On sale now on DVD and Blu-Ray is the latest DC Universe animated feature, "Wonder Woman." It's already receiving heaps of praise, due in no small part to the work of screenwriter Michael Jelenic ("Batman: The Brave and the Bold"), director Lauren Montgomery ("Superman: Doomsday") and executive producer Bruce Timm ("Justice League Unlimited").
Before the New York Comic Con premiere of the film, CBR News participated in a set of three roundtable interviews with "Wonder Woman's" creative team, where they discussed the Amazon warrior's solo feature debut and much more.
In our first interview, we spoke with screenwriter Michael Jelenic. In this next installment, we chat with director Lauren Montgomery, who was hand-picked by DC animation legend Bruce Timm to direct "Wonder Woman."
What's it like bringing such an iconic character as Wonder Woman to life?
Lauren Montgomery: It's awesome! It's the first time we get to give Wonder Woman her own feature film, live-action or animation. So it's a pretty big deal. We've got some big shoes to fill. We're just trying to give her the best movie we can. I know I'm really happy with it, so I just hope that everyone else is as happy as I am.
Were you a big Wonder Woman fan growing up?
I was, mostly because she's the only main female [superhero] character that gets any attention. That was pretty much the extent of my involvement with her. There was the whole bunch of boys and the one girl so I gravitated towards her. As far as following the comics, I haven't followed the comics since the beginning by any means, but I was really more a fan of just animation. Pretty much everything that [Executive Producer] Bruce [Timm] has done in animation, I've been a fan of.
What got you into animation?
I have no idea what got me into it. Ever since I was a kid, I've loved cartoons and animation. I grew up and I still loved cartoons and animation and I got to the point where most girls move on and like make-up and clothes, and I still wanted to watch "Batman." I had to get home after school because "Batman" was on! So, it was always what I wanted to do. I never really thought, "Oh, it's a male dominated field." I had no idea. I didn't know what I was getting into. I just knew that I loved drawing cartoons and that I could do it for a living, and that's what I was heading straight for.
For those people that don't know as much about what an animation director does, how much do you split your time up between performance and overseeing the animation?
Luckily, I don't have to worry a whole lot about the actors' performances because we have our voice director Andrea Romano who's done just about everything there is to do with animation voice directing. She's incredible. So the extent of my involvement with the actors is just sitting back and letting her work, attending the sessions just in case one actress says something with a different inflection so I can say, "No, she needs to say it more like this because they're pissed off at that character." Other than that, I don't have to do any work! [laughs]
The majority of my work is visual, the visual side of it. So I've got to oversee and take part in a lot of the storyboards and design - background design, character design and color. Everything visual, I kind of had to oversee or actually do it myself.
When developing your characters, do you record the audio sessions of the actors so that the artists can use those emotions to help build the character?
We do not visually record the actors - it's just audio. Each of the storyboard artists has their character model and they have their audio. It's up to them to make sure that when they're listening to it and they sound angry, the make sure that the way they're making this character act works with the dialogue. I make sure I go over and check it too just in case something gets skipped over. It's very important to make sure those characters are acting with the dialogue, otherwise it's no longer a believable movie.
Tell us about working with your hero Bruce Timm. What is it about his style and his vision that you admire so much?
Bruce knows what he's doing. I've always really liked his work. So when he makes a call and it trumps my call, even if I feel slightly different, I usually let it go just because he knows more than I do and he's probably going to make the right decision. [laughs] He's always been really good about understanding these characters. He's been following them for so long. He knows how to make a Wonder Woman movie and have it stay true to Wonder Woman. So I think he's a really good person - DC is lucky to have him. He tries to make sure that these DC character movies are true to the characters and are good for the characters.
What was the genesis of the dramatic redesign of the breastplate for this version of Wonder Woman?
Honestly, she's just got a big double-W on her boobs and I'm like, "Okay, when she gets the outfit, she's not called Wonder Woman, so why the two W's?" I just tried to make it more incorporated into the outfit by making it a border and it just so happened to also be W's at the same time. It was more of a happy coincidence ... [the outfit] is not just cloth, it's supposed to be a bodice and offer some support, as well as protection. [laughs]
Did you use models in developing the characters?
I don't use live models when drawing characters. When you're growing up and you're going through art school, you often do figure drawing just so you can learn the anatomy of the person. But once you've got it down, animation is just so far from perfect photographic anatomy anyway. We have to push things to make them read. The second you draw Superman as a normal guy, he's not as intimidating anymore. You have to push those shoulders and you have to make him wider on top and smaller on bottom. Even if we were using models, we'd still have to go so far outside of what they are to make that character read better and support better in animation ... it's not a necessary element to use a photographic reference.
When we spoke with Michael Jelenic about writing the film, he observed that Wonder Woman is an iconic character despite the fact there's no definitive version of her or her story. Do you think your film is an entry for definitive version?
I don't think there ever will be a definitive version of Wonder Woman. Every fan base out there for Wonder Woman has a completely different skew or version of her in mind. There's the ones that really embrace the Amazon warrior, the ones that only embrace the diplomat, and I don't really know how to bring them all together! [laughs] All I can hope is that this movie will at least please one of the fan bases, and the other one will just hate us. [laughs]
What do you think makes Wonder Woman work as a character and makes her stand up as an idol to so many women of all ages?
She stands on her own. She's just a very powerful character, which automatically appeals to most females. The fact that she doesn't have to be a sidekick to anyone. She has a really interesting background story. It's not the same story as a lot of other superheroes where something horrible happened to them and then they became super. Superman's whole planet was exploded, Batman's parents died - Wonder Woman has her family intact. She has her whole island and she's happy. She was just brought up the right way. The fact that she's a positive character makes her really appealing to a lot of people.
Do you think men have a hard time relating to the character?
I think that at a young age, when a young boy is looking at comics, he's primarily looking for something to aspire to or to live through - a hero that he wants to be, that he wants to read about. Probably most young boys don't want to be a woman - maybe some of them do, and there's nothing wrong with that! But I think that once they get to an older age, when they want to look at women they want to look at them in a more sexual role, not in an empowered role. I like to think that that's changing, and I also like to think that the market's also becoming more friendly to women in general and that there are more women comic fans these days. I hope she gets more time in the spotlight because of that.
Are there any big action scenes that you're excited to see the fan reaction to?
I'm really fond of the opening action scene. It opens on a huge epic battle that just kind of goes. I think that's my favorite battle of the movie and so I'm kind of anxious to see how that goes over. Also, there's just a lot of humor in this movie. Not camp, just honest-to-god funny humor in the character interactions and I'd like to see how the audience reacts as well.
Would you attribute that to the animation, the writing, the vocal delivery?
All of those, but Mike Jelenic - I think that he considers himself more of a comedy writer more than anything else, and he's able to bring a funny aspect to his characters without making them seem any less important or threatening or strong. He's just able to infuse fun and humor into his scripts and I think he did an awesome job of it.
Speaking of battle scenes, you co-directed "Superman: Doomsday," and that was one big battle scene from start to finish. With a movie like this, how tough is it to find a balance between an origin story, exciting action to keep everyone involved and also character development with the 80-minute time frame?
Luckily, that's more on the shoulders of the writer! [laughs] I get the script and it's my job to translate that into a vision. The majority of that stuff is handled in script phase, and that's all on [Jelenic's] shoulders. But how he did it? I don't know. But he did a good job and I'm really happy with it.
Jelenic talked about a couple of scenes that didn't make the final cut...
Was he talking about the strip club? [laughs] He's probably still mad at me for cutting that out, but it was such an unnecessary scene! That guy's crazy! I think that's the only major cut that we made because it was at the end of a battle scene that was already longer than it needed to be. There wasn't a huge purpose to it. Why make it even longer? That guy is just crazy!
Are there any DC characters that you'd like to animate?
Well, this one was a super awesome project to work on. I'm always interested in anything that has a female character in it, primarily in the leading role. I've worked on so many shows with so many big strong men in them, so getting the chance to work with a female character is very inspiring. That being said, I'm also a fan of Aquaman! [laughs] Who I know is not high on most people's radars, but, I love him! My favorite movie of all time is "The Little Mermaid" and he's the closest thing to that. He lives under the water. If Ariel had a friend, it would be Aquaman.
Did DC come looking for a female director for this project?
I think Bruce just basically said, "You do it." Thank god he did, I am very grateful for the opportunity.
Besides Timm, are there any animators that have been influential to you in your style as an artist?
I don't know specific names of directors, but I know certain shows that have influenced me - one of them, of course, is "Batman: The Animated Series," and another one is "Cowboy Bebop," which I've always enjoyed. Those two are probably the most influential as far as my storyboarding style.
Were you a fan of the "Wonder Woman" live-action show growing up?
When I was little, I didn't want to watch anything that wasn't a cartoon. If it was live-action, I didn't want to watch it. I kind of skipped that, but I saw a few episodes a little later in life. It didn't draw me in as much as I'd liked it to. It was a little too campy for me.
Are you hoping that this project will spawn into more things - a live-action film, an ongoing cartoon series?
I would love for that to happen. I hope Wonder Woman gets more time in the spotlight, and if this film is able to be the catalyst for that, that would be awesome.
What are you working on next?
We're not allowed to talk about the projects, but I can tell you that we're working on a number of DC straight-to-DVD projects. There's plenty in the works. Hopefully people will be excited by the titles we've got.
Was there a particular person that inspired the ethnic portrayal of Wonder Woman in this film? Did you want her to look Greek?
[Laughs] I'd drawn a number of Wonder Woman [designs] with just the stereotypical button nose that's on any pretty female, and she just never looked striking or different or individual enough. I ended up just saying "I'm going to try something and I'm probably gonna get shot down, but we'll see!" And I put a stronger nose on her. Bruce really liked it. We shipped it off to DC and I was fully expecting them to come back and be like "No! Ugly nose!" But they liked it too!
Has working on "Wonder Woman" inspired you to read more comic books?
I have read more comic books since. Early on, I didn't read a whole lot. I was more a fan of the animation versus the comics. But starting to work in it and starting to get more familiar with the stories, and just being around my coworkers who are just a bunch of comic book geeks, it's naturally inspired me to just get more into the culture.
"Wonder Woman" goes on sale March 3 on DVD and Blu-Ray.