More than ever, comic books and movies are intricately intertwined. Adaptations of super hero comics like Spider-Man and Batman have become blockbuster film franchises and film versions of independent titles such as “Scott Pilgrim” and “Ghost World” have become critical and cult favorites. Films are also routinely adapted or expended upon for the medium of comics as in BOOM! Studios’ recent “Die Hard: Year One” series and Dark Horse’s line of “Star Wars” titles. It’s no surprise that screenwriters like Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith have been penned comics and comic writers like Grant Morrison and Brian K. Vaughan have been approached to write films.
It’s not just writers that are telling stories in both mediums either, as a number of comic artists have been active in the creation of films for years. One of the more successful artists involved with both comics and moviemaking is Gabriel Hardman, who is currently pencilling the monthly “Hulk” series written by Jeff Parker for Marvel Comics. When Hardman isn’t working in comics there’s a good chance he’s using his skills as part of the art department on blockbuster movies like “Inception” or the “X-Men” series of films. CBR News spoke with Hardman about his work on “Hulk,” where recently he’s designed a number of new villains for the Red Hulk to battle and his storyboard work on major Hollywood films.
CBR News: Gabriel, you’re well known by Marvel Comics fans for your collaborations with Jeff Parker on books like “Agents of Atlas” and “Hulk,” but let’s kick things off by talking about your other artistic career, the one that some fans may not know about. You’re a veteran story board artist who’s worked on movies like “Inception,” “Spider-Man 3,” “X-Men 2 and 3,” “Superman Returns” and “Tropic Thunder.” What is the exact role of a storyboard artist on a film today, and what are some of the things expected of you in particular?
Gabriel Hardman: The primary job of a storyboard artist is the same as it’s always been: drawing a comic-like representation of the angles a director plans to shoot so the crew knows how to prepare. That’s the baseline but it frequently encompasses a lot more. Often I’m in the position to design a sequence on paper and present it to the director. Much of that work can make it into the final film. Frequently over the last several years, I’ve been in charge of supervising the previs (animatic) artists and together we craft low-ish res computer animated sequences. Something like a CG animated storyboard with the look of a video game cut sequence.
Many of my fellow storyboard artists tend to resent previs, feeling that it takes away work from us, but I’ve always embraced the technology. It’s given me the opportunity to craft sequences much more specifically than boards do, using animation and lenses to get the ideas across. In fact I’m an honorary member of the recently formed Previs Society.
On “Superman Returns” I was left alone with my team of animators from Pixel Liberation Front to invent the sequence where Superman saves the plane and shuttle. We practically invented it from whole cloth while Brian Singer was busy getting the script up to speed. In that instance the sequence we put together survived virtually unchanged into the finished film. The downside of this is not getting credit for the amount of input I had.
I imagine, like comic art, storyboarding is a collaborative experience. When you work on a film, which crew members do you collaborate most closely with?
In general you work closest with the director, but you have to coordinate with the Art Department, Locations, Props, Picture Vehicles or any other department you need information from to create shootable boards.
You’ve worked with costumed superheroes in both the mediums of comic books and movies. How is the experience different? What do you have to keep in mind when you’re rendering a character like Spider-Man on the printed page, for instance? And what do you have to be mindful of when you’re working on him for a movie?
With Spider-Man it’s all about dynamism, isn’t it? In comics you’re creating the sense of movement from a posed snapshot (so to speak, there’s no photo tracing involved). In film you’re planning shots and movements that have to work in a 3D space with a moving character. It’s the opposite challenge.
I’ve only gotten the chance to draw Spider-Man in comics a few brief times. I’d love the chance to draw an entire story.
What do you enjoy most about storyboarding for movies?
Solving storytelling problems. In film and comics it all comes down to storytelling.
According to IMDB, your body of work as a storyboard artist is pretty extensive. It stretches all the way back to 1997 with the first “Austin Powers” movie and goes all the way up through last year’s “Inception.” What are some of your favorite films that you’ve worked on? Why do these films stand out for you?
“Inception,” “X-Men 2” and “Tropic Thunder” are the movies I enjoyed the most as an audience member, but it’s difficult for me to look at the movies I’ve worked on objectively. I was the only storyboard artist on “Inception.” I had read the script dozens of times. I boarded most of the movie, including everything from the point they enter the multileveled dream that takes up the last third of the film. I knew exactly what was going to happen. Still I found the movie riveting.
Then there are other movies where the final product is terrible, but working on them was a great experience.
You also wrote and directed your own short film in 2004 titled “Wrong Way Up.” What can you tell us about that film and your experience making it? Would you want to write and direct a film again sometime in the future?
You can watch it right here
“Wrong Way Up” premiered at the Seattle Film Festival and was featured in many more festivals including The Slamdance Film Festival. I set out to make an ambitious short that involved location work and practical elements like cars and live tarantulas. So many shorts play it safe, setting the story in a single room with a couple of characters. I wanted to be a little more daring.
I love the experience of directing. The pressure, having to make difficult decisions and making creative choices on your feet.
I’ve spent years trying to get a feature off the ground for me to direct. Most recently an adaptation of my and my wife Corinna Bechko’s OGN “Heathentown,” but making even a low budget feature is a massive undertaking and the stars have to align for it to happen. I’m dying to get back behind the camera. I can easily see directing another short in the near future.
Are you currently working on any films?
I will be storyboarding another movie but I can’t really talk about it. The project is very hush, hush.
Let’s move into your ongoing work on “Hulk” now. What is it about this series that makes it so compelling to work on month in and month out?
I think the challenge is retaining the fans of the Loeb/McGuinness run while bringing in readers who weren’t interested in the character before. Artistically, I’ve tried very hard to maintain a high level of dynamic action — the proverbial smashing — but balancing it out with human scale character work.
You seem to be getting a chance to do a lot of new character design in “Hulk,” specifically of villains. Do you have a general philosophy when it comes to creating new characters?
I think it’s important that the characters feel like they fit in the Marvel Universe as a whole. And no matter how far we get from 1961, at its core Marvel was designed by Jack Kirby. Even if it’s not directly apparent in the designs, I like to keep that in mind.
One of the latest villains you redesigned was the new M.O.D.O.K. who made his debut in “Hulk” #29. It seems like the original M.O.D.O.K., while being an intimidating foe to fight, also had a slight comical aspect to him. This new M.O.D.O.K. is a lot creepier and horrific. Is that what you were going for?
I gave him a little more of Peter Lorre, but the M.O.D.O.K. redesign was fairly superficial. He has spider legs when he’s revealed, but that’s just one of the modular components he’ll have at his disposal.
The next new villain you and Jeff are pitting the Hulk against is General Fortean. He looks like he’ll come after the Red Hulk in a mecha-style battle suit. Is Fortean’s battle suit merely practical or does it also comment on the way he approaches problems — mechanically and with a lot of fire power?
Fortean is more an opponent than a villain. He want’s to take down Red Hulk, and not without reason. He’s not all about brute force, but he’s not going to bring a knife to a gunfight either. That’s the reason behind the battle suit.
In “Hulk” #31 you and Jeff introduce another new villain named Zero/One. What can you tell us about this character? Jeff referred to her as a she…
Zero/One is a character we’ve been seeding since the beginning of our run, but I’d rather readers find out about her in the book.
Marvel recently released a teaser image advertising the Red Hulk’s new rogues gallery and it showed four characters. We know Fortean is the guy in the green battle suit and I’m guessing Zero/One is the female villain in the teaser. Who is the monstrous guy in the black cloak and the villain in the silver armor? What can you tell us about these characters?
I’m not going to give it all away!
Fair enough. So in the coming months, you’ll add quite a few new characters to Red Hulk’s Rogues Gallery and the larger toy box of the Marvel Universe. How does that feel?
We’ll see how it plays out. It’s rare that creative teams create new characters for corporate books these days. We wanted to give readers something compelling and original. There was a time when comics, particularly Marvel Comics, were all about invention. It’s fun to be a part of that.