Aliens, Armors and Animation: Bob Richardson Talks Ultimate Avengers
Bob Richardson returned to Marvel to serve as Supervising Producer for both Ultimate Avengers movies. A veteran of animation for over 20 years, Richardson is perhaps best known for his role as Supervising Producer on Spider-Man: The Animated Series in the 1990’s. The Marvel Animation Age and Toon Zone News caught up with Bob to talk about his work on the two features.
MARVEL ANIMATION AGE/TOON ZONE NEWS: How did you come to work on the Ultimate Avengers movies and what did your duties include?
BOB RICHARDSON: When a previous producer left, apparently because of health reasons, I was hired because of my track record working with Avi Arad on the Spider-Man series (I think) – and probably because I happened to be available.
My duties were to supervise everything on the movie while still pleasing my bosses: Avi Arad, Eric Rollman and Craig Kyle. I could do what I wanted as long as I got it done on schedule and budget and they were all happy with it.
MAA/TZN: The movies are obviously heavily based upon The Ultimates comic book. When deciding the roster, was there ever any temptation to add a member from the regular universe in there or was it decided beforehand you would be using The Ultimates roster?
BR: By the time I came to the first movie, it had been pretty much decided who would be in it, and there wasn’t room to add any additional characters with the amount of story we had to tell in about seventy minutes. In the second movie, we had a lot of discussions about whom we might add to that story, but as the screenplay developed it became obvious that Black Panther was the appropriate character to join the group.
MAA/TZN: How closely should a film follow the book it was based upon? Do you prefer going with an original route or sticking to the books whenever possible?
BR: Books are a different medium from films. However, some new and unique stories or characters should be told as much in the spirit of the original book as possible. The Ultimate Avengers films were inspired by The Ultimates comic books done by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. These books were fantastic and we did try to keep the contemporary spirit of what they were doing with these classic Marvel characters, but these characters have been around for more than forty years and have a whole history behind them, which we didn’t want to totally ignore, either. The other aspect of translating a book to film is that they are such different mediums of storytelling that you find you have to change some things that are in the book to make the movie play out properly. Also, we have to think about playing to a wider and younger audience, which changes some aspects of what was in the original books.
BR: You are always trying to make the picture better throughout production, but these two films overlapped in production, so there was no time to sit back and analyze what went on in the first movie that could be improved in the second. I think that more time would have helped both these movies, but unfortunately, more time usually translates into more money.
MAA/TZN: Anything that you wanted to do in either movie but couldn’t find time to fit in?
BR: There are always shots or sequences that you want to add or develop further to make the film more interesting to watch, but again time is a big issue and the movie’s length is also a concern. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and movie must be finished on time. That said, however, I knew that the alien battle in the first movie could have been bigger and I tried to rectify that in Ultimate Avengers 2.
MAA/TZN: What was it like working with four different directors over the course of the two movies?
BR: The bad part of this was that I had not worked with most of these directors before and didn’t know what their strengths and weaknesses were. The good part was that these were all seasoned pros and very talented, so they were able to deliver good material on a very tight schedule.
MAA/TZN: What thought went into casting the movies, especially considering a lot of actors were relatively unknown in the voice acting world?
BR: The main focus for casting the voices had to do with finding the actors who best represented those characters in voice-over only. How they sound and the acting that we can hear is what brings our characters to life, not how they actually look in person. We also didn’t want the audience listening to a voice and picturing an actor they know rather than connecting the voice to the character on screen. Most of the actors we used are very well known by professionals in animation but less well known to the public at large. There are some wonderful actors who are quite well known to the public, who we might have used, but sometimes budget and schedule get in the way of being able to use them.
MAA/TZN: The main benefit to these movies being PG-13 is that the fight scenes can now be much more violent and dramatic. Is it liberating to be able to cut loose when it comes to the fight scenes rather than having the constant strain of having Broadcast Standards & Practices (BS & P) watching over you?
BR: With today’s sophisticated audience, it is tougher to make these huge powerful characters play out in a believable way when you can’t show why they need the tremendous powers they have. They have to do battle with very powerful and dangerous enemies and you lose the dramatic impact of this when you are limited too much in what you can show. We’re still conscious of going too far and exposing our younger audience to unnecessary gratuitous violence. There needs to be a balanced use of violence that keeps the edge to our storytelling without turning away a lot of audience that we want to have enjoy seeing these movies.
MAA/TZN: Which do you prefer from a working standpoint – a feature length production or a weekly animated series?
BR: I’ve worked on both series and features and found projects in both that were challenging and satisfying creatively, even though they are completely different animals and each has their pros and cons.
I think the main thing with a feature is being able to work on a bigger canvas to make a singular complex story more interesting and compelling with generally a higher level of quality.
Series work (of the half-hour variety) at its best, lets you establish familiar characters that can come into peoples houses by means of television to entertain them in a way that makes the audience happy enough to invite them back week after week and, if you’re lucky, year after year.
MAA/TZN: How long does a DTV movie take to complete, production wise?
BR: It’s realistic to figure about a year from start to finish, but we were able to reduce this amount of time by overlapping the two Avengers DTVs.
TZN: You’ve previously worked with some of these characters in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Both Captain America and Iron Man were featured in “Secret Wars,” for example. What was it like returning to them?
BR: “Secret Wars” took place in our fifth (and last) season of Spider-Man and was part of a very difficult period of production. This last season was three months behind in script. When the scripts finally arrived, they were the most complicated of any we had dealt with up to then. Every phase of production suffered because of it. In order to make up the lost time, material was underdeveloped and mistakes were made, which left everyone feeling less than delighted with the results. Being able to go back to those characters now and give them a proper treatment taking inspiration from Bryan and Mark’s work was an absolute pleasure.
TZN: Would you be interested in continuing the Ultimate Avengers in an animated series, or do you think DTVs are the only way to go with these characters?
BR: It would certainly be a challenge to have the Ultimate Avengers in a series with all those characters and the immense villains they need to fight, but nothing is impossible. After all, the X-Men had a series with great success. But, of course we would have BS & P to deal with, as usual.
TZN: What are you currently working on? When can we expect to see it?
BR: I’m currently working on some development I’ve wanted to do, while keeping an eye out for other interesting projects to work on.
The images in this post appear courtesy of Marvel Animation Age