SDCC2010: "Batman: Under The Red Hood" Roundtables Pt 1: Martella, Winick, & Vietti
At San Diego Comic Con, we got the chance to catch up and speak with the cast and crew of the new animated movie from Warner Premiere, Batman: Under The Red Hood.
*NOTE: These interviews may contain slight and mild spoilers. Please read at your own risk. Since these were roundtable sessions, questions asked by Toonzone are marked “Toonzone News” or “TZN,” while questions by other reporters are marked “QUESTION.”*
INTERVIEW WITH VINCENT MARTELLA (TEENAGE JASON TODD/ROBIN)
Vincent Martella has previously worked in front of the camera in Everybody Hates Chris. Currently he’s most known as the voice of Phineas for Phineas and Ferb and the voice of Hope for the Final Fantasy XIII videogame. Martella voices the teenaged Jason Todd version of Robin in Batman: Under The Red Hood.
TOONZONE NEWS: So are you living the dream playing Robin in an animated Batman movie?
VINCENT MARTELLA: Um yeah. Robin is one of the coolest opportunities I’ll ever have. Possibly one of the greatest things I’ll ever do. That’s always going to be in the back of my mind that one time I got to play Robin. Batman and Robin, I was Robin. That was cool; the Boy Wonder. I told everyone about it. I was like, “Guys. Robin now.” So it’s definitely a big deal for me. It’s a change from Phineas and Ferb which was cool too because I got the kids show which is more of a happy show with not a lot of a darker side at all. And you got this really gritty, violent, action/detective story which is really, really cool. It’s a great chance, yeah.
TZN: Have you been out to Comic Con before?
VINCENT MARTELLA: Yeah for the past two years we did panels and I’ve got one on Sunday for Phineas and Ferb as well. Hopefully a lot of people will come out. I hope so.
QUESTION: Is this your first dramatic role for voice acting?
VINCENT MARTELLA: As far as voice acting. Phineas and Ferb is always a challenge in a way because the episodes are so varied. There are different things Phineas and Ferb have to do, and the different episodes do show a different variety. But always being able to use a different voice and a different character is a great opportunity for any actor. When I got to do Robin, it was completely different material. It was violence. It was action scenes. There were fight scenes, and a lot of raw emotion of just a kid who likes the trouble he’s in and likes to handle it in his own way. He’s always fighting authority which is really cool and definitely very different. But I like the difference so it was cool, yeah. It was probably one of my first more serious roles in that.
VINCENT MARTELLA: I was a bit. When I got the audition, I did a little more research on to what it was. Fortunately I got it, and I wanted to do the research. I knew the relationship between Jason Todd and Batman. I knew the readers wanted him dead (laughs) which is pretty cool to me. I got to be the Robin that everyone voted to die. Yeah, he was disliked so much . . . I think that told a lot about the fans of Batman and what they wanted to see. It wasn’t a thing where they didn’t like Robin, I thought necessarily. It was that they wanted to see that struggle with Batman. He hasn’t seen a failure like Jason Todd since his parents died. I think that’s something so big for the character both Bruce Wayne and Batman because they are so separate in my mind. It was definitely a great thing that they are going to show that in this film because it does show that a lot, that a lot more as it did in the comics as well.
TZN: When you were small did you ever dream about playing cartoon or animated characters?
VINCENT MARTELLA: Yeah, big time, big time. I always practiced a lot of voices when I was younger and did impressions of people and just try to be funny and do these wacky voices that I thought were cool. Obviously superheroes were every kid’s dream. I had the Batman Forever gear when Val Kilmer was Batman. I had all the toys. I had the belt. I had everything. I still have it all in my home on shelves.
TZN: Do you have a favorite story or episode from Phineas and Ferb?
VINCENT MARTELLA: I think my new favorite thing was the Christmas special as a whole because I love the Christmas special. I thought it was really fun and it took a different turn for the show in a way. But the new special we have at the end of the summer called “The Summer Belongs To You,” I just think it’s such a fine piece of work. It really is probably the best thing we’ve ever done on the show. It’s so funny. It’s so heartwarming. Parts of it are sad which is different for Phineas and Ferb. Like viewers will feel legitimately sad about events that happen. And it’s just got such a range of emotions from all the characters that I don’t think we’ve necessarily seen from Phineas and Ferb. I think everyone is going to love it.
QUESTION: What’s your favorite aspect of doing voicework?
VINCENT MARTELLA: It’s that to me, I can’t even really consider it work. I see people actually go out and work and do jobs. This to me is like my playground, just going into a booth and just doing voices that I made up. Watching a cartoon and being that voice. Getting beaten up with a crowbar by the Joker. That’s like really cool, being able to work opposite Bruce Greenwood.
TZN: You played the teenaged Jason Todd, and your relative played the younger Jason Todd.
VINCENT MARTELLA: Yeah, my little brother Alex, he got to play the original, young Jason Todd when he first becomes Robin, which was so awesome because that was his first job in voiceover. We got to work in the same booth with each other, and that was really cool. That was a pleasure for me to get his first job, to be able to work with him. To be able to play the same character and to just get to talk with each other about what we wanted to do and how we wanted to approach it and do it and really, really cool. It was an experience I won’t forget any time soon.
INTERVIEW WITH JUDD WINICK (WRITER)
Award winning writer Judd Winick has worked on monthly DC Comic titles such as Batman, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern. Winick is also responsible for scripting both the comic and animated movie versions for Batman: Under The Red Hood. Winick is also the creator of the animated series The Life And Times of Juniper Lee.
TOONZONE NEWS: I really liked the changes that were made in the animated movie that explained the reasoning for Jason Todd’s resurrection as opposed to in the DC Comics where Superboy Prime punches reality and causes Jason Todd to come back to life. How did you come to the much more organic idea of using the Lazarus Pit instead?
JUDD WINICK: Well, I stand by what we did in the comic. At the time, when we were doing it, that made the most sense. We were in the middle of this massive crossover, and this was going to be one of the biggest events of this crossover. One of the major events of the crossover was that Jason Todd returned from the dead because of a Superboy punch, which was going to change and rectify and retcon all this mess that happened. Jason was the biggest thing that was going to change. At the time it felt right. I will be the first to admit, in hindsight, it doesn’t hold up. But we don’t write them for the ages. We write these things to write a serialized story. At that time, when we were doing that story, it felt right and it worked the best. Now, here, there is no way we were going to introduce this massive, strange, metaphysical aspect to it. It just didn’t work. It never did. It was always going to be, we’re going to skip the middle step and to revive him we throw him in the Lazarus Pit. It’s what we did in the book, but it was sort of a two step: brought him back from the dead. He’s addled. Jason’s brain just isn’t working right. He’s got sort of an autistic aspect to him. Talia [Al Ghul] throws him into the pit and he comes out as Jason Todd as we know him. So strictly middle men. Jason dies, goes into the pit, comes out as we know him.
As far as animation, it’s a different beast. While writing it, I didn’t look at the source material. I just wrote an outline and broke it down to its bare essentials. What it came down to was Batman and the Red Hood, Joker, Black Mask. That’s the story. Everything else just sort of goes away. That’s all we needed. The heart of the story is this melodrama and lots and lots of action, just the big beats.
QUESTION: Is there any moment in animation you worked on that you look back on and go, “That’s mine.”
JUDD WINICK: Oh yeah. I only recently look back on some of the Juniper Lee stuff because my kids are old enough now and they can watch it. When the show was over, I was fine. We did forty episodes great episodes, and I was also really exhausted so it wasn’t really a bad thing. I’m a little more heartbroken now because it was really, really great. I show it to my own children and it holds up. It’s definitely in this case a prideful thing. This [Under The Red Hood] is also new. I’ve seen it a bunch of times, and I assume I’ll look back on this with a lot of pride because it’s a great movie. It’s a really, really strong animated superhero movie with a great cast and terrific direction and I’m stunned by the action. The fight at the end just kills me.
QUESTION: Do you write more now with an eye on this is becoming animated?
JUDD WINICK: Nah, most of the people I know don’t write with an eye on it becoming second media. We have to serve a much angrier beast which is fanboys and fangirls, and you can’t be caught napping.
TZN: In the movie, some people are disappointed that Tim Drake is not in this story. I feel that underscores the tragedy of Jason Todd that Batman wouldn’t take on another protégé after what happened with Jason. Do you feel similarly at all?
JUDD WINICK: Yeah. I actually don’t understand the gripe. The way I see it, he hasn’t brought Tim in yet. I know in the source material, where Batman is at now, Tim Drake is part of the story. Tim Drake is Robin, but from where I see it in this story, he doesn’t have Tim Drake yet. It’s years later, and he’s had Nightwing for a few years. Jason has been gone for a few years. But we get into fuzzy math with comic book eras. Batman has been 32 for 70 years you know . . . so we try not to talk about it too much, but as far as storytelling, Tim Drake doesn’t fit in here anywhere. It has no fat on it. You got to keep moving.
JUDD WINICK: No. For me, no. I mean, I work in Final Draft. I write my comic book scripts in Final Draft as well. In comics you literally put the sound effects in. It’s a spoken character. Here [in an animated movie], you might bold it if you need a sound effect. And if it’s actually an important plot point, you might put it in there as in, “He hears an explosion outside and turns toward it. He fires a rocket launcher at the building and it all goes *BOOM*.” They’ll probably pick up the fact that there should be a sound effect there. I trust these guys to do that.
TZN: I enjoyed your run on Green Lantern a while ago–
JUDD WINICK: Thank you.
TZN: And I liked when you got Kyle and Jade back together. And then Jade and Kyle broke apart and Jade went to the Outsiders team. When Jade started dating that other guy when Kyle was in outer space, was that how you wanted the story to go?
JUDD WINICK: After I left? Eh you know, these are the things we obsess over. Other writers take over. I mean, if you’ve got a brain in your head and thick enough skin, when you move on you must move on. These characters have been around for 70 years and I’m effing up a lot of characters for a lot of others guys and gals who came before me are working on. You know, you write the story that at the time works best. And that writer thought he was doing a good job with it. You know, they broke up, she should move on.
INTERVIEW WITH BRANDON VIETTI (DIRECTOR)
Director and storyboard artist Brandon Vietti previously served as co-director on the DC animated movies Batman vs. Dracula and Superman Doomsday. For Batman: Under The Red Hood, Vietti stepped up in his first ever solo-directing effort for a motion picture.
TOONZONE NEWS: How did you like getting to solo-direct for the first time?
BRANDON VIETTI: I loved it. Are you kidding me? I loved it. It was awesome. It was such a great script to work with too. It was like everything I’ve wanted, too, because I’ve been a Batman fan since Super Friends, you know? So to actually, finally get my own Batman movie to direct was sort of a dream come true. The thing I love about it is that to me, it’s a good old-fashioned Batman story. There are not a lot of supers in it. It’s more about the Dark Knight Detective. It’s a very grounded sort of realistic story that’s kind of what I love about Batman
TZN: I’m always curious, in animation how do you choreograph and stage the action where it looks so kinetic and fluid and also where the camera is moving around in the frame?
BRANDON VIETTI: It requires a bit of knowledge on the 2D animation level to storyboard it properly so it can be executed properly. It’s actually animated in Japan. Answer Studio in Japan is our studio that animated everything and they did a fantastic job. You are only as good as the people you work with, right? And the final product shows it. They did an amazing job. Their animators who I actually got to meet and I watched what they were doing as they were animating the movie and they were as big Batman fans as I am. They loved getting to work on Batman, so it wasn’t just another job to them. I think you could see it on every frame in the screen. They really got into those action scenes and really made it come to life.
TZN: Going back in time to the 1980’s, what did you think or remember about the Jason Todd saga?
BRANDON VIETTI: It certainly made for interesting reading. I wasn’t one of the guys that called in and voted. I can’t say that, but I mean, there is some weird thing within a lot of fans and myself included, you’re really interested when somebody dies, you know. It makes it interesting like, “Oh, what happens next? How is Batman going to react to that?” It changes everything. So I really responded to that happening and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. That doesn’t happen everyday, and it really affected me as a kid.
QUESTION: It works if you feel something about a character. Not liking a character is almost as powerful as liking a character. Do you feel that way?
BRANDON VIETTI: Yeah I mean I think I feel that way with pretty much with any character to be honest. My goal is to try to make the audience really believe in the character and everything that they do and everything that happens to them. So it’s usually right at the forefront of directing. It’s bringing it to life to make it feel real for people.
BRANDON VIETTI: Hmm, that’s a good question. I’m such a fan of all the characters, it was a challenge. I just wanted everybody’s moment onscreen to be awesome. Nightwing is kind of in it, and then he’s out. He has an important role, but he’s not there the whole time. But the time that he was there, like I really wanted you to know he was there and make it really awesome for the Nightwing fans.
Black Mask too, you know. I enjoyed working with that guy, you know. He was fun. I mean just even from the first read through on the script, you could kind of tell he was going to be one of those fun characters that keeps the light going in this dark and serious story. Obviously it’s a very dark movie and you need some characters that are going to help lighten it up a little bit here and there and kind of keep that lightness in that story. You need to counter-balance the drama. And he [Black Mask] worked really well. I really enjoyed his character, and Wade Williams brought him to life. He did an amazing job. I’ll tangent off on Wade Williams for a minute. That guy comes in the room, and he instinctively goes to the yelling for Black Mask. He’s yelling a lot, and that’s the actor yelling in the booth. By the time Wade left the booth, he was just like pouring sweat. But he got so into it . . . it worked. He totally brought that character to life.
QUESTION: In the DC animated movies, in order to tell that one story, a lot of characters are eliminated like ancillary heroes. Why was the decision made not to include them?
BRANDON VIETTI: You know, it’s probably a good question more for Judd [Winick] and Bruce [Timm]. I think Judd is the one who really streamlined it. He did it himself. From what I read, he did most of the streamlining before it even got to animation. They did finalize the script before I came on board, so it’s more their arena.
TZN: It’s also narrative economy. You can’t put every single supporting character into a 75 minute movie.
BRANDON VIETTI: That’s what it always boils down to, our limited time. So, someday maybe we’ll get a larger budget or something, maybe be able to spread out to a longer movie.
More Interviews Coming in Part 2.