While Marvel Studios skipped out on Comic-Con International in San Diego, Marvel Television came out in force. Two key members from its Animation team, Eric Radomski (SVP, Production and Creative Director, Animation) and Steve Wacker (VP, current series Marvel Animation Studios) took time out from panels and meetings to kick it with CBR TV's Kiel Phegley aboard the world famous CBR Yacht. The duo discussed everything from the upcoming season of "Avengers Assemble" and its "Ultron Revolution" title to keeping "Ultimate Spider-Man" fresh. They also discuss bringing the fan-favorite "Guardians of the Galaxy" to animation in their own Disney XD series.
In the first part of the conversation, Radomski and Wacker talk about how they keep themselves, and viewers, invested in the stories they're telling, even when the episode numbers keep climbing higher and higher. They also discuss how exhilarating it is to have the full breadth of the Marvel Universe at their disposal and how it allows them to go as wild as they want on a show like "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H." Wacker speaks to the branding each season of "Ultimate Spider-Man" now gets and how they're doing something very different with the Sinister Six next season than most fans have seen. They also address the fans' desire for diversity, and how they take that to heart while working in a medium that requires a set amount of time to get anything done.
On the freedom of being able to pull from the entirety of the Marvel Universe on a whim:
Eric Radomski: To a degree. [Laughter]
Steve Wacker: We do try to, particularly with "Hulks," we do try to, I think, unshackle any shackles we have for Season Two and let Henry Gilroy and Mitch Schauer on the animation side, "Who do you want to see? Who's the stuff you want to do?" We end that series on with that two-part finale which had -- I mean, Ghost Rider -- characters are just coming up and everybody gets a moment and that sort of stuff is the fun part of the job. Like, how deep can we dig? The helpful thing on our end is, from the Cinematic side, now that we know what the movies are gonna be for the next few years more or less, once they talked about what their guidelines were, we knew, "All right, featuring Ultron here is gonna be a huge help" because we're pretty sure the movie's gonna be big and that people will know who Ultron is. Same with Ant-Man, and I think next season on "Avengers: Ultron Revolution" we're gonna have characters like Captain Marvel and Black Panther. In a way we're supporting what's happening on the cinematic side, but really the public consciousness side. We know who they're gonna be aware of. That means the kids are gonna be aware of them and want to see them in action. It's better to be in front of that then try to reaction to it, because like Eric says, the production cycle is so long in animation.
On bringing the Sinister Six back to "Ultimate Spider-Man" in a major way and being the entry point for kids to the Marvel Universe:
Steve Wacker: We have a different take this time -- because we have seen it before, we've seen the team on the show before. And look, to be completely blunt, there was a time when we thought we'd be around a "Sinister Six" film, and those plans have changed somewhat, but the story that our team had crafted -- the writers on that show are Kevin Burke and [Chris] Doc Wyatt, along with Alex Soto, the supervising director -- the story we had all worked out for it still made sense, and it was still sort of the next step for Spider-Man and it made sense to stick with it.
Where we had success with "Spider-Man" in the third season was our "Spider-Verse" arc, that was really big for us. I got to be a part of that arc, that was around the time I was starting to come here and work, and I had worked on it on the publishing side from Dan Slott's story. And I know our bosses, Jeph Loeb, Dan Buckley, Joe Quesada, they have an interest in, where we can, finding touchpoints between publishing and, particularly, our animated world. Not doing direct adaptations, because that's very difficult to do, but sort of tell those stories for our audience. In a lot of ways the animated series have become the entry point for kids in a way that comics would have been back in the '60s. So it's our responsibility to tell those stories in a way that will bring the kids into the Marvel Universe because then they're gonna go to the comics, then they're gonna go to the movies, and so forth, the games.
Radomski: And the merchandise. [Laughs]
In part two, the focus is all on Marvel's cosmic heroes, the Guardians of the Galaxy. Radomski and Wacker discuss how they managed to inject the tone of Marvel Studios' "Guardians of the Galaxy" film into the new animated series, using their own "Awesome Mix" in the process, as well as how the studio managed to ramp up its visual prowess and add new tools to the tool belt with the series. Wacker then discusses the show's September premiere, its sneak peek, and the animated shorts that will air throughout August to help fans get excited for the series with a first look at the heroes' backstories.
On whether it's been challenging to bring the tone of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" film to a Saturday morning cartoon for kids:
Wacker: We actually have the mixtape. We have a bunch of music in there.
Radomski: Our version of it.
Wacker: Eric and Cort Lane, our VP of Animation Development, helped procure the rights for all these songs.
Radomski: That was the challenge, to bring what everyone liked about the movie but make it our own. That went through not only design but the storytelling, the character interaction. And we had enough of a sense of it going in, we did get to see some of the early footage and saw how the characters were gonna play. We had some sense of what we wanted to do. But yeah, it was a little sketchy in the beginning because we wanted to make sure we were living up to it. Obviously the film has a little bit more of a risque quality to it, so we preserved a lot of that and the animated series definitely looks like the film; inspired by the film, we got the palette of the film and now we just get to play and be a little bit softer with the humor.
Wacker: Fewer Jackson Pollock references. [Laughs]
Radomski: [Laughs] But, if you look real close, you know, you might find some--
Wacker: Stop it! [Laughs]
Radomski: [Laughs] Some fun eggs in there.
On upping their visual game and delivering a new aesthetic for "Guardians":
Radomski: As the studio has grown Marvel, our corporate lead in New York, have sort of gotten an education over the past four years with running a studio, what we need, what the quality differences are depending on how well you plan, and if you spend a little more, give us a little more creative freedom, we can make a reasonable budget look like a really expensive budget. So "Guardians" is an example of that. We planned to work a lot more in post-production to give it a value that is more than just the 2-D animation. So we're very satisfied so far. We're about a third of the way through post-production and the shows are consistent, and I think people will be satisfied.
Wacker: I don't think you can say enough about -- I don't mean to wax your car here in front of everybody in webland -- Eric's history in animation is long. From "Batman: The Animated Series" to "Spawn," I can't think of anyone in a better position to sort of help Marvel put this together, help them build this thing. And for "Guardians" in particular, I think having [director] Leo Riley and Jeff Wamester there to help design and get the animation just right has led to, I think, our finest moment yet.
Radomski: It's animators that have worked on all of the Marvel animated series so far, but sort of crescendoing. We put them together for this series specifically, and all fans of the movie, so it's just added inspiration and they're going above and beyond what we've done so far.
On the shorts debuting in August that tell the origins of each "Guardians of the Galaxy" member:
Wacker: Each member of the Guardians gets two, two-minute shorts and it sort of talks about their background, everything leading up to the series. So it's ten in total, and those are gonna debut all through August on Disney XD.