A Hell of a Cartoon: Stones Talks "Hellboy Animated" films

When it comes to story mediums, Hellboy is Renaissance man. Mike Mignola's signature creation has starred in comic books, video games, prose novels, a live action feature film, and, most recently, an animated feature film, "Hellboy: Sword of Storms," the DVD of which hits stores this week. CBR News spoke with Tad Stones, the Supervising Producer and Director and Story Co-Writer of "Sword of Storms" about the film and the next Hellboy animated feature, "Blood and Iron."

"Hellboy: Sword of Storms" debuted on Cartoon Network in October of 2006 and scored decent ratings. "The first time it aired it did on par with what one of the 'Avengers' movies had done the week before, but it kind of lost from the lead in," Stones explained. "The second time it aired, the lead in was 'Spirited Away' and it actually built on that, especially with young adults and adults. So, I think the word was starting to get out. The most distressing thing I heard from hardcore Hellboy fans is that they didn't know it was on."

Stones enjoyed working with the executives at Cartoon Network, many of whom were also members of the Hellboy faithful. "The people at Cartoon network are very supportive," Stones said. "One of the executives quoted Hellboy stories to me to make a point. But they were not the people who placed the commercials. All I can say is the experience is much different uninterrupted on DVD."

In addition to an uninterrupted experience, viewers of "Sword of Storms" on DVD will also get access to a variety of cool extra features. "There's lots of talking with Mike Mignola about how he created Hellboy and the thought process that went into creating a new Hellboy that is much closer to the comic than anything else and yet had a different look," Stones stated. "There's a little bit with the composer and some more behind the scenes stuff. Plus there's clickable stuff on the DVD-Rom, like the panel from San Diego that had Guillermo, Mike and myself, Phil Weinstein the director and Sean Galloway AKA Cheeks, the art concept designer."

Like Stones mentioned, one of the extras on "Sword of Storms" details how the art style of the Hellboy animated movies evolved. "Originally Guillermo Del Toro and I both separately had the same idea, which was, when we do the stories in animation we'll just put the comic on the page and make it move, but that was like 10 years ago," Stones explained. "I worked on a spin-off of Disney's 'Atlantis' movie which Mike had done design work for. That's when I started working with Mike. I felt that to get the mood that Mike puts on the page, I needed fully rendered backgrounds instead of the simplified backgrounds that are in his comic, or the more colorful, but still simplified ones in the Disney film. If you saw a pile of gold in the Disney film it would be like three tones of yellow or ochre or something. It wouldn't look like real gold. I wanted something that if you picked up a piece of gold it could sparkle. On a foggy day I wanted to play the fog drifting through in a very naturalistic way.

"When it came to the design style of the characters, the deal going in was that they had to have a different look than Mike's," Stones continued. "What really brought that home was when I started talking to Mike about it. It's very hard for him to look at people trying to ape his work. He wanted things very different from what he does. That's why he was the one who picked Cheeks to be the designer. A lot of the look came right from Cheeks and we're trying to keep as much of what he does in our designs, although our final model sheets were done by our designers here on staff.

"I just felt like the extras should concentrate on Mike's point of view. Because I'm a huge fan of the comic and have been since it came out and that's what I wanted to hear about."

When coming up with the stories for the Hellboy animated features, Stones always gets Mike Mignola's point of view. "Mike and I come up with the plots in his kitchen," Stones said. "He's the co-writer of the stories. The first film, 'Sword of Storms,' is definitely an 'Alice in Wonderland Through the Looking Glass' kind of ride in that our characters are separated and Hellboy goes through a series of adventures. The second movie, 'Blood and Iron,' which I recently finished off and sent out, is a much darker story than the first, but I think 'Sword of Storms is a great introduction to Hellboy because you get to see him play off different types of monsters and other things."

"Sword of Storms" and the other Hellboy animated films will all be original tales, but viewers can expect familiar concepts and characters, and sometimes even portions of shorter stories to appear in the films. "The intent was always to give fans something new, but since we we're doing Japanese myths and legends in 'Sword of Storms,' it just seemed like, here's the one time Mike did a story about that and we did have an episodic structure, so how could we not do 'Heads?' That's one of my favorite sequences. It just came off really, really well. In a lot of ways it's the essence of Hellboy: its folklore, horror, some surprises, and some unique comedy, from Mike's perspective and taste.

"With the second movie we started out dealing with his origin and Lloyd Levin, one of the producers said, 'We want to expand the Hellboy franchise, not give them the same story they've seen in the comics and the live action movie,'" Stones continued. "So we went for an original story, but even then we got to the point where it was the perfect place for this major character of the Hellboy mythos to show up. So even though we're doing an original story, a lot of the vibe is very close to the story 'Wake the Devil,' from the second Hellboy trade paperback. So, it's kind of a blend. It's an alternate universe of Hellboy, but very close to the feeling of the comics. The major events of Hellboy's life probably all will happen in our universe but in a slightly different order."

"Blood and Iron," which airs on Cartoon Network on March 10 th , not only marks another major event in Hellboy's life in the animated universe, but it also reveals details about one of the major events from the life of Hellboy's foster father, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm. "'Blood and Iron' is a vampire story, which is Mike's favorite creature," Stones stated. "We get to see Bruttenholm's first adventure. He'd already been a paranormal researcher, but this is the first time he faced and defeated evil, or so he thought. It comes back in the present day and the premise is that Bruttenholm knows something is up and he hasn't been on active field mission for like fifteen years. In the course of the adventure, Hellboy deals not only with the witches and vampire involved, but the Queen of the Witches, Hecate, shows up."

As fans of the Hellboy comics know, Hecate is the major character from the Hellboy mythos that Stones mentioned earlier. "Hecate shows up and she sort of says, 'Hey you don't belong here with these mortals. They're ants. You belong with me. We use lines right out of the comic, my favorite being, 'I was going to cut you some slack because you're a major mythological figure but that's just crazy talk.'"

Viewers of "Blood and Iron" will want to make sure they don't miss a beat and watch the entire film. "There is a hint of what the third film will be about at the end of 'Blood and Iron,'" Stones said. "So people should stay through the credits. Patience will be rewarded."

The third "Hellboy" animated feature has not been officially greenlit. Sales of the "Sword of Storms" DVD will determine if the project gets greenlit or not, but work has begun on the script. "The next one is completely different from the first two," Stones stated. "It's more a big adventures, Nazis, Mad Scientists, Rasputin, Cyber-Apes kind of things. The next one touches on his origin."

If a third Hellboy movie gets greenlit, the voice cast from the first two movies will return to portray their characters and Stones couldn't be happier. If the voices sound familiar, that's because they are. Many of the voice actors in the Hellboy animated films are portraying the same characters they played in the live action "Hellboy" movie. "They're great," Stones said. "You can't say enough about Ron Perlman as Hellboy. I don't know what we'd do with both the live action and animated films if Ron didn't exist. Selma Blair has also been great to work with. She talks about on the DVD how she has a naturally flat voice and to take away all her acting tools except something she's kind of hesitant about has been really interesting to watch. In the second movie I think she got even more natural and learned that what you do in animation is you have to push your voice a little, but since we're looking for naturalistic performances, you need to hold back from that over the top read that you'll generally get in a gag cartoon."

Viewers might not recognize the voice of the actor portraying Abe Sapien in the animated films, but he also portrayed that character in the Hellboy feature film. "I never really relaxed into Abe until I heard Doug Jones doing it," Stones explained. "It was a really natural fit. Some people wondered why we went with the guy who was in the suit in the movie. Well he was an actor. He had to research the character and determine what kind of person he was Ron, Selma and John Hurt all played off him on stage. He knew that character better than anyone else."

Stones was also amazed by John Hurt's portrayal of Professor Bruttenholm. "I didn't get to work with John in person, we phone patched in from London and I didn't know how much of a voice John was putting on for Professor Bruttenholm because when the connection went on he was already in character," Stones stated. "At one break where we we're waiting for something to happen and I said, 'Doug Jones and Selma wanted me to say hi to you. I recorded them yesterday.' He then dropped this voice and it was John Hurt and he said, 'Oh wonderful. They were such delights.' It was like, wow, I didn't expect that."

"The other thing that impressed me was that in our movie, Professor Bruttenholm is a little warmer and lighter than Guillermo's version," Stones continued. "My feeling is that people always talked about the close relationship between Bruttenholm and Hellboy and we never got to see that on the screen; mostly because they weren't often together in the live action film except when Hellboy was in trouble. In our film, we've got this warm moment and there's a sense of humor to this guy. He had to have a sense of humor because he raised this rambunctious little demon. When we got into the first scene where he was playing off characters, John said, 'Oh this is a different character.' And there was a silence and then he said, 'Give me a moment.' I thought, 'Oh my God. Did I mess up? Is he going to be mad that we're playing the character differently?' and then after about ten seconds he went into the line and it was great. He made this mental readjustment based on how he perceived the dialogue played. I just admired that he was that aware and that respectful of what we had tried to do in the script."

Some fans are hoping for the voice cast in future Hellboy animated films to grow to include other members of Hellboy's supporting cast. "A lot of people ask me about Roger the Homunculus specifically," Stone explained. "They say, 'Put him in.' To me, Roger warrants a major story. Liz you can say, 'Oh she's a pyrotechnic.' And even Abe Sapien it's like, 'Okay I've seen 'Creature From the Black Lagoon,' I get what he is.' But this idea of a homunculus, a guy made pretty much out of poop and straw is a concept that's a little weird. Roger is such a rich character. If we do that story I'd have to say that would be the story of the movie.

"Now having said that, as Mike has said to me in the past, there's a reason that the book is called 'Hellboy' and not 'Hellboy and Friends,''' Stones said. "Some of the movies, if we go on to do a lot, will hardly have any of the supporting cast. Then there will be others that have everybody you kind of hope to see."

Stones really hopes fans pick up the "Sword of Storms" DVD and tune into "Blood and Iron" because he and his collaborators have plenty of ideas for future Hellboy animated features and they feel they're starting to shift into high gear when it comes to making them. "We're anxious to do more of these because we've talked all sorts of stories and venues," Stones explained. "The challenge is always to keep it feeling like Mike's stuff in a whole different subject matter. I think we did a better job on our second feature than our first; although, I think the episodes taken alone in 'Sword of Storms' are classic. They're very much like Mike's short stories whereas 'Blood and Iron' is like one of his trade paperback arcs. We didn't have much time for a learning curve with these two films overlapping; whereas now that I've finished two I can see what works great and I know what to watch out for when I'm doing this sort of story point. Mike and Guillermo said that the first story is really good and the second one is great and I think the third feature may be everyone's favorite when we get through with it."

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