Cyclops (AKA Scott Summers) leads the X-Men 


Wolverine and Gambit charge up for an attack in a key scene from X-Men '97

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March 22, 2024
Online Originals

How X-Men '97 Replicated the Original Show's Visual Style

Supervising producer and head director Jake Castorena on how the new Disney+ series honors the animation style that came before.

Rachel Van Nes

When Supervising Producer and Head Director Jake Castorena was being considered to join the Disney+ animated series X-Men '97, he pitched the team on something fresh, but familiar.

As a superfan of X-Men characters since childhood, Castorena was determined to preserve the integrity of the original FOX animated series while adding some new bells and whistles to the story of Marvel's mutants. In the new Disney+ series, which premiered its first two episodes on March 20, Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue and the rest of the X-Men struggle to save a world that fears and hates them one year after our heroes have lost their leader and father figure, Professor Charles Xavier. The X-Men's loss proved to be the show's gain, as Castorena and his creative partners found ways to enrich the core storyline with electrifying action sequences — like a building-sized robotic Sentinel attacking the X-Jet mid-air — and rich character drama, such as putting Magento, the X-Men's most formidable nemesis, in charge of the house (and team) that Xavier built.

The Television Academy recently spoke with Castorena, where he shared how his lifelong X-Men fandom proved helpful when working with these beloved characters in the animated space.

Television Academy: What most excited you when you came onto X-Men '97? Did you have a connection to the original animated series?

Jake Castorena: Oh, absolutely. Like a lot of people in my generation, we grew up with the OG show. My favorite memory of sharing it is when Pizza Hut did the promo for the Night of the Sentinels two-parter on VHS. Getting to wear that tape out over and over and just watch Morph die repeatedly — that was my first core memory of being a fan of the X-Men show. It's been really great getting to come in and play in the sandbox.

You've worked on many different superhero projects. What do you think sets X-Men apart?

First and foremost, I truly believe any fan will tell you: X-Men is always — and should always be — about prejudice. The minute you take that away, it's a different superhero team. It has a different meaning altogether. Marvel wants to do the characters right. To get to be a part of a team that embraces the IP is great. It's that level of support between the studio and creative that's been really cool.

As far as preserving the original animation style, what did you update and what did you keep the same?

It was a good artistic challenge to figure that out. We are a spiritual successor. We are a revival. We're not a reboot. So we already have a certain parameter of sandbox to play in. If we go out of those parameters, we're instantly not the vibe of the original show. It was up to us and everyone on the visual team to go in and ask, "How clean is too clean? How 4K is too 4K?" Or go: "Oh, that's too advanced. Oh, that's the right amount of dirty." If you watch, we have a subtle film judder from when things were on film and celluloid. That's hand-built into our show. It's phenomenal. Shout out to one of our in-house animators, Nas Pasha, who had his own version that he did himself by hand. And he was gracious enough to help X-Men and our team build a custom one just for the show.

Did you pull any direct sequences from the comics?

Some of my favorites [that] I can't talk about yet. I happily implore fans to watch. Keep an eye out.

How did the team approach figuring out new and exciting ways to use each mutant's powers?

We have a phrase on our show: "The best idea wins." The best idea wins because we all benefit from it. So anything that could leapfrog and get the best visuals that we can possibly get is the name of the game. It's a healthy competition within ourselves, you know? I always heard one of our directors Chase [Conley] go, I got to blow the last version of me up. I got to level up.

Well said for a superhero show.


In addition to the incredible action sequences, I was impressed with how each of the characters were invested with so much emotional depth.

That's great because doing one helps the other, right? You need to be invested in the characters to care enough. So when all of the turmoil, action and drama hits — you care. If you're not invested in these characters, then you don't care whether they live or die or make it out. Action isn't going to supplement anything for you. That's what I love about this show, too. Just because we have action doesn't also mean we're not roping in storytelling with it. Story over everything.

What X-Men character resonates most with you?

I love that question because I like to equate it to genuine growth, from childhood to adulthood. Childhood is Wolverine, all the way through. He doesn't follow any rules. He punches Scott in the belly for leaving Morph. But then, growing up, you realize — Man, Scott's got it hard. Leadership is messy. You want to make everyone happy. You want to always keep the team jazzed and enthused, keep the morale up. And that always comes at a cost, right? To be the cheerleader all the time. And I only understood that as I got older. So now I'm like: "Hats off to you, Scott. I get it."

In becoming "Team Dad," you gave up being a kid.

But that's the best part about animation. I think it's good to stay a kid at heart because that's what helps this. And then it shows up on screen and people love it. So that's all we can hope for.

X-Men '97 is currently streaming on Disney+.

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