The release of DC’s next direct-to-video animated movie Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is coming up fast on January 27, 2015, and a full panel of guests was on hand to talk about it at New York Comic Con this year: Producer James Tucker, character designer Phil Bourassa, writer Heath Corson, voice director Andrea Romano, and actor Matt Lanter (Arthur Curry / Aquaman).
Tucker kicked things off by getting into the rationale for not including Aquaman in the film’s predecessor Justice League: War, unlike the original comic story it drew upon. The decision came at the suggestion of none other than DC’s own Geoff Johns, who asserted that the character deserved his own film that would focus on him. Justice League: War leads into Throne of Atlantis and their decision sets up an opportunity to introduce the Aquaman character and demonstrate what kind of a character he is while tying that into more of a story, whereas in the New 52 comic story War adapted he is simply introduced without explanation and starts fighting. Bourassa followed up on that, saying that in both story and design their intent with the current DC animated movie continuity is to “weave our own narrative independent of the comics” while still being respectful of what they did. For Aquaman’s look they did use the New 52 look as “a springboard”, and for Bourassa Jim Lee’s character designs aren’t complex “lend themselves to animation”. The way they draw things is dictated by story first and foremost, which is why Aquaman’s gills were placed on the back of his neck in order to save the reveal about his origins for the right time.
As for easter eggs in the film, Tucker teased that the ending of Throne of Atlantis would tease the next sequel and that “there’s more” for Aquaman’s rival Prince Orm. In regard to the setting of the film and the approach taken with the animation, naturally much of Throne of Atlantis is set underwater and they had to decide if the heroes and other characters would float or walk as happened in Justice League, as Atlantis was contained within a massive bubble. For this movie they wanted all of Atlantis underwater, so everyone is either floating or swimming to where they need to go. Bourassa explained that with this approach clothes and longer hair are drawn as if there is always a breeze, and we will see the effect in things like the gown worn by the Atlantean Queen.
Andrea Romano had trivia to share about the voice casting for Throne of Atlantis. For this movie Rosario Dawson is the new voice of Wonder Woman and getting her in to record was a challenge due to her “crazy” schedule and the fact that she’s based out of Los Angeles. Even so, Dawson was flown into New York because they wanted her to be a part of the film. Ms. Dawson is no stranger to the part of bold Amazonian warrior, as she was cast in the significant part of Artemis in DC’s 2009 Wonder Woman animated movie. Romano also shared that though they try hard to bring back voice actors for continuity’s sake, sometimes circumstances don’t work out. To wit for three months to get Shemar Moore back as Cyborg for Throne of Atlantis but it couldn’t be fit into his schedule, so they finally cast someone else for the part who did a “fine job”. However 9-10 months later, with the lines recorded and the animation for the film about done, Moore’s agent informed them that he was available. For continuity’s sake it was decided to bring in Moore, and he had to replicate his performance while matching the lip flaps that were drawn to match the other actor. Romano reiterated that the alternative actor did well in the part of Cyborg, and vowed to find other work for him to do. As for the job of voice casting itself, Romano was clear that she’s not the only one involved in casting decisions. She comes up with ideas and others will react with ideas of their own, and voice casting often isn’t as simple as finding actors and actresses that fit the part. Instead, “it’s really a big puzzle, putting together the right group of people who are living in this world together.” What’s more, the design and appearance of a character is actually relevant as well. For instance, a bulkier version of the Flash or Superman would suit different voices compared to one with a slimmer build.
Romano also greatly prefers the approach of ensemble recording, since this allows actors to react to each other’s lines and scenes can play out in a myriad of different ways with each take. This was possible to do for much of Throne of Atlantis, although they had to do so in “chunks” since there is no way to fit all of the movie’s performers into one studio. Corson shared that takes the unusual step of attending the voice recordings himself, and is very open to adjusting scripts based on ad-libbed lines or judgments from Romano or the voice cast about what works and what doesn’t. After all, he quipped, “if they make it better, it’s my name on the credits!”
At this point, Lanter chimed in about his starring role. As this is an origin story the movie is in large part about the man Arthur Curry, who is not only not a superhero yet but also at a low point in his life after his father passes away. “He’s damaged inside, and this is his journey through that”. To emphasize the point the audience was shown a clip from the film where a despondent Arthur is in a seaside bar talking about his troubles to a lobster in a tank, while a disguised Mera observes. Arthur takes it badly when the lobster is removed to be somebody’s dinner and snatches it away, at which point he’s confronted by the burly man who ordered it. Their argument quickly leads to a classic bar room brawl and at first it seems he’s in for a rough time, but after the fight is taken outside he gets serious and trounces the man and his thugs with his overwhelming strength. After he thanks the group for helping him “blow off some steam” his attacker tries to stab him with a knife, only for it to shatter. The astonished man asks just what Arthur is, at which point Arthur chucks him an incredible distance out to sea and replies “wish I knew, pal.” Arthur ultimately releases the lobster and departs content, and afterward Mera casts off her disguise and dives into the water. After the clip Romano shared that it took them two and a half hours just to get things right for the fight sequence within the scene, as there are different sounds that fit depending on what moves are used in a fight and where a person is hit.
With that, the panel moved on to a Q&A session. Lanter was asked about how it feels to play Aquaman, to which he replied that because they were starting fresh with the character he just needed to know the script and understand who Arthur Curry was without needing to get familiar with the past history of the character. Another question asked about the possibility of a Bat-Family movie, which Tucker said he would love to do. Another fan asked about Young Justice characters, prompting Bourassa to point out that they got Aqualad into Justice League: Flashpoint and Tucker to say that with continuation of the Young Justice animated series “you gotta have Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman doing it” and not them. Tucker went on to say that “I’m not saying it won’t happen or that it couldn’t happen, because there’s a lot of avenues DC animated material coming up every day. There’s online, there’s limited series, you know, everyone’s bullish on these DVDs. So while I can’t say it’s gonna happen, chances are it probably will down the line.”
Another question asked the panel on whether they would continue to base DC animated movies on storylines from the New 52 comics, such as the Batman story “Death In the Family”. Tucker replied that while the new 52 is a “springboard” for their new line of DTV movies, they are doing their own continuity not unlike the approach Marvel is taking with its live action films. They are free to adapt stories from the New 52 and before the New 52 as they please, and their current plan is to do two movies everywhere that tie into their shared continuity and one that is independent of it such as the upcoming Justice League: Gods and Monsters. In response to another question it was stated that the movies in continuity will reliably follow Phil Bourassa’s style, while the independent films will fit the style of whoever’s involved. When asked about why they chose Aquaman for the focus of a movie when he doesn’t necessarily have a great reputation, Tucker replied that his name recognition is a good thing even if some think of him in “less than stellar terms.” In Tucker’s view “A lot of people know him who don’t read comics,” and so “we’re taking advantage of that knowledge and showing them who Aquaman really is.” On the subject of mature content and whether anything would be done that’s more violent than Justice League: Flashpoint, which prompted Corson to point out the existence of Batman: Assault on Arkham. Tucker shared that Throne of Atlantis initially had an R rating at first and wouldn’t say why, but that “it wasn’t for violence.”
One fan asked Lanter to compare Aquaman to Anakin Skywalker, who he played in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. Lanter feels that there are “more similarities than differences” between the two, since “both have power and responsibility put on them, when they don’t necessarily want it.” Andrea Romano was asked about casting Batman and whether it was out of her comfort zone to cast new people in old and iconic roles. Romano reflected on the fact that she’s eading her to reflect on the fact that even though she’s cast Batman 18 times, it never gets easier and that when you’re casting a character like him “everyone has an opinion about that”. She is aware that because such a good job was done on Batman: The Animated Series some feel that Kevin Conroy is the “only Batman” and she can’t help hearing his voice when she reviews scripts. However there are many different factors and opinions to weigh when casting someone for a part, and Romano reiterated that many people are involved in casting decisions and that many qualified people contend for prominent roles. Sometimes there will be someone she strongly fights for because she believes they fit so well, while other times she might put forward the names of five very qualified individuals and let the staff decide who works the best. One fan asked Romano if she considered anyone as a modern Mel Blanc and if anyone could stay in the business as long as June Foray. Romano acknowledged Ms. Foray as “phenomenal”, musing that she worked until 92. Romano dropped the names of Frank Welker, John DiMaggio, Dee Baker and Rob Paulsen as great talents, but also expressed that Mel Blanc was an exceptional case. In addition to his considerable talent, at the time of his career it was him and “about five other actors doing every voice” whereas now there are “thousands” in the business. To illustrate the point Romano cited Warner Bros’ old Speedy Gonzales cartoons, where Mel Blanc voiced seven different Mexican mice and managed to make them all sound different.
One fan asked about the DC’s DTV line getting beyond its focus on Batman and the Justice League, prompting Tucker to reiterate that this is driven by sales but that they will use the movies as gateways to introduce other characters and make the stories about more than only Batman or the Justice League. In Tucker’s view, Throne of Atlantis is “nearly a solo as it is”. they to which Tucker replied that while they try A different question inquired about the possibility of cinematic releases for the DC animated films, but Tucker replied that “the feature film guys probably don’t want competition” and that they are fine with the current situation due to the creative autonomy they enjoy. Finally, the panel got a question about how it is decided what stories will be used for the movie line. Usually the team pitches to the home video department but sometimes this can happen in reverse, as was the case for Batman: Assault on Arkham and the idea to have it tie into the Arkham video game series. It was also clarified that while Geoff Johns has involvement in the creative process and made suggestions when it was decided to start the new movie line, “he does not tell us what to do.”
With the Q&A concluded the audience was treated to one final clip where Arthur and Mera have to fight off a horde of anthropomorphic sea monsters in a fierce battle, but fortunately the entire Justice League soon enters the fight and dramatically tips the scales with their combined might. With the battle over Mera exhorts Arthur to come with her to Atlantis and is convinced by a well-timed comment from Superman, who reflects on the fact that he is the last of his kind and would give anything for the chance to learn more about where he came from.