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SDCC2011: "Batman: Year One" Roundtable Interviews

At the San Diego Comic-Con before the screening of Batman: Year One, Toonzone caught up with members of the movie’s cast and crew.

INTERVIEW WITH ANDREA ROMANO, CASTING AND VOICE OVER DIRECTOR

Andrea 'Rockstar' RomanoAndrea Romano is one of the hardest workers in the industry today and has worked as a casting and voice over director for as many as up to eight shows at a time. You can also hear Romano’s voice in the recently released Green Lantern: Emerald Knights animated movie as the voice of the Green Lantern power rings. Romano also cast and directed Cartoon Network’s new ThunderCats series, and she is also currently working on Nickelodeon’s The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra.

TOONZONE NEWS: Did you have anything to do with The Flaming C teaser that Bruce Timm and Conan O’Brien brought to Comic-Con?

ANDREA ROMANO: Nothing, nothing. I wish I had. I had the greater pleasure of meeting Conan and directing him, but I had nothing to do with that project or Green Lantern unfortunately. It would’ve been, I think, my eighth series at the same time and I never want to sign on for something I can’t give all my attention to. Just like sign on and do a half-ass job – I just couldn’t do it, but I had to turn that job down.

TZN: I just got out of ThunderCats, and it was amazing. The animation is great, but more than anything the voice work you put together was fantastic.

ANDREA ROMANO: Oh, thank you.

TZN: It’s very cinematic almost like ThunderCats meets Lord of The Rings. How much fun did you have getting to cast and work on that show? And the writing is so great it is like Avatar-level writing.

ANDREA ROMANO: And that is exactly what they want. They actually wanted it to be Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is easy for me because I worked on that too and it was kind of an easy shoo-in for me. I can say I kind of hand-picked that cast. I kind of forced my will on it, but not in the way of “that’s a bad idea, I’m going to make people do it.” I know Will Friedle is the right guy for Lion-O. I know these people are the right people for the voices, so I am very proud of that cast. I thought the animation was beautiful. I thought the stories were terrific. And you know, I probably should never say this, I was not familiar with ThunderCats, the original series. I knew of it, but I had never watched it. So I started work on it, you have to do some research. So I look at it, “oh this is pretty dreadful” (laughs). This is really cheesy animation and the voice acting – everybody sounds like an announcer or a non-actor. But there was a charm to it. I could see why it had some appeal. In a way, I was kind of like, “Well no matter what I do, it’s going to be better” (laughs). But I’m very, very proud of what came out of it. I think it is epic. I think we’ve recorded all twenty six episodes, and we were just doing ADR on them to about episode six or seven. There are some really touching, heart-felt stories being told that are sort of side-stories or missions. It’s charming. Matthew Jelenic is a very, very talented writer, and Ethan Spaulding I’ve worked with on Avatar so we kind of have that connection too. So we kind of brought those sensitivities to this project. I hope you guys all watch it.

TZN: I don’t think I’ve ever heard the voice actor for Tygra before. Who is he?

ANDREA ROMANO: Matthew Mercer and here’s what happened with that. I sat down auditions and we all went, this kid has got potential. I like him. I called up his agent who I trust implicitly and said, “I’m taking a big risk here because this is a big series and he has no credits.” And she said, “He is my favorite new client. I see huge things coming for him. I think if you’re going to take the risk, he’s the guy to take the risk with,” and I’m so glad I did. I’m really glad I did.

TZN: I really just love hearing new voices and Mercer really brought that to the table.

ANDREA ROMANO: Me too. And I need to do that too. I need to supplement the steady guys that we know with new blood. Emmanuelle [Chriqui, the voice of Cheetara], I had never worked with before. You know Emmanuelle Chriqui from Entourage as Sloan. She’s Cheetara and she does a good job. She’s never done this before. She’s learning and she’s gotten better and better and better. She’s a beautiful woman and as nice as she is beautiful.

TZN: For Batman: Year One, with Ben McKenzie being new to voice acting, did you kind of have to guide him along?

ANDREA ROMANO: Yeah, absolutely, and he was putty in my hands in a good way. He was just like, “tell me what to do,” and I’m like, “OK. That’s what I do. It’s my pleasure to tell you.” And he sent me a hand written snail mail thank you note. And I thought, “He’s hugely busy. What a nice, thoughtful [gesture].” Isn’t it? I was so impressed. I was like, “Thank you for that. Nobody sends a thank you card anymore.” You get an e-mail. It was lovely. I really wish we could’ve had more time with him, but his schedule was so nasty because I think he could do this stuff regularly if he wanted to. I called up Regina [King] when I wanted to use him, “What’s it like to work with Ben? Is he a good guy? Is he going to come play?” And she said, “Absolutely, he’s going to be wonderful.” And he was. I think he’s terrific. I think he’s a swell actor.

TZN: How did Katee Sackhoff like playing the other woman in Jim Gordon’s story?

ANDREA ROMANO: She was so cool to watch her work. She got up to the microphone, she wanted to stand. And she was just so present and so there. She was terrific. She’s a really, really good actress and she did a good job.


INTERVIEW WITH CO-DIRECTOR LAUREN MONTGOMERY, CO-DIRECTOR

Lauren Montgomery (from NY Comic Con 2009)Lauren Montgomery serves as co-director of this animated installment along with Sam Liu. She has also directed such animated movies as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern: First Flight, and Superman/Batman: Doomsday. She still dreams of getting to direct her dream project of an animated Aquaman movie.

TOONZONE NEWS: Lauren, in terms of Batman stories you’ve worked on, where do you rank this one?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY: As far as the Batman’s I’ve worked on, this is probably the best one I think. I honestly can’t remember what Batman’s I’ve worked on. I’ve worked on a Superman/Batman movie, I don’t know if I’ve ever done a solo-Batman. So this is probably my first solo-Batman and therefore the best.

TZN: Keeping all that in mind, is it the best show you’ve worked on?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY: I personally really enjoy it. It’s a departure from the visual style that we see very often from Warner Brothers. They’ll try and do variations on it, but it never strays too much. This one has such a different color palette, it actually looks fairly different from the other ones. I think just because of that, it’s so refreshing. It’s also a much more realistic interpretation of the superhero, I really enjoy it. The fact that we got to do something different because we’ve been doing superhero stuff so often. Any time we get to kind of experiment with something with any sort of change is fun. It’s challenging.

TZN: Will you be working on adapting Dwayne McDuffie’s last Justice League movie script?


LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
Yes. Yes I will. I was able to direct that one and I was very upset to hear about Dwayne’s passing, but we’re trying to make it as good of a movie as we can knowing that it was his last script with us.

TZN: Did you look at the Batman: Year One graphic novel for reference at all?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
Yes.

TZN: The artwork has this really interesting and unique art style. The graphic novel also has this great dark color palette and these sorts of muted colors. Is that incorporated into the animation at all?


LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
Yeah, we actually tried to follow it as closely as we could from the colors to the characters, and just tried to make Gotham as dirty and ugly as we possibly could. That’s just a harder thing to do than you realize, just getting the overseas artists to really put that extra detail in the backgrounds with just like cracks and trash. We kept getting these perfectly clean cities back and have to make notes, “It needs to be dirty. Put graffiti, put crap in there.” So yeah, it’s hard to make – you don’t realize how difficult it is to get a realistic looking alley way because when they’re painting it digitally, a lot of things tend to look pretty clean and pretty pristine. So just to go in and add that extra detail like things being crooked is that much more work. But we tried to get as much as that in there as we could so that the city really felt real.

TZN: So is this the dirtiest, grungiest animated movie you’ve ever worked on?


LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
I think so because a lot of our other ones – we’ve never really had a Gotham that has looked as dirty as this. It really needed to feel just miserable because so much of the comic is about Gordon being surrounded by corruption and just being miserable in Gotham, and Bruce realizing what Gotham is and wanting to make it better. So the city had to be a character in the movie itself. So we wanted to just make it feel like the dirty, sad Gotham that it needed to be.

TZN: I think Bruce Timm mentioned the graphic novel almost being too short and having to expand on it a little bit. Can you comment on that at all?


LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
It is too short or it was too short for our usual requirements which are in the seventy minute mark. I think Year One actually hits somewhere between sixty and seventy minutes. Because of that we really didn’t want to just make up new scenes. We wanted it to just be a faithful adaptation of the comic. This film was not actually slated to have a short featured with it, but we happened to have a Catwoman script that was going to be for the next batch of Showcase shorts, and so they just said, “We have this script. We’re going to do it. And we’re going to just put it on this DVD and kind of supplement that kind of extra amount of time that we don’t have in the movie.” So the movie is actually quite short, but we also have the Catwoman Showcase short featured on it.


INTERVIEW WITH KATEE SACKHOFF, VOICE OF SARAH ESSEN

Katee SackhoffKatee Sackhoff is most well known for her live action work on television’s sci-fi epic, Battlestar Galactica, as Starbuck. Katee recently played one of the main roles on the final season of 24. Katee has also worked on Robot Chicken and the hit sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. She will also be voicing the Black Cat in the Spider-Man: Edge of Time videogame, and most recently filmed a live-action movie with Seth Green, Sexy Evil Genius.

TOONZONE NEWS: In this story you are Sarah Essen who is a cop, but also Jim Gordon’s mistress. How did you like that?

KATEE SACKHOFF: Yeah, well its fun you know. It’s like your introduction to Batman and all of the sudden, you’re a home wrecker. It’s fantastic. I did a lot of studying for this role…um kidding, totally kidding. Could you imagine if I was like, “Are you married? Do you want to sleep together?” “Yeah,” “Can we bring on your wife in on this, just talk about it, how she feels purely just for research?” It would’ve been awesome. Yeah, so it’s great. I grew up stealing my brother’s comic books and so I’ve always been obsessed with the Batman world and didn’t quite get to be a villain but she sleeps with a married man so I guess she kind of is.

TZN: Almost more like villainous.


KATEE SACKHOFF:
Yeah, you’re right. It’s like a new word, villainous, kind of.

TZN: Was this your first exposure to animation and voice acting at all?

KATEE SACKHOFF: Full length movie, yes. But not voice over work. I was introduced to voice over work by Seth Green [on Robot Chicken] who is a very good friend of mine. And he brought me in, “It will be so easy. You’re just playing Starbuck.” And I’m like, “Oh great, fantastic.” And he brings me in and there’s a pile of characters. And I was like, “Starbuck? It’s the top one but it can’t be all of these pages.” And he’s like, “No, no. Those are all the other characters you’re playing.” There’s like an Indian man. How am I going to do an Indian man? He’s just like, “You can do it. You’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.” And he kind of threw me in there and he had me playing all these characters. And it was very interesting.

TZN: On The Big Bang Theory, you play a figment of Howard Wolowitz’s fantasies. Do you think you might show up again in the new season?

KATEE SACKHOFF: I hope so. I’ve got to do something else. Like the next time they have Katee Sackhoff come in, it should be like in some other role that I’ve played like not Starbuck at this point. I don’t know, it will be interesting to see if they do. Chuck Lorre is a friend of mine, so it kind of made it very easy. Tricia [Helfer] is on Two And A Half Men as well and she’s going back for this episode. She and I are both kind of like begging constantly, like every time I go to set to hang out with Tricia when she’s doing Two And A Half Men, I make sure to find Chuck and go, “So…do you need me for anything? No? You sure? OK.”

TZN: The scenes with you and Simon Helberg and George Takei were great.

KATEE SACKHOFF: Weren’t they great? George is a phenomenal actor and just so classically trained. I think that you take this business for granted sometimes because I think for television, you move so fast, you forget sometimes where people were really classically trained actors. It’s interesting to then go work with someone like George. It kind of brings it all home. So it’s great. He’s hysterically funny.


INTERVIEW WITH SAM LIU, CO-DIRECTOR

Sam LiuSam Liu has dabbled in both Marvel and DC animation. For Marvel he served as director of the recently released Thor: Tales of Asgard. Currently Sam Liu is working as a director for the new upcoming Green Lantern animated series for Cartoon Network. His dream animated project is to work on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

TOONZONE NEWS: There was some mixed feedback regarding the early footage of the Green Lantern TV series. Do you think the final product will look a lot better?

SAM LIU: I think so. It is funny, Rick [Morales] who is the other director on it, has just sort of a very retro, sci-fi kind of feel to it. So it’s almost like a feature but it also hearkens back to those old school, sci-fi covers, sort of like jaggedy planets and stuff and sort of fantastic. But he likes graphics, so in a sense, I don’t know how fans are going to [react] – because it’s not like Halo with all the extra detail. He doesn’t want that. He wants this graphics almost simplified kind of thing. So there’s not like a ton of textures on it, but I feel like the way the lighting is really luscious. I’m also very proud of it. Rick and I are having a great time on it. So we think it’s great, but you can never tell what a fan is going to think.

TZN: How did you like getting to work with translating the unique color scheme from Batman: Year One in the animation?


SAM LIU:
We definitely tried to match it as close as possible. One of the defining things about David Mazucchelli’s work is the thick line – which is very difficult for them to animate. I remember bringing up something; we never actually tried it with actually drawing smaller so that the line just becomes thicker. It made it more difficult. So it’s going to have a thinner line, but as far as the design-wise, we tried to match it as spot on as possible. It took us a while to sort of get the style down to where Bruce liked it. And the Batman character itself, Bruce did it because he was unhappy with all the incarnations that was coming in. Bruce is very, very picky about trying to get it as close as possible as we could. And even the way it was colored, we did a couple experimentations on how you it flatter and more minimal, but there’s elements in animation that you kind of need. Even though in the comic you might have a flat sky, it looks horrible in animation because if you shoot it with like Batman jumping in the air and you have that sky but you don’t have anything else around it, it looks horrible. So stuff like that helps because it gives us something. But again, all the way from color to design style and the backgrounds, we tried to make it as close to the comics as possible. No fifty foot tall buildings. They are all four stories at the tallest type of stuff. It’s like a 70’s, old Chicago kind of feeling/type of city.

TZN: Design wise, who is your favorite looking character in this piece?

SAM LIU: I don’t know…that’s a tough one actually because I was such a fan of the comic it’s almost like I expected them to look a certain way and they look like it. So I feel like Gordon looks how Gordon should look. I feel like Bruce looks like how he should look. Even Batman looks like how he should. I don’t know if I have a favorite per se, but I think they’re all kind of done the way they are supposed to be.

TZN: I think some great stories to maybe mine for animation with these movies some day would be the Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale stories such as The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, and Haunted Knight. What would you think of maybe adapting Tim Sale’s art to animation?


SAM LIU:
The hard thing about I think trying to mimic these styles, and I say this because I feel this way about Tim’s work. I love his work. But I feel like it’s inconsistent sometimes from panel to panel, which is the same thing with almost all the artists. And especially with like Frank Quitely’s work which is like so subtle in a way, but they look different from panel to panel. So you like look at one and go like, “Oh, this is what it looks like.” Then you look at another one and it looks totally different and you’re like, “Oh, that’s what it looks like.” So the trouble is how do you distill it down to like what’s right about all of them? You have all these different animators working on it, and you’re trying to sort of like keep the flavor of the style in and not deaden it. So you want to make sure that flavor is in there, but it’s hard because you’ve got so many hands that are working on it and if it’s so subtle, you may lose it entirely and it becomes uninteresting. So it’s better to sort of simplify and quantify it. I think that’s why even when you go back and look at Batman: The Animated Series, it’s so simplified but it’s blocky so at the very least you get the blockiness of it. So any way that works on it, we’re going to get it.

Thank you to Warner Bros. for having us at the press interviews, and thank you to the Batman: Year One staff for speaking with us. Batman: Year One is due out on Blu-ray and DVD on October 18, 2011.

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