After DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers’ screening of “All Star Superman” at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles last Thursday night, event sponsor Comic Book Resources spoke with executive producer Bruce Timm, director Sam Liu and casting/dialogue director Andrea Romano about their thoughts on the comic that inspired the film, the creative process and the new direction of the DCU animated DVDs.
When asked how the decision to bring comic book writer Grant Morrison’s “All Star Superman” to the screen originated, Timm grinned, saying, “Because it was twelve issues of awesome!” A longtime fan of Morrison’s work, Timm told CBR News that when Morrison’s “All Star Superman” was being serialized, it absolutely blew him away.
“I thought, wow, this is pure Superman without darkening it, without making it gritty,” said Timm. “I felt that [Morrison] and Frank Quitely got right to the core of what Superman is and should be, and literally made twelve issues of magic out of it.”
Despite his open admiration for the original comic and Morrison’s awareness of the adaptation’s creation, Timm said he did not talk to Morrison about the “All Star” DVD until it was complete.
“I was terrified,” laughed Timm. “I know Grant slightly, we’ve talked a little bit at conventions, [but] I’m a bit of a chicken. I didn’t know how he was going to react, so I said, ‘OK, he’s busy, he knows we’re doing this. Hopefully when the movie’s done, he’ll like it!'”
“I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we met to do the [DVD] commentary together and he was very effusive in his praise. I was like, ‘Whew! Thank God!'” added Timm.
Director Sam Liu also believes there is a magical quality to the story, commenting that “All Star” was vastly different than his previous DC animated feature, “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths,” telling CBR, “Of all our other direct to video stuff we’ve done, I think ‘All Star Superman’ is a lot more psychological, a lot more adult.”
Structurally, “Crisis” hinged upon fight scenes and action sequences, while “All Star’s” structure presented a unique directing challenge. “I felt ‘All Star Superman’ didn’t have a safety net of a fight,” said Liu. “There was action scene to dramatic scene, to dramatic scene, to dramatic scene, to a semi-fight, to dramatic scene — it was very challenging in the sense that you couldn’t rely on all the things you’re used to.”
And the story structure wasn’t the only challenge the team behind the adaptation faced. They also had to figure out the best way to turn the drawings of “All Star” comic book artist Frank Quitely into animated form.
“Oh, God!” Timm exclaimed when asked about this part of the process. Saying he was a huge fan of Quitely, the producer told CBR that Quitely’s distinct artwork was utterly unlike the standard superhero style. In Quitely’s art, “Superman doesn’t have every single one of his muscles defined, and he’s kind of thick, and isn’t consistent from panel to panel. In some panels you think, ‘Hey, that’s a good looking guy!’ And then in the next panel he looks like Rocky Balboa after going five rounds with Apollo Creed.
“I like that Rocky Balboa Superman, I like that he looks kind of lumpy and mushy,” continued Timm. “So trying to figure out what is the charm of the Frank Quitely drawing, distilled to its essence in few lines, and in a way that is going to be animated consistently overseas, it was really, really hard.”
Liu agreed with Timm’s sentiments, though the director admitted, “I think Bruce was a lot more invested in making it a certain way, whereas it was close enough for me!”
The unique tone and story of “All Star” also presented new challenges for casting and dialogue director Andrea Romano.
“This particular piece required someone to be more sensitive, emotionally, than a lot of Superman pieces have in the past,” said Romano. Looking for someone who could embody that quality, she eventually decided to cast “Desperate Housewives” actor James Denton as Superman.
“I knew he had the ability to give us that intimacy that we see between him and Lois Lane in this piece,” said Romano. Though Denton, Christina Hendricks and Anthony LaPaglia (Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, respectively) had never done voice acting before, Romano wasn’t worried.
“I knew their acting, and that’s always the key number one point: how good are they as actors?” said Romano, adding, “I can’t teach acting in a recording session, but I can certainly teach the basics of voice work.”
While Romano said she enjoys directing her other non-action projects such as “SpongeBob Squarepants,” the DC characters really appeal to her. “I love the DC characters. I’ve gotten to know them so well over all these years, and I didn’t know them very well because as a young kid, girls didn’t read comic books,” said Romano. “I hope I get to work with every single character in the DC universe.”
Though Romano has voice directed the DC animated universe DVDs almost exclusively, prior to his DC work Liu, directed “Hulk Vs.” and “Thor: Tales of Asgard” for Marvel’s own direct-to-DVD line.
“There’s difference in how the product comes out. Without offending anybody, I think a lot of it has to do with the edit and post process,” said Liu, contrasting his experiences working for both companies. Liu told CBR News that overall, the similarities outweigh the differences, especially given how many people have worked on both. “For the most part, there’s a small pool [of animators]. The action-adventure genre is specialized. We all use the same people,” said Liu.
Timm and Romano recently completed “Green Lantern: Emerald Knights,” and Liu is lined up to direct yet another renown comic book writer’s work: Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One.” He lit up when asked about co-directing “Year One” with Lauren Montgomery, his previous collaborator and co-director on “Justice League.”
“Its great, I love working with her!” said Liu. “We’re almost like brother and sister sometimes. I think we have different strengths and I think we compliment each other with our differences.”
Romano was similarly enthusiastic about “Emerald Knights,” describing it as a, “very fun piece.” The release date for the DVD is currently slated around the same time as the Ryan Reynolds-helmed live action “Green Lantern,” Summer 2011, though Timm cautioned that despite being based on the same characters, the animated DVD was not trying to tonally match the theatrical film.
“It doesn’t tie into the continuity of the movie, specifically, except where both their movie and our movie coincide with the comic,” said Timm. And though DC Entertainment CCO Geoff Johns played consultant to both films, “We were not trying to specifically make it match the movie,” said Timm.
According to Timm, with the creation of Morrison’s “All Star Superman” and Miller’s “Batman: Year One,” the WB DVDs are also starting to target the character’s established fanbase a bit more than in the past. As Timm told CBR, “We want the fans to like these movies, and specifically that was one of the goals of this entire DVD project was to make movies that were a little bit more fan orientated than the TV shows, where we could explore a little more of the back catalogue of the characters and stay a little truer to the comics.”
When all is said and done, in spite of, or perhaps because of the specific creative challenges involved in the making of their latest film, all three were incredibly pleased with how “All Star” came together.
“Honestly, I was relieved,” said Timm, citing his initial reaction to the finished product. “I thought it was wonderful. When I saw the whole movie put together with the score and the bells and whistles, I sat there and went, ‘Wow, this is really something.'”
“All Star Superman” is available today on DVD, Blu-ray and through digital download.