Though there are a handful of human survivors at the core of its story, the real star of Scavengers Reign isn’t a person; it’s a planet. The animated series features a group of astronauts stranded on a bizarre alien world and follows them as they contend with the harsh, confusing, and downright odd environment around them. There are flying creatures that can double as gas masks and giant monkey-frogs that use psychic powers to lure in victims. Things only get weirder from there. But the fun of the show is seeing how the characters are able to use the strange plants and animals to their advantage. “I think it’s a universally satisfying process to watch people try to survive with limitations,” says supervising director Benjy Brooke.
Based on a short film that Joe Bennett wrote and directed alongside Charles Huettner in 2016, Scavengers Reign tells the story of the few survivors of a crashed freighter ship who are spread across an uncharted planet and forced to figure out how to get by without much in the way of modern technology. It has a look that calls to mind the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Jean “Moebius” Giraud, among others, which Bennett says was an inevitability. “This is kind of built in our DNA. We grew up with this stuff, so it’s inevitable it’s going to come out in some way,” Bennett explains.
But some of the biggest inspirations for the show came from spaces outside of sci-fi. The YouTube channel Primitive Technology — which shows the process of handcrafting things like bricks, huts, and axes — was particularly influential. Only, instead of someone crafting things in the Australian bush, in the show, they’re forced to figure out how to utilize a completely alien ecosystem for survival. In the first episode, for instance, viewers see a man crawl inside of a cow-like creature, pull a few gooey strings in its guts, and receive organic orbs that serve as a light source.
“I love the idea of the characters just knowing what they’re doing and being so familiar with these things,” says Bennett. “On the assumption that, clearly, they’ve been doing a trial and error kind of thing with each of these organisms.”
Scavengers Reign has a fairly serious tone, so one of the challenges was ensuring that these very useful alien creatures that can be flashlights or gas masks didn’t come across as too goofy. “There’s a borderline silliness that’s allowable in the world,” Brooke says. “One of my favorite creatures toward the end of the season in episode 11 is this sort of Furby-looking guy that has sharp claws, and there’s a humor in it and a silliness in it, but it’s just shy of dipping into caricature or a cartoon universe.”
“There’s a borderline silliness that’s allowable in the world.”
One of the ways the team got around that was by ensuring nothing was easy; every process of utilizing the environment requires multiple steps and, in some cases, can be quite dangerous. It’s also often quite creepy — as in the case of an alien that can be used like a breathing apparatus when it slithers inside of a person’s nose. “Everything had to have a kind of alien, slightly unsettling, ‘get under your skin’ tone to it,” Brooke explains. “There might be something bizarre and silly about the little tendrils going into the nose, but it’s deeply unsettling, and it connects with you on some kind of reptile brain fear level.”
The ultimate inspiration, though, was nature itself: looking at plants and animals that exist in our world and shifting or changing them to fit in this new context. “So much of it was emulated from what already exists in nature,” says Bennett. “We even came to realize that there was almost nothing you could come up with on your own that’s totally original, that doesn’t already exist in some form or fashion in nature already, whether it’s a micro level or macro level. So it’s a very fun thing to explore.”
Bennett says that the show’s concept art team — which included artists like Jon Juarez and Caleb Wood — would create detailed sets of images that would showcase the full lifecycles of the various creatures, which added a layer of authenticity to the endeavor since everything was thought out in so much detail. As part of that, Bennett says the team was careful not to anthropomorphize the alien creatures. For the most part, they simply behave as animals do, with the same instincts and needs.
“So much of it was emulated from what already exists in nature.”
The one exception is a creature known as the Hollow, the aforementioned psychic monkey-frog, which forms a symbiotic relationship with a human survivor named Kamen. Over the course of the show, Kamen’s humanity rubs off on the creature in the worst possible ways. “It has these human attributes: selfishness and greed and gluttony and things like that, which aren’t really part of the animal kingdom,” says Bennett. “It’s behaving in really destructive ways because it’s in a situation that it wouldn’t normally be in in its natural habitat.” (The relationship between the two was actually inspired by the 1994 live-action version of The Jungle Book, with Mowgli and Baloo communicating without words.)
Perhaps the best part of Scavengers Reign is that its two sides — the humans and the alien world — do come together in an organic and satisfying way. As you watch the team find creative solutions to survive, you also learn about their lives before the crash and how that informs their actions afterward. (This is especially true for Kamen.) That said, while Bennett says that the entire cast remains close to his heart, he would love to explore a story with them removed entirely.
“You know, I wish there was an episode where there were no humans and it was just exploring nature.”