With Wizard’s Richard Ho moderating, Marvel’s Craig Kyle and Lion’s Gate Family Entertainment’s Ken Katsumoto sat down with an over-capacity audience at Wizard World Chicago Saturday afternoon to discuss the first of a proposed series of direct-to-DVD animated releases featuring Marvel properties. Taking several pages directly from the books, “Ultimate Avengers” is slated to be the first release, in February 2006, based on the first six issues of “The Ultimates” by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. The film will run 75-80 minutes with letterboxed format, will be recorded in Dolby Digital 5.1. sound and be aimed at PG/PG-13 audiences. With availability at all major retailers, the price point has not been settled on yet.
After the prerequisite “this company is great” material from both parties, they discussed the new studio MLG, where they used a “fantasy league” styled method of cherry picking talent to try and make the best product possible. “Doing these straight-to-DVD in an animation allows us to keep them as true as possible to the comics,” Kyle said, “and keep the kind of emotion and look and feel you love from the books. I think we’re coming very close, it’s an exciting opportunity and it’s for you guys.” Katsumoto mentioned a meeting with Avi Arad where this first project was likened to the NBA All-Star game, with huge talents finding a way to work together. Look for Nick Fury (based on the Ultimate design), Black Widow, Thor, Hulk, Giant Man and the Wasp, among others.
“Avi’s mandate was not ‘make a good animated movie,'” Kyle said, “it was ‘make a great movie.’ We’re all dying to deliver, you guys have huge expectations. We’re doing our best to deliver. If they do well, there’s no reason we can’t continue. ”
They wanted to get Hawkeye in the film, but Kyle said, “We couldn’t give him the screen time. We just didn’t want him to be in the background once, with an arrow, and everybody’s like ‘hey, Hawkeye!'” They also said the film would not stray too far from the source material, with the World War II segment as the opening scenes. “As close as we get to ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ we tried,” Kyle said. “There won’t be any of that ‘ooh, he missed,’ ‘they all make it to shore’ stuff. Broken glass, violence, romance. This is not Saturday morning stuff.”
There will be some deviations, though. “There are moments of this film where you can grab a panel from the book and hold it up to the screen. To fill the time of the movie, we had to expand upon it and build upon it. We tried to grab specific shots.” But some things just went too far, even for this treatment.
Don Wu will be doing the animation work on this film, and they called on the talents of many veterans of “Batman: The Animated Series” including Frank Parr on design, producer Bob Richardson, and Kurt Geida (“Return of the Joker”) and Steve Gordon as co-directors. “Steve took Bryan’s designs and opened them up so we could animate them,” Kyle gushed.
The films will not all be “Ultimate” based — “We’re not planning to say these all synch up,” Kyle said, and the “Iron Man” feature will be based on the classic Marvel Universe version. “There are places that we thought if a hero were to do that in a moving picture, it would be hard for the audience to come back to them. Victimizing women, it’s just when you cross that line … we try to make the smart choices. Everything in our film is motivated. I think you’ll find as you watch the film that everything makes sense. We had a good script and we built from there.”
Also, there’s no need to look for the current American president in this film, nor any overt political statements. “We think that it has to go and be organic in the story,” Katsumoto said. “There are some political aspects, more in the second film than the first, but we’re not really trying to make a statement about today’s affairs. We never move forward with that kind of intent, but if it happens that way, great.”
They were also not willing to disclose voice casting, but promised there would be no stunt casting. “We found the best voices possible,” Kyle said, “it needs to sound like Captain America, not Julia Roberts. We know we can never cast the voices as well as you do, we could never feel the explosions as much as you do. That’s the beauty of comics. You finish the journey.”
“Ultimate Avengers” is the first of eight proposed character-based films, focusing on Captain America as the through line (as well as in the sequel, based on Millar and Hitch’s second six issues). There will be a second “Ultimate Avengers” feature in the second quarter of 2006, an “Iron Man” one (written by Greg Johnson and produced and conceived by Frank Parr) for the third quarter, and a fourth animated feature that they were coy about discussing. Of the latter, they did say that it is a lesser-known Marvel character, that it would be an origin story, and that the character is not an Avenger. After a considerable lag time, the film will be released for prime-time broadcast viewing with a partner they were not willing to disclose.
The promotional plans for the project will ultimately include television ads and the like, but their first instinct was to bring the work “to the fans. If we haven’t gotten our core, we haven’t done our jobs,” Kyle said. “Wizard’s helping a lot, at each ‘con coming, we’re going to have a different one-sheet release that Bryan [Hitch]’s working on.” They are open to toys and soundtrack CDs, but there’s no concrete plans now, as they’re still hiring the composer and orchestra to score this film.