Hellboy creator Mike Mignola took the stage Friday morning to preview a scene from and discuss the forthcoming Hellboy animated project, "Sword Of Storms," which is to debut in February on both DVD and Cartoon Network. Joining Mignola on stage was animation director Tad Stones, character designer Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, and a very, ahem, animated Guillermo Del Toro, executive producer.
The panel of pros decided right away to screen some completed animation before discussion began. The fully completed scene depicted BPRD characters Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien exploring an underground temple before awakening a small force of zombie-skeleton creatures. Hellboy enters shortly, on the back of a giant bat. Abe and Liz unleash an unending rain of bullets upon the increasing number of monsters while Hellboy pounds away at the bat, making sure to mutter, "oh, crap" at just the precise moment. Fearing they cannot win by conventional fighting, Abe implores Liz to use her pyrokinetic powers, which she does to set each beast aflame and burn it to ashes.
A traditional Hellboy scenario, to be sure, but the finished results are far from a traditional Hellboy experience. The entire look of the film, from the characters to the background, diverges greatly from Mignola's comic style. Hellboy and Abe Sapien closely resemble their comic origins; there is no mistaking who's who, but they've been redrawn to reflect the styles of more typical American animation. Liz Sherman, however, has been radically modified, seen in "Sword of Storms" as a petite, Lara Croftian type who looks as though she could be a guest star in Cartoon Network's "Teen Titans."
Del Toro took credit for the notion of making Liz a smaller woman. "I like short girls," the filmmaker giggled. "I think for a massive guy like Hellboy, a short girl is pretty cute. Pretty strong sets of balls come in small packages!"
When audiences have seen animated shows like "The Maxx" or Mignola's own "The Amazing Screw-On Head" or any given Tezuka-based anime, all of which resemble their visual origins in every detail. The panel spent a great deal of explaining the visual choices, saying the overseas animation studios were not staffed with "geniuses who know how to put the blacks in the right place," and that if the production simply used Mignola-style backgrounds, they would look cheap and unsophisticated.
Director Tad Stones remarked, "Guillermo always assumed [an animated version of Hellboy] would be in the style of Mike's artwork. I always assumed it would be in the style of Mike's artwork," but eventually a decision was made "that every incarnation of Hellboy in a new media should have a new look, which I suppose makes sense from a licensing point of view."
Following on the heals of "Sword of Storms" will be "Blood And Iron," a tale of Hellboy and vampires. There are no plans to explicitly adapt any particular Hellboy comic. Stones explained, "I just assumed we would adapt the comics. But then it was like, 'no, the fans have the comics. Why give it to them again?' We went to more original areas. We found there were places and scenes in the comics to revisit in a new context. I think it was the right call because you'll get something new."
Mignola added, "The animation [continuity] is not the movie Hellboy or the comic Hellboy. It's its own thing. Which I kind of like. It's nice to keep them separate."
Still, in spite of the distance from the proper Hellboy visuals, the audience reacted enthusiastically to the projected footage, and were happy to hear the familiar voices of Ron Perlman and Selma Blair in the roles they created on film a few years earlier. And while there was no time for a formal Q&A, Del Toro made sure to give fans an update on the current status of the Hellboy live action sequel:
"If I had $80 million, I would make the movie. The reality is I don't have eighty million. I would really love to make the second one happen. What we went through was the essential collapse of the first studio. Their deal with Sony expired, and trying to find a new home for the second piece of a franchise has not proven that easy. Questions like, 'why is Hellboy red? Why is he called Hellboy?' ... A sea of stupidity. ... I hope it gets made. Every week I get reports from the trenches. Horrifying as it is, I have seen movies in the 'almost there' stage, literally years. That's all I can say. I am sorry."