"LEGO Batman: The Movie - DC Superheroes Unite" director Jon Burton wears many hats. As a founder and director at TT Games, he oversees the popular line of LEGO video games inspired by films like "The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" series. At TT Animation, a division of the company that explores using their expertise on video games in the realm of animation, Burton took on the challenge of making their first feature, inspired by the company's original "LEGO Batman" game. But which came first, the movie or the game sequel?
As Burton explained to CBR News, the two were actually born simultaneously. "The plan was to write a movie because the video games are based on movies, generally," he said. The first "LEGO Batman" game was notable for not being based on any of the Batman feature films, which led to some difficulty during its development. Burton felt that a second game needed a stronger storyline from which to hang its gameplay. The result was creating a full-length movie.
"It's been a two-year process. We started with a draft treatment, looked at by LEGO, and talking to DC and getting them comfortable with the more parody take," the director continued. Having introduced parody to Lucasfilm on the "LEGO Star Wars" games, Burton felt comfortable showing DC that the movie and game could poke fun at the characters, while still maintaining their core qualities. "They allowed us to do some great stuff." Beyond Batman, the game and film feature Justice League members, including Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, all presented in various comedic situations.
After getting the treatment adapted to a full script by David A. Goodman, the film took, according to Burton, roughly a year to complete.
Curiously, the video game, "LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes" was released last summer, nearly a year before the film's scheduled release later this month. It was a scheduling decision that Burton said was down to practicality. "Making the movie to the quality [we wanted] took longer than we realized, so the video game came out first," he said.
In creating an original storyline, Burton knew the game would need to feature dialogue -- a departure from the established format of the LEGO games, in which the characters grunt or whimper. "We knew we'd have to add voices and get performances," he said. It became part of his pitch for the film: the recording session would cover two projects at once. "It was a very synergistic process," he added. "I wanted to make a movie, they wanted a video game," he said of the higher-ups at Warner Bros., which now owns TT Games.
"I sold the company to Warner Bros. about five years ago in part because I was really interested in making movies," he explained. "'LEGO Batman' was our first go ... and a happy side-effect is that we got to make a video game."
Since they share plot points, and more than a few scenes, Burton explained what fans of the game might get out of the movie. "There's a lot more story," he answered. "Pretty much half the movie is not seen in the video game at all. It's a more complete tale." Also, the scenes that appear in the game have been reanimated to conform to the pace of the film. "Leaving enough time, holding on a gag and seeing reactions shots, we had to learn a lot," he explained. As the movie came together, the director saw how different the two mediums behave.
"The way the story in the game is driven forward, it's much quicker cuts to get into the gameplay," he explained. Only critical plot developments appear in the game's animated cut-scenes that lead to levels that last anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour in which the player is in direct control of the characters. "There's lots of twists and gags in the movie, but when the scene is broken into little bits in the game, you don't really get to see it," he added. Attempts have been made on the internet to stitch the cut-scenes together, but Burton said they lack the character nuances and timing he discovered in making the film. Beyond the completely new animation, the story itself is "a different experience" when compared to those internet assemblies.
In addition to being reanimated for pace, the cut-scenes that appeared in the game also received a technical upgrade in the final film. Utilizing technology developed for the games, the company was able to create the animation entirely in-house. This allowed them to return to the game's story scenes and add extra layers of detail, improved lighting effects and animation that flowed better with the newer material. "When you see it, the amount we could put into the movie because we're using a lot of the [assets] that were used on the game, it led to a high-end, quality movie," Burton added.
Creating that level of quality is part of the challenge in running a successful game -- and now animation -- company. "Rather than sit there on our laurels, with each step, we're trying to push forward," Burton explained. While there is always a risk in that progression as a company, he was happy to make his movie, saying, "It opened up this great opportunity."
"LEGO Batman: The Movie - DC Superheroes Unite" arrives on home video May 21st.