been awesome sharing Automata with the DUST audience! It feels right at home here on this platform. Filmmaking is a long and difficult journey, and just seeing people respond positively to something you’ve poured tirelessly into reminds you that the journey was worth it. So thank you!